Meidum Pyramid

Meidum Pyramid

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A number of the mastabas built at Meidum were unfinished and never used for burials, possibly because Sneferu abandoned the site in favour of Dashur. However, there are a few interesting mastaba tombs.

M6: Mastaba of Rahotep

Rahotep and his wife Nofret were buried in mastaba M6. The outside of this mastaba is decorated with the “serek” (palace facade). Inside the mastaba there is a small shrine for Rahotep and one for his wife. A false door in the shrine of Rahotep gives his titles as “King’s Son” and “Priest of Heliopolis” and the walls are decorated with scenes of the prince hunting and fishing.

The two shrines were sealed off and so were remarkably well preserved. They also contained two beautifully painted statues depicting the couple. Rahotep has reddish-brown skin and Nofret has creamy white skin. This has prompted some fanciful claims that the statues were repainted by those wishing to pretend the ancient Egyptians were white. In fact, their colouring reflects the common practice in Egyptian art of depicting men with darker (usually red tinged) skin and women with lighter (often yellow tinged) skin.

M16: Mastaba of Nefermaat

This mastaba was the burial place of Nefermaat I (the son of Sneferu) and his wife Atet. The mastaba was built from mudbrick, but the inner walls were lined with limestone. Two small chapels or shrines were set into the eastern part of the mastabas one for Nefermaat and the other for Atet. The chapels were beautifully decorated with scenes of hunting, fishing and farming and the western wall of each chapel contained an elaborate and beautiful false door.

The mastaba of Nefermaat I is famous because of the beautiful wall paintings. Sculptors cut the designs deep into the plaster and then filled the incisions with coloured paste. This technique was labour intensive and the paste had a tendency to crack and fall away so it was soon abandoned. However, some of the scenes created in this manner are exceedingly beautiful.

The shrine of Atet contains a scene known as the “Meidum Geese” which is particularly lovely and is generally considered to be one of the great works of art of the Old Kingdom. Recently it has been suggested by an Italian researcher that the Meidum Geese is a late forgery covering an older painting. This highly speculative and unproven theory is rejected by many experts who have noted that perpetrating such a crime under the watchful eye of Auguste Mariette would have been quite an achievement!

M17: Mastaba of an unknown noble

The largest mastaba at Meidum is that of an unknown noble who was probably one of the sons of Sneferu. Access to the burial chamber is via a tunnel left by tomb robbers in antiquity. The huge blocks of stone that sealed the original entrance are still in place. The burial chamber is undecorated but contains the first known example of a red granite sarcophagus. Unfortunately, the sarcophagus is not inscribed so we have no idea who it was intended for.

Tag Archives: Meidum

The Meidum Pyramid and Mastaba 17. © Rory Gavin

Meidum is one of the most interesting and unique sites in Egypt. At about 100km from Cairo, it’s off the normal tourist trails. The site is home to one of the first pyramids, erupting out of a flat desert plain surrounded by green farm land. It sticks out. And it’s one of the strangest sights in all of Egypt.

My guide had recommended the trip to me and, at first, I wasn’t all that interested. I didn’t know anything about the history of the place or why it might be worth visiting and, if I’m honest, the name was a little off putting (‘my doom‘!). The glamour of Giza, Saqqara and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo all seemed like better uses of my limited time but Meidum turned out to be extra special.

The driver told me that he hadn’t been there for over ten years. My guide had only been there once before. The personnel at the entrance seemed a little unsure who we were and what we wanted. And then there was some confusion over where the ticket book had gotten to. We were definitely far from the beaten track.

The Meidum Pyramid. © Rory Gavin

This only became more apparent once we exited the car. Unlike most Egyptian sites, Meidum is peaceful, quiet and completely free of hawkers and crowds of other tourists, which makes it a very pleasant place to be. It allows you to really take in the area and the ruins. There’s an atmosphere about the place. It feels other worldly. You’re stepping back in time. And your first stop is the pyramid itself.

There’s some debate about who built it but the general consensus is that it was Sneferu in around 2600 BCE. He also built the Bent and Red pyramids in Dashur. The theory goes that, originally, Meidum was a Step Pyramid, which was expanded outward and upward before being converted into what would have been the first ‘true’, smooth sided, pyramid. What we see today is far from that. Now a tall main step followed by two smaller steps rises out of a hill of rubble. It looks like an alien ruin, and many people think that Meidum was a failed experiment in pyramid building, that it collapsed because of its steep angle or because the inner, stepped pyramid was too smooth for the outer ‘true’ pyramid to adhere to it. Another theory is that the outer casing was quarried, resulting in the inner, original pyramid being exposed.

Meidum offers us an insight into how Pyramids in Egypt were developed. From the first, Djoser’s Step Pyramid, to here in Meidum, and then on to the Bent Pyramid and finally the first ‘true’ Pyramid, the Red Pyramid.

