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Egyptian Pyramids

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From right to left are the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The three smaller pyramids in the foreground are subsidiary structures associated with Menkaure's pyramid.

The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt.

There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country's Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.

The earliest known Egyptian pyramid is the Pyramid of Djoser which was built during the third dynasty. This pyramid and its surrounding complex were designed by the architect Imhotep, and are generally considered to be the world's oldest monumental structures constructed of dressed masonry.

The best known Egyptian pyramids are those found at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. Several of the Giza pyramids are counted among the largest structures ever built.

The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest Egyptian pyramid. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence.

For thousands of years, the largest structures on Earth were pyramids: first the Red Pyramid in the Dashur Necropolis and then the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still remaining. The largest pyramid ever built, by volume, is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla. This pyramid is still being excavated. Pyramid-shaped structures were built by many ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Mayans, Sumerians and Cambodia.

A view of the Pyramid of Khafre from the Sphinx.

Historic development:

By the time of the early dynastic period of Egyptian history, those with sufficient means were buried in bench-like structures known as mastabas.

The first historically documented Egyptian pyramid is attributed to the architect Imhotep, who planned what Egyptologists believe to be a tomb for the pharaoh Djoser. Amenhotep is credited with being the first to conceive the notion of stacking mastabas on top of each other — creating an edifice composed of a number of "steps" that decreased in size towards its apex. The result was the Step Pyramid of Djoser — which was designed to serve as a gigantic stairway by which the soul of the deceased pharaoh could ascend to the heavens. Such was the importance of Imhotep's achievement that he was deified by later Egyptians.

The most prolific pyramid-building phase coincided with the greatest degree of absolutist pharaonic rule. It was during this time that the most famous pyramids, those near Giza, were built. Over time, as authority became less centralized, the ability and willingness to harness the resources required for construction on a massive scale decreased, and later pyramids were smaller, less well-built and often hastily constructed.

Long after the end of Egypt's own pyramid-building period, a burst of pyramid-building occurred in what is present-day Sudan, after much of Egypt came under the rule of the Kings of Napata. While Napatan rule was brief and ceased in 661 BC, the Egyptian influence made an indelible impression, and during the later Sudanese Kingdom of Meroe (approximately in the period between 300 BC–300 AD) this flowered into a full-blown pyramid-building revival, which saw more than two hundred indigenous, but Egyptian-inspired royal pyramid-tombs constructed in the vicinity of the kingdom's capital city.

Pyramid symbolism:

The shape of Egyptian pyramids is thought to represent the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created. The shape is also thought to be representative of the descending rays of the sun, and most pyramids were faced with polished, highly reflective white limestone, in order to give them a brilliant appearance when viewed from a distance. Pyramids were often also named in ways that referred to solar luminescence. For example, the formal name of the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur The Southern Shining Pyramid, and that of Senwosret at el-Lahun was Senwosret is Shining.

While it is generally agreed that pyramids were burial monuments, there is continued disagreement on the particular theological principles that might have given rise to them. One theory is that they were designed as a type of "resurrection machine."

The Egyptians believed the dark area of the night sky around which the stars appear to revolve was the physical gateway into the heavens. One of the narrow shafts that extends from the main burial chamber through the entire body of the Great Pyramid points directly towards the center of this part of the sky. This suggests the pyramid may have been designed to serve as a means to magically launch the deceased pharaoh's soul directly into the abode of the gods.

All Egyptian pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile, which as the site of the setting sun was associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology


  1. In the Shadow of a Long Past, Patiently Awaiting the Future".
  2. "Mark Lehner (2008). The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries. p. 34.". Thames & Hudson.
  3. "Egypt says has found pyramid built for ancient queen". Reuters. Retrieved on 2008-11-18. "The pyramid, which Hawass said was the 118th found in Egypt, was uncovered near the world's oldest pyramid at Saqqara, a burial ground for the rulers of ancient Egypt."
  4. "In the Shadow of a Long Past, Patiently Awaiting the Future". New York Times. 16 November 2008. Retrieved on 2008-11-17. "Deep below the Egyptian desert, archaeologists have found evidence of yet another pyramid, this one constructed 4,300 years ago to store the remains of a pharaoh’s mother. That makes 138 pyramids discovered here so far, and officials say they expect to find more."
  5. Michael Ritter (2003) [1] Dating the Pyramids. Retrieved 13 April 2005
  6. Watkin, David (4th ed. 2005). A History of Western Architecture. Laurence King Publishing. pp. 14. ISBN 978-1856694599. "The Great still one of the largest structures ever raised by man, its plan twice the size of St. Peter's in Rome"
  7. Burial customs: mastabas. University College London (2001) Retrieved 14 April 2005
  8. Burial customs in Early Dynastic Egypt. University College London (2001). Retrieved 14 April 2005
  9. Imhotep, Doctor, Architect, High Priest, Scribe and Vizier to King Djoser (Jimmy Dunn). Retrieved 24 April 2005
  10. The Pyramids: "Resurrection Machines". (Houghton Mifflin College) Retrieved 13 April 2005
  11. Hidden History of Egypt (The Discovery Channel (2002-2004)) Retrieved 13 April 2005
  13. The Mastaba of Shepseskaf
  14. Allen, James; Manuelian, Peter (2005), The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Writings from the Ancient World, No. 23), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004137776

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