Step Pyramid of Djoser
Constructed at Saqqara about 4,700 years ago, the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the first pyramid the Egyptians built.
Djoser’s Step Pyramid began as a traditional, flat-roofed mastaba and was intended to hold the mummified body of the Pharaoh Djoser (the third king of Egypt’s 3rd dynasty). But by the end of his 19-year reign, in 2611 B.C., it had risen to six stepped layers and stood 204 feet (62 meters) high. It was the largest building of its time.
The planning of the pyramid has been attributed to Imhotep, a vizier who would later be deified 1400 years later.
Pyramid at Meidum
The pyramid of Meidum is often known as the “collapsed pyramid” because of its ruined state. It’s thought to be the first pyramid built by the Pharaoh Sneferu (4th Dynasty) around 2600 BC. But some think that the pyramid may have been started by Sneferu’s predecessor, Huni.
It seems to have been designed as a seven step pyramid with a further step being added once construction was in a fairly advanced stage. It was then turned into the first true pyramid by filing in the steps and capping them with limestone. When the pyramid was complete it is estimated its proportions were similar to those of the Great Pyramid but it is likely that the pyramid began to crumble during the reign of Sneferu (now it is 213 ft-65 m high only) and that this may have contributed to his decision to alter the angle of his pyramid at Dashur in mid construction. It’s the first Egyptian pyramid with an aboveground burial chamber.
The first pyramid to be built at Dashur, the Bent Pyramid was probably the first planned from the outset to be a true pyramid, with smooth sides and was probably either the first or second of Sneferu’s pyramids (not sure who built Pyramid at Meidum – Sneferu or Huni).
This pyramid started at one angle (approx. 52 degrees) and then suddenly changes to a more gradual angle of 43 degrees and boasts of the most intact casing of any pyramid in Egypt (it’s 332 ft-101 m high). One theory suggests that the angle was reduced when Sneferu realized that his pyramid at Meidum was already beginning to collapse and decided that this was because the angle was too steep. The Bent Pyramid is unique in having two entrances (north and west).
Soon after the bend in the Bent Pyramid began to take shape, Sneferu ordered another pyramid to be built nearby, the Red Pyramid (also called the North Pyramid). It would be Sneferu’s third attempt at a classic, smooth-sided pyramid, and it was a precursor to the Great Pyramids at Giza. Named for the rusty reddish hue of its red limestone stones, it is also the third largest Egyptian pyramid (344 ft-105 m high), after those of Khufu and Khafra at Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Khufu (aka Cheops), son of Sneferu and second ruler of the 4th dynasty (2580 BC), moved the royal necropolis to Giza, north of modern-day Cairo.
The largest pyramid ever built, it incorporates about 2.3 million stone blocks, weighing an average of 2.5 to 15 tons each. It is 455 ft-138 m high and has three burial chambers. The pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.
The Great Pyramid was the centerpiece of an elaborate complex, which included several small pyramids, five boat pits, a mortuary temple, a causeway, a valley temple, and many flat-roofed tombs for officials and some members of the royal family.
The second great pyramid of Giza (448 ft-136 m high) was built by Khufu’s second son Khafre (aka Chephren) and has a section of outer casing that still survives at the very top. Right next to the causeway leading from Khafre’s valley temple to the mortuary temple sits the first truly colossal sculpture in Egyptian history: the Great Sphinx (carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau).
Menkaure (aka Mykerinos), the fifth king of the 4th dynasty, built his pyramid beside the great pyramid of Khufu and the pyramid of Khafre at Giza. This is the last pyramid to be built and the smallest from the Giza Necropolis: 215 ft-65 m high. Menkaure’s pyramid was sheathed in granite on the bottom levels and in the burial chamber — a costlier, more difficult stone to work with.
During the 12th century the second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt (al-Malek al-Aziz, son of Saladin) tried to demolish the pyramids of Giza starting with the pyramid of Menkaure. Thankfully the blocks forming the pyramid were so huge and cumbersome that in eight months they had made little progress and he gave up. Unfortunately, he did manage to leave an unsightly gash in the masonry on the north face of the pyramid.
The Giza Necropolis
This complex of ancient monuments includes the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, several cemeteries, a workers’ village and an industrial complex. It is located some 5 mi (9 km) inland into the desert from the old town of Giza on the Nile, some 15 mi (25 km) southwest of Cairo city center.
After Pharaoh Menkaure, pyramids were built—often shoddily—on a much smaller scale and often of inferior materials. By the time of Pharaoh Pepi II ascension to the throne, the Old Kingdom, pharaonic power, and tax revenues were on the wane. Pepi II’s pyramid built at Saqqara (2250 BC) was a much smaller one (172 feet-52 m high) and it marked the end of an era, the era of great pyramid builders.
Truth is that even today we would have had dificulties in building such large monuments. That should make us appreciate even more what the ancient Egyptians did.