The Red Pyramid of Dahshur, Third Time’s the Charm

the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, Egypt

the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, Egypt

The Red Pyramid at Dahhsur, 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 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.

Visit www.yallatours.com/egypt/ to see tours that include a visit to Dahshur.

Take that Day Trip to Memphis

the colossal recumbent Ramesses II statue at Memphis, Egypt

the colossal recumbent Ramesses II statue at Memphis, Egypt

One of the most important cities of Ancient Egypt, Memphis was the capital of the unified country during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, which lasted about 1,000 years in the 3rd millennium BCE. (As a point of reference – the famous pyramids at Giza were built during the Old Kingdom.) The city was founded by Menes (or Narmer? it’s unclear, they may be one in the same), who united the country and became its first pharaoh.

Located at the head of the Nile delta in the north of the country, Memphis was a major port city and commercial and religious center and remained so, for thousands of years after the capital moved south to Thebes (Luxor today).

Alexander the Great took Egypt in 332BCE and made himself king in the great Temple of Ptah in Memphis. When he died 9 years later in Babylon, his body was brought to Memphis and later moved to Alexandria, the city he established on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The location of his tomb is unknown today.

When Egypt became a Roman province in 30BCE, the commercial power of Memphis was eclipsed by Alexandria, which was more accessible to the rest of the empire.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, the city’s status as religious center was finished and it descended into ruin.

the sphinx at Memphis, Egypt

the sphinx at Memphis, Egypt

Today, Memphis is an open-air museum with scattered remains, including numerous temples, palaces, statues and a sphinx. Memphis is about 12 miles south of Cairo and is usually visited in conjunction with Sakkara, the necropolis of Memphis and site of the Step Pyramid, less than 2 miles away. Most of our Egypt tours include a visit to Memphis.

Egyptian Mummies

Ancient Egyptians preserved the bodies of their dead because they believed the soul would need the body in the afterlife. After death, the soul would encounter a series of tests. If it passed, it would go on to eternal life, an idyllic version of the life they had before death, complete with their well-preserved body and all the comforts of the objects they had loved in life, which were buried with them.

The mummification process varied some over many centuries; for example, sometimes the brain was removed, sometimes not. When it was removed, a hook was inserted up the nasal passage and the brain was pulled out bit by bit through the nose.

The lungs, liver, intestines and stomach were removed and packed in natron, a kind of salt, which pulled the moisture out. The heart was considered the seat of the soul and intelligence, so was left in place.

The removed organs were stored in canopic jars and buried with the mummy or packed back into the body after being dried. Even when the organs were returned to the body, the canopic jars went into the tomb to protect them. The god Imsety, with the head of a man, protected the heart. Hapy, the baboon-headed god, protected the lungs. Duamutef, the jackel-headed god, protected the stomach. Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed god, protected the intestines.

canopic jars, photo courtesy of the British Museum

canopic jars, photo courtesy of the British Museum

The body was packed in natron and left for 45 days. Then it was oiled and wrapped in linen strips, which were coated in resin for a tight seal. Amulets were placed around the body inside the wrapping to aid in the passage to the afterlife. The well-wrapped body was placed in one or more coffins, usually more, which were then placed in a sarcophagus.

The whole process was very sacred and performed by priests, with prayers and incantations throughout. For the most part, only royalty and the upper classes could afford to be mummified. The poor person’s mummification happened naturally in the super-dry climate of Egypt.

Visit the Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to see royal mummies from the New Kingdom, when the mummification process was most advanced.