Two 4,000-year-old pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians, one of them the unusual “Bent Pyramid,” are being opened to the public for the first time in over 50 years after a lengthy restoration project, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
The pyramids sit about 25 miles south of Cairo. Both sites, located in the Dashur royal necropolis, are listed as UNESCO World Heritage landmarks.
With its peculiar double slope, the Bent Pyramid’s “structure represents a pivotal moment in Egypt’s architectural history, when the ancients were transitioning to the straight-sided pyramids that are iconic today,” according to the Smithsonian.
The Bent Pyramid has not been accessible to the public since 1965. Since then, the 331-foot-tall structure underwent restoration work; experts repaired internal and external stairs, added a lighting network, and repaired stonework. Tourists can now enter a raised entrance on the newly reopened pyramid’s northern side, climb down an 86-yard tunnel and explore two chambers, according to Reuters.
Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani led a group of Egyptian leaders and ambassadors from foreign countries to Dashur in mid-July 2019 for the unveiling of the two pyramids. He announced that excavators had also unearthed numerous sarcophagi inside the Bent Pyramid, many of which housed mummies in preserved condition, as well as stone-cutting instruments. Experts outfitted the inside of the tomb with ladders and lights, making it safe for visitors.
The Bent Pyramid was most likely built for Pharoah Sneferu and is one of four pyramids associated with the Fourth Dynasty ruler. According to the Smithsonian, “The Bent Pyramid may represent one step in Sneferu’s journey to find the perfect pyramid formula. Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist with the American University in Cairo, tells Robyn Bresnahan for the CBC that the pharaoh had four pyramids built on his behalf; while it’s not entirely clear why, experts think he ‘might have … been trying to get it right,’ Ikram says.”
A leading theory on why the angle of the pyramid was changed was to avoid the structure collapsing. It is believed the builders may have noticed signs of weakness in the structure during construction and altered the angle to avoid its collapse. The fact that the next pyramid project by Sneferu, the Red Pyramid, was built at a shallower angle of 43 degrees seems to support this theory and indicate that the builders learned from their mistake. But another theory is that there was a religious reason for the unusual shape.
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Sneferu was the first king of the fourth dynasty. His conquests in Libya and Nubia are thought to have been motivated by Egypt’s needs for more labor and building materials for pyramids. He was succeeded by his son Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
“Sneferu lived a very long time…the architects wanted to reach the complete shape, the pyramid shape,” Mohamed Shiha, director of the Dahshur site, told The Guardian. “Exactly where he was buried–we are not sure of that.”
There are several other aspects that make the Bent Pyramid so unusual. Unlike most of the pyramids in Egypt the Bent Pyramids exterior polished limestone casing is still largely intact; making it one of the best-preserved pyramids. There are no drawings or writing anywhere on the pyramid. Another aspect of this pyramid that makes it unusual, besides its odd shape, is the fact that it has two entrances.
As for the second reopened tomb, a 59-foot-tall structure described as an annex to the Bent Pyramid, it was possibly built for Pharaoh Snefru’s wife Hetepheres.
Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com