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Last Part - Part 3 of 6 - Next Part



Sneferu's life-size statue in the Egyptian Museum, with the right part of the torso reconstructed, is the only known of him. Collected from The Absolute Egyptology site

If Imhotep the Vizier is called the 'Father of Pyramids', Pharaoh Sneferu (first Pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty, ruled c. 2575 - 2551 BC) should definitely be called the 'Breeder of Pyramids'. After the successful completion of Djoser's Step Pyramid, his successors took up the tradition. More pyramids were constructed, and their structure, mathematical accuracy and building became more developed. The shape was reaching perfection -- as that of a 'True Pyramid'. Almost all of this evolution was completed during the reign of Sneferu. He was the first King of the Fourth Dynasty. He constructed four pyramids during his lifetime. The first one is now seen at Meydum, 5 miles north of Saqqara. The second and third were built at Dahshur, further north of Meydum. Another smaller Pyramid was constructed by Sneferu at Seila. The reason for constructing so many pyramids was probably because Sneferu did not like the imperfect looks of the earlier ones. The final pyramid at Dahshur was the first true pyramid. Dahshur is therefore rightly called the 'Breeding Ground of Pyramids'. Three of the seven sons of Sneferu were architects. After Imhotep, it was certainly a respectable profession. It is believed that one of these sons was the supervisor of Sneferu's Pyramid Projects. Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek), who was the builder of the Great Pyramid, was also the son of Sneferu -- by his first queen. He certainly kept his father's name!

Pharaoh Sneferu

The Tower Pyramid of Meydum seen from south. The stone collapsed from the faces are seen at the base of the pyramid.

The photograph shows the Meydum Pyramid of Sneferu. This pyramid is called 'Tower Pyramid' -- evidently because it looks like a tower or a high fort. There is no pyramidal topping on it. The cause of this peculiar shape is believed by the archaeologists to be that, during the construction of the Pyramid, a tower-shape was first built with stones, then stone chunks were filled around to give it a pyramidal shape. But as there was no cementing between the outer stone blocks, they collapsed and exposed the inner tower. The incident probably happened during the construction phase of the pyramid. The Saqqara Pyramid dressing could not have fallen off because it had steps and mechanical support of the lower rectangular mastabas. Sneferu however wanted the outside surface of his Pyramid to be smooth, not stepped. As a result, the stone did not have any mechanical support or base, and they fell from around the pyramid. The angle of the pyramid was also too high for the outer casing stones to keep in place. The fallen stone can be seen today around the central tower.


The 'Tower Pyramid' at Meydum

The phases of construction of the Meydum Pyramid.

The image on the right shows the phases of Tower Pyramid construction. The incident was certainly a very bad news for Sneferu. The Meydum site was abandoned. But he did not give up his efforts for a perfect pyramid. A new pyramid project was undertaken at Dahshur. He was never entombed inside the Meydum Pyramid; this is why, the stone stele that was placed in front of it for engraving the sacred name of the deified Pharaoh after death is found empty today.

Some archaeologists today consider the owner of the Meydum Pyramid to be Pharaoh Huni (3rd Dynasty) --  the immediate predecessor of Sneferu. Probably Sneferu was in charge of the construction when he was the king-to-be. Sneferu was probably Huni's son or son-in-law.



The Bent Pyramid seen from the South-West. You can clearly see the intact limestone dressing of the pyramid around the lower pyramid.

Sneferu's architect sons, without wasting any time, got down to the plans at Dahshur. After some years of immense construction work, another pyramid now stood among the sands of Dahshur. This was not a true pyramid - so this also failed Sneferu's expectations. However, the shape was becoming more and more clear now. The new pyramid at Dahshur is called the 'Bent Pyramid' -- as you can see from the photograph that the pyramid got bent halfway through the height and continued with a smaller angle. It looks as if a pyramid of a larger angle is cut at the top and a smaller pyramid is put on it like a cap. The lower pyramid starts with an angle of 54°. Then it bends and continues with a new angle of 43°. There are two popular theories that explain the cause of this bending.

The first theory says: Sneferu realized that if the construction continues with the large angle of 54°, the time, labour and stones spent on the pyramid would be immense and unaffordable. This is why, it was decided that the pyramid be finished with a smaller angle of 43°. The proponents of the second theory, again, say that the construction was finished in a haphazard manner with a smaller pyramid because, due to the heavy pressure of the outside stones, the stone-walls of the burial chamber and corridors inside the pyramid began to crack. If the pyramid was continued at the same angle, there would be more weight put over the inner chambers; so there was a great risk that the roofs would collapse right over the Pharaoh's sarcophagus! This is why the pyramid was finished off with a smaller angle.

Anyway, the finishing of the Bent Pyramid was like the Step Pyramid -- cased with lime stone. Most of the casing stones still exist -- mainly around the lower portion. Although many archaeologists support that Sneferu was finally buried in the latter Red Pyramid, some still opine for the Bent Pyramid as his eternal resting place. Anyhow, Sneferu's mummy was not found in any of them -- it has been robbed long ago. The Bent Pyramid, like the Djoser Pyramid, was also situated in a Pyramid Complex. Contrary to the general tradition of a single entrance, it has two entrances -- one on the north face, and the other on the east face. It contains three chambers -- none containing a sarcophagus. The Bent Pyramid was named by the Pharaoh "The South Shining Pyramid". To its south lies a secondary pyramid -- probably belonging to Hetep-Heres, the Queen and half-sister of Sneferu. In this smaller pyramid, we can see the earliest example of Corbelled Stone Gallery -- we will discuss this later on, when talking about the Great Pyramid.

The 'Bent Pyramid' at Dahshur

The Red Pyramid seen from the South. This pyramid at Dahshur is the first true one.

As the Bent Pyramid developed cracks in the inside chamber, Pharaoh Sneferu did not want to take the risk of burial there. Instead, he ordered his sons to build yet another pyramid (actually, the construction of both the Bent and the Red Pyramids started simultaneously, as proven by some stone texts found near the Northern Red Pyramid). Sneferu was indeed a 'perfectionist' type of guy! He lacked neither the patience, nor the financial and human resources for another construction. This time, Sneferu's sons did not make any mistake. The third pyramid was constructed in Dahshur, near the Bent Pyramid. The construction of the pyramid started off with an initial angle of 43° -- like the upper portion of the Bent Pyramid. This time there was no bending or collapse of outer casing stones. Finally the successful completion of a true pyramid was achieved. This pyramid is now called the 'Red Pyramid' - because of the colour of its outer stone blocks. Sneferu, however, named it 'The Shining Pyramid'. It is the northernmost pyramid at Dahshur. Because of the smaller angle of 43°, it was not very high. Probably this also did not satisfy Sneferu. Yet, as I said earlier, some believe that he finally chose to be buried here. The height of the Red Pyramid is 323 feet, and the sides of its base measure about 722 feet. The entrance is situated on the northern face, 94 feet above ground level. This pyramid also boasts a Corbelled Stone Gallery.

The Red Pyramid: The First True Pyramid

Sneferu was considered a wise and good Pharaoh by the Egyptians. His cult lasted even a millennium after his rule and many stories centering him are found on papyruses today. His son, Khufu, on the other hand, has been depicted as cruel and no depictions of him as statue or portrait has been found except one -- others probably obliterated after his reign. Khufu or Cheops, as the later Greeks would call him, was the builder of the largest stone structure the world has ever seen -- the Great Pyramid of Giza.




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