When speaking of pyramids in Egypt, most travelers envision the famous collection of them sprawling across the Giza Plateau. With the Sphinx crouching nearby, they are unforgettable and infinitely intriguing, but they are not the only pyramids of note in this famous land. There are also the Pyramids of Dahshur, considered by many to be equally intriguing and appealing, as well as essential to a fuller or richer experience of the country.
WHAT IS SO IMPRESSIVE ABOUT THE PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR?
A necropolis is simply a large and ancient cemetery, and most of the pyramids of Egypt are located within a necropolis, or nearby to one. This is where many nobles and others would be buried, and there would also be a cemetery and complex for the workers dedicated to building the nearby pyramids, temples and other structures. The entire site of Dahshur is a royal necropolis from the Pharaonic period. Sitting around 25 miles south of Cairo and along the western banks of the famed Nile, it is home to two of the oldest and largest pyramids, as well as two of the most unique and distinct.
If you know a bit about the evolution of the pyramid form, you may know (and plan to visit) the famed Step Pyramid at Saqqara (also known as the Pyramid of Djoser). The very first pyramid, it takes its name from the stepped design it uses to emulate a pyramid form. However, it is not the eventual pyramid shape found at Giza. Between that stepped design and the enormous capabilities executed at Giza were experimental forms, and the Pyramids of Dahshur contain a key example of this.
Dating to 2613 to 2589 BCE, and built during the reign of the Pharaoh Sneferu, they feature the world-famous Bent Pyramid and the stunning Red Pyramid, and both are considered to be remarkably well preserved, ancient and stunning.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RED AND BENT PYRAMIDS
Yet, it is the very nature of the Bent Pyramid that makes it so astonishing to travelers the world over. This is because it was the first time that a pharaoh steered away from the traditional step design first established at Saqqara. Yet, because the mechanics of building a structure of this kind had not yet been determined, it is an experimental structure.
Intended to be smooth sided, it is unclear if the bent lines of the structure were meant as a sort of “on the fly” adjustment when builders realized that the pitch of the base was too steep to continue, or if it is intentional. Most feel it was an unintentional blunder since the next pyramid made at the site was the very first smooth sided pyramid to be completed, and served as the immediate predecessor to the construction of those at Giza.
This is the famous Red Pyramid, standing more than 300 feet in height (the third largest of all pyramids in Egypt) and using the effective 43 degree angle that allows a structure to take the pyramid form. It takes its name from the use of local red limestone, which is unique from other structures of its time. It is believed to be the final resting place of Sneferu, though his remains have never been found. Travelers can enter the Red Pyramid and even see the chamber in which some human remains were found. Because it is one of the best preserved pyramids in all of Egypt, it rates as a must see for those eager to experience the very best pyramids remaining.
It was Sneferu’s son Khufu who took this concept to create the largest of the three great pyramids at Giza, making the Dahshur site remarkably significant in the world of design, engineering and human ingenuity.
The Pyramids of Dahshur do not end with the Bent and Red Pyramids, though, and also include several others, though they are, for the most part, severely damaged. The Black Pyramid, though a failure because of the instability of the sands beneath it, is a popular destination with its undisturbed tombs meant for royal women, but it is off limits in terms of entry or even approaching it closely. It is in a “restricted zone” to ensure its safety and protection, though even at a distance it is impressive. There is also the Pyramid of Sesostris III which features small pyramid structures for the pharaoh’s daughters. There has been much excavation throughout the site and many discoveries dating to both the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.
PLANNING YOUR DAYTRIP TO THE PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR
Though many travelers do pay a visit to the Pyramids of Dahshur, still many more know only of the great Giza Plateau and its amazing sights. Yet, it is actually quite simple to visit the Pyramids of Dahshur along with those of Giza in a single day long outing. In fact, the Saqqara complex is also easily part of a daytrip dedicated to pyramids and would allow for a stop in the ancient city of Memphis to explore other amazing statues and sights.
However, it is just as easy to dedicate an entire day exploring the Pyramids of Dahshur alone. There is an entrance fee, and this includes access to the interior of the Red Pyramid alone (as it is the only pyramid open to visitors). As we recommended to our visitors learning more about a visit to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, one of the wisest things to do is hire a guide for your visit to the Pyramids of Dahshur. Most experienced travelers agree that an expert guide will bring any location to life and illuminate many lesser known facts and key details. Whether part of a formal tour you pre-book or booked from your hotel, they are the best way to learn as much as possible during even a brief visit to the Pyramids of Dahshur.
You will also want to bring plenty of water as this site is further away than others and you do not want to overpay for water you cannot be guaranteed is safe and/or unopened. Wear comfortable and conservative clothing, with good walking shoes, a sun hat and sunglasses, and you can make the very most of any amount of time at this intriguing and hugely significant site.