Small research document on the hawarra “labyrinth”

Historical Acounts

Amenemhat's mortuary temple was supposedly the greatest ever built. It was so complex it had a special name – 'The Labyrinth'.

Many ancient accounts speak about a lost “egyptian labyrinth” which according to the ancient records, was more a massive underground city or palace and named a labyrinth due to its winding corners and scale. It had place an representation of all of the 21 districts of ancient egypt.

The following accounts and stories where made on the labyrinth. I will highlight the things that stood out to me or are of relevance as you see some writers claim to have seen it in person and claim it to be very real. If this labyrinth will be found it will be the greatest discovery in ancient egypt and shed light on our past.

The colossal Egyptian temple was named "Labyrinth" by the Greeks after their legendary complex of meandering halls designed by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete (wherein the Minotaur dwelt). Herodotus wrote of the labyrinth after his visit of the building in the fifth century Before Common Era. Herodotos describes the labyrinth as a grand monument for the twelve kings (dodecarchs), surpassing even the pyramids. According to Manetho's Aegyptiaca, preserved in an epitome of the early 3rd century CE, the Labyrinth was the tomb of king Lachares. For Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) the enormous collective tomb of the twelve kings was built by Mendes, alias Marros. Following a different tradition he reports that king Menas built a square pyramid and the labyrinth. Strabo, who visited Egypt in 25-24 BCE, gives an accurate topographical description, locating the labyrinth and the pyramid in a trapezium shaped area. He also mentions a nearby village. In Strabo’s view the labyrinth was a palace, a place for assembling, speaking justice and bringing offerings for the nomes of Egypt. Pliny's Natural History (ca. CE 70) ascribes the great labyrinth to king Petesouchos or Tithoes. His contemporary Pomponius Mela attributes it to Psammetichus. In Aelius Aristides (CE 117-181) book "Aigyptios" the labyrinth is a mere rhetorical topic illustrating the greatness of Egypt (Aigyptios 48, 1). According to the Historia Augusta (written early 4th century CE), the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus visited the labyrinth site during his journey in Egypt in 199-200 CE. The state of preservation of the building at that time is not clear, but its symbolic meaning and fame have remained (Historia Augusta 17, 4).

Herodotus (ca. 484-430 BCE): One passage in Histories, Book, II, 148.

In the second book of his History, the Greek writer Herodotus gave the following account of the Labyrinth:

148. Moreover they (the 12 kings) resolved to join all together and leave a memorial of themselves; and having so resolved they caused to be made a labyrinth, situated a little above the lake of Moiris and nearly opposite to that which is called the City of Crocodiles. This I saw myself, and I found it greater than words can say. For if one should put together and reckon up all the buildings and all the great works produced by the Hellenes, they would prove to be inferior in labour and expense to this labyrinth, though it is true that both the temple at Ephesos and that at Samos are works worthy of note. The pyramids also were greater than words can say, and each one of them is equal to many works of the Hellenes, great as they may be; but the labyrinth surpasses even the pyramids. It has twelve courts covered in, with gates facing one another, six upon the North side and six upon the South, joining on one to another, and the same wall surrounds them all outside; and there are in it two kinds of chambers, the one kind below the ground and the other above upon these, three thousand in number, of each kind fifteen hundred. The upper set of chambers we ourselves saw, going through them, and we tell of them having looked upon them with our own eyes; but the chambers under ground we heard about only; for the Egyptians who had charge of them were not willing on any account to show them, saying that here were the sepulchres of the kings who had first built this labyrinth and of the sacred crocodiles. Accordingly we speak of the chambers below by what we received from hearsay, while those above we saw ourselves and found them to be works of more than human greatness. For the passages through the chambers, and the goings this way and that way through the courts, which were admirably adorned, afforded endless matter for marvel, as we went through from a court to the chambers beyond it, and from the chambers to colonnades, and from the colonnades to other rooms, and then from the chambers again to other courts. Over the whole of these is a roof made of stone like the walls; and the walls are covered with figures carved upon them, each court being surrounded with pillars of white stone fitted together most perfectly; and

At the end of the labyrinth, by the corner of it, there is a pyramid of forty fathoms (72 meters), upon which large figures are carved, and to this there is a way made under ground.

