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Sneferu

Sneferu

Reign: around 2613 BC – 2589 BC
Predecessor : Huni
Successor: Khufu (Cheops)
Father: Huni
Mother: Meresankh I
Wife: Hetepheres (who was his half-sister) and two other unknown queens.
Children: 
Nefermaat, Rahotep, Ranefer,Hetepheres A, Khufu, Kanefer,Ankhhaf, Netjeraperef, Iynefer I, Meritites I, Nefertkau,Nefertnesu, Henutsen.
Died: 2589 BC
Burial place: Dahshur, it is assumed that Sneferu is buried in the “Red Pyramid”.

Sneferu (He of Beauty), also known by the names Snephru, Snefru Soris, Senefrou and Snofru was the first king of the fourth Dynasty and the builder of the first “real” pyramid. In fact, Sneferu build three pyramids before he got it right:
1) The Maidum Pyramid;
2) The Bent Pyramid at Dahshur;
3) The Red Pyramid at Dahshur .

Stele of Sneferu at the Egyptian Museum Cairo

Stele of Sneferu at the Egyptian Museum Cairo

A stele from Dahshur showing the King Sneferu is standing near the entrance of the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Here we can see the name Sneferu written in a cartouche, an ellipse with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. Sneferu was the first to have his name written in a cartouche. The cartouche (which was called shenu by the ancient Egyptians)  got its name from the Napoleon soldiers during the French campaign in Egypt and Syria. They thought the cartouche looked like the bullets they used in these days and the French word for that was cartouche.

The Maidum Pyramid

The Maidum Pyramid

Sneferu wanted to build the perfect pyramid. His first effort in doing this was the pyramid at Maidum. Sneferu started with building a step pyramid with a height of 42 meters with an entrance 30 meters up at the north side. Most pyramids have an entrance at the north side. This entrance points at the North Star, the only star that roughly stays at the exact same spot in the sky and to the ancient Egyptians this symbolized eternity. From that entrance there is a 57 meter long passageway going down to the burial chamber with walls lined in limestone. On the outside Sneferu wanted to fill the steps with limestone and in this way create a “perfect” pyramid. But the limestone shifted and the pyramid got abandoned and was never used. The two stelae at the Maidum pyramid never got inscribed. Even the walls of the pyramid never got inscribed. So how do we know that this must be a pyramid build by Sneferu? The only indication we have is some graffiti left at the mortuary temple by a priest from the 18th dynasty with the name Ankhkheperreseneb. He writes that he came to see “”to see the marvelous temple of Horus Snefru. I  saw it, as if heaven were in it and in it the sun rose”. He also writes: “May cool myrrh rain down from the heavens and fragrant incense drip onto the temple roof of Horus Sneferu!”

The Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

The Bent Pyramid at Dahshur

With his first attempt to build a pyramid coming to an unsuccessful ending Sneferu went to Dahshur to build his second pyramid, now known as The Bent Pyramid.  This pyramid is built mostly on sand, just two of the four corners rest on solid ground. Because sand tends to float, the sides of the pyramid started to shift during construction causing the already build burial chamber to crack. Sneferu had to use thick cedar beams from Lebanon to strengthen the walls of the chamber preventing it from collapsing. But this alone was not enough, Sneferu had to change the angle of the outside walls of the pyramid to a lesser angle. This way he had to use fewer stones to complete the pyramid decreasing the force on the on the inner burial chamber at the same time.
This was the second time Sneferu failed in building a perfect pyramid and The Bent Pyramid never got used.

The Red Pyramid (North Pyramid) at Dashsur

The Red Pyramid (North Pyramid) at Dashsur

By now Sneferu was getting older and time started to catch up with him so when he started the construction of his third pyramid he knew he had to get it right this time, there was no room for error anymore. Sneferu started building The Red Pyramid (which gets its name from the reddish hue from its stones).
Learning from his earlier mistakes Sneferu build this structure with a gradual angle then the first two ones, with this avoiding the danger of collapsing during construction. Despite of the more flattened appearance of the pyramid it still was the highest building ever build at the time of its construction (104 meters in height). By building The Red Pyramid, Sneferu finally succeeded in building the first “real” in ancient Egyptian history and although his body has never been found this pyramid is believed to be the final resting place of “Sneferu the Great Pyramid Builder” and he might be hidden in a burial chamber still to be discovered.

Sources used:
http://www.touregypt.net/maidum.htm
http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/meidump.htm
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Ian Shaw)
The History of Ancient Egypt (Dr. Bob Brier) – lecture 8 “Sneferu, the Pyramid Builder”

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