The Arab Republic of Egypt, commonly known as Egypt is located primarily in North-Eastern Africa.
It covers an area of about 1,020,000 square kilometres and includes the Sinai Peninsula, but the majority of the country is located in North Africa. It shares land boundaries to the west with Libya, to the south with Israel on the northeast. It is bordered by the Mediterranean and Red Seas to the north and east
The majority of Egypt’s population lives along the banks of the Nile River where the land is rich and fertile. However, a significant percentage of the land is part of the Sahara Desert and so has very few inhabitants.
Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization and some of the world’s most stunning ancient monuments. The Pyramids at Giza, the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings attract many visitors. The southern city of Luxor contains an exceptionally large number of ancient artifacts. Today, Egypt is widely regarded as the main political and cultural center of the Arab and Middle Eastern regions.
Egypt has the longest continuous history, as a unified state, of any country in the world. The need to have a single ruler to manage the waters of the Nile led to the creation of the world’s first state about 3000 BC. Its geography made it a difficult country to attack, and during the days of the pharaohs, Egypt was independent and self-contained.
Once Egypt did succumb to foreign rule, however, it proved unable to escape from it, and for 2,300 years Egypt was governed by a long list of foreign governments: Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and British.
History of ancient Egypt
The history of Ancient Egypt proper started sometime around 3300 BC. As an independent state it lasted until about 1300 BC. Nevertheless, archaeological evidence indicates that there may have been an advanced Egyptian culture for a long time. A grain-grinding culture was replaced along the Nile in the 10th millennium BC by one of the hunters, fishermen and gathering peoples using stone tools. Research also testifies to human habitation in the southwest corner of Egypt, near the Sudan frontier, before 8000 BC.
Also read: Impact of Urbanization on landuse change in the rural-urban fringe (Rurban)
The changes in temperature and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC caused the drying out of Egypt’s fertile fields, finally creating the Sahara Desert around 2500 BC. Early tribes migrated naturally to the Nile where they established a prosperous agricultural economy and a more organized society. There is evidence of cereal production in the East Sahara during the 7th century BC. By 6000 BC, ancient Egyptians were herding cattle in the southwest corner of Egypt, and building large buildings using mortar by 4000 BC.
The Dynastic Periods: 3000 BC to 332 BC
Egyptian history is broken into a number of different periods according to the dynasty of the ruling pharaoh.Egyptian chronology is in a constant transitional state, with most of the terms in question, and dates in disputeHere are the main dynastic periods:
Predynastic Period (Prior to 3100 BC)
Early Dynastic Period (1st–2nd Dynasties)
Old Kingdom (3rd–6th Dynasties)
First Intermediate Period (7th–11th Dynasties)
Middle Kingdom (12th–13th Dynasties)
Second Intermediate Period (14th–17th Dynasties)
New Kingdom (18th–20th Dynasties)
Third Intermediate Period (21st–25th Dynasties) (also known as the Libyan Period)
Late Period (26th–31st Dynasties)
Read more: History of Architecture
History of Greek and Roman Egypt: 332 BC to 639 AD
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Greek influence took root for the next 900 years. Then after 300 years, Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire and ruled first from Rome and then from Constantinople. In 639 AD, the Arabs took over.
History of early Arab Egypt: 639 to 1517
From 639 to 1517 Egypt was part of the Arab world, ruled at first by governors acting in the name of the Umayyad Caliphs in Damascus. In 747 the Umayyads were overthrown and the unity of the Arab world was broken. Although Egypt remained under the Abbasid Caliphate, the Tulunids and the Ikhidis were able to establish semi-independent dynasties. Cairo was established as capital in 969 when Egypt was conquered by the Tunisian Ismaili Shia Fatimid dynasty.
This dynasty lasted until 1174, when Egypt came under Saladin’s rule, the Ayyubid dynasty of which lasted until 1252. The Ayyubites were defeated by their Turkish bodyguards, known as the Mamluks, who ruled under the Abbasid Caliphs regime until 1517 when Egypt became part of the Ottoman Empire.
