The pyramid at Meidum is thought to be just the second pyramid built after Djoser’s and may have been initially created for Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty and continued by Sneferu. Because of its unusual appearance, the pyramid is called el-haram el-kaddaab — (False Pyramid) in Egyptian Arabic.
Location of the Meidum Pyramid
Meidum Pyramid is located at medium, 80 km to the South of Memphis, on the west bank of the Nile, to the East of Lake Morris and the Faiyum oasis.
The second extension turned the original step pyramid design into a true pyramid by filling in the steps with limestone encasing. While this approach is consistent with creating the other true pyramids, Meidum was affected by construction errors. The outer layer was founded on sand, not rock, like the inner layers. Secondly, the internal step pyramids were designed as the final stage. Thus, the outer surface was polished, and the platforms of the steps were not horizontal but fell off to the outside. This event severely compromised the stability and likely caused the Meidum Pyramid’s collapse in a downpour while the building was still under construction.
Franck Monnier and others believe the pyramid did not collapse until the New Kingdom, but several facts contradict this theory. The Meidum Pyramid seems never to have been completed. Beginning with Sneferu and to the 12th Dynasty, all pyramids had a valley temple missing at Meidum. The mortuary temple, which was found under the rubble at the pyramid’s base, apparently never was finished. The walls were only partly polished. Two stelas inside, usually bearing the pharaoh’s names, are missing inscriptions. The burial chamber inside the pyramid is uncompleted, with bare walls and wooden supports still in place, usually removed after construction.
Affiliated mastabas were never used or completed, and none of the usual burials has been found. Finally, the first examinations of the Meidum Pyramid found everything below the surface of the rubble mound fully intact. Stones from the outer cover were stolen just after the excavations exposed them. This rubbery makes a catastrophic collapse more probable than a gradual one. The collapse of this pyramid during the reign of Sneferu is the likely reason for the change from 54 to 43 degrees of his second pyramid at Dahshur, the Bent Pyramid.
The collapse of Upper Steps
By the time it was investigated by Napoleon’s Expedition in 1799, the Meidum Pyramid had its present three steps. It is commonly assumed that the pyramid still had five steps in the fifteenth century and was gradually falling further into ruin because al-Maqrizi described it as looking like a five-stepped mountain. Still, Mendelssohn claimed this might result from a loose translation, and al-Makrizi’s words would more accurately translate into “five-storied mountain”. A description which could even match the present state of the pyramid with four bands of different masonry at the base and a step on top.
Trial to Build a Step Pyramid
Started as a Step Pyramid but then converted into a true pyramid, the pyramid at Meidum marks the transition from the Early Dynastic Period to the Old Kingdom.
It has often been assumed that the original builder of this Step Pyramid was Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty. It is, however, merely based on the desire to credit at least one significant building to this elusive king. Huni’s name has not been found in or near the Meidum Pyramid, making it quite unlikely that this monument was built for him.
The pyramid was named ‘Sneferu Endures’ has led others to suggest that Sneferu built this monument. The fact that none of the mastabas surrounding the pyramid is older than the early 4th Dynasty and that several sons of Sneferu were buried there also confirms that the pyramid must be dated to the beginning of the 4th rather than the end of the 3rd Dynasty.
Recent archaeological research had assumed that Sneferu built this pyramid before his 15th year and then abandoned the site to start a new royal necropolis at Dahshur, some 40 kilometres to the North. It is unlikely that Snofru usurped this pyramid since he already had built two other pyramids at Dashur. This king would have wanted three pyramids, making him the most productive pyramid builder in the history of Egypt, which is not known. It is also not known whether the conversion of the original Step Pyramid into a true Pyramid was completed. What is certain is that Snofru, at one point during his reign -and some suggest a high date such as the 28th or 29th year of his power- ordered the transformation of the original Step Pyramid into a true pyramid.
Today there is little to suggest that this monument once indeed was a pyramid. All that remains now is a three-stepped tower rising from a hill of debris. It has longtime been assumed that, while the pyramid was being converted from a Step Pyramid into a true Pyramid, the weight of the added outer casing was pressing down so hard that the entire structure collapsed. However, recent archaeological research has found no trace of tools or equipment that the workers would have left behind had they witnessed the pyramid’s collapse. If this pyramid collapsed, it must have been at a much later date than was assumed. It is also very likely that this monument, like so many others, fell victim to local peasants quarrying for stone.
The pyramid’s internal structure is pretty simple compared to its successors, but at the same time, it was an innovation that would become the standard for generations to come.
The entrance exists on the pyramid’s north facade, above ground level. A descending passage goes down to below ground level and ends in a horizontal passage. Two small chambers or niches open to the left and right of this passage. At the end of this passage, a vertical shaft leads up to the burial chamber, located at ground level. This structure is the first pyramid to have a room inside its core. To deal with the pressure of the pyramid pushing down on the burial chamber, the builders used the technique of corbelling, with each course of the roof of the chamber projecting inwards as it got high.
The burial chamber measures 5.9 by 2.65 metres, which is relatively small, yet another sign that the builders experimented. There is no sarcophagus and no trace of a burial.
Outside the pyramid, many elements that would become the standard for pyramid complexes to come were already present. Measuring 9.18 by 9 metres, a chapel was built against its eastern face.
To the south, there was a small satellite pyramid. It has an entrance in its north face with a descending passage leading down to the burial chamber. It was already heavily destroyed when it was found.
Traces of an enclosure wall, measuring some 236 by 218 metres surrounding this complex, have also been found, and a causeway, cut in the bedrock and encased in limestone.
This complex marks the transition from the Early Dynastic funerary complexes to those of the Old Kingdom. The original shape of the pyramid still reflects the 3rd Dynasty tradition. Still, the building technique, the presence of a satellite pyramid, an eastern chapel and a causeway herald the rule of the Old Kingdom.