Bent Pyramid at Dashur

The Bent Pyramid owes its modern-day name to the fact that the upper half of this pyramid was built at a lower angle than the bottom part, giving it a very characteristic bend. The Ancient Egyptian name for this pyramid was  'The Southern Shining One', a reference to the fact that it was built at the southern edge of Dashur.

It is also the first pyramid that was built by Snofru at Dashur, after he probably had built the Pyramid at Meidum.
The fact that he abandoned Meidum and its Step Pyramid to try out a new design at Dashur may probably reflect a change in ideology, whereby the tomb of the king was no longer considered as a staircase to the stars, but rather as a symbol of the solar cult and of the primeval mound from which all life had sprung.

There is evidence within the core of the Bent Pyramid that it was begun as a much smaller pyramid, with a slope of some 60°. Structural problems, caused mainly by the unstable sandy underground, forced the builders to encase this central pyramid in a girdle with a slope of 54°27'44". This was the slope for the lower part of the pyramid as it stands today.

The Bent Pyramid showing the characteristic change in angle to which it owes its modern-day name.

The Bent Pyramid showing the characteristic change in angle to which it owes its modern-day name.

Unfortunately, the building technique that was used -a technique going back to the Step Pyramids which consisted of using inward leaning courses- did not help to stabilise this monument. Fearing that the pyramid would collapse under its own weight, its slope was lowered to 43°22' somewhere halfway up the building. It is possible that the upper part of the Bent Pyramid was continued only after finishing the Red Pyramid, which was built a couple of kilometres to the North of the Bent Pyramid. In any case, the Red Pyramid has exactly the same slope of 43°22' as the upper part of the Bent Pyramid. In its finished state, this pyramid has a base length of 188 metres and is 105 metres high.

Click or tap on the little circles on this 3D drawing to learn more about the Bent Pyramid.
Source: Lehner, Complete Pyramids, p. 102


The internal structure of the Bent Pyramid is as innovative as the pyramid itself. Unlike any other pyramid, there are two internal structures: with entrances in the North and West sides.

From the north, a passage descends down to an antechamber. In order to deal with the downward pressure of the pyramid on this chamber, its roof was made of different courses, with each course projecting more inwards than the course below. This technique, known as corbelling, was also used for the pyramid at Meidum. The burial chamber, also with a corbelled roof, is located above the antechamber.
The second entrance, in the West face of the pyramid, lead down via a descending passage to a horizontal corridor which was intended to be blocked by some portcullis slabs. The second burial chamber, behind these portcullises, also has a corbelled roof. It is at a higher level than the first burial chamber. Scaffoldings of cedar beams were intended to give the room some additional support.
After they were completed, the two burial chambers were connected by a passage that was cut out through the existing masonry. It is not known why Snofru wanted to have two burial chambers in this pyramid, but perhaps this too can be explained by the clear experimental nature of this monument.

Probably at around the same time as when the slope of the main pyramid was decreased, work started to the South to build a smaller satellite pyramid. This pyramid, with a base length of 53 metres and a height of 32.5 metres, was probably an adaptation of the concept of the South Tomb found in the complex of Netjerikhet at Saqqara. Its internal structure is a precursor for the pyramid of Kheops at Giza. It has a descending and then an ascending passage, with a smaller version of Kheops' Grand Gallery. The actual burial chamber is far too small for a human burial and may probably have been intended to house the Ka statue of the king.
Between the satellite and the main pyramid, there was a small offering place. Two funerary stelae, bearing the titulary of Snofru, were erected along the east face of the satellite pyramid.

A small offering chapel, also with two funerary stelae, was built against the east face of the main pyramid. Like the eastern chapel of the pyramid of Meidum, this chapel is too small to be an actual mortuary temple.

An enclosure wall surrounded both the main and satellite pyramids, with a causeway leading from its Northeast towards a small rectangular structure in the East, about halfway down to the valley. This structure shares features of both Valley Temples and Mortuary Temples in later pyramid complexes. It has the courtyard, pillars and statues that would become traditional in later mortuary temples, but it was built at some distance of the pyramid, which is typical for the Valley Temple.

Even though this pyramid was finally completed, including additional constructions such as the satellite pyramid and the Mortuary Temple, Snofru was buried in his third pyramid: the Red Pyramid, built a couple of kilometres North of the Bent Pyramid.


© Jacques Kinnaer 1997 - 2017