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The Main Pyramids of Egypt

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Built during the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the pyramids were meant to shelter the pharaohs in the afterlife. The Egyptians believed the pharaoh had a connection with the gods of Egypt and could intercede on behalf of the people with the gods even in the underworld.

While there may be over a hundred pyramids in Egypt, most people learn only about a few of them. This list covers the evolving form of the pyramid through the monument that remains the only standing wonder of the ancient world, and two others created by heirs of the responsible pharaoh.

Pyramids were only part of mortuary complexes built for the pharaoh's afterlife. Family members were buried in smaller, nearby pyramids. There would also be a courtyard, altars, and a temple in the valley near the desert plateau where the pyramids were built.

Quiz on the Main Pyramids

References:

Giza Pyramids
3 Pyramids at Giza. Michal Charvat. http://egypt.travel-photo.org/cairo/
  • Edward Bleiberg "Pyramids of Giza" The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Brian M. Fagan, ed., Oxford University Press 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.
  • Neil Asher Silberman, Diane Holmes, Ogden Goelet, Donald B. Spanel, Edward Bleiberg "Egypt" The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Brian M. Fagan, ed., Oxford University Press 1996.
  • www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/ImpactEgyptIran/ImpactEgyptEng.PDF, by Iraj Bashiri ("The Impact of Egypt on Ancient Iran")

Step Pyramid

Step Pyramid
Step Pyramid. CC Flickr User a rancid amoeba. Picture taken by Ruth Shilling.

The Step Pyramid was the first finished large stone building in the world. It was seven steps high and measured 254 feet (77 m).

Earlier burial monuments had been made of mud brick.

Stacking mastabas of decreasing size on top of one another, Third Dynasty Pharaoh Djoser's architect Imhotep built the step pyramid and funeral complex for the pharaoh situated at Saqqara. Saqqara was where earlier pharaohs had built their tombs. It is about 6 miles (10 km) south of modern Cairo.

Pyramid of Meidum

The Meidum Pyramid or Huni's Pyramid
Pyramid at Meidum. CC Flickr User davehighbury.
The 92-feet high Pyramid of Meidum is thought to have been started by Third Dynasty Pharaoh Huni, during the Old Kingdom period of Egypt and finished by his son Snefru, founder of the fourth Dynasty, also in the Old Kingdom. Because of construction flaws, it partly collapsed while it was being built.

Originally designed to be seven steps high, it was eight before it was turned into an attempt at a true pyramid. The steps were filled in to make it smooth and look like a regular pyramid. This exterior limestone material is the casing that is visible around the pyramid.

The Bent Pyramid

The Bent Pyramid
Bent Pyramid. CC Flickr User a rancid amoeba. Picture taken by Ruth Shilling.
Snefru gave up on the Meidum Pyramid and tried again to build another one. His first attempt was the Bent Pyramid (about 105 feet high), but about halfway up, the builders realized it wouldn't be any more durable than the Meidum Pyramid if the sharp incline continued, so they reduced the angle to make it less steep.

The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid
Red Pyramid. CC Flickr User hannahpethen.
Snefru was not entirely satisfied with the Bent Pyramid, either, so he built a third about a mile from the Bent one, also in Dashur. This is either called the North Pyramid or by reference to the color of the red material from which it was built. Its height was about the same as the Bent, but the angle was reduced to about 43 degrees.

Khufu's Pyramid

Cheops Pyramid
Great Pyramid. CC Flickr User travelingmipo.
Khufu was Snefru's heir. He built a pyramid that is unique among the ancient wonders of the world in that it is still standing. Khufu or Cheops, as the Greeks knew him, built a pyramid at Giza that was about 486 feet (148 m) high. This pyramid, more familiar as The Great Pyramid of Giza, has been estimated to have taken almost two and a half million stone blocks with an average weight each of two and a half tons. It remained the tallest building in the world for more than four millennia.

Khafre's Pyramid

Khafre's Pyramid
Khafre's Pyramid. CC Flickr User Ed Yourdon.
Khufu's successor may have been Khafre (Greek: (Chephren)). He honored his father by building a pyramid that was actually a few feet shorter than his father's (476 feet (145 m)), but building it on higher ground, it looked larger. It was part of the set of pyramids and the sphinx found at Giza.

On this pyramid you can see some of the Tura limestone used to cover the pyramid.

Menkaure's Pyramid

Menkaure's Pyramid
Menkaure's Pyramid. CC Flickr User zolakoma.
Possibly Cheops' grandson, Menkaure or Mykerinos' pyramid was short (220 feet (67 m)), but is still included in pictures of the pyramids of Giza.

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