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The Pyramids of Dahshur

Monday, November 7, 2011

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Everyone is familiar with the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx near Cairo, Egypt. Many tourists come to visit these sites to witness the only one of the seven wonders of the world that still stands to this day. Many leave not knowing that these pyramids were neither the oldest nor greatest of their kind. Around 40km south of the Pyramids of Giza lies another set of pyramids, the Pyramids of Dahshur. In this article, we uncover this hidden secret in Egypt.

Dahshur is a name of a town that is approximately 40km south of the Pyramids of Giza. The town is noted with its rich vegetation and palm tree plantations that lie on the west bank of the Nile River. These thick forests of palm trees come to an abrupt end by a seemingly artificial line that marks the beginning of a desert. In this desert, 11 great pyramids were built, some before the Pyramids of Giza. Only three survive to this day.

The first of these pyramids is the Bent Pyramid. It was constructed by the first ruler of the 4th Dynasty in Ancient Egypt. The name of the ruler was Senefuru, who reigned from 2575 to 2551 BC. The Bent Pyramid was constructed purely out of limestone. The limestone blocks were then encased in a smooth surface of Turah limestone. The Bent Pyramid has the best preserved casing out of all surviving pyramids in Egypt. Another unique feature of this pyramid is that it starts at an angle of ascent of 54 degrees, then switches to 43.5 degrees nearly half way through. The reason for his is that the engineer responsible for the construction of the pyramid realized that had he continued the same angle of ascent, the sheer weight of the pyramid could not be supported. By reducing the angle of ascent, he could reduce the weight that the base of the pyramid has to support, thus making the pyramid more durable. The length of the pyramid is approximately 188 meters and is 105 meters high.

The second of these pyramids is known as the Red Pyramid. Unpleased with the odd shaped Bent Pyramid, Senefuru commissioned another pyramid intended to be a burial chamber for himself. It lies approximately 2 km north of the Bent Pyramid. Once built, the Red Pyramid became the first true pyramid built in history, without any steps or bends. It was built out of limestone, similar to the Bent Pyramid. Learning from his previous experience with the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid is built at a uniform angle of ascent of 43 degrees. The Red Pyramid measured 220 meters long at the base and is 105 meters high, making it the 3rd largest pyramid after two of the Pyramids of Giza.

The third of these pyramids is known as the Black Pyramid. It was originally built for the Ancient Egyptian ruler Amenemhet III, who ruled from 1855-1808 BC during the Middle Kingdom. It is the only one of the three Dahshur pyramids that did not survive. Although built much later, the building materials did not match the grandeur or wealth of material used in building the two other pyramids. There are two reasons why it did not survive. Firstly, it was built out of mud brick lined with limestone. The mud brick over time deteriorated and turned into a dark dust color, giving the pyramid its name. The second reason is that the angle of ascent of the pyramid was 54 degrees, the same as the base of the Bent Pyramid. The collapse of the Black Pyramid could be one reason why the engineer responsible for the Bent Pyramid got nervous and opted for a more conservative angle 43.5 degrees half way through building the pyramid. Originally, the pyramid measured 72 meters at its base length and was 56 meters high. The pyramid today lies in a military zone and is not accessible to the public.

There are many hidden historic treasures in Egypt, the Pyramids of Dahshur is certainly one of them. It contains fascinating and unique pyramids, such as the Bent Pyramid. It also displays the world`s oldest true pyramid, the Red Pyramid. Although the Black Pyramid is partially collapsed, what is left of it is truly breathtaking.


  • [1] Sattin, Anthony, et al, Discover Egypt, Oakland, CA: 2010, Lonely Planet
  • [2] Taylor, John, The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? And Who Built It?, 1859.

  • Keywords: Egypt, pyramids, Dahshur

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