Pharaoh Sneferu (Snofru or Snefru) ruled before Cheops (2613-2589 BC). He built three large Pyramids and perhaps two smaller ones. His Pyramids total nearly 5 million cubic yards (over 3 1/2 million cubic meters) of cut and dressed stone. The principal building projects of Sneferu were located at Meidum (20 miles / 30 km south of modern Cairo) and Dahshur (12 miles / 20 km south of Cairo).
The Broken Pyramid of Sneferu by Ernst Weidenbach.
The Pyramid at Meidum
Meidum was Sneferu's first attempt at Pyramid building. Some scholars believe this unusual structure was constructed as a step Pyramid and later additional material was added to transform it into a true Pyramid with flat triangular sides.
It is difficult to be certain of the original form because the entire outer shell has collapsed. What remains is a giant, 210 feet (65 meters) tall, steep sided cube with two terraced steps near the top, surrounded by deep mounds of debris. It appears that two additional steps existed in the 15th century but have fallen since that time.
Sneferu and the World's First True Pyramid By W. M. Flinders Petrie, 1897
(Sir William Flinders Petrie is considered the founder of modern scientific archeology.)
With the reign of Sneferu we reach firm ground
historically, his own monuments and those of his subjects being well known. The royal domains seem
to have lain about
miles south of Cairo, at
Medum, as the pyramid is there.
The primitive form of the sepulchre of Sneferu was
a square mastaba: a mass of masonry,
flat-topped, with sides slanting inward at about 75 degrees. The entrance was in the lower part of the
To enlarge this tomb a coating of masonry
was put over it, as was often done in brick to the
tombs of this age. The original mass was also carried
upward, and thus a step resulted on the outside. This
same process was repeated seven times, resulting in a
compound pile, of which the top surface of each coat
formed a great step on the outside. The outline thus
became pyramidal, and the last process was to add one smooth casing- in one slope from base to top, and
so carry it up to a point at the pyramid at an angle of 14
: 11. The casings have been
partly removed or fallen, this
has left the mass
up in a towering form.
This is the earliest
pyramid known, as the
step pyramid of Sakkara
is not a true pyramid,
but a mastaba which was
repeatedly enlarged. It
was never coated over in
one slope; thus it was
never finished into a
pyramid like that of
The interior of the Medum pyramid is reached by
a long passage sloping down from the north face. In the rock under the center it runs horizontally for a
short way, then turns upward as a vertical shaft,
opening into the floor of the sepulchral chamber. This
chamber is built on the surface of the rock, and is
roofed by nine overlapping courses of stone. The wooden
beams supporting the shaft lining are still sound and
firm, being saturated with salt from the rock.
Outside of the pyramid, against the middle of the
eastern face of the casing, was built a courtyard and
chambers, forming a small temple. In this courtyard
stood an altar for offerings, between two tall steles,
without any inscription. The styles
of the pyramid, the temple, and the tombs are in every
respect distinctly more archaic than the works of any
later period. The temple
is as plain as possible, no stone is used but
limestone, and there
is not the slightest
ornament or decoration
in any part of it.
The walls were built
in the rough, and
trimmed down afterwards.
wall enclosed the
pyramid and temple,
the entrance to it
was on the east side,
and the approach to
it was by a causeway,
walled on either hand, leading up from the plain.
Excerpted from: A History Of Egypt, From the Earliest Times to the XVIth Dynasty, by William Mathew Flinders Petrie, London, 1897.
Mainstream archaeology is convinced that the Meidum pyramid was abandoned due to inadequate engineering. They cannot explain why it was left in place, the valuable stone could have been re-used for Sneferu's second or third pyramid. It is also possible that this building was deliberately destroyed for ritual reasons.
(right) Photograph from EgyptArchive.
Sneferu's Pyramids at Dahshur The Bent Pyramid
Sneferu turned to Dahshur (Dashur or archaic Dashhoor) for his next project, the unique "Bent" Pyramid. Unlike any other known pyramid, the angle of the sides changes at approximately the midpoint from 55 to 43 degrees. Archaeologists are quick to speculate that the building was showing signs of failure necessitating a change of plans. Indeed, cracks have been found in the structure. Another possibility is that the Egyptians, always very conscious of the symbolic and hyperdimensional significance of shapes and angles, deliberately built the Pyramid to this design to create a desired effect. The Bent Pyramid is 344 feet (105 M) tall.
There is a small Pyramid south of the Bent Pyramid, and a mortuary temple near its eastern side. The original polished limestone outer casing is mostly intact, leaving this Pyramid the closest to its' intended appearance of the Pyramids of Egypt. The stones of the lower section slope inward, while the stones are laid horizontally in the upper portion.
The Bent Pyramid of Sneferu at Dahshur, the Red Pyramid is in the distance on the right, photograph from EgyptArchive.
by E.J. Andrews, 1842.
Unique among the large Pyramids, the Bent Pyramid has two entrances on two different sides, North (as is usual) and West, shown in the above cutaway drawings. Like nearly everything about the Pyramids this has encouraged speculation regarding its' meaning and purpose.
The Egyptians used many clever devices to prevent tomb robbers from gaining access to the inner chambers. Here is a simple sliding doorway of stone designed to be difficult to move once it is closed. The top figure shows it in the open position, the heavy stone slab out of the way to the right. Below the stone has moved to cover the opening. To the right is a side view. From the Bent Pyramid, Engraving by E.J. Andrews, 1842
The Red Pyramid
The Red Pyramid of Sneferu at Dahshur, photograph from EgyptArchive.
Sneferu's third large Pyramid, the Red Pyramid at
Dahshur, located 2 1/2 miles (4 km) North of the Bent Pyramid, has flat triangular sides at a 43 degree angle, and is 340 feet (104 meters) tall. Whatever engineering problems may have existed in the building of the Meidum and Bent Pyramids were resolved and the Red Pyramid has survived the ages in excellent condition, save the pilfering of it's fine limestone casing and its' royal treasures. The local limestone used in the construction of the core has a reddish hue, giving the Pyramid it's color and name. The Red Pyramid is the third largest Pyramid of Egypt, surpassed only by those built by Sneferu's son and grandson, Cheops and Chephren.
Geologist Robert M. Schoch has examined the central chamber of the Red Pyramid and concluded that it shows considerable weathering, unlike the remainder of the interior, as if it is a much earlier structure that was enclosed by the building of the Pyramid. The idea of incorporating important fragments of earlier wall sculptures into later reliefs is well known in Egyptology and so the possibility of an ancient-at-the-time temple below the Red Pyramid has plausibility.
The interior of the Red Pyramid is simpler than the Bent Pyramid, leading some to suppose hidden chambers and perhaps Sneferu himself remain to be found.
Interior of the Red Pyramid by E.J. Andrews, 1842.
Map of the Dahshur Pyramid field by E.J. Andrews, 1842.