EGYPT has opened two of its oldest pyramids to the public for the first time since 1965, allowing visitors to descend 260 feet into its burial chamber.
The "Bent" Pyramid is a 101-metre structure, built for pharaoh Sneferu, that lies just south of Cairo and marks a key step in the evolution of pyramid construction.
Tourists will now be able to clamber down a narrow 79-metre tunnel from a raised entrance on the pyramid's northern face, to reach two chambers deep inside the 4,600-year-old pyramid.
They will also be able to enter an adjoining 18-metre high "side pyramid", possibly built for Sneferu's wife Hetepheres, opened for the first time since its excavation in 1965.
The "Bent" Pyramid is one of two built for Fourth Dynasty founding pharaoh Sneferu in Dahshur, at the southern end of the Memphis necropolis that starts at Giza.
Its appearance is unusual. The first 49 metres, which have largely kept their smooth limestone casing, are built at a steep 54 degree angle, before tapering off to 43 degrees at the top.
Architects changed the angle when cracks started appearing in the structure, said Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
It is thought the problem arose because the pyramid had been build on soft, silty clay.
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 towards the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The site had been closed while excavations and renovations to the structures were carried out.
Mohamed Shiha, director of the Dahshur site, said: "Sneferu lived a very long time…the architects wanted to reach the complete shape, the pyramid shape.
"Exactly where he was buried — we are not sure of that. Maybe in this (Bent) pyramid, who knows?"
RICH WITH HIDDEN TOMBS
Authorities are seeking to promote tourism at Dahshur, about 28km (17 miles) south of central Cairo.
The site lies in the open desert and currently attracts just a trickle of visitors, but is free of the touts and bustle of Giza.
As they opened the pyramids, archaeologists presented late-period mummies, masks, tools, and coffins discovered during excavations that began near the Dahshur pyramids last year and are due to continue.
The have also uncovered wooden funerary masks, along with instruments used for cutting stones, dating to the Late Period (664-332 B.C.).
"When we were taking those objects out, we found…a very rich area of hidden tombs," Waziri said.
He added that large stone blocks and limestone and granite fragments indicating the presence of more ancient graves had also been found.
The promotion of Dahshur is part of a wider push to boost tourism, an important source of foreign revenue for Egypt that dipped steeply after the country's 2011 uprising before gradually recovering.
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Archaeologists also unveiled the nearby tomb of Sa Eset, which has been closed since its excavation in 1894 and contains finely preserved hieroglyphic funerary texts.
Foreign ambassadors invited to attend the archaeological announcements were led into the tight spaces of the tomb, which is expected to be opened to the public in around two years.
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