Abu Rawash


Located some 8 kilometers to the North of
Giza, Abu Rawash is the northern most site of the Memphite Necropolis. It got its modern day name from the nearby village Abu Rawash and appears to have been used as a burial site since the time of Aha, at the beginning of the 1st Dynasty.

The Mortuary Complex of Djedefre

The most important monument in this mountainous region, however, is the mortuary complex of Djedefre, successor of Kheops and third king of the 4th Dynasty.

There has been a lot of speculation about Djedefre's motivation to build his funerary monument at Abu Rawash and not next to his father's at Giza.

A very common view is that Djedefre chose this remote place to distance himself from the despotic reign of his father, whereas his brother Khefren, returned to Giza because he held the same views as Kheops. The fact that Djedefre built his pyramid away from his father's would thus be telltale of some dynastic fueds in the beginning of the 4th Dynasty. The fact that Mykerinos, son of Khefren, undertook some restoration work at Djedefre's funerary monument does not fit well with the romantic theory of dynastic fueds.

It must be noted that during the early 4th Dynasty, there appears to have been a move towards the North for the royal funerary complex. Snofru moved from Meidum, where he at least completed or perhaps even built a pyramid, to Dashur where he built two pyramids. His son, Kheops, moved even further North, to Giza and Djedefre completed this move by building his pyramd in Abu Rawash. The motivation behind this move North is not clear, but it is still interesting to note.

Recently, it has been proposed that Djedefre moved to Abu Rawash because it was situated opposite Heliopolis, the city of the solar cult. During the reign of Djedefre, the solar cult gained a lot in importance, as is shown by the addition of the title Son of Re to the royal titulary. This could at least explain Djedefre's choice of location, but it does not explain why Kheops moved to Giza.

The structure of Djedefre's funerary monument is fairly simple, but it already has all the elements that are typical for the Old Kingdom. The complex has an inner enclosure wall that rose to a height of about 6 metres.

Abu Rawash is located to the Northwest of Memphis.

Map of the pyramid complex of Djedefre.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 120.

The royal pyramid stood almost in the centre of the complex. The pyramids of Djedefre's predecessors
Snofru and Kheops had the burial chamber inside the pyramid above ground level. For unknown reasons, Djedefre prefered to have his burial chamber, built at the bottom of a collossal pit measuring 23 by 10 metres and sunk some 20 metres into the ground. The burial chamber itself measured 21 by 9 metres. This technique was also used for the building of the burial chamber of Netjerikhet at Saqqara.

A 49 metre long corridor slopes up to ground level, providning the entrance to the pyramid. As was already traditional, this entrance was located in the North, pointing to the circumpolar stars.

There was a smaller satellite pyramid built to the Southwest of the main pyramid, whereas the mortuary temple, including a small boat pit, stood to the east. It was finished with mudbrick, suggesting that work on the mortuary temple was completed hastily. Djedefre's reign is likely to have been short and the king may have died unexpectedly. Khefren, his successor, may have ordered to complete working on this complex as fast as possible so that work on his own funerary monument could start without delay.

The pyramid's entrance leading down to the burial chamber.

A view on the remains of the mortuary temple, with two of the pyramids of Giza in the background.