a site about 50 kilometers (40 miles) south of Cairo (20°40′N, 31°15′E). The present-day name derives from Coptic by way of Greek tachsour; the ancient Egyptian was probably Wnt Snfrw. Dahshur was the southernmost necropolis of the ancient residence city of Egypt—later Memphis—in the first Lower Egyptian nome (province). Although two calcite (Egyptian alabaster) sarcophagi come from Dahshur's third dynasty necropolis, its great period began in the fourth dynasty with the reign of Sneferu (c.2649–2609 BCE). After his fifteenth year of reign, he established his residence there, called “Sneferu is appearing,” and he successively constructed two large stone pyramids. His southern pyramid was the first to be attempted as geometrically true. The development from the stepped pyramid to a true pyramid was neither logical nor obvious; it required an intellectual understanding of a pure architectural form, which also reflected the developing philosophy of Egypt's newly centralized state. For that reason and for the development of the cult installations around the pyramids, Dahshur is of historic importance. When the South Pyramid had reached a height of about 50 meters (160 feet), dangerous cracks appeared in the outer casing, the corridors, and the chambers—as the clay layers that formed the foundations subsided under the pressure of the mass. As a result of an additional coating of limestone around the four sides of the pyramid, fresh cracks emerged. The corridor leading from the northern side of the pyramid to the funerary apartments became too ruined to be used further; therefore, a new corridor was constructed from the west to the upper funerary chamber. Yet this corridor and the funerary chamber were also affected by the subsidence. Even the decrease of the angle of inclination, at half of its actual height, to reduce the planned height of 160 meters (500 feet) to 104 meters (330 feet) could not save the monument. This alteration of the incline angle determined the form and gave the pyramid its name—Bent Pyramid or Rhomboidal Pyramid. It had finally to be abandoned, and Sneferu began in his fifteenth year of counting (which is the twenty-ninth regnal year) a new pyramid farther to the north, the third of his reign.
Called the North Pyramid or Red Pyramid, because of the reddish hue of the local core stones, this new pyramid was constructed on a solid foundation and was the first successfully completed true pyramid, some 104 meters (330 feet) high, with three chambers, one beyond the other, each with a nearly 15-meter- (50-foot-) high corbelled roof. The Red Pyramid contained the royal burial: some human remains were still present in 1957, when it was excavated. Both pyramids were surrounded by cult installations; those of the Red Pyramid were hastily completed in brickwork after the death of Sneferu. Excavations by the German Institute of Archaeology have revealed the foundations of a funerary temple, at the eastern side of the Red Pyramid, with two statue chapels, an open court, and an offering chapel with a false door. The funerary installations of the South Pyramid were never abandoned but were completed with two tall royal stelae, a large cult pyramid to the south, and a causeway leading to a valley temple halfway to the pyramid. The cultic orientation of this temple and its six chapels, containing life-size statues of the king, had been faced toward the North Pyramid—indicating that it was built at the same time as the North Pyramid. To the east of the two stone pyramids extend large mastaba tombs of the family and descendants of Sneferu. To the north, a depression marks another uncompleted pyramid of the Old Kingdom, probably the pyramid of Menkauhor of the fifth dynasty, as mentioned in a sixth dynasty exemption decree of Pepy I.
On the edge of the cultivation three kings of the Middle Kingdom built their pyramids cased with white limestone, and these were surrounded by large precincts that have the cult installations and the tombs of their wives, daughters, and high officials. These burials of the queens and princesses had acquired a particular fame at the end of the nineteenth century, as the provenance of remarkable jewelry and precious objects, the so-called treasure of Dahshur (now in the Cairo Museum). The twelfth dynasty pyramid of Amenemhet II, built from white limestone, has nearly disappeared, owing to stone quarrying in the Arab Middle Ages. Farther to the north, Senwosret (Sesostris) III, also during the twelfth dynasty, built his large pyramid precinct, oriented north–south, with a paneled enclosure wall that resembled the precinct of Djoser of the third dynasty. The pyramid of Amenemhet III at Dahshur South suffered the same construction destiny as the Bent Pyramid; built on the same clayey strata as that fourth dynasty pyramid, it also suffered from subsidence and was abandoned for the king's burial but was still used for queens' burials. For security reasons, the entrances to these Middle Kingdom pyramids were moved from the north to other sides. Inside, the corridors and funerary apartments became real labyrinths, with staircases, blind corridors, and several additional chambers. The burial chambers had vaulted white-painted granite roofs, and they contained magnificent sarcophagi of pink granite, decorated with paneled enclosure walls.
Several small pyramid precincts of kings from the thirteenth dynasty and later, among them the pyramid of Imeni Qemau, still await excavation. The pyramid towns and residences that are known from royal decrees and inscriptions have not yet been discovered but are now probably covered by gardens and cultivated land. Dahshur was often visited in the nineteenth century by Egyptolists. In 1837, John Shea Perring surveyed both pyramids of Sneferu; Karl Richard Lepsius then prepared the plan of the area from 1842 to 1843. In 1894 and 1895, Jacques de Morgan excavated the Middle Kingdom pyramids, finding the jewelry. Modern systematic excavations started with Ahmed Fakhry in 1951 at the Bent Pyramid. They have been continued by the German Institute of Archaeology under Rainer Stadelmann at the Red Pyramid and at the mastaba tombs. Dieter Arnold worked for the same institution and later for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, at the twelfth dynasty pyramids of Senwosret III (r. 1878–1843 BCE) and Amenemhet III (r. 1843–1797 BCE).
- Arnold, Dieter. Der Pyramidenbezirk des Königs Amenemhet III. in Dahschur. Mainz, 1987.
- Edwards, I.E.S. The Pyramids of Egypt. Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, 1986.
- Fakhry, Ahmed. The Monuments of Sneferu at Dahshur. 2 vols. Cairo, 1959.
- Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London, 1997.
- Stadelmann, Rainer. Die Ägyptischen Pyramiden. 3d enl. ed. Mainz, 1997.