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Introduction to the Egyptian Pyramids

2 April 2011 No Comment

Pyramid Tours – Explore the Funerary Complexes of the Pharaohs

In ancient Egypt the desire for eternity was the driving force behind the construction of the pyramids, the bold scale and technical mastery of which continues to be a source of wonder.

Built as tombs for kings and sometimes queens, these world-famed monuments did not stand in isolation, but were designed as part of funerary complexes that included shrines and temples, where priests would summon the spirits of the royal family and make offerings to ensure their immortality.

Between 2700 and 1640 B.C., a smashing number of these fascinating structures were constructed and, although many have since been reduced to rubble, dozens of examples still survive today.

Imhotep’s Step Pyramid

The first master Egyptian pyramid builder was an architect by the name of Imhotep. Around 2680 B.C., he was commissioned to build a tomb for the pharaoh Djozer, and, as was habitual, work commenced during the monarch’s lifetime.

Imhotep started by building a tomb in the form of a traditional mastaba. These were long flat rectangular buildings, built of sun-baked mud bricks, with walls standing around 12 feet high.

The name mastaba derives from the Arabic “bench,” on account of the tomb’s similarity to a long stone seat typically found outside Egyptian homes in later times.

The forward-looking Imhotep, however, used stone as his medium and continued to add to the tomb until he had created a six-layered, stepped pyramid, standing 200 feet high. The answer was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, the first monument in Egypt to be made totally out of hewn stone.

The vast expense and labor involved in its construction is a clear demonstration of the considerable power exercised by the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

Imhotep, who also appears to have been a scholar and physician, was held in such great respect that he was worshipped as a god after his death. His superb accomplishment still stands today at the ancient site of Memphis, south of Cairo.

The Pyramids of Giza

By the fourth dynasty (approximately 2600 B.C. to 2500 B.C.) the Egyptians had perfected their tremendous architectural skills enabling them to construct the most spectacular and famous of the Egyptian Pyramids, those at Giza.

Unlike the Step Pyramid, the Giza Pyramids – known as Khufu Khafre and Mycerinus – were of true pyramidal form and were in the first place constructed with smooth white limestone faces. Such was the wonder they inspired that they were considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The largest of the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza, named after and built for the pharaoh Khufu, who ruled between 2589 B.C. and 2566 B.C., stands 481 feet high.

Its construction was an immensely costly business, involving many thousands of skilled workers (not slaves) over a period of some 20 years. The monument contains around two and a half million blocks of stone, whose average weight is more than two and a half tons, with some weighing as much as fifteen.

Most of the stone used was locally quarried limestone. Granite, a much harder stone, was also used for the construction of the burial chambers and internal passages. This was brought by river a distance of more than 500 miles from quarries in Aswan in the south. The stones were then dragged into place by manner of ramps.

Standing next to Khufu are the later Egyptian pyramids of Khafre (471 feet high) and Mycerinus (204 feet). The Khafre funerary complex is also home to the famous limestone statue of the Sphinx, the oldest and largest of the many images of man-headed lions.

The Giza Sphinx

Besides the Pyramids, another popular feature on Giza Pyramids tours is the Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx.This human headed lion was originally built in honor of the sun god Re-Horakhty. Is your curiosity piqued by the Sphinx’s missing nose? No, the ancient Egyptians didn’t have a sense of humor. What is believed to be the cause of the missing nose is that bored soldiers once used the Sphinx as target practice. (The culprits have been suggested to be anyone from World War I British troops, to Napoleon’s army, to even Turks of the old era)

 

Are You Ready to Tour the Pyramids?

Egypt is home to some remarkable pyramids and our experts can help you plan the ultimate tour of the many pyramid sites throughout the country. Come and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime on  Egypt Pyramids Day Tours!

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