Pyramids of Egypt

The pyramids of Egypt have fascinated people for thousands of years. How did the ancient Egyptians build these massive stone monuments, and why? The most famous pyramids are the Giza, near modern Cairo. But there are more than 80 other pyramids in Egypt and another 100 further south in the Sudan. Each one is a tomb, built by a pharaoh (king) as the final resting place for his body. The pyramid was meant to help the pharaoh achieve eternal life. But we may never know why the Egyptians choose the pyramid shape. It may have developed from early burial mounds, or been a symbol of the sun’s rays or a stairway to heaven. Many centuries later, the people of Central America also built pyramids, mainly as temples. Hundreds of these are still hidden in the deep jungles.

The Egyptians believed that their Pharaoh was a living god. He led the army in battle, passed judgement of criminals, and controlled the treasury. He also represented the unity of Egypt. In early times most people lived in the north or the south, called lower and upper Egypt. It was the Pharaohs role to keep the two regions together. The finest sculptors, masons, engineers and other countless workers spent years building the tomb. The labourers who dragged the stones were not slaves. They were farmers who believed that if they helped their king get to heaven, he would look after them in the next world.

The first pyramid was built for the pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara around 2680 B.C. It was designed by the architect Imhotep who became more famous than the pharaoh he worked for. This pyramid is a series of six rectangular structures set one on top of the other. Beneath it, cut deep into the rock, lie the burial chambers of Djoser and five members of his family. The king’s vault was built of pink granite and sealed with a three tonne plug. Sadly, this tomb was robbed long ago and only a mummified foot was found inside.

The Pharaohs who followed King Djoser also built step pyramids. The familiar smooth pyramid shape was not developed until the reign of king Sneferu. In his 20 years as pharaoh (2575 – 2551 B.C.), he won wars in Libya and Nubia and built many new temples, fortresses and palaces. Sneferu also built at last three pyramids. His first shows how building in stone had advanced by that time. The builders had made great advances in handling large blocks of stone. They had also worked out a new way of roofing the burial chamber so it held the weight of the pyramid above and improved methods of sealing the entrance against robbers.

So, what wonders are hiding inside the pyramids? This question has fascinated people throughout history. The early Christians thought the Pharaoh used them to store grain as told in the story of Joseph in the bible. But the pyramids were really royal tombs. Somewhere inside or beneath the huge mass of stone was a burial chamber where the dead king was laid to rest. Since the earliest times there have been rumours about the treasures buried with the dead pharaohs. To stop robbers the pyramid builders hid the entrances and sealed the internal passages with huge plugs of stone. The Middle kingdom kings created extra passages and false shafts to try and fool robbers. Despite all these efforts every known pyramid had been looted by 1000B.C. The few fragments that have been found were overlooked by hasty thieves. The only intact king’s burial ever found belonged to Tutankhamun, who had been buried in a rock cut tomb in the valley of the kings. He was lying in three stunning coffins, one made of solid gold surrounded by priceless treasures. One can only imagine what marvels were buried inside the pyramids.