Userkaf Sun Temple

Userkaf's most innovative monument is undoubtedly his sun temple at Abu Gorab. First recognized by Richard Lepsius in the mid-19th century, it was studied by Ludwig Borchardt in the early 20th century and thoroughly excavated by Herbert Ricke in 1954. According to the royal annals, the construction of the temple started in Userkaf's 5th year on the throne and, on that occasion, he donated 24 royal domains for the maintenance of the temple. The site of Abusir may have been chosen due to its proximity to Sakhebu, a locality mentioned in various sources such as the Westcar Papyrus as a cult center of Re. Userkaf's sun temple covered an area of 44 × 83 m and was called.

It is believed that the construction of the sun temple marks a shift from the royal cult, so preponderant during the early 4th dynasty, to the cult of the sun god Re. The king was not revered directly as a god anymore but rather as the son of Re and this, in turn, changed the royal mortuary cult.

In this context, the sun temple, oriented to the west, was a place of worship for the setting (i.e. dying) sun and was thought of as a part of the royal mortuary complex. For this reason, the sun temple shares many architectural elements with the pyramid complex itself: it comprises a high temple build around a large obelisk and a causeway leads to a rectangular valley temple, close to the Nile. However, the valley temple is not oriented to any cardinal point and the causeway is not aligned with the axis of the high temple, both features being highly unusual. The view that the sun temple and pyramid complex were nonetheless considered similar is supported by the Abusir Papyri which indicate that the cultic activities taking place in the sun temples were closely related to those of the royal mortuary complexes. This new ideology of kingship lasted for most of the fifth dynasty since six out of seven of Userkaf's immediate successors constructed sun temples in Abusir as well.