April 2, 2012

Bent and Red Pyramids of Snefru - Facts and Secrets

The Two Pyramids of Snefru
Scholars have long debated which of Snefru's two pyramids at Dahshur was the earlier. The current consensus seems to find in favour of the southern pyramid, variously called the Bent, Blunt or Rhomboidal Pyramid because of its curious shape. This pyramid was associated with Snefru in the Old Kingdom, since a 5th Dynasty inscription identifies an official as 'Overseer of the South Pyramid of Snefru'. The explanation for the strange shape of the Bent Pyramid has been much argued. The German Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt (1863-1938) suggested, in his 'accretion' theory that the king died suddenly and the pyramid's angle had to be radically reduced from the 54°31' of the lower courses to the 43°21' of the upper courses in order to finish the work off rapidly. This reduction, however, actually makes little difference to the volume of the structure (and therefore the amount of work involved), added to which we now know that it was built before the northern pyramid. Kurt Mendelssohn proposed alternatively that the pyramid at Meydum (p. 40) and the southern pyramid at Dahshur were being built concurrently, not consecutively, and that a building disaster occurred at Meydum - possibly after heavy rain when the casing slipped - which caused the architect at Dahshur hurriedly to change the angle of declination when the pyramid was half-built. This theory is only acceptable if the collapse took place at the time of building, and not later during the New Kingdom as some evidence suggests.

Bent Pyramid of Snefru
The Bent Pyramid is unique amongst Old Kingdom pyramids in not only having an entrance on its north face, as is the norm, but also a second entrance that opens high up on the west face. The north entrance, about 40 ft (12.2 m) above ground level, gives on to a sloping corridor that descends to two high, corbel-roofed chambers cut into the bedrock. From the upper of these two chambers, via a shaft and a passageway, another smaller chamber is reached which also has a corbelled roof. This third chamber, with its unusual access corridor from the west face, was only discovered in 1946-47. The rationale for having entrances on the north face of all the known Old Kingdom pyramids has a religious basis and is connected with the northern stars; why there should be this one instance of a second, western, entrance is a mystery. Like Meydum and the northern pyramid at Dahshur, there was no trace of a sarcophagus ever having been in place in any of the chambers.

Snefru's name has been found in red paint in two places in the Bent Pyramid and his association with the building was substantiated by the discovery of a stele - the remaining one of two - of the king inside a smaller pyramid within the enclosure (see illustration at left). The valley building associated with the pyramid was excavated in 1951-52 and produced evidence of having been decorated with reliefs of superb style and finish, but sadly all had been badly smashed and wrecked in antiquity. There had also been statues of the king, set into recesses, possibly forerunners of the series of freestanding statues that existed in the valley temple of Khafre (Chephren) at Giza.

Red Pyramid of Snefru
The northern or 'Red' pyramid at Dahshur is the first true pyramid (although the angle of its sides is slight - only 43°36', as against the later norm of 51°52') and takes its sobriquet from the colour of its stonework in the evening sun. Entrance is via a sloping passageway on the north side which is located several feet above ground level, whence it descends to three consecutive chambers, all now rubble-filled and inaccessible. This pyramid has been attributed to Snefru on the basis of some casing blocks which bear his name in red ink, and an inscription said to have been discovered nearby early this century,- the latter is a decree of Pepi I of the 6th Dynasty remitting taxes due from the priests of the 'Two Pyramids of Snefru'. It was probably in this northern pyramid that the king was buried; his wife Hetepheres had her original tomb nearby (see below, p. 49).

With such an obvious command of resources and manpower to be able to build two pyramids for himself and complete a third for his predecessor, Snefru had clearly consolidated the kingdom to such an extent that he was able to leave a strong inheritance to his son, Khufu (Manetho's Cheops). Khufu was to take his father's achievements even further, to the very apogee of pyramid-building on the Giza plateau.


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