As you approach it you realise how gigantic it is. Nearly all Egyptian Pyramids appear larger in real life compared to the pictures you might have seen of them. None are as impressive as the Giza and Dashur Pyramids but Meidum is still an imposing sight. Under the clear sky, it’s bright stone facade almost gleams. And the huge mass boggles the mind. You can’t help but wonder, even in it’s dilapidated state, how the ancient workers put it together.

Getting into the pyramid is very easy as the rubble surrounding it has created an artificle hill, upon which a path winds up to the entrance. Before you go in it’s worth having a look around . You have a great view of the surrounding area, a contrast between farmland and desert, and it’s a good spot to take pictures of the huge tomb or mastaba (Mastaba 17) that lies beside the Pyramid. And then you dive in…

The entrance falls steeply along a long, narrow corridor. The passage starts off smooth sided, like other pyramids you can enter in Egypt, but soon becomes more roughly hewn. Sometimes, when inside other pyramids of Egypt, it’s hard to believe that something so perfectly engineered and so well preserved could be thousands of years old but in Meidum you have no such doubts. It feels old, ancient and worn. Almost as if it was a natural phenomenon rather than a human product. The heat and humidity start to build up as you climb down, hunched against the low ceiling, to the bed rock. It’s well lit, but you are aware that you’re entering an underworld. Once you reach the bottom of the passage you are below the surrounding ground level and you go through a couple of small rooms to get to the burial chamber. They are also roughly cut and could almost be natural caves. As you stand up straight, your knees, thighs and back are glad of the break. It’s not for long though as you soon start to climb up a series of modern wooden steps, almost a ladder, to the burial chamber.

No burial has ever been detected in the chamber but it will still leave a lasting impression. There were fragments of an Old Kingdom coffin found in the lower chambers by Flinders Petrie but the owner has yet to be identified.

Meidum was the first time the Egyptians moved the burial chamber up above ground level into the interior of the pyramid. This represented a big, and a heavy, problem. All the thousands and thousands of tons of rock bearing down would have crushed a normal, flat roof. So they invented a way of relieving the pressure by ‘stepping’ the roof. It’s the world’s first ‘corbeled’ roof. You are aware of what’s above you. The chamber feels heavy and a little oppressive. Maybe it’s the lack of fresh air but it’s easy to ‘feel’ the weight of the pyramid over you.

The interior of the chamber is small relative to other pyramids and again is rough and broken. The thought that you are inside this magical structure, at it’s centre, is thrilling, a little scary and also humbling. It’s always inspiring to stand where ancient people once stood but to stand in such an important place, a place were the almost impossible task of building the greatest Pyramids was fine tuned and improved, makes it particularly so. Again, the roughness, the imperfection of the chamber makes you appreciate how old it really is but also makes you appreciate the genius of it, the breakthrough it represents. You can see the cracks, the marks and all the other signs of how the ancients hacked out bare rock and engineered it into something almost beyond our ability to comprehend. You can see the effort. And though it feels unfinished there is no sense of it being unstable or unreliable. It feels very, very solid.

This chamber is the heart of Meidum. The centre of the place. You can imagine a Pharoh being happy to spend eternity here. You can feel it’s importance, even though it was never completed.

When you’re standing there you can’t help notice the wooden beams. These aren’t modern attachments. The wood has been there since the construction of the pyramid. Luckily it’s not there to bolster the ruin above. It is thought that they were intended to aid in the placement of the sarcophogus. More than 45 centuries later they still wait for the opportunity to do so, perfectly preserved away from the heat and light outside.

After taking it all in it’s time to trace your steps back and start the long, steep, climb back out to light, air and the sun.

Next to the pyramid lies an enormous mastaba. There are several tombs in the area but this one gains most of the attention due to it being right beside the Pyramid. And the fact that it’s massive. There were some important finds in the Meidum tombs, including the famous painting of the Meidum Geese and the statues of Rahotep and Nofret which are one of the biggest attractions in the Egyptian Museum, but here, in Mastaba 17, the walls are bare. We don’t know who was buried here unfortunately and there are no markings on the sarcophagus. However… it’s an amazing place to visit.

Mastaba 17 from the entrance to the Meidum Pyramid. © Rory Gavin

The tomb robbers entrance to Mastaba 17. © Rory Gavin

To do so you have to enter the tomb robber’s entrance and, at times, literally crawl through the inner passageway. It’s well lit and safe but there are blocks to clamber over and under, tight spaces and bats (yes, bats) to negotiate, so, if you ever wanted to feel like Indiana Jones, you’ll really enjoy the experience. Once you get to the burial chamber things open up and even though it lacks any markings it’s still a very impressive room. The granite sarcophagus is wedged open by an ancient, wooden hammer, left behind by the tomb robbers. They wouldn’t have had the benefit of electric light and it must have been scary, dangerous work to toil in the burial chamber by a flickering light.

