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What is a pyramid: History of egyptian pyramid and construction

egyptian pyramid

Pyramids are large, triangular or square-shaped buildings having four triangular faces that meet at a single apex. This phrase is frequently used in reference to the enormous buildings built in Egypt more than four thousand years ago, even though other ancient civilizations also built structures of a similar nature.

History of egyptian pyramids

The development of pyramids is a magnificent story filled with mysticism, majesty, and wonders that serves as a tribute to human ingenuity and architectural skill. Despite being a frequent element in many civilisations, these constructions are most often identified with Ancient Egypt. They functioned as the kings’ final resting places, a grand representation of their ascension to the afterlife, and an emblem of their divinity.

The Egyptian pyramids’ origins can be traced back to the Early Dynastic Period, around 2700 BCE, with the construction of the step pyramid of Djoser. However, it wasn’t until the Old Kingdom Period, specifically during the reign of the pharaoh Sneferu, that true pyramids started to appear. He built three pyramids, experimenting with angles and design, and his final creation, the Red Pyramid, is considered the first successful attempt at a ‘true’ pyramid shape.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), the only remaining marvel of the ancient world, is one of the most recognisable pyramids. It was constructed on the Giza Plateau during the Fourth Dynasty. On the same plateau are the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure. These pyramids, together with the mysterious Sphinx, serve as symbols of Egypt and draw millions of visitors each year. Modern engineers and archaeologists are still baffled by the accuracy, complexity, and scale of these structures.

The quality of the pyramid’s construction began to deteriorate after the Fourth Dynasty. Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom were less robust since they were smaller and frequently built with mud-brick cores and limestone casing. Following the New Kingdom, pyramid construction came to an end as pharaohs began favouring secret graves in the Valley of the Kings, a tactical change motivated by grave robbing.

Pyramids are not exclusive to Egypt, although being most frequently associated with it. Pyramids were also built by the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations of the Maya, Aztec, and Zapotec, though for different reasons and in a different architectural style. In contrast to being utilised as graves, their pyramids, including the well-known Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan, served as temples, platforms for sacrifice, and stages for public festivities.

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How were the Egyptian pyramids built?

The Egyptian pyramids, primarily found in the Giza Necropolis, are extraordinary testaments to the engineering prowess of the ancient world. Over 100 of these architectural marvels are spread throughout Egypt, but the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest and largest of the lot, has captivated the imagination of historians, archaeologists, and tourists alike. Built during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), it remained the tallest man-made structure on Earth for nearly four millennia, a testimony to the incredible architectural abilities of its constructors.

The construction methods of the Egyptian pyramids have been a subject of endless fascination and debate. Records from that time are limited, which leads to much conjecture. Most historians and archaeologists posit that a vast labour force of tens of thousands was employed, predominantly during the Nile’s flooding season when farming was not possible. This workforce was not composed of slaves, as was once believed, but rather skilled labourers, builders, and artisans who were respected for their craft.

The most prevalent theory about the construction technique involves the use of large sledges to move the stone blocks. These sledges would have been hauled over surfaces lubricated with water to reduce friction, enabling the transportation of massive blocks over considerable distances. The precise alignment and placement of the blocks might have involved the use of complex systems of ramps, ropes, and levers, and it would have required remarkably precise engineering and careful planning.

More intriguingly, recent studies suggest that the blocks used in pyramid construction, rather than being carved from quarries and dragged to the site, might have been cast in situ. A limestone concrete-like material, it’s hypothesised, could have been poured into wooden moulds, producing blocks directly on the construction site. This theory, however, remains contentious and has not gained universal acceptance amongst historians and archaeologists.

Once the pyramids were constructed, they were often clad in polished limestone, giving them a gleaming finish. Over time, these outer casings have largely eroded or been removed, revealing the rougher, core masonry underneath.

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Why did Egyptians build pyramids?

Why, then, did the Egyptians exert such incredible effort to create these magnificent structures? Their religious views and perspectives on life, death, and the afterlife hold the key to the solution. The pyramids were principally used by the ancient Egyptians as tombs for their pharaohs, the god-kings who oversaw their civilization. The notion of “ka,” a part of the soul that persisted with the body after death, was held dear by the Egyptians. They created magnificent graves because they thought the ‘ka’ need a tangible abode.

The pyramid’s shape was not arbitrary, either. It was a solar symbol, its sloping sides intended to mimic the rays of the sun, and the pharaoh’s ascension to the heavens was symbolically represented by the pyramid’s pointed peak. The grandeur of the pyramids reflected the pharaohs’ divine status and their power. Moreover, the pyramids were stocked with everything the pharaoh might need in the afterlife, including food, furniture, clothing, and other everyday items.

Furthermore, the Giza pyramids were part of a larger complex, including temples, smaller subsidiary pyramids, and worker’s villages, offering insights into the spiritual and mundane aspects of life in ancient Egypt. The Pyramid Texts, ancient religious texts found inscribed on the walls of some pyramids, provide further evidence of the religious and funerary rites associated with these structures.

The pyramids were far more than mere architectural feats. They were an integral part of the cultural, religious, and socio-political fabric of ancient Egypt, reflecting their beliefs about death, the afterlife, and the cosmos. Their construction exhibited a level of knowledge and skill that still astounds us today. They are enduring symbols of one of humanity’s most fascinating ancient civilisations and continue to captivate us with their mystery and majesty.

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