The pyramids of Egypt are one of the travel highlights of the world. For thousands of years, the greatest architectural wonders on the globe have been on the Giza Plateau in Cairo Egypt, and millions of people go to see them annually.
However, most people do not know that there are other well-preserved pyramids that are almost the same size and age in Egypt, and people have discovered about 46 other groups of pyramids with a total of about 130 other ancient pyramids in Egypt, although most are in ruins.
The oldest pyramids are the greatest ancient architectural wonders in Egypt that display the engineering skill and wealth of the ancient pharaohs who lived about 4,500 years ago. Near them or under them, as part of their mausoleum and temple areas, there are other incredible wonders too.
Interesting Facts about the Pyramids of Egypt?
- The Great Pyramid is the tallest building that was constructed before Christ, and it was only surpassed by a steepled cathedral in Britain in 1300. Today, the height of the pyramid is about 138.8 meters (455 ft).
- Almost all the pyramids of Egypt are on the west bank of the Nile. This is because Egyptian civilizations believe that the west was associated with death because that is where the sun sets.
- The Great Pyramid on the Giza plateau is the only one of the 7 Wonders of the World that survives. It was already about 2,300 years old when the first Greek writer listed the 7 Wonders. The other 6 of the 7 Wonders were all built within about 375 years of the time of his writing.
- The Three Great Pyramids of Giza were all built by the clan of Khufu during the Third Dynasty era of Egypt (2686 to 2610 BC).
- The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is considered the first pyramid though it does not have a pyramid shape. It is a tower built in 6 layers.
- The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid are both at Dahshur. They are respectively the third and fourth tallest and largest pyramids in Egypt, and they are thought to be older than the Great Pyramid.
- The Red Pyramid is thought to be the first pyramid-shaped pyramid in Egypt.
- Under the Saqqara Pyramid is a pit about 10 stories deep, and there is a tunnel system that measures at least 3.5 miles (5.5 kilometers) long!
- So far, 6 rooms have been discovered inside the Great Pyramid. By far the biggest room (or a set of rooms) was only discovered in 2017.
- From about 2630 to 1500 BC, rulers of several dynasties built pyramids. They generally became smaller and more shoddily made as time went on. By the end, some were made of mud brick.
Egyptian Pyramid History
The pyramid building era lasted about 1,120 years from 2620 BC to 1500 BC. Before this, the rulers were buried in caves and tunnels or under mastabas. Mastabas usually had a shape something like a trapezium prism. This means that there was a flat rectangular roof, a larger base, and sides of the mastaba sloped downwards to the ground. These structures were built over the tombs that were cut into the rock beneath or pits in the ground.
|Pyramid Building Time||King of Egypt||Pyramid Name|
|2030 BC||Djoser||Step Pyramid of Djoser:The oldest pyramid|
|2613 to 2589 BC||Sneferu: the founder of the Fourth Dynasty||Pyramid of Meidum, Red Pyramid, and Bent Pyramid|
|2589 BC||Khufu: the son of Sneferu||Khufu Pyramid: one of the Giza Pyramid Complex|
|2558–2532 BC||Khafre: the son of Khufu||Khafre Pyramid: one of the Giza Pyramid Complex|
|2532–2503 BC||Menkaure: the some of Khafre||Menkaure Pyramid: one of the Giza Pyramid Complex|
|2360 BC||Unas:the ninth and final king of the Fifth Dynasty||Pyramid of Unas: the first one known to have writings inside|
|1500 BC||Ahmose||Pyramid of Ahmose: the last pyramid|
1) Earliest History: 2620 BC and Before
Egyptologists generally think that the first pyramid in Egypt was built about 2030 BC by Djoser in Saqqara. Saqqara is about 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of Cairo. They think that it was originally designed to be a huge mastaba, but then the builders decided to add 5 other layers on top of the already large mastaba to make a huge structure with six layers or steps. Now it is 58 meters tall, and its base is 123 meters by 107 meters. When it was first built, it is believed to have been about 62.5 meters (205 feet). It must have astounded the ancient world because it was far taller than any other building that had been built. It is known as the Step Pyramid of Djoser.
