5 Interesting Facts About the Oldest Pyramid in the World

pyramid of djoser in the saqqara necropolis
© iStock.com/Meinzahn

Written by Jennifer Haase

Updated: October 3, 2023

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Built around 2630 BC, the Pyramid of Djoser is the world’s oldest and most iconic pyramid. Located in Saqqara, Egypt, it was built for the Pharaoh Djoser and is the first known pyramid of its kind. Want to know more about this incredible Egyptian pyramid? Read on to learn five interesting facts about the oldest pyramid in the world!

Before we get started, do you know what makes a pyramid a pyramid? A structure like the Pyramid of Djoser usually has the following characteristics:

  • It’s a monument to a person, place, or event.
  • It has a wide square or triangular base.
  • The sides of the structure slope upward and inward to meet at a top point.

Many Egyptian pyramids have smooth sides, but the oldest pyramid in the world does not! Keep reading to learn why.

1. The Oldest Pyramid Is Nearly 5,000 Years Old

pyramid Djoser

The oldest pyramid in the world is around 4,700 years old.

©iStock.com/Diy13

The Pyramid of Djoser is around 4,700 years old. The age of this pyramid is impressive because its outer protective layer of Tura limestone is no longer intact. The Pyramid of Djoser’s incredible durability is yet another testament to the ancient Egyptians’ building skills.

This ancient pyramid sits in the Saqqara necropolis, around 20 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. A necropolis is a large cemetery with many tombs for members of Egyptian royal families. In addition to the Pyramid of Djoser, at least a dozen other pyramids stand in this vast burial ground.

In addition to the Pharoah of Djoser, other members of Egyptian royalty buried in Saqqara pyramids include:

  • Unas – Fifth Dynasty Pharaoh
  • Teti – Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh
  • Pepy I – Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh
  • Merenre I – Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh

The Saqqara necropolis is so vital that it has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. This label means that this site is protected and cannot be demolished, altered, or damaged.

UNESCO stands for the non-profit United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. It is a global organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide.

2. The Oldest Pyramid in the World Was Designed by a Doctor

The Pyramid of Djoser is a design by Imhotep – one of ancient Egypt’s most respected architects. In addition to his gifts with building design, Imhotep also had the following professions and skills:

  • physician
  • priest
  • mathematician
  • poet
  • astrologer
  • scribe

Imhotep likely treated more than 200 diseases as a physician, including appendicitis and tuberculosis. Based on his medical and architectural experience alone, to say that Imhotep was a genius is probably an understatement!

Imhotep made such an impression on Pharaoh Djoser that his name is engraved on a statue found at the pyramid site. This inscription is also how researchers learned of Imhotep’s many titles listed on the statue with his name.

Over time, Imhotep’s accomplishments earned him more than his pharaoh’s respect. Since his death, the Egyptian people have honored Imhotep with the status of the God of Medicine. And, of course, he has the world’s respect for his work designing the oldest pyramid in the world!

3. The Pyramid of Djoser Is the First Design of Its Kind

Not only is Pharaoh Djoser’s pyramid the oldest pyramid in the world, but it’s also the first step pyramid built in Egypt. At the time, no other pyramids had the same exterior structure, but it inspired the designs of later architects. This fact proves that Imhotep, the pyramid’s architect, was an innovator of his time.

The exterior of the Pyramid of Djoser is composed of six terraces, each level slightly higher and smaller than the one before it. The highest point reaches about 204 feet tall (62 meters).

This pyramid design is called mastaba, after the Arabic word for bench. Researchers believe that Imhotep developed this pyramid style to reflect the different levels of eternity and provide a practical structure for the burial chamber of Pharaoh Djoser.

4. There’s Much More Than a Burial Chamber Inside

The interior of the oldest pyramid in the world holds fascinating rooms and artifacts. The structure’s interior has corridors, chambers, and galleries, many of which are underground. In addition, there are multiple burial chambers located inside the pyramid, each dedicated to different members of the royal family. These chambers feature intricate carvings and hieroglyphics that tell stories about ancient Egypt.

