Essential Architecture-  Egypt

Red Pyramid of Sneferu






 2600 BC (during the reign of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu)


Ancient Egyptian


Tallest c. 2600 BC-c. 2570 BC 105 meters (345 ft)


Temple Tomb, Mausoleum
  Detail of the massive corbel-vaulted ceiling of the main burial chamber

The Red Pyramid, named for the light crimson hue of its exposed granite surface, is the largest of the three major pyramids located at the Dahshur necropolis, and the third largest Egyptian pyramid, after those of Khufu and Khafre at Giza. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world. It is also believed to be the world's first successful attempt at constructing a "true" smooth-sided pyramid.

The Red Pyramid was not always red. It used to be cased with white Tura limestone, but only a few of these now remain at the pyramid's base on the corner. During the Middle Ages much of white Tura limestone was taken for buildings in Cairo, revealing the reddish pinkish limestone.

It was constructed during the reign of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu, whose final resting place some suggest it may have been, and is located approximately one kilometer to the north of the Bent Pyramid. It is built at the same shallow 43 degree angle as the upper section of the Bent Pyramid, which gives it a noticeably squat appearance compared to other Egyptian pyramids of comparable scale.

Archaeologists speculate that the reason for this may be an outcome of engineering crises experienced during the construction of Sneferu's two earlier pyramids. The first of these, the Pyramid at Meidum collapsed in antiquity, while the second — the Bent Pyramid — had the angle of its inclination dramatically altered — from 54 to 43 degrees — part-way through construction.

Some archaeologists now believe that the Meidum pyramid was the first attempt at building a smooth-sided pyramid, and that it may have collapsed when construction of the Bent Pyramid was already well underway — and that that pyramid may by then have already begun to show alarming signs of instability itself, as evidenced by the presence of large timber beams supporting its inner chambers. The outcome of this was the change in inclination of the Bent Pyramid, and the commencement of the later Red Pyramid at an inclination known to be less susceptible to instability and therefore less susceptible to catastrophic collapse.

Modern day
The Red Pyramid is 104 m in height (341 feet). A rare pyramidion, or capstone, for the Red Pyramid has been uncovered and reconstructed, and is now on display at Dahshur — however whether it was actually ever used is unclear, as its angle of inclination differs from that of the pyramid it was apparently intended for.

The Red Pyramid is one of the very few Egyptian pyramids to which members of the general public can gain comparatively unregulated interior access. An entrance high on the north side gives access to a 200 foot (62m) long passage that is inclined downwards at an angle of around 27°. The passage itself measures only approximately three feet (91cm) in height and approximately four feet (1.23m) in breadth. At the bottom of the passage is a short corridor leading to the first chamber which rises to a height of 40 feet (12.3m). It boasts a fine eleven-course corbel-vaulted ceiling. At the southern end of the chamber another short corridor leads to the second chamber, which has similar dimensions to the first and also features a corbelled ceiling. This chamber lies directly beneath the apex of the pyramid. A wooden staircase of modern construction at the southern end of this chamber leads to a third and final chamber, which is believed to be the burial chamber. This also features a corbelled ceiling rising to around 15 m (50 feet). Local residents refer to the Red Pyramid as el-haram el-watwat, meaning the Bat Pyramid

Just next to the Red Pyramid is the Bent-Pyramid of King Sneferu

The first attempt to build a smooth sided pyramid - which has withstood the test of time - was by King Sneferu (2613-2589 BC) at Dahshur, just to the south of the main pyramids at Giza. It is known as the Bent-Pyramid due to the way the architects changed the angles of the sides halfway through.

No one really knows the reason for this but one suggestion is that a nearby pyramid at Meidum, which was also being built with smooth sides, collapsed while the Bent-Pyramid was being built. This prompted the architects to realise their mistake and change the angle of the sides. Had the original angle been completed it would have surely collapsed at some point.