About Egyptian Pyramids
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston
The Red Pyramid (North Pyramid) at Dahshur
After the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, the Red Pyramid at Dashur has the largest base (only slightly smaller than Khufu's pyramid, each side measures 722 feet) of any pyramid in Egypt. However, with it's sides sloping at 43 degrees 22', it is substantially shorter at 343 feet (104 meters). It is the fourth highest pyramid ever built in Egypt, with almost 160 layers of stone. Significantly, the Red Pyramid was the first successful, true, cased Pyramid built in Egypt, ushering in the era of the Giza style pyramids.
Built by Khufu's father, Snefru, what really makes this pyramid special today is the lack of crowds and circus atmosphere that plagues the Giza Plateau, along with the fact that it can currently be entered without limitation. Not long ago, the area of Dashur could not be visited, which probably explains why such an important monument receives so few visitors. However, it is only a short drive from Saqqara, and only a brief drive from Cairo.
The pyramid gets its common name from the reddish limestone used to build most of its core, but it is also sometimes referred to as the Shining or Northern Pyramid. Learning from prior mistakes, several layers of fine white limestone were used to lay the pyramid's foundation thus eliminating structural problems of earlier pyramids. Tura limestone was used as casing stone to cover the pyramid. Though some casing still remains, most has been removed. However, about every twentieth casing stone discovered had inscriptions on the back sides. Some were inscribed with the cartouche of Snefru while others had inscriptions in red paint naming the various work crews, such as the "Green Gang" or the "Western Gang". Snefru's cartouche was an important discovery, particularly since there are no identifying inscriptions within the pyramid.
Perhaps greater importance is the fact that some of the casing was dated. This not only gives us clues to how long the pyramid took to build, but also the sequence of work that took place. From these, we know that the pyramid was probably begun between the twenty-second and twenty ninth year of Snefru's reign. Other dates tell us that two years later, six layers of stone had been laid. However, within four years, 30 percent of the pyramid had been completed, and the entire pyramid was finished in about seventeen years.
East of the pyramid is what remains of a mortuary temple, as well as the first capstone (Pyramidion) ever found belonging to an Old Kingdom Pyramid. It was recovered in fragments and reconstructed. The mortuary temple itself, though nothing much remains, is significant because Snefru pioneered the east west alignment of Egyptian temples to match the path of the sun.
Like most Egyptian pyramids, the only entrance is in the north side, and leads to a 206 foot passage descends at an angle of 27 degrees to the first chamber. The first chamber has a corbelled (step) ceiling with a height of about 40 feet. In fact, all three of the chambers in this pyramid have corbelled ceilings, with between eleven and fourteen layers. Even with some two million tones of stone above, this ceiling design is so strong that there are no cracks or structural problems even today.
A short passage on the south side of the first chamber leads to a second chamber. These first two chambers are at ground level, while a third chamber is higher, built within the masonry of the pyramid itself.
The second chamber is unusual in that it lies directly under the apex of the pyramid, or center point of the pyramid. It is one of the only pyramids in Egypt to have this design layout. The final chamber, with its entrance passageway about 25 feet above the floor of the second chamber, can be accessed by a staircase (of modern construction).
Staircase to Third Chamber
The passageway leading to the final chamber is 23 feet long. Egyptologists believe this final chamber was intended to be the actual burial chamber. The room is approximately 14 feet by 27 feet, with its corbelled ceiling rising to a height of 50 feet. The floor has been excavated in an unsuccessful attempt to find other passageways.