Among the many artifacts found inside the pyramid are more than 40,000 stone vessels. The vessels have Egyptian names (some royal and some not) inscribed in the stone. These vessels of various shapes, sizes, and stone types are scattered along the corridors that lead to Pharaoh Djoser’s granite tomb.

The Pyramid of Djoser also contains a number of statues and stone coffins (sarcophagi) for the Pharaoh’s possessions.

5. It’s Not Just a Pyramid; It’s an Entire Complex

pyramid-of-djoser entrance

There was only one entrance that led into the complex.

©iStock.com/Diy13

Did you know that the pyramid is only one building in a larger complex built for the Pharaoh Djoser? The whole complex is so large it was bigger than the cities around it during the Pharaoh’s lifetime. Today, the complex around the Pyramid of Djoser spreads across 37 acres of land in the Saqqara necropolis.

The other structures in the complex include:

  • The Northern Mortuary Temple – built next to the step pyramid, it provides underground passages to the burial chamber
  • The Serdab – a box-shaped cellar with a Pharaoh Djoser life-size statue
  • The House of the North – probably built to represent Upper Egypt
  • The House of the South – probably built to represent Lower Egypt
  • The Heb Sed Court – a courtyard dedicated to the ancient Heb Sed Festival held to honor and certify the king’s rule
  • The South Tomb – has three panels carved with images of Pharaoh Djoser at the Heb Sed Festival
  • The Temple T – a building with no ornamentation outside but full of ancient carvings and pillars called Djed inside

In addition to these structures, the complex once included a wall that stood over 32 feet (10 meters) high. This wall, built to protect the property, also had many false doors to confuse intruders. Still, there was only one entrance that led into the complex.

Many of Saqqara’s buildings and other structures are open to visitors and part of local guided tours. Visiting the Saqqara necropolis could also include stops at other pyramids in the surrounding area. For example, the Giza Plateau, home of the Great Pyramids, is only a two-hour drive away. The Giza Plateau is also where visitors see the Great Sphinx and another complex of additional buildings and cemeteries.

Fun Bonus Fact: The Oldest Pyramid in the World Lives Inside a Famous Video Game

If you think old pyramids are only part of ancient history, think again! The Pyramid of Djoser is an iconic symbol in the popular video game series known as Assassin’s Creed. In this game, the pyramid is featured prominently as a location for players to explore and complete missions.

Players can also find many artifacts inside the pyramid that are related to the game’s storyline. For example, players can find a blade used by one of the game’s main characters to defeat their enemies.

The Pyramid of Djoser is an important symbol in the Assassin’s Creed universe, and it’s sure to continue inspiring gamers for years to come.

The Oldest Pyramid in the World Is a Stunning Accomplishment!

The Pyramid of Djoser is an incredible structure that reflects ancient Egyptian engineering and artistry. Its unique design, fascinating artifacts, and complex layout have inspired many people over the centuries, from historians to gamers. So it’s no wonder it’s considered one of the most impressive pyramids ever made! The oldest pyramid in the world is truly a stunning accomplishment and the test of time.

What Is the Largest Pyramid in the World?

Although Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza is the world’s tallest pyramid at 481 feet (147 meters) high, the world’s largest pyramid is in Cholula, Mexico: Tlachihualtepetl. In fact, this Mexican pyramid is almost twice the size of Giza.

In the Mexican state of Puebla, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is 217 feet (66 meters) tall with a base of 1,476 by 1,476 feet (450 by 450 meters). It has a total volume of 157 million cubic feet (4.45 million cubic meters). This massive pyramid was probably built in several stages from 300 BCE to 700 CE.

It was topped with a temple dedicated to the worship of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of learning and books. However, the pyramid was abandoned in the 8th or 9th century. Covered with vegetation and dirt, it was not discovered by archaeologists until the 1930’s. It is now, of course, a popular tourism site.


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About the Author

Jennifer Haase is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants, pets, and places of interest. Jennifer has been writing professionally about plants and animals for over 14 years. A resident of Nebraska, Jennifer enjoys gardening, floral design, nutrition studies, and being a cat mama.

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