You can appreciate, again, the skill and intelligence of the ancient builders in putting such a structure together. It may not be as complex as a pyramid but the Mastabas of Egypt are well worth visiting. You’ll really enjoy the experience. As long as you’re not afraid of bats. Hundreds of black, hanging bats.

The Pyramid Temple. © Rory Gavin

Back outside you can explore the small temple that’s attached to the pyramid, on it’s east side. It was discovered after some of the mound of debris that surrounds the pyramid was cleared. As it had lain undisturbed under the rubble for millennia it’s the best preserved of all the pyramid temples. It is small and, like so much else at Meidum, has no markings. You enter, walk through a small, U shaped hall and find the courtyard attached to the pyramid. Here you’ll see two large stella. Again, though, there are no markings. To some it might lessen the importance of the site. But it increases the mystery of Meidum.

Outside the temple the causeway leading to it disappears into the surrounding fields. There are more mysteries to be uncovered in those fields no doubt, but for now they lay hidden. Fragments already uncovered from Meidum lie in it’s open air museum. There are sarcophagi, coffins and parts of statues lying opposite the entrance to the pyramid. Under the hot sun the modest collection helps put the history of Meidum in context. I finally realized what Meidum was. Though a Pharaoh was never buried here many others were. And they chose Meidum as their resting place through out different eras of Egyptian history. It’s was a sacred site to them, a place to spend eternity. And that’s really what Meidum is.

Sarchophogus in the open air museum beside the Meidum Pyramid. © Rory Gavin

Terracota coffin lid in the open air museum, © Rory Gavin

As we boarded the bus and headed back towards Cairo I had one last chance to take in Meidum and it’s unique pyramid. It’s a fascinating and wonderful thing. A link between the first pyramid and the Great Pyramid. A peculiar sight full of questions. And more than just an out of the way niche for Egyptophiles it was and is a sacred place, a wonderful place with a unique aura and place in history.

According to Egyptologists, the construction of the pyramid at Meidum took place immediately after the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. Huni was the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. He originally may have built it. But later it had been attributed to Sneferu and he completed its construction. Thus, the pyramid witnessed a long process of evolution.

Entrance Passageway of the Pyramid

3. It was the first bold attempt to build a straight-sided pyramid

Another interesting fact about the Meidum Pyramid is that it is considered to be the first-ever attempt to build a straight-sided pyramid. This was a serious advancement compared to the Pyramid of Djoser which has a stepped design.

Unfortunately, this also shows in the result because it partially collapsed and only the inner core of the pyramid still stands today. Stepped Pyramid of Djoser / Pixabay

The story behind the Pyramid of Meidum

According to Manetho, when Sneferu came to the throne around 2,575 BC, Djoser’s was the only large royal pyramid that stood complete in ancient Egypt.

After Djoser, Pharaohs of the third dynasty attempted in replicating what their predecessor had accomplished, but their pyramid complexes were never complete. Examples are the buried pyramid of Sekhemkhet, and the Layer Pyramid of Zawiyet el-Aryan.

With Sneferu came Egypt’s second completed pyramid. The Fourth Dynasty ruler would become the greatest pyramid-builder in the history of ancient Egypt and successfully completed three massive pyramids. Egyptologists credit Sneferu with having built the pyramid at Meidum, and the Red and Bent pyramid at Dahshur. He is also credited with building a smaller pyramid at Seila.

In total, Sneferu’s pyramids surpass in a mass of stone even the Great Pyramid of Giza, thought to have been built by his son Khufu.

Similar to Djoser’s Step Pyramid, Medium was constructed in various different stages. In this way, we can say that Sneferu’s pyramid at Meidum was another Proto-Pyramid. Sneferu’s pyramid at Meidum is thought to have started off as a step pyramid consisting of seven distinct steps. In total, the pyramid is thought to have been completed in three stages. This stage is known among archaeologists as E1.

Before the builders finished the fourth (or fifth) step of Meidum’s pyramid, the pyramid was enlarged adding another step to the structure, now totaling eight steps. This stage is known as E2 and is thought to have been completed in Sneferu’s first 14 years of reign.

During Sneferu’s 15th year as King of Egypt, his court was moved to the Royal Necropolis of Dahshur where new projects were planned. During this time, a change in the pyramid design appeared, and Sneferu orders his royal architects to return to Meidum and turn the Step Pyramid into a smooth-sided, true pyramid. This stage is known as E3.

An image of the Pyramid at Meidum. Shutterstock.

This is one of the main reasons why Meidum’s pyramid is so unique it represents the very beginning and end of Sneferu’s pyramid-building program.

