The Unas Pyramid at Saqqara and three tombs have been officially reopened after restoration, reports Nevine El-Aref
Last Thursday evening, as the sun was about to set over the horizon at the Saqqara necropolis outside Cairo, Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany stood ready to reopen the site’s Unas Pyramid and three ancient Egyptian tombs from the Old and New Kingdoms following their restoration.
With him were top officials, foreign and Egyptian archaeological experts and Egyptian and international journalists. The group stood for a few minutes at the foot of the Unas Pyramid, candles in hand, to pay homage to those who died in the Egyptair flight that crashed in the Mediterranean two weeks ago.
Al-Enany then guided those present to the pyramid and the tombs of the Old Kingdom officials Ankh-Mahor and Nefer-Seshem-Ptah and the New Kingdom tomb of Nemty-Mess.
“The reopening of these sites highlights the fruitful bilateral cooperation between the Ministry of Antiquities and foreign and Egyptian missions working in Egypt,” Al-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that there will be future cooperation within the framework of international scientific regulations for the benefit of all parties.
He said that the reopenings are part of the ministry’s plans to open more archaeological sites and tourist attractions as part of efforts to help restore Egypt’s tourism industry.
The pyramid of the Fifth-Dynasty pharaoh Unas was the last to be built during the dynasty. Despite its small size, it is considered one of the most important because it was the first to have recorded the ancient Egyptian “Pyramid Texts” on its tomb walls, these being of great religious importance as they were believed to ensure the resurrection of the deceased king.
French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero first entered the pyramid in 1881, and it was closed in 1996 as high humidity levels had negatively affected its burial chamber. The then Supreme Council of Antiquities decided to close the pyramid for conservation work. After comprehensive studies, state-of-the-art equipment was installed to monitor and lower the humidity level inside. A new lighting system was also installed.
The Unas Pyramid is located in a funerary complex that combines a valley temple and a causeway that ends with a mortuary temple. The causeway is decorated with religious and daily life scenes. The entrance to the pyramid is on the northern side and leads to a corridor connected to a passage that descends from the entrance, with a straight passage leading to an antechamber.
The corridor ends with three portcullises that were meant to block access to the antechamber, leading from the entrance passage in the north, to the magazines in the east and the burial chamber in the west, where the oldest Pyramid Texts were found.
Also reopened this week were the tombs of Ankh-Mahor and Nefer-Seshem-Ptah, both of which date to the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom and are located at the northeastern side of Teti’s Pyramid at Saqqara. They were discovered by the French Egyptologist Victor Loret in 1898, but only opened to the public in the late 1970s.
In the mid-1980s both tombs were closed in order to carry out excavation work in their vicinity. Both were then used as storage space for recovered artefacts until the Supreme Council of Antiquities started the comprehensive restoration of both tombs.
Salt problems were treated, colours strengthened and fixed, and walls consolidated. New wooden floors were erected over the original floors of the tombs to protect them and a lighting system installed. The paths leading to the tombs were also paved to improve access for visitors.
Ankh-Mahor was a priest of the god Ka during the reign of the pharaoh Teti during the Sixth Dynasty. His tomb is often called “the Physician’s Tomb” because of the circumcision scenes engraved on its doorway.
It is a vast tomb with a number of chambers, corridors and decorated doorways. The walls are covered in scenes showing the art of the Old Kingdom, the most distinguished being the circumcision scene. Medical scenes depicting knee and leg surgery are also present, as well as scenes showing agricultural activities, offerings and hunting.
The tomb of Nefer-Seshem-Ptah is relatively small and has its beautiful scenes representing everyday life. The tomb’s false door is unique and has never been seen in another tomb.
The third tomb reopened this week was that of Nemty-Umes, which was discovered in 1996 by a French expedition led by Egyptologist Alain Zivie in the cliffs below the Bubasteion area in the Saqqara necropolis. Conservation work continued until 2003.
The tomb dates back to the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II of the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. Its owner was vizier of the treasury as well as the first peace envoy between the Egyptian Empire and the Hittites, explaining why the tomb is sometimes called the “Ambassador’s Tomb”.
This is the first time the tomb has been opened to the public since its restoration, which included the consolidation of its mural inscriptions, fixing of colours, and erection of a shelter over the front courtyard to protect the tomb. A lighting system has also been installed.
The tomb consists of a limestone front courtyard with two pillars decorated with inscriptions depicting the tomb’s owner in different worshipping positions. Its western wall has coloured scenes in the Ramesside style, and a number of cartouches bearing the name of Ramses II have also been found.
The courtyard leads to a rock-hewn chamber, where there is a statue carved in limestone depicting the goddess Hathor. Under the head of the statue there is an image of Ramses II.