The Serapeum of Saqqara, Egypt, is an ancient burial complex dedicated to the sacred Apis bulls, which were considered incarnations of the god Ptah in Memphis and later associated with the god Serapis. This extensive subterranean necropolis served as the final resting place for these revered bulls, playing a crucial role in ancient Egyptian religion and funerary practices.

The Serapeum Historical Background

The Serapeum of Saqqara
The Serapeum of Saqqara

Origins and Purpose

The Serapeum was established in the early part of the New Kingdom, around the reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1391–1353 BCE), and continued to be used through the Ptolemaic period. The burial of the Apis bulls in Saqqara symbolized the veneration of these animals as living gods on earth. When an Apis bull died, it was embalmed and buried with a great ceremony in the Serapeum.

Discovery

The Serapeum was rediscovered in 1850 by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette. His excavation revealed a series of underground galleries filled with large stone sarcophagi, each intended to hold the mummified remains of an Apis bull. This discovery was significant as it provided a wealth of information about ancient Egyptian religious practices and burial customs.

The Serapeum Architectural Features

The Serapeum of Saqqara
The Serapeum of Saqqara

Underground Galleries

The Serapeum consists of a complex network of underground tunnels and chambers. The primary galleries are divided into the Lesser Vaults and the Greater Vaults, reflecting different periods of construction and use. The tunnels are lined with massive granite and limestone sarcophagi, each weighing several tons.

Lesser Vaults

The Lesser Vaults are the older part of the complex, dating back to the 18th Dynasty. These galleries are smaller and less elaborate compared to the Greater Vaults, but they still contain numerous sarcophagi and inscriptions.

Greater Vaults

The Greater Vaults were constructed during the 26th Dynasty and continued to be used in the Ptolemaic period. These galleries are more extensive and contain larger, more ornate sarcophagi. The Greater Vaults also feature more elaborate decorations and inscriptions, providing detailed records of the burials.

Sarcophagi

The sarcophagi in the Serapeum are remarkable for their size and craftsmanship. Carved from solid blocks of granite and basalt, these massive coffins often weigh upwards of 70 tons. Many of the sarcophagi are inscribed with hieroglyphs detailing the life and death of the Apis bull they contained, as well as invocations to the gods.

Religious Significance

The Serapeum of Saqqara

Cult of Apis

The Apis bull was a central figure in Egyptian religion, believed to be the earthly incarnation of Ptah, the creator god and patron deity of craftsmen. The bull was also associated with Osiris, the god of the afterlife, and later with Serapis, a syncretic deity combining aspects of Greek and Egyptian gods. The burial of the Apis bulls in the Serapeum reflected their divine status and ensured their continued veneration in the afterlife.

Funerary Practices

The process of preparing an Apis bull for burial was elaborate and mirrored the rituals performed by human pharaohs. The bulls were mummified, and their remains were placed in the sarcophagi with various offerings and treasures to accompany them in the afterlife. The burial ceremonies included processions, prayers, and offerings to the gods.

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The Serapeum – Archaeological Significance

The Serapeum of Saqqara

Inscriptions and Artifacts

The Serapeum has yielded a wealth of inscriptions and artifacts that provide insights into the religious and social practices of ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphic texts on the sarcophagi and walls of the tunnels document the names and titles of priests, details of the burial ceremonies, and dedications to the gods. Other artifacts, such as statues, amulets, and pottery, further illuminate the rituals associated with the Apis cult.

Contributions to Egyptology

The discovery of the Serapeum was a milestone in the field of Egyptology. Auguste Mariette’s work set new standards for archaeological excavation and documentation, and the findings from the Serapeum have continued to inform scholarly understanding of ancient Egyptian religion, art, and burial practices.

Visiting The Serapeum

Accessibility

The Serapeum is part of the larger Saqqara necropolis, which includes other significant sites such as the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Visitors to Saqqara can explore the Serapeum’s underground galleries and view the impressive sarcophagi and inscriptions. The site provides a fascinating glimpse into the religious and funerary practices of ancient Egypt.

Preservation Efforts

Ongoing efforts are being made to preserve and protect the Serapeum and its treasures. Conservation projects aim to stabilize the underground structures, prevent further deterioration of the sarcophagi, and ensure that this important historical site remains accessible to future generations.

The Serapeum Mystery

The Serapeum of Saqqara
The Serapeum of Saqqara

The Serapeum of Saqqara is the biggest mystery of the ancient Egyptians and one of the wonders of the world in Egypt, the “Serapeum”, which is no less grandiose and complex than the pyramids!