History of Ottoman Egypt: 1517 to 1805
Egypt was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517, but it was always a difficult province for the Ottoman Sultans to control. It remained dominated by the semi-autonomous Mamluks until it was conquered by the French in 1798. After the French were expelled, Albanian Muhammad Ali of Egypt and his descendants pulled Egypt even further out of Ottoman control. It lasted until 1882 when the British invaded and Egypt became a colony of Britain.
The reign of Mehemet Ali and his successors was a period of rapid reform and modernization. Egypt became one of the most developed states outside of Europe. Unfortunately, massive government expenditures led to bankruptcy, and Egypt fell under the control of the British.
History of Modern Egypt: since 1882
The History of Modern Egypt is generally considered as beginning in 1882, from the time it became a British colony. In 1922, Egypt was officially granted independence, but British troops remained in the country and true self-rule did not occur until 1952 when Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser rose to power. Nasser’s one party state has seen many changes but has remained in place, firstly under Anwar Sadat, and until the present day, under Hosni Mubarak.
Read more: Timeline of Architecture
Egyptology is the scientific study of Ancient Egypt. Someone who studies Ancient Egypt is an Egyptologist. Egyptology explores Ancient Egyptian culture – its language, literature, history, religion, art, economics, and ethics, from the 5th millennium BC up to the end of Roman rule in the 4th century AD.
Modern Egyptology is generally thought of as beginning in the year 1822. That was when Jean-François Champollion first deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics. He used the Rosetta Stone, a dark granite stone which provided modern researchers with translations of ancient text. Since 1802, the stone has been kept in the British Museum since.
Egyptian archeology is in a constant state of transition, with differences of opinion as to dating and terminology. Archeologists may suggest solutions to many of these questions; others may never be solved.
Here are some of the questions that Egyptologists are trying to answer:
- Who were the first pharaohs of Egypt?
- Where did the Egyptians come from?
- Was the Pharaoh really seen as a god or was the position he held just viewed as divine?
- What were the pyramids used for? How were the pyramids built?
- Are the Pyramids of Giza lined up with stars?
- How old is the Sphinx?
- What was the purpose of the Sphinx?
- Which pharaoh was the Sphinx meant to resemble?
- Why did the Egyptians mummify their dead?
- Is there a connection between Moses and Akhenaten?
- Why did the Egyptians use hieroglyphs?
- Why did Plato write about Atlantis?
Ancient Egyptian art refers to two-dimensional and three-dimensional art produced from 3000 BC in Egypt and used until the 3rd century. It is the symbolism of the past expressed in paintings and sculptures.
There was a strict set of rules about how to represent three-dimensional forms. More important to follow the rules than to make a pretty picture, the intention of most of the artwork was to provide company for the deceased in the Other World. An artist’s job was to paint everything of the present time as clearly and permanently as possible. Through these vivid works of art, we are able to experience vicariously the life and times of Egyptians who lived thousands of years ago. Over decades, the Egyptian way of portraying man, nature and the world remained much the same and a revered artist was who duplicated the most beloved styles of the past.
Ancient Egyptian architects used bricks, fine sandstone, limestone, and granite, both sun-dried and kiln-baked. Wood was not used as a building material because there were very few trees available. Without the use of mortar, stones had to fit precisely together. As the height of the construction grew, ramps were necessary to move people and materials up. When the structure at the topwas completed, the artists decorated from the top down, removing the ramps as they descended.
As the time passes, primitive structures of clay and reeds evolved into magnificent monumental structures of granite, with very thick walls. The massive sloping exterior walls of pyramids contained only a few small openings. Brilliantly colored hieroglyphs and carvings decorated the structures, and included many motifs, like the scarab, sacred beetle, the solar disk and the vulture.
