- Zawyet el-Aryan -

Monuments and Sites of Ancient Egypt
  Monuments and Sites   Khaba (?)  
  Zwayet el-Aryan        


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Zawyet el-Aryan is located to the South of Giza and North of Abusir and Abu Gorab. There are two unfinished pyramids at Zawyet el-Aryan. The oldest one is dated to the 3rd Dynasty and would have been a Step Pyramid had it been completed. The other pyramid was built somewhere during the 4th Dynasty, but it is not known for certain by which king.

The Step Pyramid

The two oldest known Step Pyramids were built at Saqqara, located to the South of Zawyet el-Aryan, by the Horus Netjerikhet and his successor Sekhemkhet, both of the 3rd Dynasty.

Another king of that dynasty chose to build his funerary monument at some distance North of Saqqara. He also chose to build his monument near the floodline. In this, he departed from the trend set by Netjerikhet and Sekhemkhet, who built their pyramids well into the desert.

The identity of the builder of the Step Pyramid at Zawyet el-Aryan is not known with certainty. His name is not mentioned in the monument itself. However, vases found in a nearby mastaba mention the name of the Horus Khaba, an elusive 3rd Dynasty king. As it was customary for members of the nobility to be buried near their king, this has been taken as evidence that the unfinished Step Pyramid at Zawyet el-Aryan was built for Khaba.

Had this pyramid been finished, it would have risen up in 5 steps to a height of some 45 metres. There were no traces of outer casing, an indication that indeed, this monument was never finished.

Although it is somewhat simpler, the substructure is similar to that of the Step Pyramid of Sekhemkhet. It substructure consists of a sloping corridor dug in the ground, leading to a burial chamber of 3.63 by 2.65 metres and a height of 3 metres.


Locator Map of Abydos/Umm el-Qa'ab

Zawyet el-Aryan is located almost opposite Memphis.


3-D reconstruction drawing of the Step Pyramid. The substructure is also indicated on this drawing.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 95.


There is no trace of a burial and even the surrounding galleries were left empty. Many Egyptologists have seen this as an indication that whoever built this monument died prematurely. But this does not really explain why there are no traces of a burial at all.

Worth mentioning is also that one of the mastabas near this pyramid contained seal impressions and a pottery fragment with the name of the Horus Narmer. Along with the find of some pottery bearing the same name, this may show that Narmer has been active in the Memphite area.

The 4th Dynasty Pyramid

Even less is known about the second pyramid that was built at Zawyet el-Aryan. Based on stylistic criteria, this pyramid must indeed be dated to the 4th Dynasty. There are some hieratic inscriptions that appear to mention the name of a king, but the name has been read in a variety of ways: Nebka, Wehemka or Baka. If the latter reading is correct, then this might be a confirmation of the existance of Bakare, a king mentioned in some kinglists and assumed to have been the immediate successor of Khefren.

The pyramid itself was intended to measure about 200 by 200 metres. Had it been finished, it would risen almost as high as Khefren's pyramid in Giza. But unlike the pyramids of Khefren and Kheops, the burial chamber of this pyramid was constructed in a pit that was dug some 21 metres deep in the ground. This building technique is strongly reminiscent of the pyramid of Djedefre at Abu Rawash.

The pyramid itself was surrounded by an enclosure wall measuring 665 by 420 metres.