The Pyramids

Topics in this section: old kingdom pyramids | middle kingdom pyramids | nubian and late pyramids
The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt
The primal archetype of the Egyptian obelisk and pyramid was the sacred Ben-Ben stone in the temple of Heliopolis, the oldest centre of the sun cult. The original stone at Heliopolis, symbolising the primeval mound, was believed to have been the point at which the rays of the rising sun first fell. The gilded capstone of the pyramid, which would sit at the apex, or the tip of an obelisk was known as a ben-benet.
Whilst most people tend to relate pyramids with the great Old Kingdom complexes of Giza and Saqqara, 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 over 180 further pyramids were also built in Nubia over the course of another millennium.
Old Kingdom Pyramid complexes

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara - 3rd Dynasty
The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara - 3rd Dynasty. The first pyramid funerary complex designed and built by Imhotep. Developed initially from the earlier rectangular mastaba tombs, the step pyramid was gradually extended and elaborated until it became a superstructure. Made of 6 giant steps, it contains many chambers, including a heb-sed court.
The Lost Pyramid of Sekhemkhet at Saqqara - 3rd Dynasty
The Lost Pyramid of Sekhemkhet 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. Over 700 stone 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 Meidum - (late 3rd) 4th Dynasty
The Pyramid of Meidum - (late 3rd) 4th Dynasty. Originally thought to be built by Huni, the last king of the 3rd Dynasty, but now considered to be the work of his son-in-law Snefru. Intended to be geometrically true - loose stones were added to the steps before the pyramid was encased in limestone which eventually collapsed, revealing the original stepped core of the superstructure. 
The Bent Pyramid of Dahshur
The Pyramids of Snefru - 4th Dynasty. [1] The Bent Pyramid of Dahshur. 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 angle part way up the profile, from 54o 27' in the lower part, to 43o 22' in the upper part. The explanation for the shape of this pyramid has been much argued.
[2] The Red Pyramid of Dahshur
[2] The Red Pyramid of Dahshur. The first successful "true" pyramid of Snefru was constructed with a constant angle of 43o 22' throughout. The Red pyramid (or northern pyramid) was known as "Snefru appears in glory". It was probably in this northern pyramid that Snefru was buried. With such resources available to him, Snefru was able to leave a strong inheritance to his son Khufu. 
Pyramids of Giza - 4th Dynasty
Pyramids of Giza - 4th Dynasty. Snefru's son Khufu took his father's achievements to the very apogee of pyramid building by the construction of the Great Pyramid complex at Giza, the largest surviving pyramid. It stands alongside the smaller pyramids of Khafre and Menkaura, and the three pyramids of Khufu's queens. 
The Mastaba 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 Menkaure. Unlike his immediate predecessors and his successors, Shepseskaf chose the form of a mastaba rather then a pyramid for his tomb. It's quite possible he was responsible for the completion of his father's pyramid at Giza. Shepsekaf ruled for 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 (cult) places of Userkaf", but today it is little more than a ruined heap of rubble. Possibly for political reasons as well as the 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, while limestone casing.
The Pyramids of Abusir - 5th Dynasty
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 - 5th Dynasty.
The Pyramid of Sahure at Abusir - 5th Dynasty. Sahure was the second pharaoh of the 5th dynasty. His pyramid complex was the first built at the new royal burial ground at Abusir, and marks the decline of pyramid building, both in the size and quality, though many of the reliefs are very well done. it was excavated in the early 1900s, and a great amount of fine reliefs were found to an extent and quality superior to those from the dynasty before.
The Pyramid of Neferirkara at Abusir - 5th Dynasty
The Pyramid of Neferirkare at Abusir - 5th Dynasty. The brother of Sahure, 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 organisation of royal funerary cults in the Old Kingdom. He built a sun temple, but no trace of this has yet been discovered.
The Pyramid of Niuserre at Abusir - 5th Dynasty.
The Pyramid of Niuserre at Abusir - 5th Dynasty. Probably the last pyramid to be built at Abusir, Nyuserre's burial place is located between the pyramids of Sahure and Neferirkare, built against the north wall of Neferirkare's mortuary temple. Known as "The places of Niuserre are enduring", some experts believe that Niuserre may have also usurped Neferirkare's valley temple, as it is built on the foundations of Neferirkare's temple.
The unfinished pyramid of Raneferef at Abusir - 5th Dynasty
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 he died young, Raneferef's pyramid had not progressed beyond the lower levels, and rising only 4 metres, it 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 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. Rather ironically it is called "Teti's (cult) places are enduring". The valley temple of Teti's pyramid, together with the 300 metre 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 in fact 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 to be a much poorer manner than those of his predecessors.
The Pyramid Complex

In purely architectural terms, pyramids can be divided into two broad types: the step pyramid and the true pyramid. The first step pyramids appear to have evolved and developed from the royal and private mastaba tombs of the early Dynastic Period, but by the early 4th Dynasty the first true smooth sided pyramid had been built by Snefru at Dahshur.
The full scale pyramid complex consisted of a true pyramid with mortuary and valley temples, a causeway between the two, and usually a number of smaller subsidiary pyramids. Fully evolved by the beginning of the 4th Dynasty, the origins of the pyramid complex can be seen in the royal tombs and funerary enclosures at Early Dynastic Abydos and the step pyramid at Saqqara.
The Pyramids of Abusir, which date to the 5th Dynasty, are regarded as the peak of development of the standard pyramid complex even though their architectural quality and size are far less impressive than the Pyramids of Giza. As the economic and political structure of the Old Kingdom declined, so did the standard of workmanship of the pyramid complex, and by the First Intermediate Period, the pyramid complex had all but disappeared.
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