- Saqqara -

The Pyramid of Unas


The (glorified) humanity bewail you after the Imperishable Stars have carried you

Burial Chamber, South Wall,
Utterance 214:39

The Pyramid of Unas, the last King of the Vth Dynasty, who ruled for about 30 years, is located in the North Saqqara on the direct route from the Pyramid of Sekemhet to the Headless Pyramid (Menkauhor).

The desert area, which includes the Unas Pyramid Complex, covers the territory of about ​​800 meters to the south-east. This is caused by the presence of an exceptionally long Causeway, leading to the ancient harbour. Such an architectural arrangement of the Pyramid complex indicates, that by some reason this very area was important for the King, whose ideas were brought to life by the Ancient Egyptian engineers, geologists and builders.

Despite the fact that the Pyramid of Unas is the smallest among the other Pyramids of the Old Kingdom, it fully carries in itself an "archived" information about the long reign of the last King of the Vth Dynasty. This information is stored both in the architecture of the Primiramid complex, as well as in the skillful hieroglyphic decoration of it's internal chambers. Here, in the interior structure of the Pyramid, where the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero first set his foot in 1881, the ancient wall writings, known to us as the “Pyramid Texts” or the “Book of the Dead” were discovered.

Since that time archeological works in the Pyramid Complex of Unas never stopped.

  • Year 1899 - 1901. Alessandro Barsanti, the Italian architect and Egyptologist, made his first archeological excavations of the area around the Pyramid, after which the remains of Unas Memortuary Temple, as well as a number of tombs of the II Dynasty and the Late Period burials were revealed.

  • Year 1929 - 1931. Cecil Mallaby Firth, the British Egyptologist, worked on excavation of the Unas Pyramid Complex until his death in 1931.

  • Year 1936 - 1939. The study was continued by the French architect and Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer.

  • Year 1937 - 1949. Egyptian archaeologists Selim Hassan, Mohammed Zakharia Goneim and Abdel-Salam Hussein focused their archaeological research especially on the Causeway. During the excavations, Hussein discovered a pair of Boat Pits, located along the upper part of it.

  • Year 1970 - 1981. Egyptian archaeologist Ahmad Moussa together with French archaeologist Odran Labrouss have excavated the lower part of the Causeway and the Valley Temple.

  • Year 1999 - 2001. A large-scale restoration of the Valley Temple was undertaken under the direction of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

  • Year 1996 - 2016. The pyramid was closed because of the humidity, that caused damage to the Burial Chamber.

  • 26 May 2016. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany inaugurated the opening of the Pyramid of ancient Egyptian King Unas at the Saqqara necropolis after 20 years of its closing.

The Pyramid is composed of rough limestone blocks, the size of which decreases in the direction to the top. Casing rows preserved only at the lowest levels of the Pyramid. The entrance to the Pyramid is located on the north side, at the ground level.

Source: Gaston Maspero, The dawn of civilization. Egypt and Chaldaea
ISIDA Project
Photo by Valery Senmuth

The walls of the Burial Chamber are lined with white alabaster, on which the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic funeral texts, painted in turquoise (color of resurrection), are carved in vertical columns. The texts of the Pyramid of Unas contain 283 “spells” and forming a part of the “Pyramid Texts” or the “Book of the Dead”, which includs almost 800 known “spells” or “utterances” intended to accompany the soul of the deceased in the Underworld and to protect it in all it's way long.

Except the Pyramid of Unas, the Pyramid Texts were found in 4 more Pyramids of the Vth-VIth Dynasties (Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II) and in the Pyramid of the VIIth Dynasty, belonging to the King Ibi, as well as in several small Pyramids of the Queens.

The sarcophagus of Unas, made of greywacke, is located near the western wall of the Burial Chamber. The King's mummy was never found, except a few mummified fragments of bones, discovered during the archaeological work inside the Pyramid. These human remains, found in the Pyramid, are currently stored in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, but it is still unclear whether they belonged to King Unas or not.

Some external architecture features of the Pyramid of Unas and its environs were described in the expedition report of ISIDA Project in 2012. The interior rooms were described in the expedition report - 2013, when the members of our research group were granted a special permission for accessing the interior part of the Pyramid.

Now the doors of the Pyramid of Unas are open to the public. And for now - welcome to a small virtual tour through the Space and Time!

Gaston Maspero inside Unas Burial Chamber in 1881.
Edouard, Boudier, 1903
Unas Burial Chamber.
Valery Senmuth, 2019

Below are the photos, of the Pyramid of Unas interior, "Pyramid Texts", Unas Sracophagus:


Unfortunately the Mortuary Temple of Unas, located from the eastern side of the Pyramid, is completely destroyed. Many of its parts, including blocks, architraves and columns, were reused in later times in another structures throughout the long history of the Ancient Egyptian Kingdom as well as the Roman Period.


The small Subsidiary Pyramid was located from the southern side of the Mortuary Temple inside the Enclosure Wall. Only the perimeter of its foundation is partially preserved.


On the southern side of the Pyramid there is a part of hieroglyphic inscription, carved by Khaemweset - the eldest son of Ramesses II, the high priest of the God Ptah in Memphis. Prince Khaemweset has repaired many monuments of the Old Kingdom, including the Pyramid of Unas, restored 1000 years after its construction. For his large-scale architectural and restoration activities which included reconstruction of destroyed Temples and other Ancient Egyptian monuments, created by his ancestors, Khaemweset is often called “the first archaeologist”.


The Causeway, connecting the Upper Temple of Unas with its Valley Temple, was really an impressive grandiose structure in its time. Being excavated by Selim Hassan in 1937, it is still the best preserved Causeway, among other known Causeways, leading from the Pyramids to the Nile. It consisted of a 720 m long roofed corridor, the inner walls of which were decorated with high-quality bas-reliefs, depicting the scenes from the Living World, beginning in the East and ending with the scenes from the World of the Dead in the West.

Among the carved scenes, there are images of transportation of granite from Aswan, hunting scenes (including giraffes, lions and leopards), agriculture, metalworking, battles, as well as the scenes of Royal rituals, including Kheb-Sed ceremonies.


In the upper part of the Causeway, on the left from it, there are two Boat Pits, the walls of which are lined with limestone blocks.


Unfortunately, the condition of the Lower Temples of the Pyramids is very poor. The reason for this was the easy quarrying of building materials for construction of another buildings in later times. Their convenient location and proximity to the Nile - the main transportation rout of Egypt, was the main reason of this easy quarrying, which in some cases left even no stone from the ancient Valley buildings. The Valley Temple of King Unas was not the exception. As a result of research and restoration work, carried out under the direction of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, it was established that the Valley Temple of Unas was probably located on a shore of a lake with a harbor and embankment, providing the convenient access to the Causeway.

During the restoration works, held in the recent years, both the Causeway and the Valley Temple have undergone major reconstruction, and now, after almost 4,5 thousand years, one can safely walk along the cobbled road, starting his way from the ancient harbor, where the Royal Boats once moored, up to the Pyramid itself. To that very Pyramid, that was first to open to us the stone pages of the most ancient Book on the Earth - the Book of Eternity - the "Book of the Dead".

Photo by Tore Kjeilen/LookLex

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