Dashur: Red Pyramid The Red Pyramid is credited to Snofru (2613-2588 BC), father of Cheops and founder of the IV Dynasty. Snofru’s Red Pyramid was built before the pyramids at Giza, but it is the second largest pyramid (behind Cheops’ Great Pyramid) in Egypt at 101 meters. It was probably Snofru’s third attempt at pyramid building, but he was not laid to rest in any of the three burial chambers here – all were unused . The Red Pyramid was not always red. It used to be cased with white Tura limestone, but only a few of these now remain at the pyramid's base on the corner. During the Middle Ages much of white Tura limestone was taken for buildings in Cairo, revealing the reddish pinkish limestone.
Inside the Red Pyramid The Red Pyramid’s interior was recently opened to the public, and you can climb up and descend into it to check out its three rather musty chambers. Electric lighting has been installed to illuminate them, but it sometimes fails, so it's a good idea to bring a flashlight. The first two chambers are roughly parallel to each other, but the third is on a higher level and perpendicular to the other two. One definite advantage of visiting the interior of this pyramid rather than those at Giza is that you will very probably be alone to absorb the rather eerie, if fetid, atmosphere.
Dashur: Bent Pyramid The Bent Pyramid is the most intriguing of all the pyramids and also the most breathtaking. What makes Snofru’s final resting place different from all the other pyramids is its change of angle towards the top: it rises more steeply (54.3°) than the Red Pyramid or Giza pyramids for three-quarters of its height, before abruptly tapering at a gentler slope – hence its name. The explanation for its shape, and why Snofru should have built two pyramids only a kilometre apart, is a longstanding conundrum of Egyptology.
Why did Snofru build the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid?
Older Egyptologists believe that Snofru built the Red Pyramid because he was worried that the Bent Pyramid would collapse, which would have seriously hurt his chances to enjoy the afterlife.
More modern Egyptologists challenged this theory based on the fact that Snofru built a third pyramid in Dashur. If Snofru was really worried about sudden collapse of his Bent pyramid, he would have only needed one backup. Perhaps the Red Pyramid was built for reasons unrelated to the soundness of the Bent pyramid.
In 1977, a professor of physics at Oxford University put forward what many consider to be the final word on the debate. Kurt Mendelssohn, postulated a pyramid production line. As one pyramid neared completion, surplus resources were deployed to start another, despite the satisfaction of the reigning king's requirements. The reason for continuous production was that building a single pyramid required gigantic efforts over ten to thirty years; inevitably, some pharaohs lacked the time and resources. A stockpile of half-constructed, perhaps even finished, pyramids was an insurance policy on the afterlife.
Saqqara While Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt, Saqqara served as its necropolis. Although it was eclipsed as the burial ground of royalty by Giza and later by the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, it remained an important complex for minor burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times. The step pyramid in Saqqara heralded the start of the Pyramid Age. When Imhotep, Zoser's chief architect, raised the pyramid in the 27th century BC, it was the largest structure ever built in stone – the “beginning of architecture”, according to one historian. Imhotep's achievement was to break from the tradition of earthbound mastabas, raising level upon level of stones to create a four-step, and then a six-step pyramid, which was clad in dazzling white limestone.
The Funerary Complex at Saqqara Surrounding the pyramid is an extensive funerary complex, originally enclosed by a finely cut limestone wall, 544m long and 277m wide, now largely ruined or buried by sand. False doors occur at intervals for the convenience of the pharaoh's ka , but visitors can only enter at the southeastern corner, which has largely been rebuilt. Beyond a vestibule with simulated double doors (detailed down to their hinge pins and sockets) lies a narrow colonnaded corridor, whose forty “bundle” columns are ribbed in imitation of palm stems, which culminates in a broader Hypostyle Hall.
The Pyramids at Giza The pyramids orientation is no accident. The internal tomb chambers face west (the direction of the Land of the Dea) and the external funerary temples point eastwards (toward the rising sun). It is claimed that the trio of pyramids represents the three stars on Orion’s belt, but astronomers have been unable to confirm this claim.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops The oldest and largest pyramid is that of the IV Dynasty pharaoh Cheops (reigned from 2589 to 2566 BC). It originally stood 140 meters high and measured 230 meters along its base, but the removal of its casing stones has reduced these dimensions by three meters. The pyramid is estimated to weigh 6 million tons and contain 2.3 million blocks whose average weight is 2.5 tons. This gigantic mass actually ensures its stability, since most of the stress is transmitted inwards towards its center core, or downwards into the underlying bedrock.
Tomb of Khufu-Khaef To the east of Queen Hensutsen’s pyramid are the tombs of Cheops’s son Khufu-Khaef, the best preserved of all the tombs on the Giza plateau, complete with statutes in the niches and reliefs showing scenes of daily life, with much of the paintwork intact.
The Pyramid of Chephren Sited on high ground, with an intact summit and steeper sides, the middle pyramid seems taller than Cheops. Built by his son, Chephren, its base originally covered 214.8 square meters and its weight is estimated at 5 million tons. Classical writers believed that the pyramid had no entrance, but when the Italian archeologist Belzoni located and blasted open the sealed portal on its north face in 1818, he found that Arab tomb robbers had somehow gained access nearly a thousand years earlier. In March 1993, several tourists were injured by an explosion inside the pyramid, probably caused by a bomb.
Sphinx The Great Sphinx of Giza is the statue of a reclining lion with a human head. It is the largest monolith statue in the world, standing 73.5 m (241 ft) long, 6 m (20 ft) wide, and 20 m (65 ft) high. It is the oldest known momunental scupture and is commonly believed to have been built around 3000 BC. The original creators probably did not call this statue the “Sphinx” because that word does not appear in any known inscription of the Old Kingdom. The commonly used name Sphinx was likely given 2000 years later by those referring to the Greek mythological beast with a lion’s body, a woman’s head, and the wings of an Eagle.
Did you notice the missing nose? Did you notice that the one-meter-wide nose on the Sphinx’s face is missing? An Egyptian Arab historian, writing in the fifteenth century AD, attributes the loss to iconoclasm by Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim fanatic. In 1378 AD, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in hope of increasing their harvest, Sa’im Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose and was hanged for vandalism.