CAIRO – Egypt has, once again, opened two of its oldest pyramids to the public. The sites have been closed since 1965, but were opened again yesterday.
The pyramid of Pharaoh Sneferu, often called the Bent pyramid, and its adjacent site, the Dashur royal necropolis, are now open to received visitors. They are both part of the Memphis Necropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sites are located just west of Dashur, 40 km (about 25 miles) south of Cairo.
Egyptian minister of antiquities Dr. Khaled El-Enany made the announcement as he spoke to reporters and some 40 foreign ambassadors in front of the pyramid. El-Enany added that excavations of site had yielded many artifacts that would also be on display in the museum.
He said archaeologists found well-preserved sarcophagi, and they also found funerary wooden masks along with instruments used to cut stone, dating from the late period (664-332 BC). Archaeologists reportedly also unveiled the nearby tomb of Sa Eset, one of the supervisors of pyramids in the Middle Kingdom. These other tombs have been closed since their excavation in 1894 and contain finely preserved hieroglyphic funerary texts.
“We are officially opening the Bent Pyramid for today’s visitors,” El-Enany told reporters. “We are finishing a rich archaeological heritage season from a wonderful visit to this extraordinary UNESCO registered heritage site,” he said.
“Dashur is a very important archeological site with the five pyramids. Two pyramids by Sneferu , the Bent Pyramid and Northern or Red pyramid, and three pyramids of the Middle Kingdom“, said El-Enany as he led reporters through the site.
Waziri added that they had uncovered blocks of stone as well as granite and limestone fragments that indicated additional ancient graves in the area. “When we were taking those objects out, we found […] a very rich area of hidden tombs,” Waziri said.
Visitors will be allowed inside the structure down a famously long and narrow tunnel from the north-facing entrance of the Bent Pyramid that ends in two chambers deep within the structure. The chambers contained mummies as well as the masks of tools of the occupants for their journeys into the underworld.
Built by Pharaoh Sneferu around 2600 B.C.E. as the “Southern Shining Pyramid,” the Bent Pyramid is one of three monuments he constructed during his reign. The adjacent Red Pyramid is the third largest pyramid in Egypt.
The Bent Pyramid has a unique construction. Its lower portion is built at 54 degrees and rises about 47m (about 155 feet). After that height, the angle of construction shifts to 43 degrees for its remaining 57 m (about 189 ft). The change in angles gives the Bent Pyramid its characteristic shape.
Ancient Egyptian architects likely changed the angle of construction because of cracks to the lower portion of the structure, explained the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, Dr. Mostafa Waziri.
Waziri explained said that the restoration work on both pyramids involved the reinforcement of their inner structures as well as the installation of lighting systems both inside and outside of the pyramid. He added that wooden ramps and stairs were also built to facilitate visitors to the monuments.
Pharaoh Sneferu, whose name was Hellenized as “Soris” and means “Horus, Lord of Ma’at, has perfected me,” was a prolific builder and the founding pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. The length of his rule is unclear. Some scholars believe he ruled 24 years, while others suggest he ruled twice that. “Sneferu lived a very long time [and] the architects wanted to reach the complete shape, the pyramid shape, before Sneferu died,” said Mohamed Shiha, director of the Dahshur site.
Sneferu’s burial site, however, is unknown. Shiha said, “Exactly where he was buried, we are not sure of that. Maybe in this pyramid, who knows.” Speculation is that his tomb is undiscovered and lies with the Bent Pyramid. Other speculate that the pharaoh is buried in the adjacent Red Pyramid.
Sneferu’s building projects show the architectural evolution of pyramid design from the Meidum Pyramid’s somewhat squarer structure to the Bent Pyramid that more closely approaches the “true” pyramid structure. This architectural progression was the catalyst for future innovations that would culminate in the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza by Khufu, Sneferu’s son.
Egyptian authorities hope that the new openings will promote tourism to the region. It is part of a wider program to revive the tourist sector in Egypt that has significantly deteriorated since the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, often called the Arab Spring, that removed autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Since that time, Egypt has struggled with perceptions of political instability and security challenges, most recently from the 2017 Hurghada attack, where two German women were stabbed to death and four other foreign tourists were wounded at a Red Sea resort just a few hours after five policemen were killed in a shooting near the Great Pyramid.
Memphis and its Necropolis is a vast region that is composed of the pyramid fields from Giza to Dashur. It hosts the only surviving structure listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza. UNESCO describes the area as one of the most important monuments of the world with outstanding cultural, historic, artistic, archeological and religious significance. UNESCO states that Memphis and its Necropolis is great masterpiece of architectural design and is of “Outstanding Universal Value.”