Dahshur forms the southernmost area of the Memphite Necropolis and contains several pyramid complexes and monuments. It is most noteworthy for the site that best demonstrates the transformation from the Step to the Great pyramid during the Third and Fourth Dynasties.
Dahshur became recently unrestricted to the public, having been a military zone until 1996. As a result, the area is not as developed commercially as Giza, and there is still a certain peace and tranquillity to the site.
Dahshur, often called Dashur in English, is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Cairo. It is famous chiefly for several pyramids, two of which are among Egypt’s oldest, largest and best-preserved, built from 2613 to 2589 BC.
Location of Dahshur Necropolis
History of the Necropolis in Dahshur
The 3rd Dynasty Pharaoh Huni began construction on a true pyramid at Meidum, utilizing a step pyramid as a base for the building. However, his son, Sneferu (2613-2589 BC), the first Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, would take monument-building to a new level. Sneferu began by completing his father’s pyramid and then constructed a step pyramid at Meidum. Nevertheless, Snefru designed a new monument utilizing what ancient builders had learned in the previous project. Sneferu’s second pyramid was an actual pyramid from the beginning, unlike Huni’s, built around the Step pyramid.
Sneferu began construction on a second pyramid approximately two kilometres to the north. The famous Red Pyramid, constructed of red limestone, is the oldest true pyramid in Egypt. Thus, Senefru was the immediate predecessor of the builders of pyramids that would come later. It has a slope angle of 43 and is second in size only to the Great Pyramid at Giza, built by Sneferu ‘s son Khufu. The Great Pyramid is a mere 10 meters larger than the Red Pyramid. It must have been an incredible sight when completed, for its name translates to “The Shining Pyramid.”
12th and 13th Dynasties
Other significant monuments at Dahshur date to the 12th and 13th Dynasties but do not compare with the sheer scale of the works of Huni and Sneferu. The White Pyramid of Amenemhet II, the Black Pyramid of Amenemhet III, and the Pyramid of Senusret III dominate some smaller monuments to minor rulers, nobles, and officials. Interestingly, the Black Pyramid and the Pyramid of Senusret III are constructed of brick, not stone. It tells of a relatively stable, peaceful period in Egypt’s history.
Pyramids in Dahshur Necropolis
Dahshur cemetery is famous for its pyramids. These pyramids were a significant learning experience for the Egyptians. It provided them with the knowledge and know-how to transition from steep to smooth. Ultimately their breadth of experience would allow them to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing.
The first of the Dahshur pyramids was the Bent Pyramid (2613–2589 BC), built under King Sneferu. The Bent Pyramid was the first attempt at creating a smooth-sided pyramid. Still, it proved unsuccessful due to the miscalculations on the structural weight placed onto the soft ground (sand, gravel, and clay), which tended to subside.
Unfortunately, Sneferu ‘s plans faced a serious issue while completing his project. This issue arose either because of the material used for the foundation; or the weakness of the ground underneath the building. The problem became evident in the lower part of the pyramid. Therefore, ancient builders decided to reduce the pyramid’s sides rise to alleviate the stress.
As construction neared the halfway point, builders reduced the angle of the sides from the steep 54 to a gentler 43. Other erroneous calculations claim that builders placed the irregular blocks onto the pyramid. In addition, they did not distribute the block weight appropriately. Thus, it caused the angle of the pyramid to be off. These factors resulted in a rhomboid or bent silhouette, making Sneferu ‘s pyramid the most distinct structure at Dahshur. It is also distinctive because it still has much of its outer casing intact. It is why it gained the name ” Bent Pyramid”.
Realizing his shortcomings and learning from his mistakes, King Sneferu ordered the building of the second pyramid of Dahshur, the Red Pyramid. Once completed, the pyramid became a success. It was a full-constructed, smooth-sided, and free-standing pyramid rising to a height of 341 feet (104 meters), with an angle of 43 degrees. The Red Pyramid’s name reigns from the material used to construct the pyramid, red limestone. This pyramid is the resting place of King Sneferu.
Shortly after King Sneferu’s death, his son Khufu constructed the third pyramid. Khufu wanted to build a legacy of his own and utilized his father’s research to design and guide the building process of the third pyramid to completion (2589–2566 BC). Once completed, it stood an astonishing 481 feet (147 meters) tall with an angle of 52 degrees.
Another pyramid, the White Pyramid, located within Dahshur, is the 12th Dynasty of King Amenemhat II (1929–1895 BC). This pyramid and others within the area are not well-preserved as the ancient Egyptians used sand and limestone as materials to fill it (sand and limestone). Naturally, the weather caused the sand to erode from it. However, taking the limestone intentionally for use on other pyramids made it collapse, ultimately desecrating King Amenemhat II’s tomb.
King Senusret III (1878–1839 BC) built his pyramid within Dahshur. The difference between his pyramid and those surrounding it was that King Senusret III had tombs and galleries constructed underneath it. These tombs belonged to two princesses; Sit-Hathor and Merit.
The Black Pyramid dates from the later reign of Amenemhat III and, although badly eroded, it remains the most imposing monument at the site after the two Sneferu pyramids. The polished granite pyramidion or capstone of the Black Pyramid is on display in the main hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Pharaohs built several other pyramids of the 13th Dynasty at Dahshur necropolis. Ahmad Fakhri, the archaeologist who excavated only the Pyramid of Ameny Qemau, has been excavated.
Tombs and Cemeteries in Dahshur Necropolis
Dahshur was Egypt’s royal necropolis during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king Amenemhat II. Located closely to the pyramid of the 12th Dynasty, archaeologists found several undisturbed tombs of royal women. These tombs contain much lapidary and jewellery of the highest metal-working stage in Egypt during this period. The pyramid of Senusret III became, along with another pyramid to the south and several smaller pyramids of royal women, became a vast complex. In a gallery tomb next to this pyramid, two treasures of the king’s daughters (Sithathor) are displayed. Archaeologists found extensive cemeteries of officials of the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom around Dahshur’s pyramids.
In July 2012, Dahshur’s entire Christian community, which some estimate to be as many as 120 families, fled to nearby towns due to sectarian violence. The violence began in a dispute over a badly ironed shirt, which escalated into a fight in which a Christian burned a Muslim Arab clan member to death. During the violence, Muslims pillaged at least 16 homes and properties, torched some, and damaged a church. Furthermore, during clashes, another Muslim suffered head injuries and later died due to a gasoline bomb thrown from a building rooftop. Journalists reported this incident internationally.