Ancient Egypt: Cultural and political history, mythology and daily life
Ancient Egypt: The planned town of Kahun
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Ancient Egypt: Hotep-Senusret  

Hat-hetep Senusret, a planned city

- Ancient Egypt: Hat-hetep-Senusret

Population size

    Walled cities are notorious for having been overpopulated. The town called Kahun by Petrie, Hat-hetep-Senusret, built to house the workers labouring on the pyramid of Senusret II, covered about 14 ha [1]. Using as a base the 1966 population density of the Bab el Sharia in Cairo with 1,370 persons per ha [2], a modern Egyptian township of 14 ha would have a population of about 20,000 inhabitants. Ancient population density was not as high. Houses had one or at most two floors [4]. The population of Hat-hetep-Senusret was therefore quite a bit smaller, about four and to five thousand according to Bagnall's estimate of ancient urban population densities [7]. The town was significantly smaller than the 4th dynasty settlement at Gizeh [3].

The acropolis and the temple area

    Little is left of the acropolis, which was the highest spot of the town. It was walled in, protected by a guardhouse, and stairs led up to it. This part of the town may have been the official residence of the king on his visits, and seems to have been abandoned early on and used as a rubbish tip [5].
    Few remains were found in the temple area as well. The temple, built of stone as temples always were, was taken apart under Ramses II and the stone reused. Petrie found the temple's foundation deposit which consisted of pottery, some tools like chisels and knives and a few other objects [6].

Workers' dwellings

Workers dwellings at Kahun     The houses of the workmen had two to four rooms on the ground floor (44 and 60 m²) and access to the flat roof, which was used as living and storing space. The houses abutting the inner wall on the eastern side were bigger, having up to seven rooms.
    Some of the dwellings had conical granaries on the ground floor. The doorways seem to have been arched over, and traces of brick barrel-vaulting have been found on supporting walls. Most of the roofs were made of wooden planks supported by beams and plastered over with mud. (cf. Workers' dwellings at Deir el Medine)
    Why, given the scarcity of wood and the plentiful supply of mud, did they not build all roofs as barrel-vaults? One of the reasons must be, that in walled cities space is at a premium and a second floor doubles the living area. In a hot and rainless country like Egypt there is no need to roof it over, and after adding a parapet it can be used most of the year as sleeping quarters.

The Great Houses

Great House at Kahun     The Great Houses covered about 2700 m² each and served as offices and living quarters for the high officials in charge of the construction work and their families. There were four almost identical houses and one differently built one north of the street and another three with a completely different ground plan south of it.

The layout of one of the northern Great Houses according to Petrie's educated guesswork
1 Main entrance
2 Doorkeeper's lodge
3 Offices, guest rooms
4 Pillared hall
5 Private quarters
6 The mandara, i.e. reception room for strangers
7 Open courtyard
8 Best hall, with columns and tank
9 Private rooms
10 Visitors' passage to the mandara
11 Women's hall
12 Women's quarters
13 Store rooms

    After the pyramid had been built and the officials had left, people began to take over their houses, adapting them to their own needs by walling up entrances and creating new walls and passages. [5]


    The store rooms south of the southern Great Houses had a minimal number of common entrances and could easily be guarded.

[1] 1 ha (hectare) = 10,000 m², about 2½ acres
[2] Population Density: Selected International Urban Areas and Components
The poorest quarters of Rome at the end of the 19th century had a population density of 800 per ha, Naples one of 1500 per ha (Living in the city of Rome).
[3] Herodotus speaks of 100,000 workers, modern estimates are 20,000 to 30,000.
[4] According to drawings Djehutinefer's house may have had three floors and a flat roof used for storage.
[7] Petrie estimated the number of houses to have been 2,145 with about 5 to 8 thousand inhabitants.

Bibliography for this and related pages
-Town planning in ancient Egypt
-Building: Planning, materials, tools
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
Links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further study. I do not assume any responsibility for the content or availability of these websites.
-[5] The town of Kahun, W.M.F.Petrie
-[6] Foundation deposits, W.M.F.Petrie
-Models of the town of Kahun
-Virtual Kahun

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. Thanks.

© November 2001
Latest updates:
January 2005
December 2002