Today, like many other pyramids in Egypt, Meidum bears only a small part of its former glory. Instead of the eight steps the pyramid had when it was completed, the present-day structure consists of a three-stepped tower, rising above a sloping mound of debris. Egyptologists assume that the three-stepped tower was left after the outer casing and packing that filled the steps of the pyramid were quarried away in antiquity. As noted by Lehner, Petrie recorded that the pyramid was still used as a quarry in his day.

However, another, perhaps far more plausible theory, is that the debris are the result of the collapse of the pyramid white it was under construction, after all the pyramid may have been a proto-pyramid an experimental structure where the builders tested out its shape and form. Lehner believes this was not the case as excavations around the pyramid have not yielded any 4th-dynasty ropes, timbers, or materials, which discounts the theory the pyramid suddenly collapsed. However, this does not mean that after the pyramid was completed, it collapsed due to its experimental shape.

The Pyramid at Meidum was built with construction techniques introduced by Djoser in the Third Dynasty, with accretions of stone courses laid at an inward slope. However, better quality stones which were laid in more regular courses were used for the outer faces of the accretions, and fine white Tura limestone was built onto the other surface of the pyramid.

Pyramid of Meidum

The Meidum pyramid lies close to the entrance to Al-Fayoum , about 50km south of Dashur on the western edge of the cultivated area where it becomes desert. The monument was originally ascribed to the king Huni, who ruled for around fourteen years at the end of Dynasty III – primarily because he had no other pyramid in his name. The current archaeological thought is that it was probably built by Snefru, Huni’s son and successor and the first king of Dynasty IV, although Huni may have laid the foundations. There is no record of Huni at all in the structure but Petrie found several blocks with Grafitti giving the date of Snefru’s 17th year of reign. There is also a Dynasty XVIII Grafitti naming Snefru in a passage and chamber of the mortuary temple.

The pyramid at Meidum was constructed in steps in the manner of the old style step pyramids, first with seven steps which were amended to eight and then filled in with packing and regular courses of better quality stone to create a smooth surface. Many Egyptologists call the Meidum structure the first ‘true’ pyramid and it certainly appears to be the transition point between the early step pyramids and the great monuments such as those we see at Giza. It would appear that the Meidum pyramid was built in three phases of construction. Phase I consisted of the building of a seven-stepped structure, which was then enlarged and covered in phase II and filled in with its final casing in stage III, probably during the later years of Snefru’s reign.

Today only three steps are visible, towering out of its mound of rubble in a huge bizarre tower. There are many theories as to how it lost its casing – an early collapse during construction, an earthquake in antiquity – but the most likely explanation is that the casing blocks were easy to quarry away and Petrie recorded that the stone was still being quarried at the time he investigated it in the late 19th century. Some limestone casing blocks still are visible on the western side of the pyramid. We may never know the answer to the questions of how the casing was lost.

Today the Pyramid of Meidum appears as a huge tower in the middle of the desert as it is constructed over a high plateau. The pyramid is also featured with its strange cubic look. This is because it represents a transitory period between the step pyramids and proper pyramids in ancient Egypt.

The pyramid is entered from the north face, 18.5m above the ground, an innovation which future pyramid-builders would adopt as a standard . Today a staircase leads up the mound of debris and a low passage slopes from the entrance down to the bedrock beneath the base of the structure. Then a short horizontal passage with a small antechamber and a niche on the right-hand side leads to a vertical shaft and the burial chamber at the original ground level. The corbelled roof of the burial chamber projects above the bedrock in the masonry of the pyramid and looking up you can see the high corbelled walls, where there are still traces of an ancient wooden beam, perhaps intended to be used to facilitate lifting the sarcophagus. No trace of a sarcophagus or a king’s remains were found in the burial chamber, suggesting that there was never a burial, but Petrie reported finding remains of a plain wooden coffin in the entry corridor which he considered to possibly date to the Old Kingdom (now in the Petrie Museum, London).

Another innovation at Meidum is the advent of the satellite pyramid, the destroyed remains were found on the southern side of the structure. On the eastern side is a small limestone offerings chapel, discovered by Petrie in 1891, the first to be built on the eastern side of the terrace and probably a fore-runner to later larger mortuary temples. The chapel consisted of a vestibule and a courtyard with a central altar and two tall stelae, which are still in situ. If they had been inscribed the stelae would have given the name of the pyramid’s owner. The pyramid and temple were contained within an enclosure of high limestone walls. The Meidum pyramid also had the new feature of a causeway – almost 200m long, which probably ended in a valley temple which so far has not been discovered.

