The Egyptian Pyramids are more than a massive tombstone for deceased pharaohs. The Ancient Egyptians believed that when a pharaoh died he became Osiris, the king of the dead. They believed that for the dead pharaoh to carry out his duties as king of the dead his ka (soul or spirit) which remained with the body, had to be looked after. The pyramid was in effect a manner of housing for the departed ruler.
In order for the ka to survive, the dead pharaoh’s body was mummified and buried with all the things it would need for the afterlife.
This picture shows a funeral procession. The mummified pharaoh’s body is being carried to the tomb along with all the things that will be placed in the tomb for the ka – statues, furniture, pottery and the pharaoh’s favourite possessions.
The first Egyptian pyramid to be built was the Step Pyramid at Sakkara (Saqqara). It was built by Imhotep for the king Djoser.
The step pyramid was originally intended to be a large square mustaba (tomb) built over an underground burial chamber but further extensions were added making a six-layered step pyramid 62 metres in height.
Pharaoh’s continued to be buried in Egyptian pyramids until the end of the Middle Kingdom 1650BC when they began to be buried in tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
About 100 Egyptian pyramids have been discovered in Egypt but the largest and most well known are the pyramids at Giza, near Cairo.
This picture shows the Great Pyramid, also know as Khufu’s Pyramid and Pyramid of Cheops (right), and the Pyramid of Khafre (above).
The Great pyramid is the largest pyramid and stands 146 metres high.
The Egyptian pyramids were built by skilled workers who were paid a wage. Farmers were often drafted to help with pyramid construction during the flood season.
There are many theories about how the Ancient Egyptians actually built the pyramids. It is believed that large blocks of stone were transported along the river Nile to the Giza site. They were then moved into place using sledges and ramps.
Inside the Great Pyramid
The entrance to the Great Pyramid leads to a descending passage about 1 metre wide and 1.2 metres high. The passage is at a 26 degree angle and leads to the subterranean chamber. It is believed that the subterranean chamber was either a false burial chamber to fool tomb robbers or that the king changed his mind about his final resting place.
An ascending passage, with the same dimensions as the descending passage leads upwards to the Grand Gallery. Another horizontal passage leads to the Queen’s chamber. The Queen’s chamber was never finished, the floor is uneven and the walls undecorated. It is believed that this was initially to be the king’s chamber but that the passage was too low and narrow for the king’s sarcophagus and was abandoned.
The Grand Gallery which leads directly to the King’s chamber is 48 metres long and 8.5 metres high. The King’s Chamber is 5.2 metres x 10.8 metres and 5.8 metres high. The inside of the chamber is polished pink granite. A granite sarcophagus is inside the chamber and this would have been where the king’s mummified body would have been placed.
One of the Great Pyramid passages as it looks today
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about Egypt in the ancient world. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Ancient Egypt.