The Step Pyramid

The Sakkara step pyramid was ancient Egypt’s first stone building.  Designed by Imhotep, an innovative architect who later was worshipped.  The extensive cemetery was used from early Dynastic to the Graeco-Roman periods, more than 3,000 years, but was especially important during the Old Kingdom (2686-2160BCE).

From 3,000 BCE onwards civil servants working in Memphis, Egypt’s first capital city, built mud brick mastabas tombs in the Sakkara cemetery.   Smaller tombs were around the larger ones, most likely for the servants of the deceased.

The step pyramid was designed for Djoser, second king of the third dynasty, made of limestone from a local quarry.  Imhotep built a square mastaba with its corners oriented to the four compass points, this was extended upward until it became a six step pyramid.

A shaft descends from the center of the original mastaba to Djoser’s burial chamber.  A warren of corridors and rooms surround the chamber.  More than 36,000 curved bue-green faience tiles replicated the walls of  Djoser’s palace.

Around the step, pyramid was an enclosure, defined by a massive wall of limestone with 14 false doors designed to confound tomb robbers. 

In the later Old Kingdom (Dynasty 4 – 6) the landscape of Sakkara was expanded with a series of smaller pyramids built by kings wishing to be close to Djoser.

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The ancient Egyptians knew Karnak as Ipet-Swt, “most select of places”.  Originally a local shrine dedicated to Amun, during continuous building from early Middle Kingdom to Roman times successive kings added to the complex, each attempting to outdo their predecessors.  Some demolished earlier monuments absorbing the stone blocks I their own construction.  

An example is pylon three built by, 18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III c. 1390-1353 BCE, where the rubble fill contained blocks of carved limestone from a chapel constructed by Senwosret I of the. Idle kingdom c.1956-1911 BCE.  Today this chapel is known as the White Chapel.

The Red Chapel constructed of red quartzite by pharaoh Hatshepsut c.1453-1458, which has been dismantled and reassembled.  It had been covered over probably due to Hatsheosut being a female pharaoh.

Construction of The Hypostyle Hall began by Rameses I and continued by his son Seti I.

Karnak has a series of granite obelisks erected by 18th dynasty Pharaohs.  They are cut from one piece of stone, tapering to the top inscribed with royal and religious texts and some entirely covered with gold foil.  Quarried from riverside quarries at Aswan, to cut, transport and erect an obelisk was an achievement and mark of powerful kingship.  One that had a flaw exposed during cutting can be seen today still lying I the quarry.

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Abu Simbel

Since 1955 UNESCO has been working with Egypt’s Documentation Center to record Nubian temples.  In 1959 Egypt proposed that UNESCO led a campaign to save the monuments of Nubia.  Egypt would provide a sum of money but would need much assistance.  

A planning conference was held in October 1959 at the Nubian Documentation Center where experts in archaeology, geology, engineering and architecture attended.  

Abu-Simbel Monument

At the end of the conference it was announced the first monuments to be addressed would be the Temples of Abu Simbel.  Cut into the cliffs near the second cataract these monuments were built to honor Rameses II and his chief wife Nefertari around 1279-1213BCE.

The UNESCO council earmarked $110,000 for research into this project.  These temples were the last to be saved because of the immensity of the project which took over two years to complete.  The work was done by Swedish firm VBB (AB Vattenbyggnadsbyrån), who in a feat of spectacular engineering, cut and moved the temples, elevating them more than 200 feet above their original position so to be saved from the water.

Abu-Simbel Monument

The Campaign officially began March 8th 1960 when UNESCO Director General Vittorino Veronese launched the appeal from Paris.  The Work on the Aswan High Dam began January 9th, already they were racing the rising waters. The United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization collected funds from over 100 countries, and skilled engineers were sent from more than 50 nations to help, saving for future generations to see and study these monuments of Ancient Nubia.

$65,690.64 was collected through philatelic campaigns whereby about 50 nations issued stamps with Nubian motifs paying part of the revenue (for example first day issues and covers) to the campaign.  Though the amount collected was small, it produced a significant promotion.

100% of the monies collected through the sale of first day covers produced by the various governments went directly toward saving these monuments.  Stamps were semi-postals, some were overprinted and a “Tourist Tax” instituted by Egypt (US$2.00) went toward saving Abu Simbel.  The “TT” is still there, paying for upkeep.