It is well known that Snefru went on to practice his pyramid building at Dashur – the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid were both built by this king. There is also a tiny step pyramid at Seila, which has recently been attributed to Snefru during excavations in the late 1980s. It is still unknown why Snefru abandoned the Meidum pyramid and his residential city of Djedsnefru with its necropolis to move to Dashur, as it seems likely that the Meidum structure did not collapse until at least the New Kingdom.

Pyramids at Meidum

Meidum is located some 80 kilometres to the South of Memphis, on the Westbank of the Nile, to the East of Lake Moëris and the Faiyum oasis. Because of its remoteness, it is not seen as part of the Memphite necropolis, which stretches from Abu Rawash to Dahshur, even though one pyramid and several mastabas have been built there during the Old Kingdom.

Although Meidum is mainly known for its collapsed pyramids, there also are some impressive cemeteries to the West, North and East of the pyramid. The oldest mastabas that have been found are dated to the early 4th Dynasty, an indication that the site had not been used for burials prior to that.

Several of these tombs were built for sons of Sneferu, the founder of the 4th Dynasty, among them Nefermaat with his wife Itet and Rahotep and his spouse, Nofret. Two lovely statues representing Rahotep and Nofret respectively were found in their tomb.

A lovely and realistic painting of six geese in a natural setting, was found in the mastaba of Nefermaat. The scene shows six gees in a field, three facing left and three facing right. The geese the most to the left and right are bending over pecking at the ground for food, whereas the four in the middle have their heads tilted. The feathering and colouring of the geese is different, breaking the symmetry in this scene and giving it a very individual aspect.

Pyramid of Sneferu at Meidum

Just across from the Faiyum in the Nile Valley, south of Cairo, situated alone on the edge of the Western Desert above the lush green fields at Meidum is a tower shaped structure some sixty-five meters high that was once a pyramid that we believe was built by the 4th Dynasty King, Sneferu (Snefru, Snofru). However, there is no sure agreement on this among Egyptologists. Some believe that the early phases of construction were done by Huni, his predecessor, and that Sneferu was only responsible for the completion of the Pyramid. However, Huni’s name was not found at the pyramid, and various written documents suggest that it and the nearby residential city belonged to the reign of Sneferu. Also, many of the nearby tombs also belong to the family of Sneferu.

In may ways, Meidum is the most mysterious of all the great Pyramids. When Sneferu came to the throne around 2575 BC, Djoser’s complex at Saqqara was the only large royal pyramid that stood complete. But Sneferu would become the greatest pyramid builder in Egyptian history by completing not one but three of them.

Pyramid of Sneferu at Meidum.

The early locals of this century called the Meidum Pyramid el-haram el-kaddab, meaning “false pyramid” and because of its form, it attracted attention as early as the Middle Ages from travelers. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the famed Arab historian Taqi ad-Din al-Maqrizi thought it looked like a huge, five stepped mountain. However, it eroded so badly that when Frederik Ludwig Norden visited it in the eighteenth century, the pyramid seemed to have only three levels. But it was not weather that eroded it so, but human beings.

When Napoleon’s expedition passed by Meidum in 1799, his well known draftsman, Denon, had only enough time to make a few sketches and prepare a short description of the pyramid. Later, Perring made a much better investigation of it, including making measurements in 1837. Afterwards, the Lepsius expedition of 1843 studied it in some detail. Nevertheless, its internal structure remained a mystery.

Then, in an extensive effort to discover and document the pyramid texts, Maspero was finally able to open it, along with some mastabas in the area, but archaeological investigation would not start for another ten years. It was Petrie, the founder of modern Egyptology, in collaboration with Egyptologist Percy Newberry and the architect, George Fraser, who led this excavation. They were responsible for not only fully investigating the inside of the pyramid, but also unearthing the pyramid temple, an approach causeway and a series of private tombs in the area around the pyramid. However, this would not be the last that the pyramid would see of Petrie.

After a long interruption, Petrie returned to Meidum with the Egyptologists, Ernest MacKay and Gerald Wainwright. This time they conducted excavations at the northeast corner of the pyramid, in the so-called South Pyramid, and in other places. They tunneled into the pyramid, showing that its core consisted of five accretion layers with an outer surface built of carefully dressed limestone blocks. However, as thorough as Petrie’s work always was, his research into this pyramid seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

Ceremonial causeway leading up to the Pyramid of Sneferu.

In the mid-1920s, Borchardt made his way to Meidum and after mere days in the field, accumulated so much information on the pyramid that it filled an entire book which is still highly regarded today (Die Entstehung der Pyramide an der Baugeschichte der Pyramide bei Mejdum nachgewiesen). He spent considerable time reconstructing, on the basis of the ruins, a corridor leading toward the pyramid from the southeast, which Petrie had earlier discovered in 1910. In Borchardt’s opinion, it was used to transport construction material to the pyramid. There was a ramp that had a gradient of ten degrees which made it possible to construct the lower half of the pyramid, consisting of about 88.5 percent of the total volume of masonry. The ancient builders increased the gradient of the upper half of the ramp, and on these assumptions, everything about the construction strategy seemed to be explained.

