Serapeum of Saqqara

Saqqara Necropolis - Serapeum at Sakkara


Useful Information

photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
photography
Drawing of the Greater Vaults, lit by candles, Auguste Mariette 1856. Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
Location: Badrshein.
800 m northwest of the Pyramid of Djoser. West of Abusir.
(29.876059, 31.210234)
Open: All year daily 8-17.
[2022]
Fee: Foreigners: Adult EGP 150, Student EGP 75, Photo Permit EGP 300.
Egyptians/Arabs: Adult EGP 20, Student EGP 5, Photo Permit EGP 300.
[2022]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Tomb SubterraneaCatacomb
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours:
Photography: allowed with smartphone or permit
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Auguste Mariette (1882): Le Sérapeum de Memphis Volume 1, Vieweg, 1882, 202 pages. online DOI
Address: Serapeum of Saqqara, Badrshein.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1550-1530 BC catacombs of the secret bull Apis constructed.
1408-1372 BC scattered tombs constructed.
1851-1854 excavated by the French archeologist Auguste Mariette.
2001 begin of renovation.
SEP-2012 opened to the public.

Description

photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Louvre, France. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Louvre, France. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Louvre, France. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Louvre, France. Public Domain.
photography
Serapeum of Saqqara, Louvre, France. Public Domain.
photography
Drawing of one of the isolated tombs for sacred Apis bulls, Auguste Mariette 1882. Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt. Public Domain.
photography
Bust of Serapis. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original, Vatican. Public Domain.

The Serapeum of Saqqara, which is part of the Saqqara necropolis, was the burial place for sacred bulls of the Apis cult. The Avenue of Sphinxes lead to this complex from the east. It is a dromos containing Greek statues of animals connected with the rites of Dionysius: peacocks, leopards and mythological creatures. A semicircle of Greek philosophers and poets was standing before a Temple of Nectanebo II. Below the temple are several galleries dating from Amenhotep IV (Ramesses II) from the 19th Dynasty until Psamtik I, 26th Dynasty, and from then to the Ptolemaic era. At the entry is a series of niches which once contained official and private stelae by pilgrims who visited the sanctuary. Here are 24 bull sarcophagi in galleries made of granite, basalt or limestone. They were uninscribed and most of them robbed, only a few contained the bones of the sacred bulls. One sarcophagus was intact and contained jewellery.

The bulls were considered sacred for a long time, as a representation of the soul of Ptah or one of his incarnations. This only applied if they were black, with a white blaze on the forehead and throat, a red saddle-like mark on the back, and a white belly. The ancient Egyptian name was Kemet or Kem and translates place of the black bulls. The cult of Serapis was introduced into Egypt from Europe by Ptolemy I, with the intention of providing a god capable of being worshipped by both Greeks and Egyptians. As a result the Apis bull was assimilated to Osiris. Ptah would become immortal after death as Osiris-Apis. This name evolved to Userhapi (ⲟⲩⲥⲉⲣϩⲁⲡⲓ) in Coptic, and Serapis (Σέραπις), in the Hellenistic period. The temple was now called the house of Osarapis, in Greek Serapi, and finally became the Latin Serapeum.

At any time only one bull was worshipped, and on its death, a day of national mourning was declared. In total, we know of 67 Apis bulls, though there were probably many more. The theory is, that after its death it was was embalmed in Memphis, its mummy was then taken along the sacred way from Memphis to Saqqara, and it was buried in the catacombs below in huge sarcophagi. But no mummy of the bulls was ever found until today, only a few bones. One theory says that the extremely tight lid caused the destruction of the mummies by a fungus and when the sarcophagi are opened the last remains become dust.

The site was a continuous source of speculation and mystery since its rediscovery. Until today, it was not possible to explain exactly how or why the 24 giant sarcophagi were moved to the site and precisely installed in their notches. The largest is 3.5 m high and weighs 70 tons, the lids alone more than 30 tons each. The sarcophagi are among the largest of antiquity, their weight is estimated at 70 to 80 tonnes. The mainstream theory of the burial of Apis bulls does not add up with numerous details. The size of the sarcophagi exceeds the size of the bulls, pharaohs were buried in tiny coffins barely fitting their bodies. The Serapeum sarcophagi were made out of granite and not limestone, which was generally used because it is much easier to work with. And then, where are the bull mummies? Only in one sarcophagus bones were found, but no mummies. However, there are numerous other theories including the one that the huge weight of the lid cause the granite to produce electricity and so they glow in the dark. This shows that in Egyptian archaeology even more "knowledge" is the superstition of the Professor, than in any other science. Pretty much knowledge about the catacombs is just the fantasy of 19th century tomb raiders.

