The Egyptian pyramids are some of the most incredible man-made structures in history. More than 4,000 years after their construction, the pyramids still stand as some of the most important and mysterious tombs in the world. Their design remains a true testament to the wealth and power of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Pharaohs of ancient Egypt held immense power and were perceived to have been chosen by the gods. They were held in high regard even after death because it was believed that part of their spirit would remain with their bodies in the physical world. Through the process of mummification, a pharaoh would be prepared for the afterlife and buried in tombs alongside his most valuable possessions, including art, furniture, gold, food and other offerings.
The earliest forms of the pyramids, called "mastabas," were royal tombs carved into rock and were very different from Egypt's iconic pyramids. These tombs were rectangular and flat-roofed. By the start of the third dynasty, tombs in Egypt developed into more complex structures. Around 2630 B.C. an early pyramid built for King Djoser, called the Step Pyramid, stood 204 feet tall and was the highest structure of its time.
It would not be until the fourth dynasty that ancient Egyptians started building the first smooth-sided pyramids. The Red Pyramid, named for the reddish hue of its red limestone stones, was the first of its kind, built for the burial of the first king of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.).
Possibly the best-known pyramids are the Great Pyramids of Giza. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, is the only surviving structure among the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built for Khufu (2609-2584 B.C.), Sneferu’s successor. An estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone (averaging about 2.5 tons each) were cut, transported and assembled to build Khufu’s Great Pyramid. This group of pyramids also includes another Egyptian icon: The Great Sphinx.
These grand tombs were built to last, and still draw millions of visitors each year. Although they are stripped of their white limestone coverings and vandals new and old have robbed their treasures, the Egyptian pyramids continue to evoke wonder and awe.