The belief in the existence of life beyond death resulted in a mammoth architectural style to house the mummified bodies. Construction of a burial monument was initiated as soon as a pharaoh was named, and it continued until he was deceased. The longer a pharaoh lived, the larger his tomb would be. King Tutankhamen’s tomb is fairly small – he died at a young age. Another amazing aspect of ancient Egyptian architecture is that there was no structural support, except the strength and balance of the structure itself.
The word “paper” comes from “papyrus,” a plant cultivated in the ancient Nile delta. The papyrus plant processing produced sheets of paper which were up to 30 feet long. The papyrus crafting method has been lost over time, and then rediscovered by an Egyptologist in the 1940s.
On papyrus are depicted all facets of ancient Egyptian life, including literary, political, historical and administrative records.
Ancient Egyptians used steatite or soapstone to carve small pieces for vases and amulets, as well as images of gods and animals. They also discovered how to cover pottery with enamel, which they also used on some stonework.
Some pottery items represented interior parts of the body, and were deposited in burial chambers of the dead – the heart and lungs, liver and small intestines, which were removed before embalming. Smaller objects in enamel pottery in large number of were also deposited with the dead. They contained the names, titles, and offices of the deceased, as well as stories about them.
The ancient Egyptian sculpture art evolved in physical form to represent the ancient Egyptian gods and pharaohs, the divine kings and queens.
Very strict rules were followed while crafting statues: male statues were darker than female ones; in seated statues, hands were required to be placed on knees and specific rules governed the appearance of every Egyptian god. For example, the sky god, Horus, was to be represented with a falcon’s head, the god of funeral rites, Anubis, was to be shown with a jackal’s head. Artistic works were ranked according to exact compliance with all the conventions, which were followed so strictly that over three thousand years, very little changed in the appearance of statutes.
A hieroglyphic script is made of a number of images and symbols. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, some symbols had independent meanings, and some were used in combination. In a similar fashion to the Roman alphabet, some hieroglyphs were used phonetically, or to convey multiple meanings. The script was composed in three ways: from top to bottom, left to right, and right to left. The ancient Egyptians continued to use this type of writing, from 3300 BC until the third century AD. Many of the period’s works of art contain hieroglyphs, and hereoglyphs themselves form an impressive part of ancient Egyptian art.
Ancient Egyptian art and literature were recorded on papyrus or on wall paintings.
Included, were subjects like hymns to the gods, mythological and magical texts, and mortuary texts. Biography, history, science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and stories, also tied art and literature together. A number of such stories from ancient Egypt have survived thousands of years. The most famous is Rhodopis, the oldest version of the story we call “Cinderella” today.
We are fortunate to have Ancient Egyptian paintings which survived in the extremely dry climate. The purpose of the paintings was to make the afterlife of the deceased a pleasant place. Protective deities, introductions to the gods of the afterworld, beautiful scenes of life in the afterworld, were all subjects to be explored with paints and brushes.
The history of Egypt is written in its artifacts. A timeframe of more than 3,000 years showcases diverse and detailed works of jewelry and sculpture. A variety of materials were used during different stages, from the polychrome (red, blue/green, yellow, black) decorations used on some shabtis (statuettes) around the end of l8th Dynasty and in the Ramesside Period, to the dark hard stone probably of the Middle Kingdom or 25th Dynasty,
The ancient Egyptians believed that for many, the afterlife would likely require them to labor in the fields. Those who could afford it, took funerary statues (shabtis, shawabtis and ushabtis) along to perform their tasks. In the Ramesside Period, the number of shabtis increased to include one for each day of the year, plus 36 overseers. Tutankhamun’s tomb had an additional 12 monthly overseers.
Some amulets held magical properties that could be conferred on the wearer. They would be taken along to the afterlife to provide assistance on the journey, or give protection.
