Located about 40 kilometers southwest of Cairo, the village of Dahshur marks the southern end of the vast pyramid field that begins at Giza. Excavations at Dahshur have revealed the remains of seven pyramids, as well as extensive tomb complexes built for queens and nobility from Memphis up until the 13th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom. Two of the later pyramids constructed here have been completely destroyed by time and the elements and several others, such as the Black Pyramid (12th Dynasty, 1929-1885 BC), are badly damaged, but Dahshur also boasts two of Egypt’s best-preserved early pyramids.
Both built during the reign of King Sneferu (2613-2589 BC), the founder of the 4th Dynasty, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur are massive evidence of the architectural development that lead to the construction of the Great Pyramid and it companions at Giza. Sneferu was the father of Khufu so the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur immediately preceded the Giza Pyramids in their construction. Khufu’s engineers would perfect the design for smooth-sided pyramids that Sneferu pioneered in building the biggest pyramid at Giza.
The Bent Pyramid is called a ‘transitional’ pyramid because the angle of its sides changes abruptly approximately one-third of the way up. Archeologists attribute this to an engineering crisis during construction. The architect realized that the steep, 54-degree inclination of its sides would make it structurally unsound. As a result, the rest of the pyramid was completed with only a 43-degree inclination.
Sneferu’s second pyramid at the site was the first smooth sided pyramids ever constructed, an immediate predecessor to the Pyramids at Giza. It is also the third largest pyramid ever constructed, exceeded in height by only the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre at Giza. It is built with the same shallow, 43-degree inclination with which the upper section of the Bent was constructed.