The pyramids of Egypt are some of the most iconic monuments in the entire world, but they're not all the same shape, as construction changed with time as the ancient Egyptians got more experience building them.
We've outlined a few of the most important features of the architecture of the pyramids, including lots of things you'll be able to notice when you visit the pyramids in Egypt yourself.
- 1. The Structure of Egypt's Pyramids
- 2. Where Did the Materials Come From?
- 3. The Angle of the Slopes of the Pyramids
The Structure of Egypt's Pyramids
Most pyramids have a rectangular base as well as four sloping triangular (or trapezoidal) sides that meet at an apex at the top of the pyramid. The oldest pyramid in which this is visible was the Step Pyramid of Djoser, found at Saqqara, which was built around 2630 BC. Through the excavation and research conducted at the Step Pyramid it has become obvious that the pyramid itself went through several revisions and redevelopments when compared to the original plan. It is also unique in that its outside isn't smooth, but as obvious from the name, it has steps going up to the top (6 tiers in total). This is really interesting to see when you visit Egypt, and we recommend stopping by the Step Pyramid.
Since the building of Djoser's pyramid, ancient Egyptians built more pyramids until approximately 1550 BC, when King Ahmose I built the last pyramid in Egypt at Abydos. Of this construction, unfortunately only rubble remains as this pyramid was built from sand and rubble. Limestone casing, which you'll read a bit more about further down, was the only thing keeping its shape.
Suggested reading: Which is the Oldest Pyramid in Egypt? - Step Pyramid of Djoser
Where Did the Materials Come From?
A wide range of materials were used to build the pyramids, including limestone, sandstone, syenite, and granite. Most of the materials were found on site (for example at Giza's quarries to build the Pyramids of Giza), but the granite was sourced from Aswan and brought downriver for the building of the pyramids. You'll be able to see the granite if you choose to enter any of the pyramids when you visit them (additional tickets are usually needed), as granite was frequently used to construct the passages or the king's and queen's chambers. The granite sarcophagus in the Great Pyramid is a wonderful example of how granite was used (the sarcophagus is made of one piece of granite!).
The limestone used for the outer casing was extracted from an underground quarry found at Tourah, close to Cairo. Scholars estimate that for the Great Pyramid of Giza alone, 67,390 cubic meters of Tourah limestone was quarried. Syenite, similar to granite, was also sourced from Aswan, while sandstone came from Saqqara.
Materials were believed to have been shipped on the Nile River in boats, which would've been a huge project at the time considering the individual pieces were extremely heavy. On top of this, a special kind of mortar was needed to fill the gaps between the stones, as most of them were roughly cut. Wood was used as a material in this mortar, which allegedly required Egypt to cut down all forests it had back in the day.
Suggested reading: Top 10 Must-See Attractions In Egypt.
The Angle of the Slopes of the Pyramids
The slopes of the pyramids were also very important to the construction. The Great Pyramid, for example, slopes at 51.5 degrees to the top, while the Pyramid of Khafre slopes at 53.1 degrees. This is a little steeper than the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which rises at an angle of about 49 degrees.
The Bent Pyramid, another pyramid found at Saqqara, has different angles when you compare the top and the bottom of the pyramid. The lower portion makes an angle of 54 degrees while the upper portion makes 43 degrees. This specific pyramid is interesting because there are rumors that another nearby pyramid was too steep and had collapsed, and that that was why those in charge of construction of the Bent Pyramid changed the angle part-way through their construction of the pyramid. You will see the difference in the slopes when you visit the Bent Pyramid.
The Material Outside of the Pyramids
The outsides of the pyramids were covered in a limestone casing, and the surfaces had to be perfectly smooth, which would've made the pyramids look incredibly shiny and perfectly built at the time. This material has eroded off since, but traces of the materials can still be found. A good example of this is also the Khafre Pyramid, the second largest pyramid in Egypt and in Giza, which still has some of its original cladding preserved on the top. This gives a little insight into what the pyramids would've looked like at the time.
The Passages Inside of the Pyramids
Because the pyramids essentially acted as tombs, you'd expect to find a mummy inside each of them. However, as a result of years of grave robbing and neglect, most pyramids were unfortunately found empty. One that wasn't found empty was the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which not only uncovered Djoser's remains but also 40,000 stone urns with inscriptions of historical names and events that are still a mystery to archaeologists today.
Even though most pyramids are empty, however, you can still visit and go inside, as this gives an interesting insight into what the inside of the pyramids looks like, and the web of passageways and chambers that was created inside each of them which made up an important part of their architecture. Many pyramids also had false doors and traps built inside of them, to try and protect the treasures and mummies that were buried within.
To find out more specifically about what was found inside of the Pyramids of Giza, head on over to this article about the insides of the pyramids on the Giza necropolis.
Suggested reading: 18 Ultimate Thing to do in Egypt.
Visiting Information: How to Visit the Pyramids
The pyramids are an absolute must-see during your time in Egypt, during which you'll be able to see more of the architecture of these pyramids through visiting them from the outside or entering them. We recommend seeing both the pyramids at Giza and the pyramids at Saqqara if time permits on your trip.
Suggested reading: Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Egypt
For a trip to the Saqqara Step Pyramid, tickets cost 60 EGP or 3 USD.
- To visit the Pyramids at Giza, these are the ticket prices:
- The Pyramids of Giza: 200 EGP or 10.2 USD
- Sphinx of Giza: 80 EGP or 5 USD
- Entry to the Great Pyramid: 400 EGP or 20.4 USD
- Entry to the 2nd or the 3rd pyramid: 100 EGP or 5.1 USD
During your visit, we recommend bringing enough water, sunscreen and a hat, and wearing suitable footwear as you'll be walking much of the time. To help you plan your trip and make the most out of your time, we have written about the top tips to keep in mind for your trip to Giza. Most of this information will also apply to visits to other pyramids in Egypt.
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