Pyramid of Djedkare Isesi

It was the first pyramid to be built in South Saqqara. Djedkare Isesi’s monument complex encompasses: a main pyramid; a mortuary temple situated on the east face of the main pyramid; a valley temple buried under modern Saqqara; a causeway that has been only partially dug out; and a cult pyramid. The main pyramid had a six-stepped core built from roughly cut limestone bound together by clay mortar which was then encased in fine white Tura limestone reaching a peak height of 52.5 m (172 ft; 100.2 cu). The casing has been plundered, and the top three steps of the core have been lost, leaving the pyramid a paltry 24 m (79 ft; 46 cu) tall. The basic dimensions of Djedkare’s pyramid were adopted by succeeding kings in their own funerary monuments. Inside Djedkare Isesi’s pyramid substructure, remains of the burial have been found alongside the mummy remains of Djedkare Isesi himself. The mummy and linen wrapping have undergone radiocarbon dating which have given a common range of 2886–2507 BC. The substructure has otherwise been badly damaged by stone thieves quarrying the Tura limestone casing.

Location and excavation

The last kings of the Fifth Dynasty moved their funerary building activities from Abusir back to Saqqara. Djedkare Isesi built his pyramid 6 km (3.7 mi) from the Abusir necropolis at a site in South Saqqara. It was the first pyramid to be built in that area. He also abandoned the tradition of building sun temples, indicating a shift in the religious significance from the cult of Ra to the cult of Osiris. The pyramid was briefly visited by John Shae Perring, and soon after that by Karl Richard Lepsius. The substructure of the pyramid was first explored in 1880 by Gaston Maspero. In the mid-1940s, Alexandŕe Varille and Abdel Salam Hussein attempted the first comprehensive examination of the pyramid, but their work was interrupted, and their findings lost. They did discover the skeletal remains of Djedkare Isesi in the pyramid. Ahmed Fakhry’s attempt at a comprehensive examination in the 1950s was equally unsuccessful.

Mortuary complex

Old Kingdom mortuary complexes consisted of five essential components: (1) a valley temple; (2) a causeway; (3) a pyramid, or mortuary, temple; (4) a cult, or satellite, pyramid; and (5) the main pyramid. Djedkare’s monument has all of these elements. The main pyramid constructed from six steps of limestone blocks.[25] A valley temple, buried under the modern houses of Saqqara. A causeway, that has not yet been excavated.[2] A mortuary temple on the east side of the pyramid,[28] and a cult pyramid at the south-east corner of the main pyramid, with a standard T-shaped substructure. Additionally, there is an associated pyramid situated on the north-east corner of Djedkare’s pyramid complex, belonging to Setibhor, previously known as the “pyramid of the unknown queen”.


Entry into the substructure was gained from the north side of the pyramid; unusually, however, the entrance is under the pavement of the courtyard, instead of in the north face. There was originally a north chapel here; only traces of it now remain. The entry leads into a granite-lined downward-sloping access corridor. The corridor has a slight angle toward the east and is the last built to do so. The corridor ends at a vestibule, through which a second corridor lined with limestone, the horizontal passage, is accessed. Remnants of broken vessels were discovered in the vestibule, suggesting that certain burial rituals had been performed there. The horizontal passage was guarded by three granite portcullises near the beginning of the corridor, and a fourth granite portcullis near its end.