Egyptologists currently believe that the design for the Egyptian Pyramid was inspired by the fact that the sand dunes in the desert naturally form a pyramidal shape, which is very stable. The Pyramids themselves developed out of designs of previous tombs. Early Egyptian tombs were bench-shaped mounds called mastabas. About 2780 B.C., King Zoser's architect, Imhotep, designed the first pyramid by layering six mastabas of decreasing size one on top of the other. Thus, the Step Pyramid was born. This pyramid was used, like its descendants, as a tomb for the dead king.(38kb)
During the reign of Snefru (c. 2680-2560 B.C.), the step pyramid became a smooth-sided pyramid. Snefru had his step pyramid at Medum filled in to form straight sides, then covered the structure with limestone (all the pyramids once had limestone casings, but during the occupation of Egypt by the Arabs, much of those coverings were removed to build cities such as Cairo). Later, another transition was made to add stability. At Bahshur, a smooth-sided pyramid was started with sides at an angle of incline over 51 degrees, but was changed half-way to about 43 degrees. This is known as the "Bent Pyramid."
The Great Pyramid at Giza, built by Khufu (Cheops in Greek), is by far the best-known and most impressive of all the Egyptian Pyramids. Its original height was an astounding 481 feet, as high as a 40 story skyscraper and its base covers about 13 acres of land. The Pyramid contains approximately 2,300,000 limestone blocks, the average weight of each about 2.5 tons, the heaviest weighing over 15 tons.(28kb)
The Great Sphinx also stands on the Giza plateau. This immense sculpture, with the body of a lion and the head of a man, acts as the guardian of the tombs of the great kings according to the Ancient Egyptians. It was probably sculpted out of an unwanted mound of limestone in the desert during the time of Khafre.(19kb)
While the Pyramids are the most recognizable of Egyptian monuments, many other impressive structures were built by the ancients. Temples were constructed to pay tribute to the gods and the Pharaoh, who was considered a man-god himself. Shown to the right is the impressive Temple of Ramses II, considered to be the most powerful Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.(27kb)