Pyramid of Amenemhet I at el-Lisht
Located on the west bank of the Nile, between Saqqara and Meidum, about 50km south of Cairo, was the ancient residence and necropolis of the first two rulers of Dynasty XII at Lisht. During the early Middle Kingdom the capital had temporarily moved away from Memphis to Thebes, until the first king of Dynasty XII, Amenemhet I founded a new residence, ‘Itjawy’, near the modern village of Lisht. The town site has not yet been found, but is thought to have been close to the two pyramids built in this area and mentioned in texts dating to the period. The pyramids of Senwosret I and Amenemhet I can be seen from the main road when travelling south to Cairo, though today barely distinguishable from the desert hills.
Recent archaeological research has suggested that Amenemhet I may have begun his royal tomb at Thebes, behind the hill of Qurna, where a platform, formerly attributed to Mentuhotep Sankhkare was begun in the style of the earlier Temple of Mentuhotep Nebhepetre at Deir el-Bahri. For some reason the founder of Dynasty XII moved the centre of administration north to Lisht and built his pyramid complex nearby. Amenemhet’s pyramid is located at the northern end of the necropolis.
Maspero first entered the pyramid of Amenemhet in 1882 and the necropolis was further explored by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology during 1884-1885. In the early years of the 20th century it was excavated by the American expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, who still continue to work there.
Originally over 55m high the pyramid today is sadly depleted to around 20m which is due not only to ancient robbing of its materials but also to its poor construction method. Pyramid building had declined since the glorious monuments were built at Giza, and although some stone (from earlier structures) was used, much of the pyramid was constructed with unfired mudbricks. The core was of small rough blocks of limestone and filled with debris and mudbricks – which would have been cheap and plentiful in a region close to the Faiyum. Maspero noted on his first visit to Amenemhet’s pyramid that blocks of stone from other royal monuments had been used and the names of Khufu, Khafre, Unas and Pepy have been found there.
The entrance to the monument is in the northern side where a gradually sloping passage, lined with pink granite, descends from ground level to a square chamber above the pyramid’s central axis and a vertical shaft to the burial chamber. Modern excavation of the subterranean burial chamber is hampered by the ground water which now floods the chamber. Covering the entrance was a chapel, a false door at the rear disguising the entrance to the sloping passage.
On the eastern side of the pyramid was a small funerary temple, which is now almost completely destroyed. A limestone false door and a granite altar from the offering hall, carved with Nile gods and nome deities, are the only remnants left to archaeology. Fragments of reliefs naming both Amenemhet I and his son Senwosret I have been found in the foundations of the funerary temple, suggesting that the structure may have been rebuilt by Senwosret. The temple was built on a terrace lower than the pyramid base – perhaps styled on Mentuhotep’s temple at Deir el-Bahri.
Several mastaba tombs of members of the royal family and high-status officials were found inside the inner wall of the complex, and on its western side there are 22 shaft tombs for the royal women, wives and daughters of the king, some of whose names have been found.
The complex was surrounded by an outer perimeter wall, and a causeway from the funerary temple led through the enclosure wall towards the Nile, but a valley temple has never been located.
The pyramids at Lisht are not officially open to visitors except with special permission.