What is the most interesting about the pyramid is not what is inside the structure itself but what is underneath it. Under the pyramid, the builders made a horizontal corridor that leads to a deep pit about 10 floors deep with square sides and a huge cavernous ceiling like a dome. At the very bottom, there are large stones laid out in a box shape with tunnels that branch out. Researchers determine that the tunnels beneath the pyramid form a labyrinth at least 3.5 miles (5.5 kilometers) long, but perhaps other tunnels remain unknown. People speculate about whether the tunnels were built before the pyramid was built on top of it.
2) Dahshur and Giza Pyramids Era 2613 BC to 2503 BC
Over this hundred-year period, the Fourth Dynasty rulers seemed to want to keep outdoing the Stepped Pyramid and the pyramids of their parents and grandparents.
In 2613, Sneferu founded the Fourth Dynasty. During his reign from 2613 to 2589 BC, he is thought to have built three large pyramids. Most historians think that he built the Pyramid of Meidum that is about 100 kilometers south of Cairo. It is a stepped pyramid that is almost as tall as the Pyramid of Menkaure in Giza.
Sneferu also built two large pyramids in Dahshur that is about 40 kilometers southwest of Cairo. They are so well built that they are still largely intact and people can enter them. The Red Pyramid is the third tallest and largest Egyptian pyramid. Its neighbor is the Bent Pyramid. It about 6 inches shorter and is the fourth tallest and largest pyramid in Egypt. The oldest pyramids that are dated about 4,600 years old were also among the best that were ever built in Egypt.
The size of these must have astounded the people. The Bent Pyramid is 189 meters (620 feet) square at its base. It is 104.71 m (344 feet) tall with a total volume of 1,237,040 cubic meters (43,685,655 cubic feet).
Sneferu's Red Pyramid is believed to be the first non-stepped pyramid. It has a total height of 105 meters and a total volume of 1,694,000 cubic meters (59,823,045 cu ft). Its contents are similar to the pyramids in Giza — just a few passageways and chambers. There are no inscriptions and few artifacts to see. The amazing preservation, engineering, and acoustics are the highlights.
- Top sights: The Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid
- Recommended visiting duration: 1 day
In 2589 BC, Khufu (Cheops, in Greek) built the biggest pyramid ever built on the west bank of the Nile. It is 40 floors tall. He was the son of Sneferu and reigned 2589–2566 BC. It is amazing engineering and still hides big secrets, as the discovery of the Big Void in 2017 shows. The Big Void has not been entered, but advanced technology equipment has been able to ascertain its position near the middle of the pyramid and that it is 100 feet long and 10 feet high. People are still making discoveries about its construction, and they are speculating about its purposes. It is actually 8 sided, and this is something people started to realize in the 1700s.
So far, six rooms have been found in the Great Pyramid:
- The Big Void — This is a large potato-shaped tank-like room. It has a roof that is a little higher than the King's Chamber and a floor that is a little lower than the floor of the chamber. It was discovered in 2017. Its purpose is still unknown.
- King's Chamber
- The Grand Gallery
- Queen's Chamber
- Small Void
- Lower chamber – a subterranean chamber.
To construct the King's Chamber, they somehow raised and put in huge blocks of granite weighing up to 70 tons.
The son of Khufu named Khafre reigned 2558–2532 BC. He built the second pyramid at Giza during his reign. His wives are thought to be buried in three small pyramids built next to his pyramid. He built his pyramid on a leveled rock hillock, so his pyramid looks taller. It is less regularly built than the Great Pyramid because of this raised platform and also because it is composed of two layers. In the bottom layer, some huge blocks of granite weighing 100 tons were used. On top of it, smaller blocks of limestone about 1 to 2 tons each were laid.
It is the middle of the three large pyramids of Giza, and it looks like the biggest because of the platform. It is now136.4 meters (448 feet) tall, but it is thought that originally it was 144 meters (472 feet) tall.
Then Khafre's son Menkaure reigned 2532–2503 BC. During his reign, the Fourth Dynasty came to an end. Perhaps because of this, or due to war or lack of resources, his pyramid is quite small in comparison. Now it measures 61 meters tall, but when it was built it was probably 65.5 meters (215 feet) tall. His subjects built three small pyramids next to his.