Massive Coffins

The Temple of the Serapeum is a group of tunnels, vaults, and caves dug under the rocks of the Saqqara plateau with a length of 400 m. How did the ancient Egyptians and how did they use technology and machines to dig such tunnels 5000 thousand years ago, which can only be implemented with drilling machines such as the Suez Canal tunnels?

The strange thing about the Serapeum is also that it contains 26 huge, well-made granite sarcophagi, the lid of the coffin weighs 30 tons, and the body of the coffin itself is 70 tons, which means that it needs nearly 500 men to move each box!!
The strange thing is that the tunnels do not accommodate this number of workers to move these coffins inside!!

The Serapeum Coffins

The strange thing is that these huge coffins are all made of high-hardness rocks (red granite – black granite – basalt – schist – quartz), which are rocks that can only be dealt with by diamond cutters and a technology that is only found in factories of modern warships, and it does not make sense for anyone to By carving them with primitive tools that were used in the era of the dynasties, which are respectively (stones – copper – bronze – then iron in the later ages), all of them cannot be dealt with at all with these tools, let alone polishing and smoothing them and under them with drawings in this way!

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But the question here is why these coffins were made and for whom and why were all coffins empty and closed when they were discovered, except for one coffin. When the archaeological mission tried to move the lid of the coffin with dozens of workers, it could not. Then the mission used dynamite to open the coffin and they found nothing inside the coffin!!

Why was no mummy or a carcass of the body of the Apis calf found in any of them, as Auguste Marit Pasha, the discoverer of the tomb claimed? Who made it, how and why it was made, why it is so huge, and in the end, how did they move it into the corridors and narrow tunnels of the Serapeum?

Examining Temperature Control, Construction Techniques, and Lighting

The catacombs of the Serapeum are in themselves a dilemma. In the summer you find them cold and in the winter it is hot. The tunnels are 400 meters long. They are dug in the heart of the rock of the Saqqara plateau, not in the middle of the sand, and the tunnel descends to it by a stepped ladder. If you look at the map of the tunnels below, you will find many branches.

The Serapeum tunnels

In the main tunnel, at those spaces visible on the map, there are boxes, and there are other branches as well. If we look at the main corridor, we find it in the same straight line. Is it possible that this long tunnel was only dug by pickaxes?
The tunnels of the Serapeum have only one door, which is the entrance and exit. The vision is inside the tunnels, even with the sun being very dim, so they dug all that distance that deep in the darkness and brought out a pile of tons on the lights of the fire torches.

Strangely, there is no trace of the positions of the torches on the walls of the tunnel, just as any fire torches at that depth with the backfill and the dirt would be hard and suffocating work.

The Serapeum Construction

Given the roundness and straightness of the tunnel, is it possible for a human hand to dig a tunnel with such accuracy and integrity for this distance? Rather, it can be said that this is impossible without a drilling machine, because the tunnels are not dug in the sand, but are dug in the rocks of Saqqara, which certainly requires an incredible double effort to be done through The human hand alone, but it is powerful and advanced machines that accomplished this work, as if we look at our contemporary civilization, we will find that to dig a tunnel-like this, we will need a tunneling machine.
Then we come to the coffins of the Serapeum itself, which is a scientific and engineering miracle. Even in our time, these coffins were not built but were carved like any sarcophagus. It consists of 4 sides, a base, and a lid.

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The body of the coffin itself was carved by cutting a solid block of granite of various types from quarries located in the south of the country, such as Luxor, Aswan, Sudan, Sinai, the Red Sea, and Fayoum. After cutting that block, estimated at approximately 80 tons, from the quarry, it is dug and polished, and then the cover is carved.

There is no doubt that shovels and primitive road machines cannot produce such a unique geometric product. All the inner and outer corners of the box are a perfect 90 degrees, neither 90.1 nor 89.9 also the flatness coefficient with an error rate of less than 0.02%, a degree that cannot be reached in the modern era except by using machines High-resolution or optical-optical technology such as laser to obtain perfect flatness.

Then we come to the most important question:
How were those giant coffins placed inside the tunnel that has one very narrow entrance?
It is worth mentioning that King Farouk tried to get one of the coffins out of the tunnel and used many workers and mules, and he was unable to move it from its place except for a few meters, and it was left in its place until now!!

The Serapeum of Saqqara is a remarkable testament to the religious and cultural richness of ancient Egypt. Its grand underground galleries, massive sarcophagi, and detailed inscriptions offer invaluable insights into the veneration of the Apis bulls and the complex funerary practices of the time. As both a religious and archaeological treasure, the Serapeum continues to captivate and inform visitors and scholars alike, highlighting the enduring legacy of ancient Egyptian civilization.

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