Illustration of Step pyramid

2648 BCE

Step pyramid

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Imhotep architecture Illustration of Step pyramid

Step pyramid

Visier of the first pharaoh of the third dynasty, Horus Ntry-ht,¬†Netjerikhet (“Divine of body”), also known as Tosorthros, Sesorthos, and Djoser, Imhotep, “He who comes in peace,” high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis, “head of the royal shipyard” and “overseer of all stone works,” designed and engineered, in Saqqara Egypt, the first monumental pyramid made of cut stone, with a base over 400 feet square, over 200 feet tall, above underground galleries and chambers, and surrounded by courts, temples, colonnade, and an outer wall 34 feet high, all made entirely of stone.

Imhotep, the myth

Twelve hundred years after Imhotep died, and for the two thousand years, Imhotep was described as a physician whose skills could not be matched, many books of ethical teachings of great wisdom were ascribed to him, and he was venerated as a demi-god born to Sekhmet, the goddess of healing.


Imhotep lined Djoser’s underground passages with blue Egyptian faience tile cast to replicate the reed matting of the palace walls. The pyramid itself provided steps carefully aligned with the pole star for Djoser to ascend through the gateway to the heavens. Djoser’s whole mortuary complex, surrounded by replicas of his officials, was a replica of eternal life. Inside the complex, every two years for eternity, Djoser runs around the Heb Sed court, to rejuvenate his strength and stamina.

The first architect of monumental cut stone is lost, or nearly lost, to myth; the myth we call “Imhotep” may be an accumulation of attributes and accomplishments made by many people. However, the step pyramid that he or they designed broke with precedent in size, shape, and materials of construction. As for the date of this pyramid, I take the year that Djoser died.

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