There are around 130 pyramids that have been identified by Egyptologists in Egypt. The first of these structures were built more than 4,700 years ago in the royal necropolis of Saqqara. It was there where the Egyptian pyramid building was born when the mastaba tomb was converted into the first stone structure by Imhotep, Pharaoh Djoser’s royal vizier, and architect.
Northwest of Memphis, the royal capital, Pharaoh Djoser chose the land to build a structure that would forever revolutionize and change Egyptian architecture.
Pushing the limits of ancient Egyptians construction techniques, the Step Pyramid of Djoser marked the beginning of a pyramid-building fever that would take over the ancient Egyptian civilization for more than one thousand years.
Although the most famous ancient Egyptian pyramids are those located at the Giza plateau, many pyramids built before the Great Pyramid of Khufu marked important stages in the development in ancient Egyptian pyramid building.
The Pyramids at Giza may be the largest and most impressive, but before these massive structures were built, previous Pharaohs worked hard laying down the necessary foundations for their construction.
Everything started off with Djoser’s step pyramid. The design of the Step Pyramid is attributed to Imhotep, the man who Egyptologists say was the first to conceive the notion of stacking several mastabas on top of each other, eventually building a structure composed of several steps, whose site decreased towards the monument’s apex, resulting in the familiar pyramid shape.
The Step pyramid was meant to serve as a massive stairway by which the deceased pharaoh could ascend towards his ancestors, and into the cosmic realm.
Imhotep made this possible for the Pharaoh, and as he did, he revolutionized Egyptian monumental building. Such was the accomplishment of Imhotep that he was later deified by the ancient Egyptians.
But the shape of the pyramid holds a special meaning in Egyptian mythology. The shape of the Egyptian pyramids is thought to represent the primordial mound from which the Earth formed, according to the ancient Egyptians.
This shape is believed to represent de descending rays of the sun above. Most pyramids erected in Egypt were cased with highly polished limestone something that gave the pyramids a brilliant, almost blinding appearance when viewed from a distance. It is this why pyramids were often called names that make reference to solar radiance.
For example, one of the most important pyramids in Egyptian history, the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu was called the Southern Shining Pyramid, while the pyramid of Senwosret at el-Lahun was called Senwosret Shines.
Although it is generally agreed that the Pyramids in Egypt served as tombs, there have been contradictory discoveries that may suggest otherwise. Furthermore, given the lack of actual discoveries pointing to the fact that Egyptian pyramids were tombs, one must carefully thread when making such assumptions.
There are at least seven pyramids in Egypt that are known to not have bene tombs ever. Many others could join that list. Continued academic disagreement on the theological principles that may have given rise to them further fuels the debate on Pyramids being tombs. One suggestion tells us that Pyramids may have been designed as a kind of “resurrection machine.”
But the truth is other than theories, there’s not much we know about these monstrous structures scattered across the world. When it comes down to the ancient Egyptian pyramids, there is not one ancient text that mentions how these structures were built. There’s nothing on pyramid building that may help shed some light on constructions that some say predate even the Egyptian civilization.
The exact number of ancient Egyptian pyramids is obscure. The first modern list of pyramids was published in 1842, composed by Karl Richard Lepsius, and is known as the Lepsius list of Pyramids. The list features 67 pyramids. Since then, more pyramids have been uncovered in Egypt.
Today, it is generally accepted that there are anywhere between 110 and 130 pyramids in Egypt. The inexact number is mostly due to the fact that many of the ancient Egyptian pyramids are in an extremely poor state of preservation, or are buried beneath the golden sands.
Some pyramids that are visible appear no more than simple mounds of rubble, the reason why archaeologists have a hard time identifying the structures as pyramids.
Egyptian pyramids were built in phases through history. After Djoser’s successful pyramid complex at Saqqara, a few generations of Pharaohs came and went until another pyramid was built.
The early pharaohs that came to the throne after Djoser tried mimicking his accomplishments but failed not succeeding to build a proper step pyramid.
It wasn’t until Pharaoh Sneferu when ancient Egyptian pyramid was picked up properly again.
Sneferu is ancient Egypt’s greatest pyramid builder.
After Djoser’s Step Pyramid, it wasn’t until Sneferu when Egyptian pyramid building lifted off again. Sneferu built the pyramid at Meidum (which collapsed in early stages, probably during construction) and went on to experiment with the Bent Pyramid (Egypt’s first attempt at a smooth pyramid) and peaked with the completion of the Red Pyramid, also referred to as the Northern Pyramid.
The Bent Pyramid would lay the foundations of future pyramid building in Egypt and gave rise to the construction of the Red Pyramid, also built by Sneferu. The Red Pyramid would eventually give rise to the construction of the most imposing pyramid of ancient Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza.