FAQ on the Egyptian pyramids


FAQ on the Egyptian pyramids

Questions about the pyramids of Egypt, from a general point of view

There are too many to fix an exact number, because it would be necessary to limit them to their functions or their sizes. For example, should we count the pyramids of worship or just the pyramids that serve as tombs? Should we consider pyramids less than 20m high? At 10m? At 3m?

As can be seen, it is impossible to precisely define the number of pyramids in Egypt. On the other hand, if one limits oneself to the pyramids of a "consistent size" and which played a role in the history of the civilization, one arrives at a number of a little more than one hundred. Some are partially ruined, almost completely.

See the list of pyramids.

The highest of all the pyramids of Egypt is 146m high, it is that of Khufu. 143 for the second, that of his son Khafra. They are both "giant pyramids", an ephemeral construction style but impressive.

These large pyramids also have large bases, to have a similar tilt between each pyramid. It is besides this inclination which is the source of the difficulties to create the first pyramids, they did not have the right angle and could not be carried out on their terms.

Discover all the dimensions of the pyramids.

Most of the Egyptian pyramids are located in an area southwest of Cairo, the country's capital. Since it is a town with sprawling urbanism, some are now included in the city. This is the case of the three most famous, the famous pyramids of Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure.

Otherwise they are located in scattered necropolis from west Cairo to 60Kms south-west. These necropolises are well known: Giza, Saqqara, Abusir, Dahshur, etc. They are all on the left bank of the Nile, the side where the Sun sets, and therefore the side associated with the dead. The side of the rising sun is rather reserved for the living, this is where the cities are.

Learn more about the location of the pyramids.

The pyramids of Egypt date mostly from the old empire. During the Middle Kingdom there was a burst of the practice of burying the pharaohs under pyramids, so there was a second wave of pyramids, but it was during the ancient empire that they were designed and built. The first one was raised to -2630, the following ones were during the decades that followed.

This period was the golden age of the pyramids. It corresponded to the Third Dynasty (for the first, that of Djoser), the fourth (the period of the giant pyramids), and the fifth and sixth (period of stability in the architectural style). During the Middle Kingdom the pyramids were mainly built during the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties, then there were some in the seventeenth dynasty. The last known royal pyramid dates from the eighteenth dynasty.

Learn more about the location of the pyramids.

Yes, and even we can go further: A pyramid, during ancient Egypt, it was only part of a royal funeral complex. An important part of course, but a simple piece.

The funeral complex of a Pharaoh consisted of a large rectangular area surrounded by a high wall, sometimes two concentric walls. Inside, there was a temple where rites were practiced. It was connected outside with a long pavement often covered, a kind of corridor several hundred meters long which ended in a low temple, called "temple of the valley". All this was supplemented by ancillary pyramids (eg Queen's) and sometimes cemeteries for senior officials, members of the royal family, and important personalities.

See the significant example of Pyramids of the Giza Plateau.

It's still partly a mystery. There are several hypotheses, from the most far-fetched to the most serious, but as the research progresses, historians have certainties.

The most probable theory is ramps. It is a technique of climbing blocks of several tons on tens of meters high. It consists of building a ramp (raw brick and wood) as the work progresses, allowing the workers to pull the blocks on sleds in a straight line. There could have been several types of ramps: The right ramp, which is mounted perpendicular to a face, the spiral ramp, which surrounds the pyramid, the pyramid with steps, which consists of mounting the pyramid in tiers to make room for ramps allowing access to the upper tier, etc.

But one of the most original techniques proposed could have been really used: that of the internal gallery. The thermographic data found on the pyramid of Khafra would justify the use of this technique of letting an internal gallery snake in the masonry, behind the faces of the pyramid. It is this internal gallery that ensured the passage of heavy stones.

Learn more about the construction of the pyramids of Egypt.

The shape of pyramid was not realized at the first attempt, it was necessary to adapt gradually. For that, the Egyptians of the time tested different construction techniques before they could build ... a step pyramid, the first stage of evolution. By improving the pyramid with degrees they tried to make pyramids with smooth faces, aborted attempts to that of Snefru, the first pharaoh of the IVth dynasty. Its red pyramid is the one that marks the beginning of the pyramid era.

Learn more about Evolution of the Pyramids of Egypt.

The Sphinx is a monumental statue of the Giza Plateau. It lies to the east of the pyramid of Khafra, which it would be a representation. It seems to have been built under Khafra who would have been represented, but this state of fact is not certain, some assumptions tend towards the fact that it would represent his father Khufu.

Its role is not known, it could be the guardian of the necropolis, a little like the sphinx statues found on both sides of temple entrances, they are the guardians of the temple. The great Sphinx of Giza has before him a temple quite similar to the lower temple of the funeral complex of Khafra, they could have been built at the same time, or at least by the same architect. It is a solar temple, it is dedicated to Re.

Learn more about the great Sphinx.

See also:

Dimensions of the pyramids

Historical context of the pyramids

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