The two pyramids at the village of el-Lisht are the final resting places of the first pharaohs of Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty, Amenemhat I and his son and heir Senusret I, rulers of a golden age in ancient Egyptian history. It is located about 100km south of modern-day Cairo on the west bank of the Nile and it is a Middle Kingdom (2055BC – 1650BC) burial site of royals and the upper-class elite.
While neither pyramid has the recognition of the more famous, more visited Great Pyramids of Giza, the ancient ruins at el-Lisht are the best preserved examples from the Middle Kingdom and are a very popular tourist site in Egypt.
They are surrounded by smaller pyramids constructed for members of the royal family and mastaba (‘eternal house’ in Egyptian) tombs – rectangular, flat-roofed tombs with sides that slope inward – for high-ranking officials and their families. Also at el-Lisht is the tomb of Senebtisi, a mysteriously unknown Egyptian woman that very little is known about, aside from the facts that her second name was Zathapy, or daughter of Apis and she was the bearer of the common title ‘lady of the house’…
Another mystery that lingers is that at el-Lisht, the looted, partially destroyed tomb of early Thirteenth Dynasty priest Sesenbef was excavated in around 1900 and inscribed on it were texts and spells from the Book of the Dead, a late Thirteenth Dynasty funerary text of spells written over 200 years later and intended to guide the dead through the ‘Duat’, or underworld and into the afterlife.
The site was first excavated in 1882 by French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, founder of the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology and again from 1884 – 1885 under the direction of Joseph Étienne Gautier and Gustave Jéquier. In 1906, the Egyptian Expedition of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art worked extensively at el-Lisht until 1934 and they didn’t return for 50 years, starting again in 1984 until 1991.
Over the years the two main pyramids have been subject to robberies and neglect and coupled with the fact that they weren’t built particularly well and from unfired mudbrick and stone cannibalised from other monuments that haven’t withstood the tests of time, they are a lot smaller than when they were originally built.
However, regardless of their condition, the pyramids at el-Lisht are considered masterpieces of ancient Egyptian architecture.