An animal-shaped amulet could inspire particular qualities or behaviours the wearer wished to possess. Or, if it were molded like part of the anatomy, it might give special related powers in that way. Amulets also portrayed symbols of power such as the pharaoh’s scepters. The eye of Horus was a very powerful Egyptian amulet, worn by both living and dead, which could protect everything behind it from evil.
Amulets were made from a variety of materials including glass, semi-precious stones, bronze, gold, silver, and a ceramic composed of crushed sand or quartz called Egyptian faience.
Egyptians lived in a land of intense sun, where it was necessary to keep their skin oiled so it would not dry out. To prevent the sun from scorching their hair, it was treated with a lump of moisturizing cream that would gradually melt and give the wearer a pleasant fragrance. Many of the containers in which the oils and creams were stored can be found in museum collections.
In Cairo, Egypt, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, generally known as the Egyptian Museum, is home to the world ‘s largest collection of pharaonic antiques. This has 136,000 items on display, with several hundreds of thousands more in the storerooms in its basement.
The Egyptian Museum is an outgrowth of the effort by the Egyptian government to limit the looting of antiquities sites and artifacts, by establishing the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1835. The museum opened in 1858 in an annex of the palace of Ismail Pasha of Giza, who had retained Auguste Mariette, the French archaeologist, to assemble the collection. In 1900 the museum moved to its present location, a neoclassical structure on Tahrir Square in Cairo’s city center.
The highlight of the collection is often considered to be the tomb artifacts of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, whose almost intact tomb Howard Carter found in the Valley of the Kings in 1923. The Royal Mummy Room, containing 27 royal mummies, is also highly prized.
Ancient Egyptian Food
Egypt’s Ancient Land was one of the world’s most rich plains, so it housed one of the world’s strongest cultures. Rich soil, created by the annual floods of the canal, deposited dense silt over the land often supplying two, or sometimes three, harvests a year. Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, once wrote that Egypt was the Gift of the Nile.
In most Egyptians, bread was the staple diet. The average kitchen was normally located on the back of the house, or on the roof. It was mostly outdoors but may have been partly shady. Egyptian food was cooked, using wooden utensils, in simple clay pots and stored in jars.
Beer became the popular beer, and made from barley as well. The Egyptians would add spices to improve the flavor and it has usually been preserved in labelled clay pots. The importance of beer to the ancient Egyptians should not be underestimated since it was so highly esteemed that it was regularly offered to the gods as a libation.
The wine was made from nearby vineyards for the upper classes. The workers would stomp the grapes after the harvest had been processed, and the juice would have been extracted. They made other wines from pomegranates or plums.
Though Ancient Egypt’s people in poverty enjoyed a relatively balanced diet including vegetables , nuts, and fish. But it was just the bigger farms that were feeding the livestock, mostly because the ordinary farmer had to use his small land to grow crops. Poultry was grilled to the table for the most part, but meat remained the luxury of the wealthy. Contains seasoning: cinnamon, pepper, cumin , coriander, sesame, dill, fennel, fenugreek, seeds etc.
All the great festivals of the year were religious and were organized by the priests of the temple. The biggest of these was the god Amun festival which lasted an entire month. The ritual parade would have followed songs, dancers, singers, acrobats, and jugglers. Much feasting and partying continued with the consumption of a lot of wine and beer. There would be; dancing, poetry, laughter and the visitors would dance to entertain the younger members of the party.
Even though the ancient people did not write down their recipes or use cook books, it is well known the ingredients required to produce most of the dishes, many of which are still used in Egypt today.
Egyptian mythology is how we describe the succession of beliefs held by the people of Egypt until the coming of Christianity and Islam. For nearly three thousand years, the Egyptians were, for the most part, believers in many gods.
The early beliefs can be split into 5 distinct localized belief groups:
* the Ennead of Heliopolis, whose chief god was Atum
* the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, where the chief god was Ra
* the Chnum-Satet-Anuket triad of Elephantine, where the chief god was Chnum
* the Amun-Mut-Chons triad of Thebes, where the chief god was Amun
* the Ptah-Sekhmet-Nefertem triad of Memphis, unusual in that the gods were unconnected before the triad was formalized, where the chief god was Ptah.
