Egypt's 'bent pyramid', a 4,600-year old landmark in ancient construction, opens to visitors

Finbar Anderson
Egypt's 'bent' pyramid now open to visitors, may hold the final resting place of the pharaoh who built it, Sneferu - AFP

Egypt on Saturday opened to visitors the 4,600-year-old “bent” pyramid, a 101-metre tall structure located just south of Cairo considered a landmark in the evolution of pyramid building.

The pyramid was built in Dahshur around 2,600 BC by the fourth dynasty pharaoh Sneferu. The bent pyramid and the nearby “red” pyramid, also built by Sneferu, mark a transition from “step” pyramids, whereby the ancient tombs were constructed in several tiers, to the more well-known smooth-sided pyramids.

 "The two pyramids King Sneferu built here eventually led Khufu, Snefru's son, to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” Egyptian antiquities minister Khaled el-Anany told reporters.

Visitors can now descend down a 79-metre tunnel to reach two vaults deep inside the structure.

A man walks through a passage in the well-known bent pyramid of King Sneferu in Dahshur, 20 miles south of Cairo, which had been closed to visitors since 1965 and has now re-opened Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP

The pyramid’s design is unique: its sides, which are still clad in limestone, rise at a steep 54-degree angle for the first 49 metres, before tapering off towards the top. The pyramid’s architects changed the angle of the structure when cracks started appearing, according to Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

One the Bent pyramid satellites, in the ancient royal necropolis of Dahshur on the west bank of the Nile River Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP

And the newly-accessible pyramid may even be the final resting place for its commissioner, Sneferu. 

“Exactly where he was buried, we are not sure of that. Maybe in this pyramid, who knows,” said Mohamed Shiha, director of the Dahshur site.

As part of the pyramid's re-opening, the authorities also showed off a new collection of stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummies, plus wooden funerary masks and instruments Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP

A smaller 18-metre satellite pyramid, perhaps built for Sneferu’s wife Hetepheres, was also opened to visitors for the first time since being excavated in 1956.

As part of the pyramid's re-opening, the authorities also showed off a new collection of stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi discovered at the site, some of which-contained well-preserved mummies. The Egyptian archaeological mission also found wooden funerary masks and instruments. 

Unlike the more famous Giza pyramids, the site at Dahshur is in open desert and receives a fraction of the visitors. The opening of the bent pyramid coincides with a push by authorities to revive the country's beleaguered tourism sector.

The 'red' pyramid, close to the bent pyramid in Dahshur Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP

The industry is a major contributor to Egypt’s economy, but it took a heavy hit after the 2011 revolution that toppled longstanding dictator Hosni Mubarak. 

Egypt welcomed a record of almost 15 million tourists in 2010. While still a long way from reaching those kinds of figures again, the industry looks to be recovering, with 11.3 million visitors recorded in 2018, according to the World Tourism Organisation.