Egyptian Pyramids are known to be one of the seven wonders of the
modern world. So what actually are these pyramids? How were they
built and for what purposes?
During the early years of Egyptian history, the bodies of the pharaohs
were placed in "pyramids," massive stone structures built on the
edge of the desert, near the high flood level of the Nile. The pyramids
were both royal tombs and religious temples, where the spirit --
or "ka" -- of the dead pharaoh could be worshipped.
pyramids were built of huge blocks of limestone and granite, each
block weighing over two tons, which were quarried in the desert
nearby. The stones were then carried on boats down the Nile and
hauled on a granite causeway from the river to the leveled site,
using ropes and sledges and muscle.
It is still a mystery as to exactly how these heavy stones were
lifted into place as the pyramids took shape. Most people believed
they were pulled up a huge earth ramp and laid in place, layer by
layer. After all the stones were in place, the workmen laid fine
white limestone along the jagged sides, to give the pyramid a smooth
inside the pyramid, two rooms had been cut, usually in the rock
beneath, though sometimes in the pyramid itself. One of these rooms
was the burial chamber, and the other a storeroom to hold the pharaoh's
important possessions. When the pharaoh was buried, his coffin was
dragged up a long corridor to the burial chamber. Then the corridor
was completely blocked off, and the entrance to the pyramid carefully
sealed and hidden.
a pyramid would not stand alone, but would be part of a small complex
of buildings. There were sometimes smaller pyramids for the pharaoh's
spouse, and rectangular tombs called "mastabas" for other important
members of the royal household. There was a wall around the pyramid,
a causeway to the river, and two temples: one on the banks of the
Nile, called the "Valley Temple," where burial rituals were conducted
and one on the east side of the pyramid, called the "Mortuary Temple,"
filled with statues of the pharaoh, where daily offerings of food
and drink were made for the pharaoh's soul.
realize in viewing the pyramids today that the ancient Egyptians,
who lived nearly 5,000 years ago, were some of the best engineers
the world has ever known. They displayed a remarkable mastery of
technical know-how, while working with the hardest of stones and
without metal tools. But, of course, these massive stone structures
could not have been built without the labour of tens of thousands
of workers. There were craftsmen who worked permanently on the site
and a much larger work force of peasant farmers, who were summoned
to work on royal projects during the months when their fields were
flooded and their time free.
work was difficult, but the conditions were fair. Workers were free
to complain if they felt they had been treated unfairly. For example,
one group of labourers refused to continue their work after the
government had fallen behind in paying wages. This was the first
recorded work strike in history. And it was resolved without incident.
building the pyramids, the workers had one special incentive. Since
they believed that the pharaoh would care for them in the next world,
it was in their best interests to ensure that he got there safely.
Although the pyramids were constructed in such a way that made robbery
difficult, over the centuries thieves did manage to break in, destroying
the bodies of the pharaohs and stealing their treasures.
because of such destruction, the pharaohs stopped building pyramids
and instead had secret tombs made in a remote and desolate place
called "The Valley of the Kings," near the ancient city of Thebes.
These hidden, rock-cut tombs contained all of the elaborate treasures
of the pyramids, and eventually most of them were also plundered.
However, during the 21st dynasty, many of the royal mummies were
removed to a secret hiding place, where they remained undiscovered
until about a century ago.
the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the pyramids of Egypt
have survived in a form that resembles their original condition.
The largest of the three, known as the Great Pyramid of Khufu, was
made of approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone each weighing
an average of 2.5 tons. Located in Giza on the west bank of the
Nile River, near Cairo, the pyramids remain one of the engineering
marvels of all time..
The step pyramid at Saqqara, built about 2815 BC, was the first
large structure in Egypt made entirely of stone.