Egypt's oldest pyramid reopens to public after 14-year restoration

The pyramid is deemed the oldest stone structure of its size in the world.

March 05, 2020, 6:30 PM

CAIRO -- Egypt's oldest pyramid, rescued from collapse, reopened to visitors Thursday after a 14-year restoration project.

PHOTO: A general view shows the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
A general view shows the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
Hatem Maher/ABC News

The 4,700-year-old step pyramid, built in the 27th century B.C. for third dynasty pharaoh Djoser, is deemed the oldest stone structure of its size in the world. The ancient structure was badly damaged in a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Egypt in 1992 and was at risk of collapse more than a decade ago.

Located in the Saqqara necropolis in the ancient city of Memphis, some 30 km south of Cairo, the step pyramid is made up of six mastabas (rectangular structures) stacked on top of each other.

Designed by architect Imhoteb, the vizier of Djoser, the pyramid includes a 28-metre deep burial chamber for the pharaoh who some scholars believe ruled Egypt for almost two decades.

PHOTO: Tourists take pictures at the burial chamber and sarcophagus of King Djoser inside the standing step pyramid of Saqqara, south of Cairo, Egypt, March 5, 2020.
Tourists take pictures at the burial chamber and sarcophagus of King Djoser inside the standing step pyramid of Saqqara, south of Cairo, Egypt, March 5, 2020.
Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The 60-metre-high pyramid underwent extensive restoration, including filling gaps in the mastabas with blocks similar to the originals. The burial chamber, the ceiling of the central shaft and the pyramid's narrow internal passages were also renovated.

PHOTO: A tourist takes picture inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
A tourist takes picture inside the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
Mohamed El-shahed/AFP via Getty Images

"Studies carried out in 2003 showed that the world's oldest stone building was in real danger," Egypt's tourism and antiquities minister Khaled Khaled el-Anany told reporters, saying the restoration project had cost the country 104 million Egyptian pounds (roughly $6.6 million).

"The restoration project started at the end of 2006 but slowed down after 2011. Real work was only resumed at the end of 2015, and here we are," he added, referring to repeated delays caused by the turmoil that gripped Egypt following its famous uprising nine years ago.

PHOTO: A general view shows the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
A general view shows the step pyramid of Djoser in Egypt's Saqqara necropolis, south of the capital Cairo, March 5, 2020.
Mohamed El-shahed/AFP via Getty Images

Mohamed Youssef, director of the archaeological Saqqara area, told ABC News that tourists will be allowed to enter the pyramid for the first time via its southern entrance.

Egypt has made a number of discoveries and concluded several restoration projects in recent months as it seeks to shore up its vital tourism industry, which took a hit following the 2011 revolution that unseated autocrat Hosni Mubarak.In July last year, Egypt opened two other pyramids for visitors -- the Bent Pyramid and its satellite pyramid in the nearby Dahshur royal necropolis.

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