The ancient Egyptians left a historic gift to the world that lets people learn about this ancient civilization. The Egyptian pyramids stand tall and wide, offering clues about this bygone era that existed in Egypt 5,000 years ago. The peak pyramid-building period was during the third through sixth dynasties, ending in around 2325 B.C. Although erosion has affected some of the pyramids, many of these structures still stand today. Egyptians revered their pharaohs as divine humans on earth, and they built pyramids to protect them in the afterlife.
King Djoser ruled Egypt between 2667 and 2648 B.C. During his reign, his prime minister, Imhotep, was in charge of building Djoser’s tomb, or “mastaba.” In a major move away from tradition, Imhotep designed a tomb that was bigger and better than any of its time. Imhotep’s tomb was made of actual stone instead of mud bricks that were common in earlier tombs. The main mastaba sat at ground level, and workers built additional mastabas on top. The end result was the first pyramid, known as a “step pyramid.” The final height of King Djoser’s step pyramid is 200 feet, and it contains six layers. The burial chambers are beneath the earth’s surface in a maze of tunnels and chambers. This underground system connects around 400 rooms, all nicely decorated. The burial chamber featured alabaster and limestone. Imhotep added white limestone around the entire outside of the pyramid. The 40-acre courtyard around the pyramid features chapels and temples, and a 30-foot-high wall encloses the entire area. The wall has one door and 14 fake doors.
- Step Pyramid of Djoser: National Geographic provides information on Egypt’s first pyramid.
- The Step Pyramid of King Djoser: Learn more about this pyramid from the University of Memphis.
- The Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser: This page includes clickable diagrams of Djoser’s pyramid.
- Faience Tile From the Step Pyramid of Djoser: See a tile taken from King Djoser’s tomb thanks to the British Museum.
- The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt: This page contains an overview of the most prominent pyramids of Egypt.
The pharaoh Snefru ruled Egypt between 2613 and 2589 B.C. During his reign, Snefru built three different pyramids. Snefru’s first pyramid project failed. The second pyramid he built was the Bent Pyramid: During construction, builders may have realized that the smooth sides of the pyramid were too steep, though another theory says that the builders wanted to hurry the process and changed the angle of the walls. Either way, the design was changed as it was built, so that the sides weren’t as steep on the top and bent inward. The pyramid has a noticeable angle change about halfway up the sides of the pyramid. Snefru’s Bent Pyramid is 344 feet tall and has a polished limestone outer surface. It’s likely that Snefru was not happy with the Bent Pyramid because he built one more after this one. Snefru’s last pyramid was called the Red Pyramid or the Shining Pyramid, and it’s thought to be one of Egypt’s most attractive pyramids. Snefru was not buried in the Bent Pyramid, but a cult was based at this site. The outer walls of the Bent Pyramid are the most preserved of any Egyptian pyramid.
- Ancient Egypt: The Archaic Period and Old Kingdom: View maps and diagrams of Egyptian pyramids here.
- The Bent Pyramid of Snefru: Learn more about this unusual pyramid here.
- Ancient Egypt: This page looks at Snefru’s rule and his pyramids.
- The Egyptian Pyramid: The Smithsonian explores how pyramids were built over time.
- The Pyramids of Giza: Find pictures of pyramids and their floor plans here.
The pharaoh Khufu was son of Snefru. The Great Pyramid at Giza, which Khufu had built, is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Cheops. Three pyramids stand at the Giza Necropolis, but the Great Pyramid is the biggest and oldest of them. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest pyramid ever built, and it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Building the Great Pyramid took about 20 years. The pyramid has three burial chambers and is made of 2.3 million stone blocks. The Great Pyramid is 450 feet high, and the pyramid is lined up with the four compass points. This pyramid had a door that weighed around 20 tons. The total weight of the pyramid is estimated to be nearly 6 million tons. One burial chamber sits underground inside the pyramid. A second burial chamber is above the ground inside the pyramid. This chamber is called the queen’s chamber, but it was build to hold a sacred statue of the pharaoh. The third burial chamber, known as the king’s chamber, is at the center of the pyramid and held a granite sarcophagus, or coffin. The pyramid’s complex includes temples, smaller pyramids for the king’s wives, raised walkways connecting temples, and smaller tombs for nobles.
- The Great Pyramid of Giza: Learn more here about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, including the Great Pyramid.
- The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx: The Getty Museum offers this information about these famous monuments.
- The Great Pyramid: An animated slide show contains information about the Great Pyramid.
- Great Pyramid of Giza Facts: Learn facts about the Great Pyramid of Giza here.
- Introduction and Overview of the Great Pyramid of Giza: This page has pictures, diagrams, and information about the Great Pyramid.
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