History of the Egyptian Pyramids
Compiled by Janet Wood



  • 1. Mastabas were early, single tier burial tombs, with sloping walls, so the flat roof area was smaller than that of the base.
  • 2. Mastaba comes from the arabic word. 'mastabah', and means 'stone bench'.
  • 3. A mastaba basically consisted of two parts. A deep underground burial area, and a chapel area within the structure itself where offerings could be made to the deceased.
  • 4. The earliest were made of unfired mud bricks. (Most commonly used construction material in ancient Egypt)
  • 5. The very large mastabas have stone walls around them, which often took the form of a palace-facade.
  • 6. Later mastabas became more complex with numerous chambers.
  • 7. In the mastaba of Mereruka, at Saqqara, there are 32 chambers.
  • 8. The interiors also became more ornate, with coloured bas-reliefs.
  • 9. Decorative scenes would include; feasting, hunting, dancing, music, agriculture, fishing, boats etc.
  • 10. The scenes ensured that the deceased would want for nothing in the afterlife.
  • 11. The mastabas would also have false doors, known as Stelae, through which the deceased could magically leave his tomb to make use of the offerings left to him by his relations and friends.
  • 12. Royal mastabas were rectangle with the longest sides being between 40-60 metres. The smaller were approximately 20 metres.
  • 13. The serdab, was a sealed room within the mastaba in which a statue of the deceased was placed.
  • 14. The serdab has a small opening, through which the deceased could magically communicate with the living world.
  • 15. When Pharaoh turned to the Pyramid as his favoured burial place, mastabas continued to be used by the elite.
  • 16. Many mastabas are found around the royal pyramids.
  • 17. There are hundreds to the east and west of the Great Pyramid at Giza, arranged in precise parallel rows.


  • 1. The first pyramid to be built was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, near Memphis.
  • 2. The pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Djoser. (2667-2648BC Third Dynasty)
  • 3. It was built by the architect, Imhotep.
  • 4. Imhotep was regarded by later Egyptians as; 'The Father of Architecture, Sculpture and Medicine'
  • 5. The Step pyramid has six tiers.
  • 6. It towered some 60 metres. Its length is 173m (east/west) 107m (north/south)
  • 7. Djoser was buried beneath the pyramid in a burial chamber, at the bottom of a 28m shaft.
  • 8. There is a network of narrow passages beneath the pyramid.
  • 9. The step pyramid evolved from the older mastaba, single tier tomb.



  • 1. The Great Pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Khufu (2589-2566BC - 4th Dynasty)
  • 2. Khufu was the son of Sneferu.
  • 3. The pyramid is situated at Giza, near Cairo.
  • 4. It is regarded as a 'true pyramid' with smooth sides, the steps having been covered with a limestone casing.
  • 5. It has an angle just short of 52 degrees.
  • 6. It is the most popular attraction in Egypt.
  • 7. It is built mostly of limestone.
  • 8. Its original height was 146.6m. Its present height is 138.75m.
  • 9. Its base is 230 metres square.
  • 10. Estimated volume = 2,521,000 cu m.
  • 11. The pyramid contains a staggering 2.3 million blocks of stone.
  • 12. Its estimated weight is 6.5 million tonnes.
  • 13. The average weight of each stone was 2.5 tonnes.
  • 14. But some weigh as much as 50 tonnes!
  • 15. The stones were pulled on wooden sledges.
  • 16. It's thought that over 4000 skilled stone masons worked on the pyramid.
  • 17. And possibly 100,000 farmers joined them during the inundation period. (Annual flooding) As reported by the Greek historian, Herodotus.
  • 18. However, the Egyptologist, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie thought a more realistic number would have been between five and six thousand. (Who knows?)
  • 19. The inundation period lasted for three months
  • 20. Living quarters and workshops had to be specially built for the men and women.
  • 21. The workers were paid with food and drink rations.
  • 22. Approximately 100,000 bundles of onions and 200,000 loaves of bread were supplied daily to feed the workers three times a day.
  • 23. The workers received one day off in ten.
  • 24. Finest limestone, brought from the quarries at Tura, was used for the outer casing that filled in the steps of the pyramid.
  • 25. This limestone was ferried across the Nile from the East Bank.
  • 26. The fine limestone was stolen from the pyramid and used to build parts of Cairo.
  • 27. The burial chamber and inner passages are made of granite.
  • 28. The burial chamber ceiling consists of nine slabs of granite with a combined weight of approximately 400 tonnes.
  • 29. This granite was shipped from quarries at Aswan, some 800 kilometers away. (500 miles)
  • 30. The pyramid took over 20 years to complete (As reported by Herodotus)
  • 31. Herodotus also tells us that prior to this, it took ten years to prepare the ground, waterways, underground chambers, ramps etc.
  • 32. The Great Pyramid is arguably the most accomplished engineering feat of the Ancient World.
  • 33. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie conducted an extensive survey of the pyramid site in 1881
  • 34. The Greeks called Khufu; 'Cheops'
  • 35. The Great Pyramid is named, 'Khufu belongs to the Horizon'


