The site of Hawara lies in the south-eastern Fayoum region, about 100km to the south of Cairo, Egypt. It is located at the western end of the ‘Lahun Gap’, a natural depression between the Fayoum and the Nile Valley. It is the burial place of Amenemhat III (c. 1855-1808 BC), the sixth Pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty.
During his reign, Amenemhat III is believed to have continued the cultivation of the Fayum region started by his farther and undertook many large-scale building projects. Amenemhat III is thought to have constructed two pyramids, one at Hawara and another a Dahshur. It is believed that the pyramid a Dahshur was abandoned in favour of Hawara due to structural failure.
In common with other Middle Kingdom pyramids, constructed after the reign of Amenemhat II, the Hawara pyramid was constructed of mudbricks round a core of limestone passages and burial chambers and faced with limestone. The majority of the facing stones at Hawara have been pillaged throughout history for use in other buildings, leaving behind the mudbrick structure.
To the south of the Hawara pyramid, Amenemhat III constructed a large cult complex. The complex is believed to have been constructed in the second half of his reign and was called ‘Ankh-Amenemhat’. In the Greco-Roman period, Amenemhat III was remembered as a benefactor in the Fayoum region and was still worshiped as as god at his temple, under his royal name of Pramarres.
During the period of Classical Antiquity, the temple complex he built became known as the ‘Labyrinth’, thanks to writers such as Herodotus. The Labyrinth was regarded as one of the wonders of the world.
Statue of Amenemhat III
(© Neues Museum / CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Despite the Labyrinth, and associated pyramid, being visited and written about by ancient authors, there appears to have been few attempts to locate and explore the famed Labyrinth in the post-Roman period. The Renaissance Period in Europe saw a revival in interest in Antiquity and the works of classical authors such as Herodotus. As a result, curiosity in the pyramids and structures of Egypt began to increase.
Several early teams made surveys of the Hawara Pyramid complex in the early nineteenth century, but the mid-nineteenth century Prussian expedition led by Karl Lepsius undertook more detailed work. In 1843 Lepsius excavated to the north of the pyramid and the area to the south-east.
However, the first systematic large-scale archaeological excavation carried out at the site was undertaken by Sir William Flinders Petrie. Petrie had three seasons of excavation at Hawara; the first between January and April 1888, the second between December 1888 and mid-June 1889 and the last in the winter of 1910/1911. These seasons were mostly dominated by the discoveries dating to the Greco-Roman period from the area to north of the pyramid, with finds including the now famous Fayum mummy portraits. Petrie published the results of his excavations in three volumes, Hawara, Biahmu and Arsinoe, Kahun, Gurob and Hawara and The Labyrinth, Gerzeh and Mazguneh. Petrie’s excavations reports have become the primary resource for the archaeology of the labyrinth and pyramid complex.
Archaeological objects from excavations at Hawara are housed in museum collections across the world.
Satellite map of the site of Hawara overlaid with the survey undertaken by Lepsius in 1843.