Saqqara was the principal necropolis for the ancient city of Memphis where, from Dynasty I onwards, the Egyptian elite built their tombs. The area is best known today as being the site of the first stone pyramid, built for a king of Dynasty III whose Horus name was Netjerikhet. The pyramid has been attributed to a King Djoser since the New Kingdom, but only the name Netjerikhet has been found on the monument.
The pyramid structure rises above the plateau in a series of six stepped ‘mastabas’ and was surrounded by a complex of dummy buildings enclosed within a niched limestone wall over 10m high. Beyond the wall was a rectangular trench measuring 750m by 40m and although it is now filled by sand, it can be clearly seen on aerial photographs. The high limestone walls of the enclosure were decorated with niches and false doors which were carved into the wall after it was built – quite an enormous task! Some archaeologists believe that the enclosure wall may have represented the earthly residence of the King and so the term ‘palace façade’ became used for this type of decoration. It is thought that the design imitates the wooden framework covered by woven reed mats which would have been used in earlier structures although it has also been suggested that the motif may originate in Mesopotamia. The wall has been reconstructed on the southern rampart and near the entrance and this is the best place to examine the construction.
The single entrance to the enclosure is the southernmost doorway on the eastern side of the wall (the only one of the 15 doorways which is not a false door) and leads to the entrance colonnade. 20 pairs of engaged columns, resembling bundles of reeds or palm ribs line the corridor. Between the columns are 24 small chambers, thought perhaps to represent the nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt, which may once have contained statues of the King or deities. The roof of the entrance colonnade was constructed to represent whole tree trunks. This is one of the places where the challenging experiment of copying natural materials in stone is most evident. The columns were not yet trusted to support the roof without being attached to the side walls and the small size of the stone blocks used in the construction reflects the fact that previous structures were built from mudbricks. At the end of the entrance hall two false stone doorleaves rest against the side walls of a transverse vestibule which has been reconstructed. Several statue fragments were found in the entrance colonnade but the most important was a statue base (now in Cairo Museum) inscribed with the Horus name and titles of Netjerikhet and also with the name of a High Priest of Heliopolis and royal architect, Imhotep.