Enter the Tomb!
You can now visit a more than 3,400-year-old burial site in Egypt
PHOTO: Restoring the ancient tomb took 11 years. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
MAP: The Serapeum lies just south of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. (Jim McMahon)
Burial sites in Egypt hold some of the world’s oldest historic artifacts. Last week, one of Egypt’s most important tombs, the Serapeum [sir-APP-ee-um] of Saqqara, reopened to the public after an 11-year-long renovation.
The Serapeum is the burial site of more than 30 sacred Apis bulls (special bulls, named after a god, that were worshipped in ancient Egypt). The tomb was discovered in 1851 by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.
In addition to displaying the mummified remains of the bulls, the Serapeum is important because it shows details of ancient Egypt. Markings and illustrations on the burial site’s walls show what life was like in Egypt as far back as 1400 B.C. The Serapeum was closed in 2001 because of water damage and instability due to land shifts.
AWESOME TO BE AN APIS
It was good to be an Apis bull in ancient Egypt. Egyptians believed the bulls of Apis were sacred. They worshiped the bulls and made sure the animals lived very comfortable lives.
Apis bulls were rare and had very distinctive markings. They were black, with a triangle of white on the forehead, a crescent-shaped white spot on the right side, and a beetle-shaped knot under the tongue.
The Pharaoh’s men scoured the country looking for bulls that met this description. An Apis bull would be sent to the ancient city of Memphis, where it would have a temple, two chambers to live in, and a large court for daily exercise. The whole country would celebrate its birthday every year when the Nile began to rise.
When an Apis bull died, it was embalmed and buried in a tomb that was almost as glamorous as the Pharaoh’s. An Apis’s sarcophagus, or stone coffin, is made of granite and weighs 60-70 tons.
WELCOME BACK, TOURISTS
Over the past year, the country has been through a revolution and a major change in government, with longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak forced out of power.
Egyptian officials have spent millions of dollars renovating the tomb. They hope that the reopening of the Serapeum will draw more tourists back to the country. Officials plan to open five more tombs soon.
“Egypt has not stopped working after the revolution,” Mohammed Ibrahim, the Egyptian secretary of state for antiquities, told reporters. “[T]his opening must be followed by others.”