Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 October 2005
Issue No. 763
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Zahi Hawass

Dig days: Imhotep: the first gifted architect

By Zahi Hawass

Imhotep, the brilliant architect of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, should be universally remembered. He (transformed) the construction of the king's tomb from a mastaba (bench tomb) to a pyramid, and for the first time used stone in the construction. The Step Pyramid is in fact the first large scale structure to be built out of stone.

Imhotep's title was "the overseer of all the king's work". King Djoser honoured Imhotep by inscribing his name on one of his royal statues. In the Late Period, he was worshipped as the incarnation of Asklepios, the god of medicine. The Egyptians considered Imhotep a patron of the arts and recited his name before commencing any type of writing. Thousands of tourists visit Saqqara today to see his creation, the magnificent Step Pyramid. However, most of them are not aware of new discoveries at the site. I always say that Saqqara is a virgin site; almost every day we discover more artefacts, tombs, statues and even new pyramids.

We have begun a new phase of the site management programme at Saqqara by building new offices, new facilities, and housing for foreign expeditions on the plateau. Later every modern building on the plateau will be demolished. However, the most important building, not built yet, will be a new museum, the Imhotep Museum. This museum will exhibit major artefacts discovered on the site, which is why we call it a site museum.

The Imhotep Museum is just one of many new ones being built on archaeological sites as part of the site management programme. For example, near the temple of Kom Ombo, we are now building a site museum for crocodiles, representing the god Sobek. We also plan to build a desert museum in Dakhla and a museum in Bahariya Oasis to showcase the golden mummies.

The site museum complex of Imhotep will include a cafeteria and a bookshop. Before tourists enter the museum, a short film about the site's history will be shown in the visitors' centre. In the museums's centre, we will construct a large model of the tiled wall of the Step Pyramid's southern tomb. This wall will have blue tiles and scenes that show Djoser wearing ceremonial dress for the Heb-sed festival.

A room in the museum will display information about the archaeologists who have worked on the site since Cecil Mallaby Firth and Battiscombe Gunn's excavations in 1920. One section dedicated J.Philip Lauer, who devoted his life to the restoration of the pyramid complex of Djoser. On display in this room will be objects Lauer discovered within the substructure of the Step Pyramid, such as stone vessels. Another exhibit will include the work of Jean Leclant and Audran Labrousse at the pyramid complex of Pepi I and Pepi II. The same room will house information about my excavations at the pyramid complex of Teti and the unique monument which contains depictions of snakes and the titles of Djoser. Furthermore, there will be the magnificent artefacts that I found inside the tomb of the physician Qar, such as medical tools, an offering table, and statues dating from the Late Period, including the important statuette of Imhotep, the architect of the Step Pyramid.

New Kingdom artefacts will also be on display, especially the discovery made by Alain Zivie in the area known as 'doors of cats', as well as the findings from the semi-intact tomb of Aperia, the chief minister under Amenhotep III. Also included will be objects that tell us about religious beliefs during the New Kingdom, such as a beautiful statue found by the Dutch mission and artefacts dating from the Rammesside Period found by the late Sayed Tawfik.

Finally, among the Late Period artefacts featured will be the beautiful mummies from this period. When the Imhotep Museum opens in a few months' time it will introduce a new era in the archaeology of Egypt.

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