As the leaders of the different groups gained and lost power, so the major beliefs merged and mutated. First, Ra and Atum became Atum-Ra, with Ra the dominant of the two, and then Ra became absorbed in his turn by Horus and Ra-Herakty. Ptah, on the other hand, was absorbed into Osiris after he had become Ptah-Seker, becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris.
The goddesses fared no better, with Hathor absorbing the details of the other goddesses initially, but ultimately absorbed into Isis. Meanwhile, the villains similarly assimilated, with Set, who was initially a hero, absorbing all the aspects of the other evil gods, which he was doomed to do after having been chosen as the favored god of the Hyksos.
By the time the Greeks influenced Egypt, all that remained was the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, and their enemy, Set, as exemplified by the Legend of Osiris and Isis. The trinity had absorbed so many of the prior cults, that each had its own center of worship – Abydos for Osiris, Dendera for Isis, and Edfu for Horus.
Even at this stage, the amalgamation was continuing, with Osiris all but an aspect of Horus (and vice-versa), and heading rapidly towards monotheism. Nevertheless, monotheism had briefly existed before, as, in the 13th century, Akhenaten had attempted to introduce the monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun-disc itself, although it was ultimately rejected.
Egyptians practiced embalming and mummification in order to preserve the individual’s identity in the afterlife. Originally, the dead were interred in reed caskets in the searing hot sand, which caused the remains to dry quickly, preventing decomposition. and were then buried. Later, wooden tombs were constructed, and the extensive process of mummification and associated burial rituals and rules began.
Embalming was developed by the Egyptians around the 4th Dynasty. All soft tissues were removed, and the cavities washed and packed with natron, a white, crystalline mineral salt.Then the body outside was buried also in natron. Because it was a stoneable offence to harm the pharaoh ‘s body, even after death, the person who made the cut with a rock knife in the abdomen was chased away ceremonially and had rocks thrown at him.
After coming out of the natron, bodies were coated inside and out with resin to preserve them, then wrapped with linen bandages, embedded with religious amulets and talismans. Royalty was usually placed inside a series of nested coffins, the outermost of which was a stone sarcophagus. The intestines, lungs, liver, and stomach were separately preserved, and stored in canopic jars protected by Horus’ Four Sons. Other creatures were also mummified, usually the representations of the Gods. Ibis, crocodiles, cats, Nile perch and baboons can be found in perfect mummified forms.
The Book of the Dead was a series of almost two hundred texts, songs and pictures written on papyrus and individually customized, which was buried alongside the body, or painted on the tomb walls, in order to ease passage into the underworld. One of the best examples of the Book of the Dead is The Papyrus of Ani, created around 1240 BC, which also contains many pictures of Ani and his wife on their journey through the land of the dead, in addition to the texts themselves.
Later on the belief emerged that the heart of the deceased’s soul would be weighed against a feather, and if found wanting in morality, would be eaten by the demon Ammit.
The monotheistic period
During the reign of Akhenaten a brief period of monotheism (Atenism) existed, centered on the Egyptian sun god Aten. Akhenaten banned all other god’s worship, and founded a new capital (Amarna). The religious reform only lasted until Akhenaten ‘s son, Tutankhamun, died, and then soon returned. In addition, removals of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun from the Wall of Kings are likely to be linked to the drastic religious reform.
According to some Egyptologists, it is incorrect to regard this period as monotheistic. tThese researchers state that people did not worship the Aten but worshiped the royal family as a pantheon of gods who received their divine power from the Aten. It is critical to determine this time as monotheistic, according to other Egyptologists.. A recent alternative interpretation resulting from interpreting specific knowledge items relating to biblical and Egyptian history (by Ahmed Osman) suggests that Moses and Akhenaten were the same entity.