Only a few years later, still in the 1920s, an American expedition visited the ruins under the leadership of the British archaeologist, Alan Rowe, but then there was a long period during which the pyramid received little attention. When, a half century later, another expedition visited the pyramid, this time it was an Egyptian effort led by Ali el-Kholi. They concentrated on the huge gravel mound at the foot of the pyramid.

Because of the marshy terrain and the high water level, the valley temple belonging to this pyramid has not yet been found. Snefru’s residential city of Djedsnefru (which means “Sneferu endures”) was probably located east of it.

There was an unroofed causeway that stretched more than two hundred meters and which almost certainly linked the pyramid’s enclosure wall with a valley temple on the edge of the valley. There was actually another “approach” that Petrie excavated, that may have been originally intended as for use as a causeway.

The pyramid was surrounded by a single, high perimeter wall made of limestone blocks. To the east, another huge mastaba lay adjacent to the enclosure wall, which may have been built for the crown prince, though no owner has been identified. It is therefore known only as Mastaba No.17 on maps of the necropolis. However, it is remarkable that stone rubble from the pyramid was used to construct it, and that its mudbrick mantle was originally plastered and whitewashed.

Within the enclosure wall, the large, open courtyard that it enclosed had a floor made of dried clay. Within this courtyard, near the southwest corner of the main pyramid, was a second, though much smaller pyramid, probably originally built as a step pyramid. This is almost certainly the oldest known example of a cult pyramid. It has a substructure that was accessible from the north through a descending corridor. Within its ruins was unearthed a fragment of a limestone stela bearing a depiction of the falcon god Horus. On the opposite side of the courtyard are the remains of a mastaba that was probably intended for a royal consort.

3-D reconstruction of the Sneferu pyramid.

At the center of the east side of the pyramid, Petrie discovered a mortuary temple built of limestone blocks, also within the enclosure wall. It is so small that it might have been a commemorative chapel to the king rather than a true mortuary temple. It is unique in many ways, above all because it was the first one to be built on the east rather than the north side of the pyramid. It is also the most intact and well preserved temple from the Old Kingdom. Even the limestone ceiling slabs remain in place. It is also very simple, and almost certainly connected with the whole conceptual transformation of this pyramid complex during the E3 stage of construction.

The floor plan of this temple is almost square. It consists of three sections that include an entry corridor with a double bend in the southeast corner, an open courtyard and a room with two stelae. The Stelae, which stand close to the foot of the pyramid, consists of pieces of smooth sided limestone that are rounded at the top, but they bear neither inscriptions nor images. Between them stands an offering table. The lack of decorations would seem to indicate that the temple was never really used for any cult activity.

Nevertheless, the temple appears to have had a profound effect on later visitors, as various graffiti show. Dating mainly from the 18th Dynasty, some of the writers praise the temple. Ankhkheperreseneb, who visited it in the 41st year of Thutmose III‘s reign, says that he came “to see the marvelous temple of Horus Sneferu. He saw it, as if heaven were in it and in it the sun rose.” He further exclaims that, “May cool myrrh rain down from the heavens and fragrant incense drip onto the temple roof of Horus Sneferu!” Yet, by the time of his visit it was already in poor condition, for sometime during the First and Second Intermediate Periods herdsmen actually lived there.

As for the Pyramid itself, the explanation of the strange form that it takes today and the many riddles that surround it lies in the complicated transition from the 3rd Dynasty step Pyramids into the true, smooth sided pyramids of the 4th Dynasty. When Wainwright dug into the inside of the pyramid, he showed that the core of the pyramid was constructed of accretion layers of limestone blocks inclined at an angle of about seventy-five degrees. They stood on a square base measuring thirty-eight meters per side.

That the ancient Egyptians used the accretion method to build the pyramid came as no surprise to Egyptologists even in Petrie’s time, because that was a fairly widespread construction method. What did surprise them was the smooth outside surface of each level, which seemed illogical and must have considerably decreased the cohesion of the layers and that of the structure as a whole. The answer to this particular riddle came later from Borchardt, who demonstrated that the Medium Pyramid was built in three stages, during which its outward appearance changed significantly.

The pyramid was originally a seven step structure built on a rock foundation, but perhaps even before it was finished, an eighth step was added. Each of these first two stages, designated E1 and E2, was intended to be the final structure. Yet, the pyramid was eventually rebuilt in order to transform it into a true, smooth sided pyramid. However, in contrast to E1 and E2, the extension designated E3 did not rest on a solid bedrock foundation, but on three layers of limestone blocks laid on sand.

