There are about 110 pyramids currently known in Egypt, many in a
state of great disrepair and almost unrecognizable. Some were built
as burial places for kings and others for queens. A pyramid also may
have represented a stairway for the king to ascend to the heavens.
Another possibility is that it was symbolic of the primeval mound on
which the sun god/creator was born.
How the Egyptians managed the complex organization of labor and the physical movement of large stone blocks is still a matter for debate. Pyramid construction may have involved ramps being erected around the pyramid. Blocks of stone would have been pulled up on sledges and the ramps dismantled later. It is believed that most of the labour for the construction of the pyramids would have come from farmers who were available during the inundation season when the Nile River flooded and farmland was underwater. It would also have been an ideal time for the transportation by boat of large stone blocks from their quarries to the pyramid sites.
|The earliest pyramid was the Step Pyramid of king Djoser of the Old Kingdom's 3rd Dynasty over 4600 years ago. The pyramid (at right) was the largest structure ever erected at Saqqara, the necropolis that overlooked the ancient capital of Memphis. Its construction was initially in the form of a low mastaba tomb upon which extra levels were gradually added to give it a step-like appearance.|
|Underneath Djoser's pyramid was a complex system of corridors with a burial chamber lined with Aswan pink granite about 90 feet underground. The entrance was sealed with a three-ton granite plug. The pyramid's outside would have been cased with fine limestone, but this was removed long ago. Nearby were the Mortuary Temple, a Great Court and various other structures.|
The first true pyramid (at
was developed for King Sneferu during
the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. It is referred to as the Red
because of its color, or the North
of its position at Dashur south of Cairo. It was about 345 feet high
with its sides measuring 720 feet.
The largest pyramid ever built was the Great Pyramid at Giza southwest of modern Cairo Built for king Khufu, this pyramid wascompleted around 2550 BC
It is estimated that the pyramid contains approximately 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each and some up to 15 tons. Its sides measure 650 feet in length. The structure would have towered about 480 feet high, but it is now a little shorter owing to the outer casing having been removed to build many of Cairo's buildings during the Middle Ages. The interior design was changed during the pyramid's construction and the burial chamber was relocated. One of its most spectacular features is the enormous sloping Grand Gallery. At the Gallery's top is a low corridor which leads into the King's Chamber, the walls of which are made of polished granite. A large granite sarcophagus is open and no burial goods have ever been found To the east of the pyramid, some of the smooth basalt paving of the mortuary temple remains and the causeway which led to the river temple is now buried with the valley temple being under modern buildings. Small pyramids for queens are adjacent to the Great Pyramid, as are boat pits.
In 1954, a large cedar boat (pictured
at left) was uncovered in one of
the pits and then reassembled. It is now on display next to the
pyramid. A second boat remains in pieces in another covered pit. The
boats may have been provided for the deceased king to travel through
the underworld.(see Noah's
The Giza Plateau also is home to two other large pyramids for the subsequent kings, Chephren and Menkaura. As with the Great Pyramid, both of these pyramids have valley temples and mortuary temples connected by causeways. However, next to Chephren's valley temple is the famous 240-foot long Sphinx and its associated temple. Despite controversy over its age, most Egyptologists believe that the Sphinx was carved from a rocky outcrop at the same time as Chephren's pyramid.
The resources for building enormous pyramids during the rest of the Old Kingdom could not be mustered and the pyramids were both smaller and less well built. The 5th Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara is famous for its Pyramid Texts - the first funerary texts carved into the walls of any pyramid. The pyramid is located just south of the walled enclosure of the pyramid of Djoser. During the Middle Kingdom, kings again built themselves pyramids, but being largely of mud-brick, they have not survived very well. Elaborate interior designs failed to stop ancient tomb robbers from breaking in and stealing the burial goods. The time of large pyramids had passed, although small pyramids were used in some New Kingdom private burials as superstructures for funerary chapels. Restored examples exist at Deir el-Medina, the village of the workmen who constructed the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Pyramids were also built south of Egypt in ancient Nubia (the northern part of today's Sudan), where there are actually more than in Egypt. Although being influenced by the Egyptian pyramids, the pyramids in Nubia had their own style and were built on a smaller scale and with steeper sides. In the case of the Nubian pyramids, the tombs of owners were usually underground with the pyramid built on top. The last pyramid was built in Nubia in the 4th century AD.