The original Egyptian pantheon survived more or less as the dominant faith after the fall of the Amarna dynasty, until the establishment of Coptic Christianity and later Islam, even though the Egyptians continued to have relations with other monotheistic cultures ( e.g. Hebrews). Egyptian mythology put up surprisingly little resistance to the spread of Christianity, sometimes claiming that Jesus was originally based primarily on Horus, with Isis representing Mary.
Many temples are still standing today. Some remain in ruins with wear and tear, while some are completely destroyed. Pharaoh Ramses II was a particularly prolific builder of temples.
Some known temples include:
* Abydos (Great Temple of Abydos) – Adoration of the early kings, whose cemetery, to which it forms a great funerary chapel, lies behind it.
* Karnak – Once part of the ancient capital of Egypt, Thebes.
Egyptian Mysticism is a complex set of rituals and behaviors which looks for strength and guidance from a variety of otherworldly beings. These “gods” are the representations of human characteristics and qualities, and provide the practitioner with a way of understanding and living within the world.
Ancient Egyptian Mysticism includes the “magic circle,” which is familiar to European Pagans, Hebraic Kabalists, Native Americans, and every other mystic. Participants stand in a circle to honor the four directions and the deities they worship, those of Egypt having been called, as a group, Neteru – to the East is Tuameteutev; to the South is Amset; to the West is Qeb Suv; and to the North is Hapi.
There are three cradle gods – Shai, Renenet, or Meskhenet – which can be invoked to assist with good fortune, luck, or new life.
Other rituals include efforts to integrate or resolve karmic issues brought from past lives or unconscious living. According to the Ancient Egyptians we live in nine dimensions, many so nebulous that we can only experience them during dreams. We can call forth an opportunity to learn and grow in this fashion.
There are rites for assisting others to find their paths as well as one’s own. Totems play a very important role in the Egyptian Mystical practices. Totems are “composite creatures,” or archetypes, containing living elements of Nature embedded within our Psyches or Souls. In the American Indian tradition, there are many totems, such as bear, raven, frog, and eagle.
The Egyptian list of totems is very extensive, and includes:
Heru, the Falcon of Spiritual Victory, is the totem for those who possess Christ-consciousness. Het-Heru, the Cow Goddess Of Spiritual Blessing, is for those who are deeply devoted to a life of blessing others.
Anpu, the Jackal of Soul-Guidance, looks over those who are natural-born counselors, therapists and Spiritual guides. Apis, the Bull of Fertility, is the symbol of security, wealth and fatherhood. Tehuti, the Ibis-headed Record-Keeper, is the one who keeps accurate records, who writes everything down. Amun, the Goat Of Everlasting Creativity, is profoundly connected to sexuality and creates solutions out of thin air. Nut, the Sky-Goddess, embodies everything revered about mothering and motherhood. Geb, the Earth-God, is the good and loyal husband.
Ptah, the Great Designer, organizes and envisions great designs and is the patron of freemasonry. Bastet, who personifies the Maternal Instincts of the Cat, is the patroness of childhood and nursing. Ksheper, the Scarab-Beetle of Immortality, is the patron of inventors and creative writers. Nephthys, at the Altar Of Mercy, lovingly supports nuns, ministers, monks, and those who take care of our spiritual needs. Ra, the Eagle Of The Sun, represents the victory of light over darkness.
There are certain gods of destruction – Set, Osiris, Isis, and many others- which should never be invoked, because they are associated with death and annihilation.
The Egyptian Pyramids are some of the largest man-made constructions ever built. They are one of the most impressive and abiding symbols of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Although in an Egyptian pyramidno ancient Egyptian rulers have been found buried, most archaeologists generally accept that they were constructed as burial monuments. The majority were completed during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. Egyptian homes were built on the east bank of the Nile River, the land where the Sun rises. The pyramids were built on the west bank of the river, where the sun sets, because the Egyptians believed it was the land of the dead.