Even more strangely, while the E1 and E2 stage blocks were angled toward the middle of the pyramid, as in the case of Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara, thus significantly increasing the structure’s strength, the E3 blocks were laid horizontally. This fact had been noticed by Borchardt, but Kurt Mendelssohn, who visited Meidum as a tourist, published a best selling book in 1986 on his theory that the method used to build the E3 stage resulted in a catastrophic slippage that buried the workers who built the pyramid under the rubble that now surrounds the structure.

However, Mendelssohn’s theory has not at all been excepted by Egyptologists, because it contradicts the archaeological discoveries that Petrie had already described and that remain obvious today. The stratification of the massive gravel mounds on all four sides of the pyramid shows that the erosion of the structure took place gradually over a long period of time. However, the change in construction methods did make it much easier for the work of stone thieves. Borchardt pointed this out, and explained that the rings of rough masonry bound the individual layers of the core more strongly and were simply laid bare when those layers were destroyed.

Mortuary Temple at Meidum.

Moreover, archaeological investigations have also shown that the pyramid was probably destroyed at the end of the New Kingdom, since in the piles of rubble at its foot secondary graves from the 22nd Dynasty were found at a height of between seven and ten meters above the temple floor. It is assumed that the removal of the casing blocks had already begun during the reign of Ramesses II.

More recently, the American, George Johnson, offered his opinion on the large gravel mound around the pyramid. In his opinion, the wall concealed the remains of a construction ramp that ran around the pyramid and was built in connection with the transformation from the second (E2) to the third (E3) stage. He points to the unused limestone blocks that had not been part of the masonry that el-Kholi found during his investigation of the mound on the northwest corner of the pyramid.

The builder’s marks on some of the blocks from which the pyramid was built are interesting. Among them are stylized images of two, three and four step Pyramids that led some scholars to assume that they show the original, gradually altered form of the pyramid. However, we know know that the images determined the placement of the blocks on the corresponding levels. No less interesting are the inscriptions that include dates and designations of the work groups. They come from the seventh through the eighteenth cattle counts of an unnamed ruler, though it was probably Snefru. Similar mason’s inscriptions can be found on the pyramid of Sneferu at Dahshur.

In addition, the actual significance of the alteration of the structure during stage E3 has not yet been fully explained. The monument’s step-shaped form was abandoned in favor of a true pyramid form, and the north-south orientation in favor of an east-west orientation. This seems to reflect an important shift in religious ideas that occurred during the transition from the 3rd to the 4th Dynasty. Ricke believed this to be the time that the Osiris myth was incorporated into the worship of the dead king. The king became identified with Osiris, the ruler of the netherworld, and his death became a mythical event. However, according to another interpretation, the change in the tomb’s form and orientation was connected with the decline of the astral religion and the rise of the solar religion. Similarly, the German Egyptologist Dietrich Wildung argued that the pyramid complex in Meidum was a predecessor of the later sun temples of the 5th Dynasty.

We might also add that some scholars believe that the last stage of the construction may have occurred many years after the completion of the first two stages, after Snefru had already moved to Dahshur. These scholars seem to believe that he may have finished the pyramid as a cenotaph rather than a true tomb.

The entrance to the pyramid is on the north-south axis, in the north wall, about fifteen meters above ground level. This is a unique placement of an entrance to a step pyramid, so high above ground level. From here, a corridor runs down until it reaches a few meters below the base of the pyramid, where it turns into a horizontal passage that leads to the burial chamber. There are niches on the east and west sides of the horizontal section of the corridor, though their purpose is not certain. They may have been used to make it easier to move the blocks used to seal the corridor after the burial.

The burial chamber itself, which was never finished was entered through a vertical shaft that led upward from the south end of the corridor and came out in the northeast corner of the burial chamber floor. When Maspero entered the pyramid for the first time, he discovered ropes and beams there, which made him think that the shaft was what remained of a tunnel built by grave robbers to facilitate their work. He dated the this structure to the period when the burial chamber was plundered. However, some Egyptologists believe it was part of the original structure, used in raising the king’s sarcophagus into the burial chamber, though there was apparently never a sarcophagus in the burial chamber and no one seems to have been interred there. Also, why would workers have made it so complicated when the sarcophagus could have been placed in the burial chamber during construction?

In the tradition of the Step Pyramids of the 3rd Dynasty, the burial chamber is aligned with the pyramid’s north-south axis. The so-called false vault constructed of large limestone blocks is worth noting. The idea behind it is very ancient and draws on the brick architecture of the Early Dynastic Period. Its purpose was to prevent the enormous weight of the pyramid from shattering the ceiling of the burial chamber. Apparently the builders chose this method over the granite ceiling slabs that they were also familiar with.

