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Fact File: The Meidum Pyramid


Height: 92m

Built for: Sneferu, father of Khufu

Name: Sneferu Endures

Date: around 2620BC

Width: 144m

Angle: 5150'

Volume: 638,733 cubic metres

Made of: limestone, and Tura limestone (for the casing)



Fact File: The Bent Pyramid


Height: 105m

Built for: Sneferu

Name: Southern Shining Pyramid

Date: around 2605BC

Width: 188m

Angle: 5427' (lower part), 4322' (upper part)

Volume: 1,237,040 cubic metres

Made of: limestone, and Tura limestone (for the casing)



Fact File: The Red Pyramid (or the North Pyramid)


Height: 105m

Built for: Sneferu

Name: The Shining Pyramid

Date: around 2590BC

Width: 220m

Angle: 5310'

Volume: 1,694,000 cubic metres

Made of: limestone, and Tura limestone (for the casing)


The Pyramids of Sneferu

Sneferu was the father of Khufu. During his approximately 35-year reign he built an amazing three pyramids. Sneferu was not only responsible for far more pyramid building than any other pharaoh, he changed the shape of pyramids forever.

The Meidum pyramid may have been first built for Sneferu's father Huni, but Sneferu certainly finished it, and it is named after Sneferu. It was a step pyramid at first, like Djoser's. It was built a long way south of most of the pyramids, at Meidum, which is about 60km south of Cairo. Much later, after he had built his other two pyramids, Sneferu had it converted into a true pyramid.

In the 15th year of his reign, Sneferu moved north and his other two pyramids were built at Dahshur, which is about 2km directly south of Saqqara. The Bent Pyramid was Sneferu's attempt to build a true pyramid - with flat, triangular faces, like the Great Pyramid. It became unstable, so the angle was changed, giving it its bent appearance.

The Red Pyramid was Sneferu's final and successful attempt to build a true pyramid. Presumably this is where he was finally buried. I've been inside this one - see my photos below.

Because of this incredible amount of pyramid building, Egyptian stoneworkers became experts. This allowed them to build the next one, the Great Pyramid, with fantastic skill and accuracy.


The Meidum Pyramid

The Bent Pyramid

The Red Pyramid


Sneferu was the first king of the 4th dynasty of Egypt. He had several sons who were buried near his pyramids, but it was one of his youngest, Khufu, who inherited his throne and went on to build the biggest pyramid of all time.

Statue of Sneferu, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt



Sneferu's cartouche (his name)





Aerial photo of Dahshur: Bent Pyramid to the left, Red Pyramid back right, and the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III far right

































How step pyramids were built - with layers of stone leaning on each other



The Meidum Pyramid

Like the Step Pyramid, Sneferu's first pyramid was built in stages. First was a 7-layer pyramid, later enlarged to 8 steps. The pyramid was completed with its fine limestone casing in the first 15 years of Sneferu's rule. He then moved his court to the area around Dahshur, just south of Saqqara, and decided to build a new pyramid. However at the same time he had his workers go back to Meidum to turn his first pyramid into a true pyramid.

The Meidum pyramid is now in a ruined state, with just the core standing in three big steps, and a huge pile of rubble around the bottom. It was once thought that the outer layers, made of smaller stones, and the Tura casing, collapsed during construction, because they were not properly attached to the core.

However excavations have revealed no evidence of ropes, platforms etc. which would have been left after a sudden collapse. It is now thought that all the outer stones were robbed, just like the casing stones were robbed at Giza to make buildings.

The Bent Pyramid

After moving to Dahshur, Sneferu decided to build a new pyramid, but with a very different design. Step pyramids may have represented a stairway for the pharaoh's soul to climb up to heaven, to be with Ra, the sun god.

Now Sneferu wanted a true pyramid - a pyramid with smooth, triangular faces, like the Great Pyramid. This may have represented the rays of the sun shining down, on which the pharaoh could fly up to the sky. The new shape was also simpler, and to an Egyptian it would have looked more perfect.

The new shape also allowed a huge area to reflect sunlight very brightly, because of the fine white limestone casing. Indeed the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid (which came next) were named 'Shining' pyramids. The Bent Pyramid has more of its casing left than any other pyramid (see photo above).


Plan of the Bent Pyramid, showing the enclosure wall, chapel, satellite pyramid, and chambers inside (click for larger version)


As with all pyramids, the Bent Pyramid was part of a complex of structures, including a 'satellite' pyramid for the king's ka (his life force, or spiritual double), and a chapel for offerings to his soul. Inside were chambers for the king's body and his treasure.


Why is the pyramid bent?


At first the pyramid was built at a steep angle (54 degrees). This was because step pyramids had steep sides (as much as 78 degrees). However about half way up, the builders noticed that stones inside the pyramid were starting to move (this is called subsidence). So far, they had been laying the stones at a sloping angle, as with the Step Pyramid (see picture left). They realised that the angle of the faces needed to be shallower, and that they needed to lay the stones in horizontal layers (see below).


The upper half of the pyramid was built at a much shallower angle, 43 degrees. This why the pyramid looks 'bent'.


The Red Pyramid

Despite now having two gigantic pyramids, Sneferu wasn't happy. He wanted his true pyramid, and he told his workers to make one from scratch. This time they started building the slopes at 43 degrees, the angle they had used for the top half of the Bent Pyramid.

This meant that the first true pyramid was very wide - 220m, nearly the width of the Great Pyramid - but only 105m high, compared to 146m for the Great Pyramid. It is called the Red Pyramid because the limestone used to build it is slightly reddish in colour. It is also known as the North Pyramid. Sneferu named it the 'Shining Pyramid', because its large faces of smooth white limestone were very bright in the sunlight.


Red Pyramid from above: the remains of the mortuary temple can be seen to the right

Inside the Red Pyramid

Like the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid was built with chambers inside for the burial of the pharaoh - however Sneferu was actually buried in this one. One main passage descends 63m from an opening in the northern face, reaching a series of three chambers with corbelled ceilings. Sneferu was buried in the last of these rooms.


The passage leading down into the pyramid (the steps, lights and handrails are modern)


The first chamber in the Red Pyramid: 3.6m wide, 8.3m long, and 12.3m high


The corbelled roof of the first chamber: blocks of stone were laid further and further in as the roof went up, creating a stepped effect. This prevented the roof from collapsing under the enormous weight of all the stone above. The same method was used in the Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid.


The Temple


Next to the Red Pyramid Sneferu built a temple for worshipping his soul after his death. This was the first time that a large mortuary temple was built, and all later pyramids had similar temples. North and south of the temple were courtyards, which still have round sockets for plants or offerings made during the funeral.


The remains of Sneferu's mortuary temple. In the middle is the capstone from his pyramid, and in the background is the Bent Pyramid.