Since antiquity, the pyramids at Giza are probably the world’s most popular tourist destination. They were popularized in Hellenistic times when the Great Pyramid was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today out of all, it is the only one of the ancient Wonders still in existence.
Giza, lies on the southern outskirts of Cairo and is the location of the three most famous pyramids. The Pyramid of Khufu is known as the “Great Pyramid,” or the “Pyramid of Cheops.” The Pyramid of Khafre is somewhat smaller, as is the modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure. This is also the location of a number of smaller “queens” pyramids, as well as the Great Sphinx.
Mysteries of the Pyramids
The pyramids of Egypt are considered to be the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world. No one can say for sure when they were built. At any given time many archaeologists are studying them to try and unlock their secrets.
There are some who study the effects of pyramids on animate and inanimate objects. They postulate that the center of a pyramid has energy that affects whatever is held there. Razors stay sharper, foods stay fresh longer, even injuries heal more quickly. People who meditate claim that sitting in a pyramid while doing so, brings many benefits, from more energy to greater feelings of peace and tranquility. You can easily find plans to build your own pyramid. If you do, you will have the opportunity to see for yourself if these assertions are true.
Since the late 1890s there have been people who believed that the Great Pyramid of Giza holds the secrets to understanding Biblical prophecy. John Taylor, Charles Piazzi Smyth, Martin Gardner, Robert Menzies, Madame Helena Blavatsky, Charles Taze Russell, Erik von Daniken, and Edgar Cayce, each had theories as to the purpose of the pyramids and how they were constructed.
Throughout history people have had special places to bury their dead. Caves and mounds were some of the earliest. Then in Egypt and elsewhere, larger structures appeared. We call them pyramids, and they take three distinctive shapes.
Mastabas and Step Pyramids:
The first large structures built in Egypt were called mastabas made of dried mud bricks that looked like raised flat beds. Most of them have crumbled. About 2650 B. C., Imhotep, an architect, physician, master sculpture, scribe, and astronomer, built the first known pyramid for King Zoser. It began as a simple mastaba, but was added to twice more to give it six layers. At a height of 200 feet, this step pyramid looked like a series of giant terraces. It took several design changes for it to take its final form. Today the Saqqara Pyramid still stands where the ancient city of Memphis was.
The second type of pyramid is called the Bent Pyramid. The builder of the Bent Pyramid is thought to have been the Pharaoh Snefru (2680-2565 BC), who was the first ruler of the 4th Dynasty.
The unique feature of the Bent Pyramid is the angle change. The base of the Bent Pyramid rises at an angle of 52˚, but the upper half is changed to 43.5˚. No one knows for sure why, but it may have been that the builders wanted to reduce the volume and get finished faster. Or perhaps they realized that it would not be a safe structure. It was abandoned after being worked on for twenty years. The Bent pyramid is located in southern Saqqara among the pyramids of Dahshur.
Smooth sided pyramids were built starting about 2600 B. C. The first, at Medum, began as a stepped pyramid. Later, the steps were filled in with loose rubble. Finally, the whole thing was encased in smooth limestone. This pyramid collapsed because the casing was not bonded strongly enough to the core. Medum lies approximately 40 miles south of Giza.
The most famous pyramids are those at Giza. They stand on the west bank of the Nile River outside Cairo. The ten pyramids at Giza include those of Kings Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
Khufu’s pyramid is called the Great Pyramid and a study of it shows how these gigantic structures were built. Since the ancient Egyptians had no machinery or iron tools, they used copper chisels and saws to cut huge limestone blocks. The limestone came from nearby, as well as from across the Nile River, and other distant quarries.
It took thousands of men to drag the blocks to the pyramid sites and begin the first layer. They built long ramps to drag the stones up to the next layer, until they reached the top. The whole thing was then covered with white casing stones laid so closely that the remarkable result was the look of a single white stone. Most of the coverings are gone now, but some remain at the bottom of the Great Pyramid.