There are only a few things which are actually known, others are based on the various inscriptions on the walls. We know that three sarcophagi have inscriptions, those of Amasis (26th Dynasty), Cambyses (27th Dynasty) and Khababash (30th Dynasty), Khababash was the last native king of Egypt. It is most likely that the bulls were not mummified, but had been eaten to obtain merit, and only the bones were placed in the sarcophagi. We have no idea for what the remaining space was used, because they were all robbed.

The site was first described by the Greek geographer Strabo more than 2000 years ago. It was excavated by the French archeologist Auguste Mariette between 1851 and 1854. This is the reason why many artworks can be seen at the Louvre in Paris today. In the first half of the 19th century, explorers had few scruples about achieving their goals. To be respected by fellow scientists and popular with the public, it was a necessary to bring back as many treasures as possible from expeditions. Dynamite as a door opener was part of the standard equipment of every explorer at the time. It was no different for the French treasure hunter, excavator and Egyptologist Auguste Mariette. "Indiana Jones" with a tie. The scientific value of such explorations is doubtful, much was destroyed, and the robbed countries are now aware that they have been robbed and are reclaiming their cultural treasures. However, at the moment you should go to Paris to see the looted art in the Louvre.

Mariette was led to the site of the Serapeum by the discovery of the sphinxes lining the dromos. Excavating the buried temple courtyard, he found the famous Squatting Scribe statue. This statue is considered to be one of the greatest sculptures ever found. He also found the statue of the dwarf god, Bes. When he found the entry to the catacomb it was blocked by a huge rock, and he used explosives to remove it. The catacombs he found consist of two parts, the Grand Gallery and the Lesser Gallery. The Grand Gallery is a 345 m long passage which has 28 tomb niches, with empty granite sarcophagi in 24 of them. Another sarcophagus stands in a side corridor. All sarcophagi except one were already opened, so he tried to open this one. But the lid weighing 32 tons, his men were not able to move it a bit. The solution to this problem was simple: dynamite. The result was sobering, the sarcophagus was empty.

Mariette discovered the sarcopagus of Khacem waset in one of the lesser galleries. Khacem waset (also Chaemwaset), high-priest of Ptah at Memphis, son of Ramesses II, was buried amidst the bulls. His sarcopagus was the only one which was not robbed, probably because it was in. Mariette had the precious treasure, consisting of around 7000 burial objects, shipped to Paris, where much of it can still be admired today in the Louvre Museum. After clearing out Khacem waset's tomb, Mariette turned his attention to the Lesser Vault. He discovered wooden coffins but again they were empty. Finally, he discovered a third series of smaller bull burials, which wer older, the earliest burials found. Here, two coffins, that of Apis VII and Apis IX were also discovered intact, along with shabtis, canopic jars and amulets. One of the Apis bulls can today be seen in the Cairo Agricultural Museum.

We could not find much about the tomb after Mariette. It was probably closed wit a door at some point to protect its contents. On the other hand there was nothing left to loot. In the mid 20th century with increasing tourism, it was officially closed. But there were destruction from millenia of seeping water and from decades of training exercises with explosives at a nearby military base. But finally around 2000, with decreasing numbers in the tourism sector, the government tried to open formerly closed sites, in order to increase tourism. The site was developed from 2001 with trails and electric light. Some sections were propped up with steel supports, at some points the floor was covered for protection. The renovation cost USD 2 Million and was not praised by every one. Then in 2012 it was opened for the public for the very first time.

Only 230 m to the northeast is the Mastaba Tomb of Ti. This site is not directly connected with the Serapeum of Saqqara, but it was also discovered by Auguste Mariette. And as it is so close, typically both sites are visited together. Like the Serapeum the tomb has a long entrance ramp, which leads to a columned courtyard with a shaft leading to the burial chamber, a long corridor with a narrow room branching of, and a rectangular pillared hall. From this hall a serdab, a closed corridor containing statues of the deceased, branches off. Reliefs in the courtyard show some fine bird scenes, with pigeons, cranes, and storks. The inner chamber shows offering scenes, hunting in the marshes, craftsmen and scenes of agricultural life. In the entrance, Ti is carved on each side with his names and titles, hence the name of the tomb.