149. Such is this labyrinth; but a cause for marvel even greater than this is afforded by the lake, which is called the lake of Moiris, along the side of which this labyrinth is built…

Manetho Aegyptiaca (2, frag. 34) (3rd century BCE):
Short fragment from his list of Egyptian kings.

"Fourth King. Lamares, eight years. He built the Labyrinth in the Arsinoite Nome as a tomb for himself." (talks about a king who made a tom for himself in the arsinoite district in the labyrinth)

Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE): Two passages in his history, Book I 61.1-2 and 66.3-6.

"When the king died the government was recovered by Egyptians and they appointed a native king Mendes, whom some call Mares. Although he was responsible for no military achievements whatsoever, he did build himself what is called the Labyrinth as a tomb, an edifice which is wonderful not so much for its size as for the inimitable skill with which it was build; for once in, it is impossible to find one's way out again without difficulty, unless one lights upon a guide who is perfectly acquainted with it. It is even said by some that Daedalus crossed over to Egypt and, in wonder at the skill shown in the building, built for Minos, King of Crete, a labyrinth like that in Egypt, in which, so the tales goes, the creature called the Minotaur was kept. Be that as it may, the Cretan Labyrinth has completely disappeared, either through the destruction wrought by some ruler or through the ravages of time; but the Egyptian Labyrinth remains absolutely perfect in its entire construction down to my time.
And seized with enthusiasm for this enterprise they strove eagerly to surpass all their predecessors in the seize of their building.

For they chose a site beside the channel leading into Lake Moeris

in Libya and there constructed their tomb of the finest stone, laying down an oblong as the shape and a stade as the size of each side, while in respect of carving and other works of craftsmanship they left no room for their successors to surpass them.

For, when one had entered the sacred enclosure, one found a temple surrounded by columns, 40 to each side, and this building had a roof made of a single stone, carved with panels and richly adorned with excellent paintings. It contained memorials of the homeland of each of the kings (!! far away or of theor districts?)as well as of the temples and sacrifices carried out in it, all skillfully worked in paintings of the greatest beauty. Generally it is said that the king conceived their tomb on such an expensive and prodigious scale that if they had not been deposed before its completion, they would not have been able to give their successors any opportunity to surpass them in architectural feats."

Strabo (ca. 64 BCE - CE 19): Three passages in his geography, Book 17, I, 3 and 37 and 42.

"... the total number of nomes was equal to the number of the courts in the Labyrinth; these are fewer than 30. (21)

In addition to these things there is the edifice of the Labyrinth which is a building quite equal to the Pyramids and nearby the tomb of the king who built the Labyrinth.

There is at the point where one first enters the channel, about 30 or 40 stades along the way, a flat trapezium-shaped site which contains both a village and a great palace made up of many palaces equal in number to that of the nomes in former times; for such is the number of peristyle courts which lie contiguous with one another, all in one row and backing on one wall, as though one had a long wall with the courts lying before it, and the passages into the courts lie opposite the wall.

Before the entrances there lie what might be called hidden chambers which are long and many in number and have paths running through one another which twist and turn, so that no one can enter or leave any court without a guide. And the wonder of it is the roofs of each chambers are made of single stones and the width of the hidden chambers is spanned in the same way by monolithic beams of outstanding size; for nowhere is wood or any other material included. And if one mounts onto the roof, at no great height because the building has only one storey, it is possible to get a view of a plain of masonry made of such stones, and, if one drops back down from there into the courts, it is possible to see them lying there in row each supported be 27 monolithic pillars; the walls too are made up in stones of no less a size.

At the end of this building, which occupies anarea of more than a stade, stands the tomb, a pyramid on a oblong base, each side about 4 "plethra" (around 120meter high and base) in length and the height about the same; the name of the man buried there was Imandes. (pyramid inside the labyrinth?)

The reason for making the courts so many is said to be the fact that it was customary for all nomes to gather there according to rank with their own priests and priestesses, for the purpose of sacrifice, divine-offering, and judgement on the most important matters. And each of the nomes was lodged in the court appointed to it.

