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.
They’re not exactly along the Nile; not to be nitpicky, but if you’re looking for them, you should know. The Giza pyramids, by far the most famous of some 120 pyramids discovered to date in Egypt, are about 5 miles from the Nile and about 15 miles from the center of Cairo. The pyramids are part of the Giza Necropolis, the burial grounds of 3 4th Dynasty pharaohs, among others.
In honor of Coptic Christmas tomorrow, January 7, 2017, a few images from Coptic churches ~
In the middle 14th-century BCE, the 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV broke with many centuries of tradition, when he proclaimed the sun disk Aten to be the god of gods. (This is sometimes referred to as the first instance of monotheism, but it’s more likely that lesser deities continued to be worshipped.) The pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his devotion and moved his capital from Thebes (modern Luxor) to a previously unsettled site 250 miles to the north.This social-cultural-political blip in the timeline of ancient Egypt is known as the Amarna period (named for a later regional tribe).
The city, named Akhetaten, was built and abandoned in little more than a decade.
After Akhenaten’s death around 1334 BCE, his son Tutankhamen moved the royal court back to Thebes and reinstated the traditional religion. Subsequent pharaohs did their best to destroy the memory of Akhenaten and his reforms by defacing royal tombs and scrubbing records of his reign. He was lost to history until the late 19th century, when archaeologists discovered the city at Tel el-Amarna.
The distinctive art of the Amarna period is a tantalizing window on the time but may raise more questions than it answers. In general, it’s more naturalistic than the formal conventions of earlier and later Egyptian art. However, portraits of the royal family, with elongated, pronounced features have caused a lot of speculation. Were they actually deformed or were their figures symbolically stylized? DNA testing on Akhenaten’s remains did not find evidence of any genetic disorder.
Tel el-Amarna is way off the standard tourist track (about 200 miles south of Cairo and 250 north of Luxor) and is really for those with a strong interest in Egyptology. Much of the city was carted off and recycled as building materials in other places, leaving foundations and some mud brick walls. Despite vandalization, the most vivid remains are royal and noble tombs in the cliffs at the north and south ends of the city. The site is quite spread out, about 6 miles from one end to the other, and not particularly well-marked. A licensed guide is recommended.
Today is Sham el Nessim, the Egyptian Spring festival celebrated for over 4,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, the festival was celebrated on or around the spring equinox, but at some point in the early Christian era, Egyptian Christians (Copts) moved the festival to the day after Orthodox Easter and it is celebrated on that day still, by all Egyptians, regardless of religion.
Sham el Nessim means “smell the breeze” and the day is marked with time spent outdoors in parks and on beaches and boats, enjoying picnics with family and friends. It’s traditional to eat Fesikh (fermented gray mullet), salted and smoked herring, spring onions and painted hard-boiled eggs. The foods all represent the fertility of the new season. The symbolism of eggs is obvious, spring onions represent new growth, and, for ancient Egyptians, fish symbolized rebirth.
The powerful smell of Fesikh is legendary. It seems logical to me that the smell has something to do with the outdoors eating, but I can’t get anyone to confirm that. The origins of these traditions are murky. If you’re in Egypt on Sham el Nessim, do join in the festivities, just be sure any Fesikh you eat comes from an experienced and reputable dealer. If not properly prepared, Fesikh can make you very sick and has even caused a few deaths.