Saqqara is an immense necropolis (cemetery) just south of Cairo and west of the ancient city of Memphis of which very little remains. Used as a burial ground for thousands of years, Saqqara hides its secrets well under desert sands. Despite virtually continuous excavations for some two centuries, much of the area remains to be excavated. The site stretches six kilometers from north to south and more than 1.5 kilometers across at it’s widest point.
The site's best-known feature is the Step Pyramid, the world's oldest major stone structure. It was built in the 3rd Dynasty (around 2630 BC) for King Djoser and its construction was overseen by his vizier Imhotep.
A ll over Saqqara can be found tombs of different periods. Those open to the public date to the Old Kingdom. Around the northern-most of Saqqara's pyramids is that of the 6th Dynasty pharaoh Teti. Adjacent to the pyramid are the mastabas (free-standing tombs of earlier periods) of his officials, some of who had marvelous reliefs created for themselves.
O ne of Saqqara's most famous archaeological sites is the Serapeum, which was discovered by Auguste Mariette in 1851. Its rock cut corridors and burial chambers were excavated for the Apis bulls, which were sacred to god Ptah. The corridors form a virtual underground extending for hundreds of meters. The stone sarcophagi weigh as much as 70 tons and average some 4 meters in length and 3.3 meters in height. Twenty chambers still contain sarcophagi. The Serapeum was in use from the New Kingdom down to the Greco-Roman period.
Most people visiting Saqqara see only the surrounds of the Step Pyramid (its interior is off limits) and perhaps one tomb or pyramid depending on what is open. If time permits, include the pyramid of Unas, which contains the first hieroglyphs to appear in pyramids, the Serapeum, and the mastabas belonging to Mereruka and Ti. There are of course, many other attractions for the enthusiastic person with plenty of time. Remember that the authorities occasionally close particular tombs.