The Red Pyramid at Dahshur, built by the pharaoh Senefru, was the first successful smooth-sided pyramid. Senefru’s first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid, the Meidum Pyramid, collapsed. Next, he built the Bent Pyramid, which alters its angle of inclination part way up, probably as a precaution after the collapse of the pyramid at Meidum. The Red Pyramid was built at a cautious incline to avoid the disaster of Meidum and appears rather squat in comparison to the famous pyramids of Giza, which were built by Senefru’s son, grandson and great grandson, after developments in pyramid engineering.
the collapsed Meidum Pyramid (left) and its successor, the revised-midway Bent Pyramid
The Red Pyramid gets its name from the exposed red limestone blocks, once hidden by a white limestone façade, which was looted for other buildings long ago.
Dahshur is an hour’s drive from Cairo and is usually combined with a visit to the Bent Pyramid, a few kilometers away. Meidum is about an hour from Dahshur.
About 25 miles south of Cairo, Dahshur is a necropolis of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom and site of some of the very first pyramids in Egypt. The so-called Bent Pyramid was the first try at a smooth-sided pyramid in the evolution from the Step Pyramid to the true pyramid form that we are familiar with. For reasons not entirely clear, construction of the Bent Pyramid began at a 52-degree angle of inclination but changed partway up to a more gradual 43-degree incline. Structural and foundation issues were most likely the reason for that. Whatever the reason, the Bent Pyramid preserves evidence of the development of architecture and engineering in ancient Egypt.
Despite the angle miscalculation, builders of the Bent Pyramid successfully encased the monument in polished limestone, a major step forward in pyramid construction and a standard element in later pyramids. More than four thousand years later, it is the only pyramid in Egypt with most of its outer limestone casing intact.
The Bent Pyramid was built for the pharaoh Sneferu, but it is doubtful he was buried there. He was reportedly not pleased with the imperfection and ordered another pyramid nearby. Now known as the Red Pyramid, it is the first known true pyramid.
Between the two pyramids, it’s more likely he was buried in the latter, but there’s no conclusive evidence either way. The chambers of both pyramids are empty, surely looted by grave robbers thousands of years ago. Sneferu was the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty and father of Khufu, for whom the Great Pyramid at Giza was built.