And above this city stands Abydos, in which there is the Memnonium, a palace wonderfully constructed of massive stonework in the same way as we have said the Labyrinth was built, though the Memnonium differs in being simple in structure."(ruler of the nomes underground, seems like a higher place where the palace of abydoss is but still underground as a representation?)

Pliny the Elder (CE 23-79): One passage in his Natural History, Book 36, 84-89

"Let us speak also of labyrinths, quite the most extraordinary works on which men have spent their money, but not, as may be thought, figments of the imagination.

There still exists even now in Egypt in the Heracleopolite Nome (=hereaclopis nome/capital hawarra) the one which was built first (egyptian labyrinth)

according to tradition 3,600 years ago by king Petesuchis or Tithois, though Herodotus ascribes the whole work to Twelve Kings and Psammetichus, the latest of them. Various reasons are given for building it. Demoteles claims that it was the palace of Moteris, Lyceas the tomb of Moeris, but the majority of writers take the view that it was build as a temple to the Sun, and this is generally accepted. At any rate, that Daedalus used this as the model for the Labyrinth which he built in Crete is beyond doubt, but it is equally clear that he imitated only 100th part of it which contains twisting paths and passages which advance and retreat-all impossible to negotiate. The reason for this is not that within a small compass it involves one in mile upon of walking, as we see in tessellated floors or the displays given by boys on the Campus, but that frequently doors are buried in it to beguile the visitor into going forward and then force him to return into the same winding paths. This was the second to be built after the Egyptian Labyrinth, the third being in Lemnos and the fourth in Italy, all roofed with vaults of polished stone, though the Egyptian specimen, to my considerable astonishment, has its entrance and columns made of Parian marble, while the rest is of Aswan granite, such masses being put together as time itself cannot dissolve even with the help of the Heracleopolitans; for they have regarded the building with extraordinary hatred.

It would be impossible to describe in detail the layout of that building and its individual parts, since it is divided into regions and administrative districts which are called nomes, each of the 21 nomes (administrative “districts”) giving its names to one of the houses.

A further reason is the fact that it also contains temples of all the gods of Egypt while, in addition, Nemesis placed in the building's 40 chapels many pyramids of 40 ells (1 ell is 457mm so around 20 meter) each covering an area of 6 arourae with their base.

Men are already weary with travelling when they reach that bewildering maze of paths; indeed, there are also lofty upper rooms reached by ramps and porticoes from which one descends on stairways which have 90 steps each;

inside are columns of imperial porphyry, images of the gods, statues of kings and representations of monsters. Certain of the halls are arranged in such way that as one throws open the door there arises within a fearful noise of thunder; moreover one passes through most of them in darkness. There are again other massive buildings outside the wall of the Labyrinth; they call them "the Wing". Then there are other subterranean chambers made by excavating galleries in the soil.”

One person only has done any repairs there-and they were few in number. He was Chaermon, the eunoch of king Necthebis, 500 years before Alexander the Great. A tradition is also current that he supported the roofs with beams of acacia wood boiled in oil, until squared stones could be raised up into the vaults."

Pomponius Mela (1st century CE): One passage in his chorographia, Book I, 9, 56.

"The building of Psammetich, “The Labyrinth”, includes within the circuit of one unbroken wall 1000 houses and 12 palaces, and is built of marble as well as being roofed with the same material.

It has one descending way into it

and contains within almost innumerable paths, which have many convolutions twisting hither and thither. These paths, however, cause great perplexity both because of their continual winding and because of their porticoes which often reverse their direction, continually running through one circle after another and continually turning and retracing their steps as far as they have gone forwards with the result that the Labyrinth is fraught with confusion by reason of its perpetual meandering, though it is possible to extricate oneself."


