Final restoration work is now in full swing at Egypt's famous Saqqara Necropolis, home of King Djoser's iconic Step Pyramid and a collection of Old Kingdom mastabas and tombs.
Soon, tombs of Sixth Dynasty Chief of Justice Mereuka and Fifth Dynasty Vizier Ptahhotep, along with the Apis tombs of the Serapeum, will be open to the public.
After more than six years of restoration, during which underground water was pumped out of the three tombs, cracked walls and ceilings have been repaired. Wall paintings and engravings have also been cleaned and restored.
A visitors' centre that relates the history of the Saqqara Necropolis and the monuments it houses through documentaries and photos is now in the final stages of construction. A new road has also been prepared to facilitate tourists visiting the necropolis' precincts.
"Opening these tombs at the Saqqara Necropolis represents a great success, as it will attract more tourists to one of Egypt's most important ancient sites," Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram online.
Ibrahim explained that, since 1986, the Serapeam – long considered one of Saqqara's main tourist attractions – has been closed to the public. For almost 30 years, tourists have not been able to wander through its splendid rock-hewn galleries, flanked by tomb chambers containing the enormous sarcophagi that once held the remains of the sacred Apis bulls.
The Serapeum was discovered by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in 1851. It consists of a 200-metre-long corridor flanked by 24 vaulted burial chambers dedicated to housing the remains of the Apis bulls.
On the northern side of Teti I’s Pyramid stands the mastaba tomb of Mereruka, king Teti’s vizier and chief justice minister. His tomb represents Saqqara's largest nobleman's tomb, illustrating his exalted position during the reign of Sixth Dynasty King Teti.
This tomb was discovered in 1892 by French Egyptologist Jaques de Morgan. It bears excellent ancient Egyptian reliefs showing different aspects of Old Kingdom life and customs. The tomb held the remains of Mereruka, his wife Seshseshet and their son Meriteti.
Ibrahim said that the tomb’s walls were intricately decorated with scenes depicting Mereruka in different poses with deities and family members, and during his frequent hunting and fishing trips. Among the most striking reliefs is one portraying a hippopotamus hunt and fowling expeditions in the marsh-lands.
Old Kingdom crafts and industry are also depicted, including scenes showing carpenters, sculptors, vase-makers, metal-workers and jewellers at work.
The tomb of Petahotep, city administrator and vizier of Fifth Dynasty King Dkedkare Isesi, is the third tomb to be opened in the Saqqara Necropolis since it was discovered in 1850 by Mariette. This tomb was documented by Norman de Garis Davies at the beginning of the last century.
The tomb also houses the burial chambers of Petahotep and his father Akhethotep. It bears outstanding reliefs depicting both viziers in different positions with attendant family members and deities.
Rich with original scenes, the tomb combines the precision of attentive observation with that of remarkable craftsmanship. It consists of an entrance with a two-pillar portico, which leads to a corridor decorated with paintings depicting agricultural activities presided over by Akhethotep and his son Petahotep.