I climbed on my hands and knees up the steep, narrow shaft deep in the heart of the pyramid, breathing heavily due to the thin, stale air. My pants were getting covered in thick, millennia old dust. The passage was extremely dark, with just my small torch for illumination. I soon came to two ropes, and used them to help climb up the shaft which had become even steeper. After a long climb I saw light ahead and felt a slight breeze. I spotted the two guys who had gone up first holding on to metal bars covering the shafts opening. I climbed up next to them and gratefully breathed in the fresh air. If I let go of the bars now I would fall back down the shaft. Looking out I saw we were perched high up the west side of the bent pyramid of Dahshur, with a stunning desert vista around us. I felt like an explorer who had just discovered the secrets of the pyramid. It was an exhilarating sensation.
This was part of my experience of exploring the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu, which recently opened to tourists for the first time since 1965. I also explored the nearby Red Pyramid of Dahshur. These two pyramids are awe-inspiring, and easily among the best places to visit in Egypt. Dahshur should be top of your list if you want an authentic Ancient Egyptian experience.
History of the Pyramids of Dahsur
Dahshur was an ancient necropolis 8 miles south of Saqqara, where many pyramids and tombs were built. The Bent and Red pyramids were built on the orders of Pharaoh Sneferu (2613-2598 BC), who was the most prolific builder of pyramids in ancient Egypt: he built at least 3 large pyramids. The Bent Pyramid was an experimental pyramid, meant to be an evolution of the step pyramid. However, they made a mistake during construction. They started at an angle of 60°, but changed this to 55° and enlarged the base. At 47 metres they realised the building was unstable, and changed to a 45° angle for the rest of it. This led to the pyramids distinctive shape.
The Red Pyramid was built shortly after the Bent Pyramid, and they used the lessons learnt from that to build the worlds first true large pyramid. The pyramid was built at a 40° angle making it a lot more stable.
Exploring the Red Pyramid Of Dahshur
Seeing the Red Pyramid for the first time really is astonishing. It rises majestically out of the flat desert with nothing around to obstruct the view of it. It looks just like what you imagine an Ancient Egyptian pyramid should look like; a perfect stone pyramid in the desert with no urban sprawl nearby to spoil the affect (no burger king or tour groups for miles either). On closer inspection it’s not quite perfect, as all of the original limestone casing has been removed. Apart from that it’s in remarkable condition. At 105 metres tall it’s the third tallest pyramid in Egypt.
There are stairs on the outside that lead to the entrance 30 metres up. There is a nice platform here that gives great views of the surrounding desert.
Inside the Red pyramid
Walking down the steps of the steep entrance tunnel is like something from a Tomb Raider game. The passageway is so slow I had to almost crouch to go down – it certainly makes for an exciting entrance. The passage is 80 metres long and leads into a chamber beneath ground level. From here there is a short passage that leads into another chamber with a high, cobalt roof. At this point you’re under the apex of the pyramid. At the end of here they have built wooden steps that allow visitors to climb up to the third chamber.
The third chamber if the most interesting. It has a dark, correlated ceiling 15 metres high. A large part of the floor has been dug up, this was probably done by tomb robbers trying to find the Pharaohs treasure. They never found anything, so maybe it’s still in there somewhere. The pyramid was empty when I went, so I was able to meditate in the chamber for awhile. It was a great experience, though the air is quite thin and has a really strong smell.
The Bent Pyramid of Sneferu
The bent pyramid is an amazing building, you’ve probably never seen anything quite like it. It lies across the desert just over a mile from the Red Pyramid, it’s distinctive bend giving it an unusual shape. Another unique aspect of this pyramid is it contains most of it’s original limestone covering, unlike any other pyramid found. It’s fantastic seeing it up close, I found the pyramid quite beautiful. At 101 metres it’s also a huge building.
There are the remains of some of the pyramid complex of the east side of the pyramid that’s interesting to explore. From here there is a clear view of the remains of the unfinished Black Pyramid.
On the south side of the pyramid is the small Queens Pyramid. I was able to climb up here with the guard at the site, who was obviously after a tip. This really is a remote, off the beaten path destination as the whole area was almost empty.
Exploring Inside the Bent Pyramid
Exploring the bent Pyramid really is like something from an Indiana Jones film. The entrance is similar to the Red Pyramid, with the north entrance 12 metres up the outside. After the long descent you come a corridor that leads to the antechamber, which has wooden steps at the far side going up to a low, rough hewn tunnel. After squeezing through here I myself in a dimly lit corridor that leads right and left. The left branch took to me to the mysterious burial chamber that was filled with bats, the smell so overpowering that I just spent a couple of minutes looking around. Following the passage back the way I had came led to the steep shaft that led to the small opening high in the period – this shaft is known aptly as the chimney.
I’m curious as to what the exact purpose of the chimney is, as there is no consensus on it (some academics think it was just built to access a burial chamber). It probably had more than one use. There also haven’t found the sarcophagus of Sneferu, so perhaps there are more chambers and corridors in the pyramid that haven’t been discovered yet.
Exploring these two pyramids was a fantastic experience, it was the type of Egyptian adventure I had always dreamed of having. Visiting some sights in Egypt can be underwhelming, but these two pyramids more than lived up to expectations. The remote location, almost complete absence of visitors and the fact I could explore at will made it feel like I had travelled back in time. The fact these pyramids still have mysteries to uncover makes them even more exciting.
If you’re in Cairo you need to take a trip out here.
Admission: 60 EP entry to Dahshur, with free entry to the pyramids- yes it’s hard to believe it’s free entry.
Getting there and away: It’s nearly 25 miles from Giza and there is no public transport here, so it’s best if you can hire a car or take a taxi. You could also take the metro to Helwan then take a taxi. I hired a car and driver In Giza for a day trip to Saqqara and Dahshur.
Equipment: You’ll obviously need good footwear and pants you don’t mind getting covered in the dust of the ages. Bring a torch, and having something to cover your mouth and nose in some areas would be handy.