Why Haven't You Heard of . . . Dahshur?

Crowd-free Egypt

Nothing can dispel the wonder of the majestic pyramids at Giza, outside of Cairo--but the KFC and Pizza Hut across the street come pretty close. Then there are the hawkers trying to sell head scarves and rides on camels named Michael Jackson. Inside the Great Pyramid, what should be an impressive view of the pharaoh's final resting place is usually obstructed by hordes of sweaty, noisy tourists.

Fifteen miles south, however, at the other end of the Egyptian pyramid field, is Dahshur. It's where the ancient king Snefru built two pyramids, both of which are as intact as those raised at Giza by Snefru's son Cheops, the famous second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty. One, the Red Pyramid, is the second largest in Egypt--just 120 feet shorter than Cheops's Great Pyramid. It's the only Dahshur pyramid open to visitors. Inside, there's not much to it: A ramp leads down to an antechamber, from which a modern staircase ascends to an empty burial chamber. As with many other pyramids, its contents were looted by grave robbers, and anything that remained was removed by archaeologists for studying.

Dahshur's second pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, changes from a 54-degree to a 43-degree slope around halfway up. It's unclear why, but a popular theory holds that Snefru realized the original plan would have been too ambitious, requiring an excessive amount of materials, so he had his builders change course in the middle of construction. Unlike the Giza pyramids, a large part of the reflective limestone casing on the Bent Pyramid is still intact, so it looks much like it did when it was erected four thousand years ago.

Dahshur is an inconvenient hour-long ride each way from Cairo, and the half-day taxi rental costs about $15. And the pyramids' facilities are meager, with only two outhouses. Yet, according to officials, Dahshur still gets 640,000 visitors a year--that's about 6 million fewer than Giza. Or does it? Over the course of a two-hour visit in August, only five people showed up. It was so quiet, in fact, that a police officer kindly extended this visitor an invitation to tea. Egypttourism.org, $4.50.

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