Snefru built two large pyramids at Dahshur. His first, known as the ‘Bent Pyramid’, is situated to the south of the necropolis while his second monument at Dahshur is about 4km to the north and known as the ‘North’ or ‘Red Pyramid’. The monument whose ancient name was probably ‘Snefru Shines’ was to be Snefru’s third attempt at pyramid construction (including Meidum) – his architects now using the technical experience gained from previous structures, a reduced angle of slope and less ambitious plan. It is thought to have been begun in Snefru’s 30th year of reign and dates found in builders’ marks on blocks from the Red Pyramid have proved to be of great importance in giving a clear picture of the time it took to build the pyramid.
The name ‘Red Pyramid’ has derived from the colour of limestone used in constructing the pyramid’s core – it’s casing of white limestone is now completely missing. The monument has been visited since the Middle Ages and was investigated by Perring and Lepsius in the mid 1800s. Petrie and Reisner included it in more modern studies and Ahmed Fakhry worked on this and other Dahshur pyramids in the 1950s. More recent excavations have been undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute of Cairo, directed by Rainer Stadelmann since 1982.
The length of each side of the Red Pyramid is 220m and its original height was 104m. The German team have recently found remains of the pyramid’s capstone, or pyramidion, which has now been reconstructed and placed on the pyramid’s eastern side. However, the angle of slope of the pyramidion differs from the Red Pyramid, suggesting that it was not originally intended to be placed on this structure. The entrance to a 60m long sloping passage is on the northern side of the pyramid, 28m above the ground and leads to the first of three chambers. The first two rooms are tall antechambers with high corbelled roofs and separated by a narrow rectangular passage and the roof of the second chamber coincides with the vertical axis of the structure. The antechambers are very similar in size and construction with projecting vaulted ceilings of large blocks of fine white limestone. In the second antechamber and the passage to the burial chamber many early explorers have left graffiti, reminders of their presence inside the pyramid.
The burial chamber is entered via a short horizontal passage, about 8m above the floor level in the south wall of the second antechamber. Recent research has led Stadelmann to suggest that this pyramid was the true resting place of the king – fragments of human remains were found in the passage, but proved to be from an intrusive burial from the Late Period. Other archaeologists favour the Bent Pyramid as the true burial place. The burial chamber is oriented east to west, unlike those in his two preceding pyramids of Dynasty III tradition, and its high vaulted ceiling rises to a height of 16m.
Snefru’s mortuary temple on the eastern side of the Red Pyramid seems likely to have been hastily completed only after the king’s death. A plan of the temple has been reconstructed by the German team from the scant remains, which included a fragment of a pink granite false door stela, fragments of a sed-festival relief and remains of mudbrick store-rooms. A rectangular perimeter wall enclosed the complex, but it would appear that a causeway was never completed as far as the valley temple, although there is evidence of construction ramps connecting the mortuary temple with the Nile Valley.
During construction work at the beginning of the 20th century a pyramid town of Snefru (khentiu-she) was revealed at the edge of the Nile Valley and rudimentary remains of a valley temple were seen, which has since disappeared. In the town ruins, part of a limestone stela was found on which was written a decree of Pepi I, exempting the town from taxation.
How to get there
The Dahshur necropolis officially opened in 1996 for the first time, after being occupied as a military zone for many years. The site can be reached from Cairo by taxi (perhaps combined with a visit to nearby Saqqara) or by bus to the modern village of Dahshur. Tickets costing EGP 30 include entrance to the Red and Bent Pyramids.