New access to ancient wonders: Two of Egypt’s oldest pyramids are reopened
When tourists consider a visit to Egyptian pyramids, the famous Pyramids of Giza are often at the top of their list to see. However, while these ancient sites are iconic enough to hold a place as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a visit there might not entirely play out the way a tourist would imagine. The crowded site is dirty and busy, full of noise and activity, and modern buildings instead of the kind of desert landscape that would include huge blue skies, a camel, palm trees, and lots of quiet, timeless sand.
Now there’s another option for visitors. For the first time in decades, tourists have been granted access to visit two structures in Egypt’s oldest pyramids: the Bent Pyramid which is considered one of the models that informed work at Giza, and a smaller satellite structure. The two pyramids are located as part of the Memphis Necropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s located about 25 miles south of Cairo. It is a less crowded, peaceful location that offers more of what tourists might hope for from a pyramid visit, including some very recent and stunning discoveries.
About the Bent Pyramid and its satellite
The Bent Pyramid was built during the Old Kingdom by the Pharoh Sneferu who is considered one of Egypt’s most accomplished pyramid builders. It stands at about 330 feet tall, and its name comes from its distinct shape of having a different wall angle for the top section of the pyramid than for the bottom section. This was the result of a building error as pyramid workers attempted to construct a structure with smooth sides. Unfortunately, cracks developed as they built the pyramid taller and pyramid architects were required to change the angle of the walls, creating the unusual shape.
The interior of this pyramid is as unique as it’s exterior and visitors, who have not been allowed into the pyramid since 1965, are in for a treat. The interior includes two, rather than one, structures which contain burial chambers and temples. The chambers are accessed through a 260-foot entrance tunnel, which is anything but roomy and is one of two entrances to the structure. Upon arriving, visitors can fully experience the joint rooms and the dramatic tunnel entrance for themselves.
The second structure that was recently opened, a satellite pyramid to the Bent Pyramid, is believed to have belonged to Snefuru’s wife, Hetepheres. It is smaller and made out of the same construction materials as the Bent Pyramid with a smaller temple and burial areas. It has not been accessible to the public since 1956.
Lessons learned from the Bent Pyramid
Though the builders of the Bent Pyramid didn’t achieve their goal of a smooth-sided pyramid, they were able to learn from their mistakes. They carefully analyzed their measurement and other construction errors from the Bent Pyramid and determined corrections for their next effort. Ultimately, they were able to create a smooth-sided pyramid for Snefuru, known as the Red Pyramid. This construction has been considered the most accomplished of Snefuru’s reign and is believed to be the Pharoh’s burial place. Later, his son, Khufu, used the knowledge gained from building both the Bent and Red Pyramids to successfully construct the Pyramids at Giza.
New artifacts found near the Bent Pyramid
During the same timeframe that officials announced the reopening of two new pyramids to the public, they also shared that a host of other artifacts that have recently been found in the same area. The location, known as the Dahshur Royal Necropolis, is part of the overall Memphis Necropolis and is well-known for the depth of archeological finds that it contains. The newest finds include mummies, an array of wooden, clay, and stone sarcophagi, funeral masks, and stonecutting tools.
To make the viewing experience richer for the public, officials decided to make these available at the same time as the Bent tomb and its satellite were reopened. To heighten the excitement, they posted many of the more colorful finds on social media and released a video of some of the final stages of the excavation work.
Calling attention to Egyptian archeology
There’s a reason behind the flurry of activity around archeological visiting in the region. With the recent political upheaval during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, visits to the area declined sharply due to safety concerns. Officials are hoping that interest in the two reopened tombs and the chance to view new artifacts will prove to be a draw and will bring back some of the accompanying revenue.
Visiting the area is also an important piece of education regarding the world’s history and of the Pharoh’s globe-changing rule. When standing nearby the structures it is hard not to consider how the structures may have been built with limited technology, how powerful the rulers once were, where they currently rest, and what they have left behind. The pyramids may also bring on thoughts of any individual’s small place in time as well as questioning what kinds of things endure and what are left to become sand after the centuries.
Other pyramids may also open to the public
The opening of the Bent Pyramid and its satellite may not be the last piece of good news for Egyptian tourism. Within the next few years, another nearby ancient structure, the tomb of Pyramid Supervisor Sa Eset, may open to for public viewing. This tomb hasn’t been available since it was first excavated in 1894 and contains preserved hieroglyphic texts that should prove fascinating. They should become another reason for tourists to go out of their way to visit the area and learn about humanity’s past.