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 2744. 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 kings 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.
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 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
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 kings statue, or
perhaps was intended for jars that contained the kings
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
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.