Visitors to the Dahshour Necropolis some 45km south of the Giza Plateau will now be able for the first time to scramble down a narrow 79m tunnel from a high entrance on the northern façade of the necropolis’s famous Bent Pyramid to reach the chambers of the Pharaoh Sneferu located deep inside the ancient structure.
They will also be able to enter the adjacent satellite pyramid.
Despite the sweltering heat currently gripping Cairo, journalists and others flocked to the Dahshour Necropolis on Saturday to join Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and foreign, Arab and African ambassadors to Egypt from 40 countries to inaugurate the restored Bent Pyramid and its satellites and take a journey inside this 4,600-year-old structure.
The foreign ambassadors who travelled to Dahshour to attend the inauguration included the envoys of Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Hungary, Japan, Jordan, Cameroon and Congo.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the restoration work on the pyramids had involved the consolidation of their inner structures and walls as well as installing external and internal lighting systems, along with wooden ramps and stairs to facilitate visits.
El-Enany explained that the Bent Pyramid in the royal Dahshour Necropolis was part of the Memphis Necropolis site on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It was built during the Old Kingdom under the Pharaoh Sneferu (c 2,600 BCE) and is a unique example of early pyramid development in Egypt. It represents a transitional form of pyramid construction between the Djoser Step Pyramid in Saqqara, the Meidum Pyramid in Beni Sweif, and the Red Pyramid also built by Sneferu in Dahshour.
The Bent Pyramid had steep angles of inclination and showed signs of instability during its construction process. In order to correct the steep inclination of the pyramid, the builders first changed the angle of construction to 45 degrees. However, as the pyramid still showed signs of decay, the builders then constructed another pyramid adjacent to it, called the Red Pyramid because of the colour of its stone, to serve as a royal burial site.
According to former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass, during the initial stages of constructing the Bent Pyramid the blocks were laid sloping inwards, as had been done with earlier step pyramids, although this was planned from the start to be a true, smooth-sided pyramid.
Roughly half-way up the pyramid, the decision was taken to lay the blocks horizontally and to lessen the angle of the slope for the second time. “This reduced the stress on the interior chambers of the pyramid and led to its distinctive bend,” Hawass said, adding that it also reduced the amount of masonry needed to complete the pyramid.
The ground below the pyramid was unstable and so these drastic measures had to be taken to save the monument from collapsing.
The interior of the pyramid is unusual as it has two entrances on the north and the west sides. The northern entrance is about 11.8m high, and visitors have to descend down a long narrow shaft for 79m to reach a corbelled room. They then climb a wooden set of stairs to reach the lower burial chamber located 6.25m up the south wall.
The western shaft has a gentler slope than the northern one, heading down about 65m to another burial chamber higher up in the body of the pyramid than that from the northern entrance. Ancient cedar wood can be seen in this chamber, placed there to help relieve the stress on the chambers.
NEW DISCOVERY: After the inauguration of the Sneferu pyramids, El-Enany announced a new discovery almost 300m south of Amenemhat II’s Pyramid in the Dahshour Necropolis.
The discovery was made by an Egyptian archaeological mission that has been excavating in the Dahshour area since August 2018. The mission, he said, had stumbled upon the remains of a Middle Kingdom wall stretching 60m towards the east, along with a collection of Late Period stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi with some of them still housing mummies.
Some of the sarcophagi, which are anthropoid, are in a very well-preserved condition and still maintain the original paint. A collection of wooden funerary masks was also unearthed along with instruments used for cutting stones from the Late Period, indicating that the area was reused in a later period.
Waziri pointed out that the mission had selected the area for its excavations due to previous archaeological surveys discovering large stone blocks on the surface of the Dahshour area, along with limestone and granite fragments, which indicated the existence of graves.
More work would resume later to uncover more of the area’s secrets, Waziri said.
TOMB OF SA-ISET: El-Enany and the accompanying delegation then embarked on a special visit to the Sa-Iset Tomb located in the middle of the Dahshour desert.
The tomb is not open to the public, but private visits can be made to it. It was originally discovered by French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan in 1894, but it was then lost for many years until Egyptian archaeologists at Dahshour uncovered it again in 2006 during survey work on the site.
From the inscriptions on four funerary stelae found by de Morgan in the 1890s, now on display in the Egyptian Museum, it is known that Sa-Iset was a minister in the 12th Dynasty during the reign of Amenemhat II.
Sa-Iset’s Tomb consists of a sloping ramp, a block, and a vaulted area of mudbrick that leads to the burial chamber that has a vaulted ceiling inscribed with the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts similar to those found in the Pyramid of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty.
The burial chamber has a diorite sarcophagus with a lid. On the northern side, there are two niches with a broken box that once had contained the deceased’s canopic jars.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Bent Pyramid opens