In total, over three generations, they built three large pyramids and 11 small pyramids on the Giza plateau.
3) The Final Thousand Years of Pyramid Construction 2465 BC to 1500 BC
After the fourth dynasty that included Sneferu and Khufu, pyramids continued to be built throughout the fifth and sixth dynasties, but the size and quality of construction declined over this period. During this 1,000-year period, bricks became commonly used. This is why most of the pyramids of this time are in ruins.
Another notable change of pyramid construction for historians is that builders started to inscribe historical and religious texts inside the pyramids. This became a standard practice. This has helped historians to understand the history of Egypt better.
The Pyramid of Unas is the first one known to have writings inside. It was shoddily constructed about the year 2360 BC. Historians say these pyramid texts are the oldest religious writings known.
In 1500 BC, the last king of the 18th Dynasty named Ahmose I built the last pyramid. After this, rulers started to build caves and tunnels for burial.
Inside the Egyptian Pyramids
Over the centuries, whatever artifacts or treasures that might have originally been inside all the pyramids have been taken. The Great Pyramid of Giza for example, has only a few empty rooms, corridors and air shafts. There is an empty sarcophagus. The most interesting things remaining in the pyramids are the rooms, corridors, and amazing architecture, and whatever inscriptions and decorations are inside.
Generally, if tourists are allowed inside a pyramid, the walkways have been fitted with lights, handholds and footholds or stairs.
What is interesting about the Pyramid of Menkaure in Giza is that its chambers are more complex. One chamber that is decorated with beautifully crafted stone panels. It is said that in 1838, a big basalt sarcophagus that was found inside was lost at sea as it was being transported.
The small pyramids around the big three pyramids in Giza generally have large passageways containing a burial room and a tomb.
Of all the pyramids, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara might have the most interesting interior. Though it is 58 meters tall, tourists can enter. There is an entryway outside the pyramid that leads down steps to a well-lit horizontal corridor that leads to a deep pit and huge cavernous room about 10 stories deep.
In various rooms and corridors under the pyramid, there is artwork, tiled decorations, and inscriptions. In the burial chamber, there is a massive granite sarcophagus. There are chambers decorated in blue tiles and carved reliefs of the pharaoh.
Other notable pyramids in Egypt that tourists like to enter include the Meidum Pyramid, the Pyramid of Unas, and the Pyramid of Lahun.
Where Are the Egyptian Pyramids?
Most of the pyramids tourists want to go to are at Saqqara, Giza, Dahshur, and Meidum. These are all within about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Cairo. Giza is on the western edge of Cairo, and it is the northernmost pyramid highlight area. Meidum is about 75 km (47 miles) south. Most people prefer to travel in this region south of Cairo by private vehicle or taxi.
- Going to the Pyramids of Giza when you are in Cairo is easy by taxi or private vehicle. From the Martyrs Station for example, it is about a 16-minute drive to Giza. From Cairo Airport, the Giza pyramids are about 33 minutes away by vehicle.
- Dahshur is about 40 km (25 mi) south of Cairo. The quickest and easiest way to travel there is by taxi or private vehicle. You can get from Cairo Airport to Dahshur in an hour or less.
- Saqqara is closer than Dahshur. From the Pyramids of Giza, it would take about 30 minutes by vehicle, and from the airport, the drive is about 50 minutes.
- Meidum is about 1 hour 40 minutes from Cairo's airport by vehicle.
Touring Egypt with Global Highlights
For anyone who wants to explore more of the Egyptian pyramids, going inside them is no doubt an essential experience. With a tailor-made trip, you can go to the pyramids and sites you enjoy and journey at your own pace as everything is well taken care of when you travel with us.
Why Travel with Global Highlights During the Pandemic
- Tailor-made experience: All of your ideas/needs will be carefully considered to create your ideal trip.
- Worry-free planning: Your 1:1 travel consultant in Asia will take all the uncertainty out of your planning, helping you navigate any travel restrictions.
- No-risk booking: 100% refund policy! (prior to 3 weeks before departure, more details)