The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt

The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt

There are in fact over a hundred pyramids in Egypt, which span a period of a thousand years, and many of these are relatively unknown to most people. All but a very few are grouped around and near Cairo, just south of the Nile Delta. Only one royal Egyptian pyramid is known further south, built by Ahmose, founder of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom, at Abydos. However, more than 180 other pyramids were built in Nubia over the course of another millennium.

Old Kingdom Pyramid Complexes

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara - 3rd Dynasty
The first pyramid funerary complex designed and built by Imnhotep. Developed initially from the earlier rectangular mastaba tombs, the step pyramid is gradually extended and elaborated until it became a superstructure. Made of six giant steps, it contains many chambers, including a heb-set court.

The Lost pyramid of Skehemkhet at Saqqara - 3rd Dynasty
This unfinished pyramid complex is the largest of a series of “lost” pyramids. Discovered in 1952, the underground portions of this pyramid complex have yet to be fully cleared. More than 700 vessels have been found, together with a 3rd Dynasty treasure cache that included 21 gold bracelets. The complex bears a close resemblance to that of Djoser’s Step Pyramid, both in layout and design.

The Pyramid of Medium - Late 3rd 4th Dynasty
Originally thought to be built by Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty, but is now considered to be the work of his son-in-law Snefru. Intended to be geometrically exact, loose stones were added to the steps before the pyramid was encased in limestone. The steps eventually collapsed, revealing the original stepped core of the superstructure.

The Pyramids of Snefru - 4th Dynasty, the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur
The Bent Pyramid is probably the first pyramid to be conceived as a true pyramid from the onset. This pyramid owes its characteristic bend due to the marked change of the angle part way up the profile, from 54◦ 27’ in the lower part, to 43◦ 22’ in the upper part. The explanation for the shape of this pyramid has been provided much debate.

The Red Pyramid of Dahshur
The first successful pyramid of Snefru was constructed with a constant angle of 43◦ 22’ throughout. The Red Pyramid, or the northern pyramid, was known as "Snefru appears in glory." It was probably in this northern pyramid that Snefru was buried. With many resources available to him, Snefru was able to leave a strong inheritance to his son Khufu.

The Mastabe El-Faraun, Saqqara - 4th Dynasty
The Mastaba is situated in the south of Saqqara in an isolated area. It is the tomb of Shepseskaf, who was the last Pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty and the son of Menkaur. Unlike his immediate predecessors and his successors, Shepseskaf chose the form of a mastaba rather than a pyramid for his tomb. It is quite possible he was responsible for the completion of his father’s pyramid at Giza. Shepsekaf ruled only a very short time, maybe as little as four years.

Pyramid of Userkaf, Saqqara - 5th Dynasty
Userkaf was considered to be the founder of the 5th Dynasty. His pyramid was called “Pure are the places of Userkaf”, but today it is little more than ruined heap of rubble. Possibly for political reasons as well as religious ones, he sited his pyramid in the shadows of Djoser’s Step Pyramid. Userkaf’s pyramid was most likely built in horizontal layers, and rough local limestone was used in the pyramid’s core, with a fine, white limestone casing.

The Pyramids of Abusir - 5th Dynasty
Abusir, a short distance north from Saqqara, is a necropolis consisting of several 5th Dynasty pyramids as well as a sun temple and a number of mastaba tombs. Userkaf, founder of the 5th Dynasty and at least four of his successors built monuments here. Originally fourteen pyramids on the site, now only four remain standing.

The Pyramid of Sahure at Abusir - the 5th Dynasty
Sahure was the second pharaoh of the 5th dynasty. His pyramid complex was first built at the new royal burial ground at Abusir. This pyramid marks the decline of pyramid building, both in the size and quality through many of the reliefs are very well done. It was excavated in the early 1900s, and a great amount of fine relief’s was found to extent the quality superior to those from the dynasty before.

The Pyramid of Neferirkar at Abusir - 5th Dynasty
Neferirkar was the brother of Sahure and much of his complex was later incorporated into that of Nyuserre. Unfinished and in poor condition, this pyramid complex is best known for the large amount of papyri found in the mortuary temple, which provided valuable evidence regarding the organization of royal funerary cults in the old kingdom. Legend is that he built a sun temple, but no trace of this has yet been discovered.

The Pyramid of Nyuserre at Abusir - 5th Dynasty
Probably the last pyramid to be built at Abusir, Nyuserres’s burial place is located between the pyramids of Sahure and Neferirkar, built against the north wall of Neferirkar’s mortuary temple known as “the places of Nyuserre are enduring”, some experts believe that Nyuserre may have also usurped Neferirkar’s valley temple, as it is built on the foundations of Neferirkar’s temple.

The unfinished pyramid of Raneferef at Abusir - 5th Dynasty
The first examination of the unfinished pyramid was made by Ludwig Borchardt in the early 1900’s. Probably because Raneferer died young, his pyramid had not progressed beyond the lower levels. The pyramid rises only four meters and was converted into a mastaba-type tomb. Recent excavations have unearthed interesting finds and a hoard of papyri which are still being studied.

The Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara - Late 5th Dynasty
The last ruler of the 5th Dynasty, Unas, seems to have been the first to inscribe the pyramid texts on the internal walls of his pyramid. The standard of workmanship in pyramid building declined along with the political and economic structure of the old kingdom.

Pyramid of Teti I at Saqqara - 6th Dynasty
Teti was the founder of the 6th Dynasty. His pyramid was discovered in 1853 by Mariette, but it is mostly a pile of rubble in constant danger of being covered by the sand. Ironically, it is called “Teti’s (Cult) places are enduring.” The valley temple of Teti’s pyramid and the 300-meter long causeway leading to the mortuary temple have yet to be archaeologically investigated.

Pyramid of Pepi II at Saqqara - 6th Dynasty
Pepi II’s pyramid in South Saqqara was the last to be built in the best traditions of the Old Kingdom. It was named “Pepi’s life is enduring”, which indeed it was, for he reigned for many years. Pepi II was the last ruler of Egypt’s 6th Dynasty and the last significant ruler of the Old Kingdom prior to the onset of the first intermediate period. His mortuary complex was built and decorated in what is considered a much poorer manner than those of his predecessors.