Exploring Dahshur: A Self-Guided Tour to Egypt's Bent and Red Pyramids

Dahshur | Introduction

Egypt, a name that always evokes infinite imagination about ancient civilizations. Located about 40 kilometers south of Cairo in the outskirts, Dahshur carries rich historical value but is far from the footsteps of most tourists. Compared to the world-famous Giza Pyramid Complex, Dahshur retains more of its undisturbed tranquility and mystery. The two most famous pyramids in Dahshur, the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, are significant milestones in the history of Egyptian pyramid construction, witnessing the evolution of ancient building techniques. The Red Pyramid is considered the first true smooth-sided pyramid of ancient Egypt, while the Bent Pyramid, with its unique design changes, showcases the learning and adjustments made by ancient architects during its construction.

Dahshur | Transportation

Traveling from Cairo to Dahshur, a distance of 40 kilometers, is not very suitable for public transportation or Uber. For most tourists, the best option is to hire a car or join a tour group departing from Cairo or Giza. Many travel agencies in Egypt offer car rental services, with options that include just a driver or both a driver and a private guide, allowing you to choose based on your personal needs.

Dahshur private car or guided tours

Here, it's also worth mentioning the difference between hiring a car and hiring a guide in Egypt. In reality, most tourist spots in Egypt can be visited on a self-guided basis. However, many visitors may prefer to hire a guide. On one hand, a good guide can bring you deeper into the history and architectural details. More importantly, it can prevent unwanted solicitations and other unnecessary interactions. It's crucial to emphasize that, in Egypt, if you wish to go entirely on your own, you must have a strong determination to ensure that being aggressively solicited or accidentally defrauded does not affect your mood; otherwise, the money saved from not hiring a guide could be a false economy. Achieving this is not difficult, but I won't go into detail in this article. I will share practical tips in the future, so if you're interested, please subscribe to the newsletter or Facebook page.

Dahshur | Trip Planning

The main attractions in Dahshur are the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, which can generally be toured within half a day. Therefore, if you are hiring a car for the trip, you could consider adding Saqqara and Memphis, located between Cairo and Dahshur, to your itinerary. Based on our experience, completing the trip to all three locations in one day can be quite rushed. If you don't want to skim through the sites, it's best to split the visit into two days or skip one of the sites. Direct accommodation options near Dahshur are relatively limited, as this is primarily an archaeological site rather than a commercial center. For multi-day trips, it's still best to stay in Giza or Cairo.

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If it is a day trip, it is usually recommended to start before the morning rush hour traffic to avoid travel being affected by traffic. Upon arriving at Dahshur, it is suggested to first visit the Bent Pyramid, followed by the Red Pyramid. If there is extra time, one might consider adding other satellite pyramids nearby.

Dahshur | Tickets

Self-guided tours can purchase tickets at the on-site ticket booth or online. Starting from 2023, all tourist attractions in Egypt offer online ticket purchasing, eliminating the need to queue and deal with pushy salespeople, which is a significant advantage for foreign tourists. In the past, there were many instances of scams and aggressive sales tactics during the ticket-buying process in Egypt. Buying tickets online means you just need to hold onto your phone and walk straight up to the entry machine. However, one downside is that the Egyptian government's website is not user-friendly, making it easy to make mistakes or fail in purchasing tickets. Ticket prices are adjusted annually, and because the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound fluctuates rapidly, the extent of price increases can be significant. Therefore, specific numbers will not be provided here; please directly visit the official website for inquiries. For all attractions in Egypt, the ticket prices required for foreign tourists are about ten times higher than those for locals. You have to select "Other Nationality" on the official website to see the ticket prices for foreigners, and this is something that must be accepted.

The attractions at Dahshur require only one combined ticket, which includes entry to the pyramids without any additional fees. However, parking fees are not included and must be purchased separately. If you are using a chartered vehicle, please check if you need to buy a parking ticket. The opening hours vary by season, which might start from either 8 or 9 in the morning until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It is recommended to confirm the opening hours for the date of your visit in advance when planning your itinerary.

Dahshur | Attractions

The Bent Pyramid

The construction of the Bent Pyramid (The Bent Pyramid) dates back to around 2600 BC, built by Sneferu, the first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty. However, this fact alone might not seem very impressive. To grasp the historical significance of the Bent Pyramid, it's essential to have a basic understanding of ancient Egypt and the evolution of pyramids.

