Pharaoh Sneferu
The Pyramids Take Shape

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 near vertical walls of the remains of Sneferu's Pyramid at Meidum.
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.

the base of the Meidum Pyramid by Weidenbach

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 forty 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 north face.

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 inside standing 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 Medum.

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. A peribolus 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.

Questions Linger

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.
the Bent Pyramid by E.J. Andrews, 1842.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.

A sliding stone door in the Bent Pyramid by E.J. Andrews, 1842.

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

Perfect in form, flatter and darker than its' brothers at Giza, 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.

The Pharaohs of Dahshur

Sneferu Fourth Dynasty
Red Pyramid
Bent Pyramid
2613-2589 BC
Senwosret III Twelfth Dynasty 1878-1860 BC
Amenemhet II Twelfth Dynasty "White" pyramid 1929-1895 BC
Amenemhet III Twelfth Dynasty "Black" pyramid 1860-1815 BC

wings of the Sun.

The Pyramids of Sneferu:
Meidum and Dahshur

Ancient Egypt's Pyramid Builders

Home Page
Climbing the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
The Second Greatest Pyramid - Chephren
Valley Temple of Chephren
The Pyramid of Menkaure
The Great Sphinx
More About Giza
Before Giza:
The Pyramids at Saqqara
The Pyramids of Sneferu
The Greatest Mystery of All

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