Serapeum

The Serapeum at SaqqaraA Serapeum is a sacred place dedicated to the god Serapis, a syncretistic form of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Apis and the Greek gods Zeus and Hades, or his manifestation in the deceased Apis bull. The Serapeum at Saqqara served mainly as the burial place of the Apis bulls. The complex is located north west of the Step Pyramid. Auguste Mariette began his search for the Serapeum in 1850 after discovering remains of the sphinx alley leading to the Serapeum in the desert. Its discovery in 1851 was of great importance because the Serapeum played a major role in religious life, not only in Egypt but also in other parts of the Hellenistic world.

In the New Kingdom, a single bull with special markings was selected and venerated as the living Apis bull, the earthly manifestation of the Memphite creator god Ptah. Burials of mummified Apis bulls in individual tombs at the Serapeum of Saqqara are attested from the reign of Amenhotep III onwards. Under Ramesses II this practice was abandoned and an underground gallery was cut at the Serapeum. The gallery has burial chambers on both sides, in which the mummified bulls were laid to rest. In the Twenty-sixth Dynasty the underground complex was extended with a second and larger gallery. It continued to be employed until Greco-Roman times and the Serapeum was extended above ground with various chapels and smaller temples.

The variety of finds at the Serapeum ranges from a large number of statues, enormous stone sarcophagi of the buried bulls, inscribed stonework, bronzes, and votive stelae. Most of these items are now on display in the Louvre and much still remains unpublished.