The rise and fall of the pyramid era
The pyramids epitomize ancient Egypt, yet the biggest were constructed during a short span of time early in a civilization that was to last almost three millennia. The first large Egyptian pyramid was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom to protect the body of the king Djoser who died around 2649 BCE. It was this feat that heralded the short age of the gigantic stone pyramids of ancient Egypt.


The rise and fall of the pyramid era

The mysterious Pyramids


The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt. These massive stone structures were built around 4500 years ago on a rocky desert plateau close to the Nile. But the intriguing Egyptian pyramids were more than just tombs for kings. The mysteries surrounding their symbolism, design and purpose have inspired passionate debate. It is likely that many of these mysteries will never be solved...





The first large pyramid in Egypt was the Step Pyramid of Djoser. It was built at Saqqara, about 15 kilometers from Giza.The Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre. The age and purpose of the Great Sphinx are debated, but it was probably part of Khafre's Pyramid complex. ZOOM AND PAN Large image of the Sphinx Broadband recommended 600 KB image size The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. When we stand before these Old Kingdom monuments, it can be hard to comprehend their huge size or their great age.
The greatest achievements of the pyramid builders were the Pyramids of Giza, built near the capital city of Memphis for the fourth dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure who ruled through 2589-2504 BCE. But pyramid building soon waned as the power and prosperity of the kings of Egypt weakened with the end of the Old Kingdom.Sunset behind the Pyramid of Khafre
Unfortunately, the pyramids became obvious targets for tomb robbers. The Giza Pyramids were plundered long ago of the bodies and anything entombed with them, despite the almost superhuman efforts of the Egyptians to protect the remains of their kings.

The remarkable size and precision of the Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest of the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and was regarded by the ancient Greeks as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Khufu (Cheops to the Greeks) ruled about 2589-2566 BCE when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was nearing a peak of prosperity and culture. After his death, he was entombed in a pyramid that is astonishing for both its size and mathematical precision.The pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure tower over the Giza plateau in Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is regarded as the most massive building ever erected in the world - a remarkable statistic for a construction feat achieved 4500 years ago! It is often said that the Great Pyramid of Khufu contains 2.3 million stone blocks, although some now question this figure. The four sides of the pyramid are accurately oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. The base has sides 230 meters long, with a difference between them of only a few centimeters. The pyramid was originally 146 meters high until it was robbed of its outer casing and capstone.

What was the purpose of the Egyptian pyramids?

The people of ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the king was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife, and a place among the gods. Each of the Giza Pyramids had an adjoining mortuary temple where rituals for the dead king and for the Egyptian gods may have been carried out. A causeway ran to a lower temple near the Nile floodplain that acted as an entrance to the complex. The Giza necropolis also included pits for funerary boats, small subsidiary pyramids and numerous other tombs for the royal family and officials.
Agents of the Gods During the Old Kingdom era, kings of Egypt began to emphasize their divine associations and their people believed them to be manifestations of the god Horus. After the time of Khufu, kings were also proclaimed to be sons of the great sun god Re. After his death, the king became associated with Osiris, father of Horus and god of the underworld. The king's sacred powers were passed on to the new ruler - usually his son. The pyramid shape might have represented the sun's rays which the dead king would use as a ramp to the celestial realm. Or, it may have symbolized a primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the world was created. The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. The mysterious Great Sphinx presides over the Giza necropolis.


Inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu

From an entrance just above the base of the Great Pyramid, a cramped Ascending Passage climbs for 36 meters up through the solid stone core to a towering Grand Gallery. This climbs another 46 meters to reach the King's Chamber and the now empty sarcophagus in the heart of this colossal pyramid. The enormous weight that bears down on the King's Chamber is dissipated by a series of ingenious stress-relieving chambers and massive granite beams built above it.

The Ascending Passage
The Grand Gallery
The King's Chamber in the heart of the Great Pyramid holds the now empty stone sarcophagus. This stark room is walled by huge granite blocks.


How were the pyramids built?

It seems likely that the Pyramids of Giza were not built by slaves but by paid laborers motivated by a faith in the divinity and immortality of their kings. Exactly how the pyramids were built is unclear. It is likely that a sloping embankment was built up to or around the pyramid. The huge blocks would then have been hauled on sledges with the aid of rollers, papyrus ropes and levers. Although most stone was quarried locally at Giza, some had to be transported to the site along the Nile. Originally, the Giza Pyramids were encased in lighter limestone that must have gleamed in the harsh Egyptian sun. Unfortunately, this was plundered long ago to provide building materials for Cairo.

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