- The Solar Temple of Userkaf -

Although Userkaf built his funerary monument at Saqqara, he chose to build a new type of temple, dedicated to the cult of the sun, at a location several kilometres to the north, at Abusir. This made him not only the first king to build this kind of temple, but also the first king to initiate building activity at Abusir, an example that would be followed by several other kings of the 5th Dynasty.

Userkaf's choice of location may have been dictated by the fact that Saqqara, which already had some building activity going, was becoming overcrowded for this new type of temple and by the fact that a couple of kilometres north, there was a lake that made the temple easily accessible.

Userkaf's Solar Temple was apparently built in different phases. There is evidence that the monument was first built in mudbrick, before it was rebuilt in actual stone.

In the earliest phase, the temple was nothing more than a symbolic mound built within an enclosure wall. This is reflected by the earliest writing of the name of this monument: its determinative represents a mast projecting from a mound. This mast may have been a symbolic perch for the solar god in the form of a falcon.


A schist head of Userkaf was found in his Solar Temple at Abusir.


The few remains of the Solar Temple of Userkaf, with the three main pyramids of Abusir in the background.

The second phase was completed during the reign of Neferirkare, who erected a granite obelisk on a pedestal building that replaced Userkaf's original mound. The obelisk, a new type of monument, consisted of a small pyramid top, the so-called pyramidion, on a long shaft.

A winding staircase led up to the roof of the pedestal building, to allow access to the obelisk. During this phase, two statue shrines were placed in front of the pedestal building as well.

The following two phases are dated to the reign of Niuserre, who gave the temple its final shape. During the third and fourth phase, an inner enclosure wall was built around Neferirkare's pedestal building and several new chambers were added. The outer enclosure wall was replaced as well and some annex buildings were built against its southeast corner.


A causeway connected the Solar Temple to a Valley Temple that was built on the shores of Abusir Lake. It was not oriented to any of the cardinal points, but rather towards Heliopolis, the city of the solar cult on the east bank of the Nile.

It was heavily damaged when found, but archaeological research has shown that there was an open court, framed by pillars, and some 5 or 7 chapels. The front section is lost but will certainly have had an entrance hall and perhaps also some magazines.


Plan of Userkaf's Solar Temple in its final stage, complete with Valley Temple, causeway and temple with its central obelisk. This stage was completed by Niuserre, who also built his own Solar Temple at some distance to the north.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 150.

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  Solar Temple of Userkaf        


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