World / Science & Health

Egypt opens two ancient pyramids for first time since 1960s

AP, Reuters

Egypt on Saturday opened two of its oldest pyramids to visitors for the first time since 1965.

Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany told reporters that tourists are now allowed to visit the Bent Pyramid and its satellite pyramid in the Dahshur royal necropolis, located about 40 km (25 miles) south of Cairo. Both are part of the Memphis Necropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Bent Pyramid, which was built during the Old Kingdom of Pharaoh Sneferu in about 2600 B.C., is unique in that it has two internal structures. El-Anany said the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form of pyramid construction between the Djoser Step Pyramid (2667-2648 B.C.) and the Meidum Pyramid (also about 2600 B.C.)

El-Anany also announced that Egyptian archeologists have uncovered a collection of stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi, some of them with mummies, in the area. He said archeologists also found wooden funerary masks along with instruments used for cutting stones, dating to the Late Period (664-332 B.C.).

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said they also uncovered large stone blocks along with limestone and granite fragments indicating the existence of ancient graves in the area.

The Bent Pyramid’s appearance is unusual. The first 49 meters, which have largely kept their smooth limestone casing, are built at a steep 54-degree angle before tapering off in the top section.

The angular shape contrasts with the straight sides of Sneferu’s Red Pyramid just to the north, the first of ancient Egypt’s fully formed pyramids and the next step toward the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Architects changed the angle when cracks started appearing in the structure, said Waziri.

“Sneferu lived a very long time. … The architects wanted to reach the complete shape, the pyramid shape,” said Mohamed Shiha, director of the Dahshur site. “Exactly where he was buried — we are not sure of that. Maybe in this pyramid, who knows?”

Authorities are seeking to promote tourism at Dahshur. The site lies in the open desert, attracts just a trickle of visitors, and is free of the touts and bustle of Giza.