Of all the wonders of the ancient world, the pyramids of Egypt have lastest the longest. Although moisture, sandstorms, tourists, and wind have damaged them, they continue to stand and tell us much about what ancient Egypt was really like. In ancient times, the pyramid was called the "benben", the stone sacred to Ra, the Egyptian sun god. There are three types of pyramids: the Step pyramid, Bent pyramid, and the True pyramid.
The first pyramid was built for the pharaoh Djoser. It is known as the Step Pyramid, designed by Djoser's architect, Imhotep, at Saqqara. It consists of six huge steps to prevent tomb robbers from finding the entrance, but it is also believed that the steps were there so that Djoser could climb to join the sun god when he died. There are about fourteen pyramids standing at Saqqara.
The second pyramid ever built was for the pharaoh Huni, and it was a step pyramid as well, but his son, the pharaoh Sneferu, turned it into a straight-sided pyramid. The sides eventually came crashing down. Sneferu built the Red Pyramids and the Bent Pyramid. Another very famous pyramid is that of Unas, the Pyramid of Meidum, but it is no longer shapely like it was in ancient times. Radjedef built his pyramid at Abu Roash, but it is ruined. He only ruled for about eight years. Some people think that he reigned between Khufu and Khafre.
The largest of all the pyramids in the world is the Great Pyramid at Giza, built for the fourth dynasty pharaoh, Khufu (son of King Snefuru and Queen Hetephres, and known as the "Father of Pyramid Building"), in 2550 BC. It was once over 481 feet high (it is now about 449 feet high), sits at an angle of 51 degrees, covers over thirteen acres of desert, and consists of over 2,000,000 limestone blocks. The blocks are fit together so snuggly that not even a postcard could fit between them. The Great Pyramid took over twenty years to build, with at least 50,000 men working in the burning sun to build it. The entrance is on the north side of the pyramid. The Egyptian built traps inside the pyramid to protect the dead pharaoh from grave robbers.
Five other pyramids lie in the Sahara Desert beside the Great Pyramid: Khafre's, Menkaure's, and the queens' pyramids. The pharaoh Khafre, Khufu's son, had the sphinx constructed infront of his pyramid to guard his tomb. It consists of a lion's body and Khafre's head, wearing the Nemes crown. Khafre's pyramid, the middle one, has always looked to be taller than that of his father; but the only reason is that Khafre's was built on slightly higher ground; Khafre's, which sits at an angle of fifty-three degrees, is really only 447 feet in height until it lost about thirty feet off the top. Khufu's is really larger because Khafre thought it would be disrespectful if his was taller than his father's. Khafre's pyramid covers about eleven acres of land in total. The pharaoh Menkaure, Khafre's son, built his pyramid beside that of his father. His, of course, is the smallest (203 feet tall) and sits at an angle of approximately fifty-one degrees, covering about five acres of desert. Infront of Menkaure's pyramid lie the three queen's pyramids, built for the queens of Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura.
A pyramid had to be built in perfect alignment with the North Star, Polaris. Standing in the center of an enclosure, a priest observed the position of the North Star as it rose above the wall. He then waited and observed the position as where it set behind the wall. By dividing the angle between him and the points of the star's rising and setting, the priest found true north. The pyramids of Giza are slightly different; they are all perfectly aligned with the 3 stars of Orion's belt. But recent studies show that even though the pyramids of Giza were aligned with Orion's belt, that allignment of the pyramids was the allignment of the year 10,500 B.C. That just happens to be 8,000 years older than Egyptologists thought.
The pyramids hold so much mystery. Who built them? And how were they built? The most common believed way is that the stone blocks, weighing approximately two tons each, were hoisted onto mud-slickened ramps with sledges; the ramps rose as the blocks were pulled higher and higher. Thousands of labourers worked from dawn until dusk in the hot sun to build these amazing structures; they didn't use pulleys or wheels or iron tools. The workers are believed to be mostly peasant farmers. The farmers did this as a way of paying their taxes instead of having to give up part of the crops.
In 1954, Egyptian archaeologists discovered a wooden barge lying in a pit beside the Great Pyramid. It had been pulled apart so that it might fit into the burial chamber of Khufu. When the archaeologists fit the boat together, they discovered markings showing that it had been sailing in water at some point in time. The archaeologists believed that it had been used to carry Khufu's body along the Nile to his tomb.
There are over one-hundred pyramids still standing in Egypt today. They can be viewed in Saqqara, Giza, Meidum, Abu Roash, Dashur, Lisht, Seila, Hawara, El Lahum, Ausir, Zawyet el-Aryian, Avaris, and Mazghuna. The smooth surfaces have been worn away by the desert sands to reveal rough texture. The Egyptians believed that the pyramid was a ramp to the heavens. The last pyramids were built in El Lahum, Hawara, and Lisht by Amunemhat II and his son, Senusert III.
The funerary (mortuary) temple of the dead pharaoh's pyramid was built on the east side of the pyramid, where the sun rises. The pyramid faced the east so that the pharaoh's ka could join the sun god each day and be reborn with the sun when Ra was born from the lotus, which rose from the depths of the waters of chaos at the beginning of time. The mortuary temple was built so that people could make offerings to the dead king.
The pyramids are one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Most would say that they are the mnost beautiful of all of these wonders. But they will always remain a mystery, no matter how much we know about them...