Egypt has opened to visitors seven ancient tombs dating back more than 3,000 years, on a site in south Saqqara, about 30 km south of Cairo.

The tombs date from the New Kingdom, a period that lasted from 16th to 11th century B.C., and include chambers for Maya, the treasurer of King Tutankhamen, and Horemheb, King Tut's general.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of Antiquities, said he hopes to draw more tourists to the site, which is close to the Step Pyramid of Djoser.

The tombs have been investigated and restored by a team of Dutch archeologists who began work on the site in the 1970s. Some of the chambers were first discovered in 1843 by German explorer Richard Lepsius, but were not fully excavated.


A labourer works on the partly damaged statue of Maya and his wife Merit in south Saqqara, Egypt. (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press)

The south Saqqara area was a necropolis for Memphis, which succeeded Luxor (Thebes) as ancient Egypt's capital under the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamen's father.

After his death, the country was in turmoil and the young King Tut relied on Maya and Horemheb for their financial and diplomatic skills as he moved the religious capital back to Luxor.

"Maya was responsible for restoring order in Egypt, while his colleague Horemheb restored order abroad," the antiquities ministry said in a statement.

Maya's temple, which was unfinished, features images of Maya and his wife Merit. Horemheb built a tomb at the south Saqqara site, but was buried at the famous Valley of the Kings on Luxor's west bank as he later became a king.

The tomb of Merneith — steward of the Temple of Aten under Akhenaten — is built of mud brick encased in limestone blocks and features friezes of metal workers and chapels for  offerings

Other tombs were built for Ptahemwia, who was the royal butler under both Akhenaten and Tutankhamen, and for Pay and his son Raia. Father and, later, son oversaw the harem during King Tut's reign.

With files from The Associated Press