In a previous article on the Giza Pyramid Complex we mentioned that Egyptian history spans from 3000 BC to the 7th century BC until it was fully annexed by the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC. Three thousand years ago, it was divided into several periods such as the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, etc. The Old Kingdom period (approximately 2686-2181 BC) marked the beginning of the Pyramid Age, with the Fourth Dynasty establishing the Giza Pyramid Complex as the apex of the Old Kingdom era.

However, the great pyramids were not achieved overnight. Before the construction of the Giza pyramids, there was actually an evolutionary process. The first pyramid in ancient Egypt was the Step Pyramid built by Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty. At that time, it was constructed layer by layer, unlike the Giza pyramids which are beautifully shaped as triangular prisms. We will discuss this pyramid further in our Saqqara text. If you are interested in our upcoming articles, please subscribe to the newsletter or our FB page.

During the era of Sneferu, the first pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, the ancient Egyptians began to experiment with constructing pyramids in the shape of triangular prisms. The Bent Pyramid was his first attempt at this. As it was the first attempt to build a triangular pyramid, the Bent Pyramid can be considered an experimental work. The construction of the Bent Pyramid initially started at an angle of 55 degrees. However, during the construction process, it was discovered that due to the angle, an excess of stones would lead to instability. Therefore, the pyramid's designers had no choice but to adjust the angle to 43 degrees halfway through the construction, resulting in the bent shape we see today, where the pyramid suddenly tapers inwards. Consequently, the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional phase in the history of pyramid construction and holds a distinct historical significance from other pyramids.

The Bent Pyramid has two entrances, one located on the north side, equipped with modern wooden steps, and the other located on the higher western side. Visitors can enter from the north side.

Before entering, please consider your physical ability first. Don't forget that the Bent Pyramid is an experimental work. Compared to other pyramids that came later, the passage inside the Bent Pyramid is particularly narrow and difficult to navigate. If I were to describe the difference between the corridors of the Bent Pyramid and those of the Great Pyramid of Giza, it would be akin to comparing the stairs of an old apartment building to the escalators in a shopping mall.

We entered deeper from the entrance along a narrow descending passageway, surrounded by rough walls of an ancient pyramid, which seemed to have little concept of decoration. This passageway was not only steep but also limited in height and width. According to the advice of the guard at the entrance, it was best to enter backwards. The length of the downwards passageway was also the longest and most time-consuming climb I had experienced in all the pyramids I visited in Egypt.

It was not easy to keep going down, but finally in front of me, wooden stairs spiraled upwards. It seemed that going down was not enough, I also had to climb up.

Climbing to the peak, the resting place of the Pharaoh. The blocks on the four walls are stacked with extreme precision, each massive stone has withstood thousands of years and remains solid.

Entering the Bent Pyramid is an adventure filled with excitement and mystery. However, since you must bend over to proceed, it requires strong knees, thighs, and back, so having a sore back the next day is inevitable. If your physical condition allows, it’s recommended to give it a try, but don’t push yourself too hard.

Red Pyramid

The builder of the Bent Pyramid, Sneferu, was actually not very satisfied with his partially failed pyramid. Therefore, not long after the construction of the Bent Pyramid, around 2575 to 2551 BC, he ordered the construction of two more pyramids. One of them was the Red Pyramid, located one kilometer away, which took ten years to complete.

The Red Pyramid is the tallest pyramid in Dahshur and is also Egypt's third largest pyramid, only surpassed by the later pyramids of Khufu and Khafre in Giza, making it quite remarkable. It is called the Red Pyramid because it appears reddish-brown, like rust, in the sunlight. In fact, it was not originally this color but was covered with Tura limestone from south of Cairo, which would have given it a beautiful pure white appearance. However, the outer stones were repurposed during the medieval period, so now only the stones that were originally intended to be on the inside are left. The top of the Red Pyramid was also supposed to have a golden capstone, but it has now been moved to a museum for preservation.

The interior of the Red Pyramid is also accessible during opening hours, and its passages are wider and more spacious compared to the Bent Pyramid. Additionally, the walls are made of finely polished stone.

Further reading

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