  • 1. Built at Giza, for Pharaoh Khafra (2558-2532 BC), son of Khufu.
  • 2. The pyramid is named, 'Khafra is Great'.
  • 3. It is the only pyramid at Giza that has any of its limestone casing left. (Right at the top)
  • 4. Original height was 143.5 m. Present height is 136.4m.
  • 5. It has an angle just over 50 degrees.
  • 6. Its estimated volume is 1,659,200 cu m.
  • 7. The Greeks called Khafra; 'Chephren'
  • 8. Although slightly smaller than his father's pyramid, it is built on a slightly more elevated position and therefore gives the false impression of being bigger.
  • 9. It was opened in 1818 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
  • 10. There is a large red granite sarcophagus in the burial chamber.
  • 11. The Valley Temple, part of Khafra's funerary monuments, is the best preserved temple of its kind
  • 12. The Sphinx stands in front of Khafra's pyramid.
  • (See our SPHINX facts and figures)


  • 1. Situated at Giza and built for Pharaoh Menkaure (2532-2503 BC), son of Khafra.
  • 2. Menkaure was the grandson of Khufu.
  • 3. The pyramid is named, 'Menkaura is Divine'.
  • 4. The entrance to the pyramid was found in 1837 by Vyse and Perring.
  • 5. It is the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza.
  • 6. The Greeks called Menkaure; 'Mycerinus'
  • 7. Its original height is thought to have been 66m. Its present height is 65.5m
  • 8. Its angle is just over 51 degrees.
  • 9. Menkaura was the last pharaoh to be buried at the Giza Necropolis.
  • 10. There was a sarcophagus inside the tomb but it was lost at sea during transport.
  • 11. The internal structure of the pyramid is quite complex and it saw several changes in design during construction.


  • 1. The Pyramids at Giza are the only 7th Wonder of the Ancient World still remaining.
  • 2. During the reigns of; Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Ramses the Great, Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, the pyramids were already ancient and mysterious monuments.
  • 3. The pyramids would have been visited by these pharaohs and looked upon with the same disbelief and wonderment, as we do today.
  • 4. The pyramids were known as; 'The Houses of Eternity'.
  • 5. Every pyramid has been plundered.
  • 6. The pyramid was the vessel by which Pharaoh ascended to the Heavens and the Afterlife.
  • 7. The word pyramid is derived from the Greek word, 'pyramis'
  • 8. The Ancient Egyptian word for a pyramid was 'mer'
  • 9. Magical pyramid text promised death and disaster to anyone who tried to plunder them.
  • 10. Architects and surveyors used a standard unit of measure called a 'Royal Cubit', about 52.3 centimetres.
  • 11. The true pyramid evolved from the step pyramid and the step pyramid from the mastaba.
  • 12.Pharaoh was buried under a Step Pyramid, rather than inside, as in the true pyramids.
  • 13. Pyramids were 'Royal Funerary Monuments'.
  • 14. These monuments included not only the pyramid but other structures such as, several temples, courtyards, processional ramps, secondary pyramid, enclosure walls and waterways connected to the River Nile.
  • 15. Pharaohs sarcophagus was placed inside the burial chamber facing West.
  • 16. The east-west celestial and solar axis of the pyramids relate to the concept of resurrection. The east being the land of the living, the west, the land of the dead.
  • 17. Pyramids were only built for Pharaohs, unlike mastabas, which were also built for dignitaries, such as other members of the royal family and court.
  • 18. It was a great honour to be buried near a king, as you could share in his immortality.
  • 19. The pyramids at Giza are built on a limestone plateau, so they were higher than the Nile flood plain. This meant that when the river flooded, the river would come very close to the base of the pyramids, but never quite reach them.
  • 20. There was a system of waterways, connected to the Nile, which enabled boats to moor up near the funerary temples and also allowed stone to be transported close to the construction areas.
  • 21. As of yet, there is no documentation showing precisely how pyramids were built. Egyptologist can only theorise on the subject, mainly using data from later periods of Egyptian history.
  • 22. The ancient Egyptians obviously had advanced knowledge of mathematics and geometry, as pyramid construction clearly shows.
  • 23. The position of a pyramid was determined by many factors including the position of the stars, (in particular the constellations of Orion, Plough and Ursa Major) alignment with other pyramids, the position of the River Nile (north and south axis), the land of the living and dead (east and west axis).
  • 24. A granite or basalt monolith was placed on top of the pyramid. The Egyptians called the top; a benbenet, whilst the Greeks refer to it as; a pyramidion. It is thought that Khufu's weighed about 7 tonnes.
  • 25.Khufu’s father, Sneferu, built the first true pyramid at Dahshur. (Early 4th Dynasty) He appears to be the first pharaoh to start assigning names to pyramids.
  • 26. Pyramid building was abandoned due to the tremendous costs involved and the inability to stop tomb robbers.
  • 27. The new, seemingly better-protected graves were situated in the Valley of the Kings, near Thebes.
  • 28. It's thought that the pyramids were built using basic tools and equipment such as; ropes and sledges to move the blocks of stone, ramps to haul the stones up the pyramids, chisels, saws, drills to cut and 'dress' the stone blocks, winches and A-frames to lift and place stone into particular positions, and scaffolding for men to work from etc.

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