There are also rooms to the north of the burial chamber and above the horizontal section of the corridor that were probably the result of alterations in the pyramid’s construction plan.

Apparently, Snefru abandoned this pyramid complex, though why he did so continues to be unresolved. Afterwards, he founded a new residence and a new pyramids necropolis near Dahshur. Perhaps he wanted to be closer to the fortress of the White Walls (Memphis), or maybe he wanted to found a new, more strategically located residential city. Stadelmann, who believes that the pyramid in Meidum was built for Sneferu from the outset, thinks that the complex and surrounding tombs belonged to the queen mother and the princes of a so-called first generation. According to him, only a later generation of Sneferu’s family was buried in Dahshur.

The Meidum pyramid

Ancient Egyptians - Meidum pyramid
A comprehensive guide and fact sheet about the Step Pyramid. Discover fascinating facts and information about ancient Egypt and Meidum pyramid of Huni .

The Meidum Pyramid of King Huni
The first true pyramid
Developed from the mastaba tombs of the pharaohs
The dimensions of the monument
Description of the burial chamber and complex
The pyramids of ancient Egypt
The tombs of the Pharaohs
An overview of the Meidum pyramid of Huni in the Faiyum area

Development of the Meidum pyramid built for King Huni
Learn about the history and the development of the Meidum pyramid of King Huni that was completed by his successor King Snefru and burial customs in ancient Egypt and the tombs of the pharaohs. The design of the Meidum pyramid was 'stepped' or tiered but it was covered with one uniform slope of masonry with a smooth, angled finish making it the first true pyramid.

Facts about the Meidum Pyramid
The plan of the pyramid consists of three parts: the chapel (or temple), the passage, and the sepulchral vault (burial chamber). The temple is always separate and contained chambers, courts, and passages where ceremonies were conducted and offerings were made. The pyramid itself only contained the passages and sepulchral vault. Learn about the ancient pyramids of Egypt, and the tombs of the pharaohs, the fast and easy way via the Meidum Pyramid Fact sheet.

The architectural design the Meidum pyramid followed the 'step' or 'tiered' method of construction. The Step pyramid at Saqqara was its forerunner and had begun as a traditional, flat-roofed Mastaba Tomb. The Step pyramid at Saqqara had six distinct tiers and consisted of three parts: the chapel, the passage, and the sepulchral vault.

The Huni monument was constructed at Meidum, on the edge of the Faiyum, near Crocodilopolis (see map below). The king broke with tradition by moving the royal cemetery of the kings 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the south from the Saqqara area.

The burial chamber was unusual as it was entered via a vertical shaft in the floor - see the plan below.

The Meidum Pyramid Architecture

The Meidum pyramid was designed in the image of the step pyramid as the main architect was a successor to well-known Imhotep. The Meidum pyramid is unfortunately collapsed as many modifications were made to Imhotep’s pyramid design to transformed into a true pyramid, it looks like a huge tower surrounded by a massive pile of rubble. The pyramid is about 93 m high and was once built with a square base with sides measuring about 114m long.

The internal design of the Meidum pyramid is fairly simple but was considered to be a true innovation that became the standard for many generations to come. The entrance of the Meidum pyramid is located north above the ground level with a descending passage down the ground level to a horizontal passage leading to two small chambers and at the end of the passage is a burial chamber which is 5.9 by 2.7 m and has no sarcophagus. The ancient builder used the corbelling method to deal with the pressure of the pyramid. Outside the pyramid is a chapel and traces of an enclosure wall surrounding the complex, there is also a satellite pyramid, an eastern chapel, and a causeway that herald the tradition of the old kingdom.

In 1871, the hieroglyph was discovered in an Egyptian tomb near the Meidum Pyramid, built by Snefru. The tomb itself was dedicated to the pharaoh's son, Nefermaat, and the painting was likely discovered in a chapel dedicated to Nefermaat's wife, Itet. Since the family was royal, they were granted a large mastaba tomb located near the pharaoh's pyramid, with the best artists employed. The paintings were featured below a scene of men catching birds in clap nets to propose to the pharaoh's son. A scene like this isn't notable, except the fact of it being the oldest and best-preserved of all similar scenes. It was admired since discovery, known as "Egypt's Mona Lisa".

The Meidum goose has striking bold colours that distinguish it from other geese in the tomb, leading ssome to believe it was an extinct species, and others chalking it up to artists creativity. Dr. Anthony Romilio, lead author of the study recognizing the painting, used the Tobias criteria to identify the bird. He states artistic license is not the case, since other depictions in the same tomb are extremely realistic in anatomy and markings. It does not match any other geese in the tomb. No fossils of the species are known, but it is assumed they are a lost Egyptian species.

Watch the video: Pyramids of Darshur u0026 Meidum