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The
Egyptian pyramids are a big staple in the Egyptian culture. The peak of their
existence was from before the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the end of the
Middle Kingdom. In Egypt, pyramids were built as tombs for the pharaohs and
their queens to be buried in. The queens’ pyramids were generally smaller than
the pharaohs’ and were placed around them. The earliest known Egyptian pyramids
are found at Saqqara and were built during the Third Dynasty (around 2650-2575
BCE). These are known as “Step” Pyramids and the first one is the Pyramid of
King Djoser. As of November 2008, there are more than 100 Egyptian pyramids
identified.

            There is a lot of speculation about
the construction of pyramids. With the techniques being far more advanced than
the ancient Egyptian’s technology could have allowed, some believe aliens either
helped the Egyptians or built the pyramids themselves. However, scientists and
archaeologists are not convinced of these the back-breaking work. Other workers
were farmers who were drafted during the flood seasons. Pharaohs recruited
high-ranking architects and engineers to oversee the workers’ construction. These
workers used copper tools, like chisels and saws, to cut the softer stones. Using
abrasive powder and drills, the hard granite was broken up for the burial
chamber walls and some of the exterior casing. First made slippery water, huge
stone blocks were easily moved on sledges over the ground. Then, these stones
were dragged up ramps to their positions in the pyramid. Finally, an outer
layer of casing stones finished the pyramid from top to bottom. The ramps used
to get the stones to their positions were dismantled as the workers moved down
the pyramid with the casing blocks. In Egypt, the height of pyramid building
was from the Forth Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty (2575-2150 BCE). The
advancement of Egyptian techniques is demonstrated by how the pyramids improved
overtime. For example, the earlier “step” pyramids did not have smooth slopes
while the later pyramids were all built with smooth slopes.

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            The Pyramid of Djoser is known to be
the first Egyptian pyramid and is a “step” pyramid. It is found at the Saqqara
burial ground, NW of Memphis. The Pyramid of Djoser was completed in 2611 BCE
after 19 years of construction. This “step” pyramid started off as only a
mastaba tomb and over the years got expanded onto and became a 60 meter (197
ft) pyramid. Six layers of stone and clay built up on each other form the
Pyramid of Djoser. Beneath the pyramid is a maze of tunnels and chambers. The
center of these is a big shaft that holds the burial chamber of King Djoser at
the bottom. Two passages lead underground and branch off to three directions.
They break off to three galleries, to hold offerings, and an uncompleted
chamber, which may have been built as an underground palace for the pharaohs to
live in the afterlife. The chamber is decorated in a way very similar to his
real palace. The Pyramid of Djoser was built to symbolize a successful
afterlife for the pharaoh and to send him into the heavens to be with the gods.
Unfortunately today, this pyramid is in delicate condition and without construction
to help sturdy it, the chambers will collapse and end in ruin.

            Pyramids were built as tombs for the
pharaohs who ruled over Egypt. These enormous tombs showed off the pharaoh’s
status in life and served as their final resting place. The pyramid shape is
derived from the primordial mound from which the ancient Egyptians believed the
earth was created from. The shape is also symbolic to show the representation
of the sun’s rays beam down. The pyramids were also thought of to be
resurrection machines. The Egyptians believed the physical gateway into the
heavens was the dark area of night sky the stars appear to revolve around. 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. Researchers believe this can suggest pyramids were designed to
serve as launching the deceased pharaohs’ souls directly into the heavens to
the gods. Almost all of the pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile
River which is the site of the setting sun. This is also associated with the
realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology.

            On a spiritual level, the pyramid
stands for the integration of one’s self and soul. It also not only stands for
death, but rebirth too. Spiritually, the base of the pyramid stands for the
body, the sides of the pyramid resemble spiritual attempts, and the point at
the top symbolizes the union of humans and the gods. Egyptians believed that pharaohs
were between humans and the divine. They were seen to be chosen by the gods to
mediate between the gods and the people of Egypt. Pharaohs were seen as the
falcon-god, Horus, who served to protect the sun-god, Ra. When the Pharaoh
died, they would become Osiris, the god of the dead. Egyptians believed when
someone dies, even if the physical body deteriorates, their spirit, or “ka,”
lives eternally. This is one of the main reasons for the pyramids: to allow
them to live properly in the afterlife.  

            Out
of the pyramids in Giza, the oldest and largest of the three complex is the
Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the “Great Pyramid.” The construction of this
pyramid took between ten and twenty years of building, which concluded around
2560 BCE. The “Great Pyramid” stands 146.5 meters (481 ft) tall and each base
side measures to be about 230.4 meters (755.9 ft) long. The volume of this marvelous
structure is about 2,500,000 cubic meters (88,000,000 cubic feet) and the mass
is about 5.9 million tons. The Pyramid of Khufu was originally all covered by
casing stones that formed a smooth outer layer. Today, only the core structure
of the pyramid remains. However, there is some casing left that can be seen at
the bottom, around the base.

            The
“Great Pyramid” is very detailed and has many elements that make up the
interior. The north and south pointing air shafts extend out from the rooms of
the pyramid to the outer surface of the pyramid. These were not only built to
provide ventilation for the workers working inside the pyramid, but they were
made for religious purposes as well. The north pointing air shaft is directed
toward the northern polar stars and the south pointing air shaft aims towards
the constellation of Orion, which is associated with their god Osiris. The
descending passage leads from the entrance to the unfinished chamber below the
pyramid, while the ascending passage leads from the entrance of the pyramid to
the grand gallery. The point where the descending passage and the ascending
passage meet is plugged by large stones to prevent tomb robbers. The connecting
passage allowed workers to get out of the pyramid after a large stone was
positioned to block the ascending passage. There is an underground chamber whose
purpose is still a mystery to this. Some researchers say it was left unfinished
for religious reasons, some believe it was originally meant to be the burial
chamber of Khufu but the architects changed their mind, and others believe it
was constructed to trick tomb robbers and lead them away from the real burial
chamber. The Pyramid of Khufu also had a queen’s chamber but it was never meant
to be a burial chamber for his queen. She had her own pyramid built nearby.
This chamber could’ve been used to hold Khufu’s funerary objects. The grand
gallery is a passageway that leads from the ascending passage to Khufu’s
chamber. The King’s Chamber is the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu. Today, it
is completely empty except for the granite sarcophagus in the corner. His mummy
and funerary goods were most likely taken by tomb robbers after Khufu’s death.
There are also chambers above the King’s Chamber which were designed to help
shift the weight of the heavy stones at the top of the pyramid, off the inner
chambers, to prevent the pyramid from caving in on the chamber.

            Although
the pyramids of Egypt were built over thousands of years ago, there are still many
aspects of them that remain a mystery. Between the construction process to the
meaning behind them, a lot of things have yet to be fully discovered about the
Egyptian pyramids. Beginning around 2650 BCE, the pyramids started as “step”
pyramids to honor the kings of Egypt. Throughout time, pyramids became far more
advanced and their form changed from the “step” look and transitioned to
resemble more of a pyramid form with smooth sides. The “Great” Pyramid is one
of the world’s most famous pyramids and is one of the 7 ancient wonders of the
world. 

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