Guardian's Egypt
The Southern Pyramid of Sneferu
(AKA The Bent Pyramid)
Sneferu is Shining in the South
Original Height: 105m (344.48 ft)
Planned Height: 128.5 m (421.58 ft)
Length of Side: 188.6 m (618.76 ft)
Angle: 54º 27’44” – 43
About The Bent Pyramid
The Bent pyramid is a fascinating structure which raises as many questions as it answers about the evolution of the pyramid. Mysteriously this pyramid started at one angle (approx. 52 degrees) and then suddenly changes to a more gradual angle of 42 degrees. This odd arrangement provides this pyramid with a distinctive and unique appearance.

Evidence suggests that this pyramid was actually started as a smaller pyramid with an angle of about 60º. At a height of about38.14 m (112 ft) signs of structural instability were noticed by the builders when cracks appeared in the casing and in the chambers. At this point a supporting girdle was added to the bottom courses resulting in a new base length of 188.98 m (620 ft) and new angle of 54º 27’44”. With this angle the pyramid was then built up to about a height of approx. 49.38 m (162 ft). Within this lower segments the blocks were laid with the blocks sloping inward as in previous pyramids. At this height a curious change occurred. The angle of the pyramid was reduced to 43º 21’ and the blocks from this point up were laid on a horizontal plane. This resulted in a marked bend and its present day appearance. Some experts contend that this change in angle was due to continuing structural problems as evidenced by additional cracking and displacement. Within some of the chambers there are cedar wooden beams which may have been placed to support the chamber from instability. Others speculate that the sudden death of the king may have been the motivation for this sudden change. Most agree with the first theory because it is also believed that the next pyramid that we will examine, the Red Pyramid, was began at the same time as this sudden change in angle. And, the Red Pyramid has the same exact angle of 43º 21’ as the upper portion of the Bent Pyramid!

This pyramid boasts of the most intact casing of any pyramid in Egypt. Although parts of the casing are crumbling away, this pyramid gives the best idea of the sparkling brilliance that the pyramids of Egypt had before their casings were stripped away. Mostly these casings were removed and the limestone from these casings were used to build many other structures in Egypt. Even with the abundance of remaining casing stones there is still considerable crumbling of the casing. This is most evident at the corners and the upper portions of the pyramid.

Although the body of Sneferu has not been found and may have been disposed of long ago by thieves, some experts theorize that Sneferu may have been buried in this pyramid. Others contend that he was buried in the Red Pyramid to the north, using the evidence of scattered remains that were found there, believed to be possibly those of Sneferu.

George Johnson has proposed that the original burial of the wife of Sneferu, Queen Hetepheres, was within the lower chamber in the Bent Pyramid. He purports that her burial was desecrated by her own burial workmen. This was discovered and the remains of her burial were transferred to Giza. 
Inside the Bent Pyramid
The internal arrangement of the Bent Pyramid is also unique and fascinating. This pyramid has two openings, one on the north face and another on the west face. Each opening leads to a separate set of passageways and chambers. The chambers would be completely separate, except for a roughly hewn tunnel that connects them. It is believed that this tunnel was cut by people who were somehow aware of the exact locations of the separate sets of chambers.

The north entrance leads to an antechamber that has a corbelled roof with a height of 41 ft., one of the first of its kind. The burial chamber also sports a corbelled roof and rises to a height of 57’. Both of these chambers are located within the bedrock with only the top of the corbelled ceiling of the main chamber piercing into the body of the pyramid .

The west entrance leads to a level passage that has a portcullis blocking system, the most elaborate such system seen in any pyramid yet. This system lowers the blocks diagonally rather than vertically or horizontally. This then leads to an upper burial chamber also with a corbelled roof. This passageway, the blocking system and chamber are all located within the body of the pyramid.

There are several possible reasons why there are two sets of chambers in this pyramid. One is that the western passages and chamber represent something similar to the South Tomb of the Djoser Step Pyramid Complex. Since there is a subsidiary pyramid on the to the south of this pyramid, this may not be so. Another possibility is that one set of chambers is a decoy whose discovery would then discourage looters from looking for other chambers within the pyramid. Another possibility is that this pyramid was originally intended for the burial of more than one body, perhaps the king and his wife, Queen Heterpheres. We cannot discount another possibility, that of the chambers having a religious significance, for instance representing the various locations on the path of the king’s regeneration after death.

There are several other interesting features within this pyramid. There is a wooden cedar framework located in the upper chamber. This wood is original and one of the few examples of such wood in a pyramid. Another example of this is in the main chamber of the pyramid at Meidum.

The Bent Pyramid Complex
The Bent Pyramid complex has all the typical aforementioned features. The causeway had walls made of limestone and ran to a valley temple which contained six niches, possibly bearing statues of Sneferu. This temple has a court, pillar. Evidence suggests that there was another causeway running from this temple on to the Nile.


