From Mastabas to Pyramids
The history on the Egyptian pyramids started from structures called mastabas which were tombs built for the first pharaohs of Egypt. They are structures shaped like benches that were erected during the early dynasties of the Egyptian pharaohs around 2950 BC to 1575 BC. Compared to the pyramids, the mastaba construction is simpler, square-shaped with a room inside to house the mummy and its coffin, plus objects that the dead was supposed to carry to the after-life.
When were they built? The pyramids as we know them today started to be built during the old kingdom (2575–2150 BC) period in Egypt. Steps and mounds of earth were put atop the mastabas. The relative prosperity during the period enabled the construction of grander and grander structures. Eventually, the steps were removed from the latter pyramids, resulting in the tall structures epitomized by the Great Pyramid at Giza for the pharaoh, Khufu. This structure was considered as the tallest man-made structure on Earth for five thousand years, and is now the only remaining among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The height of the Pyramid of Khufu was eclipsed only when the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889.
The Grandest Monuments
As of today, a total of 138 pyramids are known to exist in Egypt. These ancient structures contained not only the mummified remains of pharaohs but also their consorts. Among the earliest of these is the Pyramid of Djoser which rose through the imagination of the architect Imhotep. This pyramid has the distinction of being the oldest monumental structure made of dressed masonry.
When it comes to fame, however, those which head the list are the pyramids located at Giza, near the suburbs of present-day Cairo, Egypt. Many of the pyramids in Giza are revered as among the largest structures ever constructed in the world.
Meanings and Symbolisms
The pyramids’ distinctive shape emanates from the belief of the early Egyptians on the Earth’s creation. This shape supposedly represents the sun’s rays descending to nourish the Earth. By the same belief, white limestone is used in most pyramids as coating for the structures to reflect the sun’s brilliance.
The sun’s influence is also evident on the names of some pyramids like the Southern Shining Pyramid also known as the Bent Pyramid appearing brilliantly at its site in Dahshur. Another pyramid at el-Lahun is referred to in ancient Egyptian text as Senwosret is Shining.
The Pyramid Builders
Who built the pyramids in Egypt? Some Hollywood movies have helped perpetuate the belief that the pyramids were built by slaves or foreign migrants to ancient Egypt. Recent archaeological findings, however, indicate that this is a myth. Skeletons from archaeological diggings near the pyramids showed that these structures were built by the Egyptians themselves.
Egyptian villages were specifically organized and developed for the purpose of constructing the pyramids. These self-sustaining communities were run by the pharaoh’s overseers and supervisors. A history on the Egyptian pyramids, thus, won’t be complete without citing these villagers, who count among themselves butchers, brewers, bakers and other personnel and facilities supporting the pyramids’ construction workers.