When people think about Egypt, their minds are quickly drawn to the pyramids of Giza. Can’t blame them. It was something that I did too. Luckily, I did some digging (figuratively) and found out about the Ancient pyramids of Dahshur which just so happen to be even older than the pyramids found in Giza. They aren’t quite so popular because they haven’t been labelled as an ancient wonder, but they are still awe inspiring, beautiful and they tell the tale of how the pyramids evolved. Let me start from the very beginning though. That way you have access to all the information that I do now.
LOCATION OF THE PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR
On our way to the pyramids.
Google will tell you that the Pyramids of Dahshur are located in the Giza Governorate. That however does not mean that they are close to the Pyramids of Giza that are popularly visited. The Pyramids of Dahshur are a drive away and are located around 30 kilometres south of the Giza complex. Being way out of the main city, you will need to hire a car for the day and if possible a guide. Ubers do not ply to the area.
One of the startling realizations that one has when you head to Dahshur is about the landscape. At one point you find that you are traveling along a tributary of the Nile (which is not at all clean) and the sides of the road are green. You turn off the main road and head out to the west. Within a matter of minutes, the green turns to desert. It’s a startling realization of how important water is in our environment.
Often it is hard to find a guide to take you to Dahshur. This is largely because there are fewer touts along the way and it means that the guides has lesser chances to get their commission. At least that is what our guide said.
WHY ARE ALL THE PYRAMIDS ON THE WEST OF THE NILE?
I’m not sure if you have noticed but the Nile divides Egypt into East and West almost perfectly. It is also noteworthy that all the pyramids of Egypt lie on the west of the river Nile. This is largely to do with the sun. The sun rises in the East which for the Egyptians was synonymous with birth. While the setting sun was synonymous with death. Hence their cities for the dead were on the west of the Nile. I found this titbit of information particularly interesting.
ENTRANCE FEES TO THE PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR
Interestingly enough, the Pyramids of Dahshur were not always open to the public. The area was a military zone. Access to the public was granted only twelve years ago. The entrance fee to the pyramids is 60 L.E. per person. Our guide did all the payments for us, so we didn’t get down and hence I can’t tell you the local rate. The complex is still heavily guarded, and we noted that the guided tipped the men as we entered.
THE ANCIENT PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR
At Dahshur you will see three pyramids: The Black pyramid, the bent pyramid and the red pyramid. Each of these pyramids have their own particular significance in history. I will try and explain it to the best of my knowledge.
THE BLACK PYRAMID
The Black Pyramid from a distance.
The Black Pyramid was built by a Pharaoh known as Amenemhat III. It was called ‘Amenemhat The Mighty’ by the ancient Egyptians but the pyramid soon crumbled due to a variety of reasons which I will explain in just a bit.
The Black pyramid cannot be seen from up close as it lies within a restricted zone. The pyramid got its name because it was made up of brick. Despite being relatively newer than the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid, you will find that the black pyramid is in rather bad shape. This is because of the material that it was made off. Brick isn’t as durable as the stones that were used to build the other pyramids in addition to this the architects of Amenenmhat III rule failed to take into consideration, the uneven surface on which the pyramid was built and its proximity to the Nile (33 feet above sea level). Floods played a role in destroying the substructure. Nevertheless, the ruins of the Black pyramid are visible in the distance and despite the misjudgements they have stood upright for centuries.
THE BENT PYRAMID
The Bent Pyramid is a rather amazing to look at.
The Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid are the two pyramids of Dahshur that one can visit up-close. They are also the pyramids built during the reign of Sneferu. At first glance you will realize that the bent pyramid is shaped very differently from the pyramids of Giza. This is because of the abrupt change in angle midway up the wall. It is from here that this pyramid of Dahshur gets its name from. The angle at the base of the pyramid is 540 30’. The second angle is 430.
THE RED PYRAMID
Before the climb!
It is said that Sneferu and his architects learnt from this pyramid and later went on to correct the angle of the base to 510 leading to the first non-bent pyramid. This pyramid stands a short distance away from the bent pyramid and is called the Red pyramid. Some say that the pyramid got its name from the red hieroglyphs on the wall. Others say it is because of the warm red colour that stone gets at sunset.
ENTERING THE PYRAMIDS OF DAHSHUR
As I mentioned before, it isn’t possible to get close to the black pyramid. Therefore, getting into it is also impossible. The bent pyramid is also closed to visitors. The Red pyramid however can be accessed with the ticket that you purchase at the entrance of the complex. It is a climb upwards before you descend downwards into the heart of the Red pyramid.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT?
The way down is wider than some of the smaller pyramids in Giza and yet it is not high enough for you to stand completely. This means that you descend half crouched and half standing. Since there are fewer tourists in the area, the place doesn’t feel quite as claustrophobic but there are sections where it does smell musty.
WARNINGS AND CAUTIONS
I think that it is important to realize that the pyramids are situated in the middle of the desert. When you climb up or down the pyramids it takes effort and you need to be in good physical condition. Take note of all the warnings and cautions that are posted in each location.
It gets hot during summer so even if you have a driver to drive you from pyramid to pyramid you are bound to get thirsty. We travelled to Dahshur before spring was celebrated in Egypt. I shudder to think how dehydrated I would get if summer was in full swing. So, carry water. You won’t find anyone who will sell you a bottle nearby. In addition to being hot you have to climb up and down the pyramid which can be an exertion in the heat.
The air inside the pyramids gets musty. In addition, the closed quarters may cause you to panic a bit. If you do have breathing problems consult with your doctor before embarking on an adventure to the depths of the pyramid. Don’t hesitate to stop for breaks along the way. It makes the journey up and down so much easier.