The Chapel
The chapel against the east face of the main pyramid is also rather small, even smaller than that of the chapel at the Pyramid of Meidum. Presently two limestone blocks with a slab roof remain as does the stumped evidence of two stelae. These stelae were inscribed and included the name of Sneferu. There is evidence that this chapel was larger and had mudbrick walls. Within the chapel was a place of offering within which was found a slab in the shape of a hieroglyph that meant “offering”, this hieroglyph is called hetep.

The Satellite Pyramid

The satellite pyramid on the south side of the Bent pyramid had an interesting feature which is a precursor the Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid. The entrance on the north side leads to a short descending passageway which levels off and then produces an ascending passageway. This ascending passage has a notched ceiling and leads to a small burial chamber. It appears that the configuration of this passage was created for the purpose of the storage of the portcullis plugging blocks. This is supported by the presence of a wood piece that is fitted into the notch that appears to have been involved in the lowering of the plugs. The burial chamber is too small to fit a burial and so it is thought that this might have been ceremonial tomb containing the king’s statue, or perhaps was intended for jars that contained the king’s viscera. Neither of these theories has been proven conclusively. Only small fragments of pottery were found within this pyramid when it was explored in 1946-47.

The Valley Temple
The Bent Pyramid is perhaps one of the first pyramid complex with a Valley Temple. Here we see features that later differentiate  between those of later Mortuary temples and Valley temples. An unroofed causeway with walls of Tura limestone ran from the upper pyramid complex. The Valley Temple was excavated in 1951 and it was found that the walls were inscribed with reliefs. Prior to this, it was believed that temple walls were not decorated before the end of the 4th Dynasty. In addition to wall fragments, statues and stelae bearing the name of Sneferu were found. The excavation revealed a clear floor plan within a simple rectangular building surrounded by a temenos wall made of mudbrick. The causeway joins the southwest corner of the temple. Later temples have the causeway join up with the west wall of the temple itself. Two large stelae flanked the southern wall of the temple bearing the names and titles of Sneferu. The entrance to the temple is in the center of the southern wall, this led to the three main parts of the temple beginning with an entrance hall. This hall was flanked by two storerooms. Within this hall the walls were carved in bold relief with scenes depicting royal estates in the various districts or nomes. The nomes of Upper Egypt were shown on the west wall while the nomes of lower Egypt appeared on the east wall. This has been referred to as the Hall of Nomes. This led to an open court with plain walls which in turn led to a 10 pillared portico with 6 shrine niches located on the north inner wall. These niches are the first of their kind that have been discovered. In later pyramid complexes, we see 5 niches appearing in the Mortuary temple. The walls of the portico were carved with scenes continuing to show the royal estates. Scenes were carved on the columns on at least two sides – these included depictions of the kings Sed Festival and the ceremonial visit to the shrines of Buto. Another fragment was found showing Sneferu being embraced by a lion goddess. Above the opening of the 6 niches the names of the king were carved flanked by emblems. These were also topped by a band of five-pointed stars. In the niches were life-size or larger than life statues of Sneferu in different poses and costumes, which were actually carved from the same huge limestone slabs that comprised the back walls, therefore interestingly these statues were attached and not free standing.

Credits for Illustrations

Plan of Bent Pyramid – Hassan Moustapha 

3D Plan of Interior of Bent Pyramid & Portcullis - The Pyramids – Ahmed Fakhry 

Plan on Bent Pyramid Complex - The Pyramids – Ahmed Fakhry 

Chapel of Bent Pyramid - Guide to the Pyramid of Egypt, Alberto Siliotti 

Satellite Pyramid of Bent Pyramid - The Complete Pyramids– Mark Lehner

Plan of the Valley Temple of the Bent Pyramid Complex - The Pyramids – Ahmed Fakhry

3D Plan of the Valley Temple of the Bent Pyramid Complex - The Complete Pyramids – Mark Lehner

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

Edwards, I.E.S. The Pyramids of Egypt. New York and London, Penguin Books, 1985

Fakhry, A. The Pyramids. Chicago and London, 1969

Fahkry, A. The Monuments of Sneferu at Dahshur, Volume 1 - The Bent Pyramid,  Cairo, 1959

Hawass, Zahi, The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Pittsburgh. 1990

Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London. 1997

Lepre, J.P. The Egyptian Pyramids. North Carolina. 1990

Maragioglio, V.,Rinaldi, C. L'Architettura Delle Piramidi Menfite, Parte III, 1964

Mendelssohn, K. Riddle of the Pyramids. New York. 1974

Petrie, W. M. F. The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh. London. 1883

Siliotti, Alberto. Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt, Cairo, 1997

Andreu, Guillemette, Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids. Ithaca and London. 1997

Weeks, John. The Pyramids. Cambridge, 1971 

This is an excerpt from the book,
Guardian's Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Primer,
available soon.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Andrew Bayuk
All Rights Reserved

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