The village Hw.t-wr.t/Αὑῆρις (= great temple) is attested 119 times in 62 documents between 292 BC and 141 CE. The concentration of documents in the 1st century BCE is due to the Hawara undertakers archives. The Egyptian labyrinth (Λαβύρινθος) appears 18 times in 16 papyri between 258 BCE and the reign of Hadrian (117-138 CE). All texts but one are Ptolemaic. Though the names Hw.t-wr.t/Αὑῆρις and Λαβύρινθος disappear early from our records, archaeological finds show that the site was continuously occupied up to the 7th century CE. The Egyptian name Hw.t-wr.t corresponds to Greek Αὑῆριςin several bilingual documents, e.g. P.Hawara Lüdd. III (233 BCE), P.Ashm. I 14 and 15 (72/71 BCE) and P.Ashm. I 16 (69/68 BCE). The aspiration at the beginning of the word shows in the phi in ῾Αγουήρεως τῆς ῾Ηρακ[λείδου μερίδος] (where ῾Αγουήρεως stands for Αὑῆρις) in SB XIV 11303. Greek ἁ for Egyptian hw.t is found in other toponyms as well (Clarysse-Quaegebeur 1982, p.78).

Rediscovery in modern times?

Pinning the location to Hawarra

If you read the above accounts its clear the mention Hawarra heriaclopis nome/district and next to a canal.

Mathama expedition

The Mathama expedition pinned it to the hawarra site and did some ground radar and investigation in 2008 .


The space archeology of Carmen Boulter

In 2015 Carmen Boulter applied space archeology to the site with sattelites. They found a huge underground complex however no entrance to it as yet and suggested drilling.

If you read the accounts carefully, the entrance is from the pyramidm, which in current day, is flooded

completely by 6 meters of water.

The Fayoum

Along the west bank of the Nile, about 100km south of Cairo, there is a place where the bank is not so steep. Since before records began, when the Nile flooded the river would overflow the banks at this point and flood the low-lying land to the west, forming a great lake. The lake had no outlet, and the water in it would keep the land alive until the following year when more water would arrive from the Nile. It became good agricultural land and is known as the Fayoum. You can see it on maps of Egypt as a green heart-shaped area to the west of the Nile. It has an area of about 1,300 sq km.

Sometime in its history, the channel where the water overflowed was dug out to form a proper canal. Legend has it that this was done by the Biblical Joseph when he was co-ruler of Egypt. The canal is still known as Bahr Yussef, Joseph's Canal.

During the reign of Senwosret II (1900 - 1880 BC), the grandfather of Amenemhat III, a major project was started to improve the irrigation of the Fayoum. It may in fact have been at this time that the canal was built – whether it was built or just improved at this time is hard to tell now. Whatever the case, a dam was built in such a way that when the Nile flooded the lake would grow to an enormous size. Then when the Nile stopped flooding the lake would drain back through the canal, feeding the Nile and improving the flow of water to Lower Egypt. The project took a number of years and was completed during the reign of Amenemhat III. This was surely a cause for celebration. At last, the Nile was controlled, at least along the last 300km of its journey to the sea. The Fayoum was now prime agricultural land.

The level of the lake, known as Lake Moeris, was 85 metres higher than it is today. In the centre of the Fayoum was the city of Shedyet, known to the Greeks as Crocodilopolis because it was the centre of worship of the crocodile god Sobek. The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the priests there kept a sacred crocodile which was hand-fed.

Unfortunately, over the years the canal silted up and the lake, known today as Birket Qaroun, is now much smaller than it was. Water no longer flows back into the Nile from the lake. As a result, the water now has a bitter taste.

Amenemhat was obviously very proud of the Fayoum. He had two enormous seated statues of himself constructed on two giant pedestals at Biahmu, about four miles north of Shedyet, standing on either side of the main road. It is estimated that these would have each been 35 feet tall. When the lake was in flood, these would be completely surrounded by water and would appear to hover on the lake. In modern times only small parts of these statues remain.


The Hawarra Pyramid

Amenemhat's second pyramid was built at Hawara, just north of the entrance to the Fayoum from the Nile Valley. It is situated 2km north of the modern town of Hauwaret el Maqta.

The pyramid was built on desert land, like other pyramids, but it is not on the edge of the desert. It is surrounded by agricultural land, being on a spit of desert projecting south-west and dividing the Fayoum from the Nile. Whereas the souls of other dead Pharaohs could look out on the Sun setting over the western desert, Amenemhat's soul would have a view of fine agricultural land – a fitting tribute to a king who did so much to develop the agriculture of the region.

The pyramid had a 105 by 105 metre base, making it about the same size as the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza. As before, the pyramid was built of brick with a stone outer casing.

Although the stone casing was later stripped off it, the brick core is in fact the best preserved of any of the brick pyramids. The bricks used were described by the British archaeologist Sir William Flinders Petrie (1852 - 1942) as twice as big in each dimension as a standard English brick, and weighing about 40 or 50 pounds. Internal passages were lined with stone.

Its current deteriorated size is XX. Current estimations say it would be 58m high originally, although time and the action of sand-blasting have worn it down to only XX.

Robbers and Archeologist

Inside the Hawarra Pyramid

The layout of the Pyramid as found by Petrie. Note the “dead end” passage.

My opinion on the Hawarra pyramid

According to legend, pyramids had labyrinths inside them.

The insides of pyramids are usually very simple with rarely more than three or four rooms and a few connecting passages. However, slabs of rock which line the walls, floor or ceiling can in fact conceal other passages. So there is always a chance there are concealed passages. From the earlier records, one clearly saw two descriptions relating the pyramid to the labyrinth:

"A pyramid of 40 phatoms (around 40x1.8 = 72 meter) upon which figures are carved

    and to this a way is made underground"

    "one descending way into it"

So from this we read, the pyramid is the only entrance to the labyrinth. The height is interesting as the current estimated height of the Hawarra pyramid was 58meters but this was an estimate.

Ground levels could have been lower, erosion could have been worse than estimated, both possible.

As for the carved casing stones they might have been deliberately removed to destroy the appearance and writings on this pyramid making it of less relevance as one could not destroy the city itself (to colossal of granite) or by later preservers of the labyrinth to make it draw less attention.

There are in my opinion two possibilities on the hawarra pyramid:

1. The Robber Diversion Theory: What if this pyramid was not meant to be a tomb pyramid, but only resemble one and that the real purpose was an entrance to the underground city as described in the earlier legends. My thoughts are that that is the reason why the entrance had stairs since a lot of people went in and out when it was still open as its function was not a burial pyramid.

It was always assumed that the “dead end north passage” was to deter robbers. But what if the real diversion was the burial chamber itself. If you enter a pyramid and you hit a brick up dead end wall or can choose from a simple wooden door, which way would you go? What if the end of the passage was bricked up deliberately to seal the entrance to the underground labyrinth/Palace/City.

The pyramid of Hawara has the most complex system of doors and sliding blocks of any pyramid. However, the second and third stone plugs sealing the burial chamber where not lowered. Why would you go through all the effort of construction an elaborate security system and then “forget” this security feature unless you wanted to make it easy for robbers to go to the burial chamber, diverting them and let them think they found what was there, leaving the real entrance to the labyrinth/underground palace complex hidden to those who solved its mystery.

The further fully flooding of the pyramid to 6 meters of depth has filled the pyramid now with mud and water, leaving further research impossible unless either the canal is diverted away from the site to reduce water levels or the pyramid pumped dry and excavated and explored for hidden or blocked passages.

The flooded entrance of the Hawarra Pyramid and part of the mwentioned steps.

The dead end passage allways contained 1m of water and was not further good explored by Petrie or grave robbers. It could have been deliberately sealed up.

2. The undiscovered other entrances/doors: Another possibility is that there is a completely different entrance in the middle (and /or on the right another smaller one) that leads directly into the labyrinth and that only the left entrance was found. (leading to tombs) See middle picture.

This theory is further strengthened by the fact that Amenemhat's other pyramid, the black pyramid had an entrance on the south-east and south-west. Numerous Dashur time mud brick pyramids had multiple entrance leading to different chambers (not connected). So there is a chance Petrie missed the other entrances all together.

In any case the records state the pyramid is said to be the only entrance of the labyrinth, so if anyobody wants to research exactly that is were one should look.


  1. (acounts)


Then added own research, aditions and interpretations by Stijn van den Hoven