A breathtaking view of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Shutterstock.

5 of the Largest Pyramids Ever Built in Ancient Egypt

The third-largest pyramid, which is not at the Giza plateau, has a total volume of 1,694,000 cubic meters and took around 17 years to build.


When it comes down to Pyramid building, the ancient Egyptians were good. Evidence of that is more than one hundred pyramids discovered throughout Egypt. Some have since been destroyed, crumbling to history or poor choice of materials, but others have stood the test of time, evidence of incredible architectural and engineering skills. The best example of an ancient Egyptian Pyramid building is, without a doubt, the Great Pyramid of Giza, believed to have been commissioned by Pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty (26th century BC) as his eternal resting place. Modern Egyptologists argue that this monumental construction phase was finished in around 20 years, concluding around 2650 BBC.

The pyramid of Khufu remains the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World largely intact. Although it has deteriorated through time, resulting from natural disasters, climate, and humankind, the pyramid outlasted an entire civilization. It was so impressive that it remained the tallest building on the planet’s surface for over 3,800 years.


The culmination of the ancient Egyptian pyramid building

The Great Pyramid of Giza is perhaps the culmination of the ancient Egyptian pyramid building, as it was the most notorious project ever attempted by this ancient civilization. But to get there, to build a structure that would survive for more than 4,500 years, the ancient Egyptians went through many projects and attempts that eventually climaxed in the construction of one of the largest and most accurate pyramids of all time.

Before attempting such a massive construction process, the ancient Egyptians experimented with pyramids. The first pyramid to be built in ancient Egypt was that of Pharaoh Djoser. It was precisely then, around 2,700 before Christ, that ancient Egyptian engineering and architecture experienced a Eureka moment; From complex mastabas where Pharaohs and royalty were buried, the ancient Egyptians developed Pyramids, which changed the ancient civilization forever.

Building Towards the Step Pyramid

Known as the Step Pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, located in the Necropolis of Saqqara, is widely acknowledged as Egypt’s earliest monumental stone building. The Step pyramid was envisioned as the eternal burial place of Pharaoh Djoser. Djoser’s royal vizier Imhotep, the first pyramid builder, built the pyramid. The Step pyramid once stood 62.5 meters (205 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 121 m (358 ft × 397 ft), and was clad in polished white limestone. The pyramids’ ultimate look was drawn from several precedents, the most relevant of which was the Saqqara Mastaba 3038, built circa 2700 BC. This structure was almost a pyramid by accident. It was built in a deep rectangular pit with mudbricks walls six meters in height. The three sides of the mastabas were extended and built out, creating eight steps that rise into the air at an angle of 49 degrees.

But once the pyramid was completed, it gave rise to similar structures. The Pyramid of Djoser gave birth to the pyramid at Meidum. Although not one of the most famous pyramids in Egypt, this pyramid remains largely in ruins–was ancient Egypt’s second attempt to build a pyramid.


Meidum’s mystery

Erected around 100 kilometers from Giza, the Pyramid at Meidum was most likely built for Pharaoh Huni, but construction was passed on to Sneferu. The pyramid was probably never finished, and it may have collapsed in ancient times mostly because its builders started experimenting with different techniques, angles, and looks. Evidence of that is that the pyramid was extended at least two times. The builders wanted to turn the step pyramid into a smooth-sided pyramid initially. However, their efforts were unsuccessful, and the massive pile of debris around the pyramid is evidence of an unsuccessful attempt.

The Pyramid at Meidum led to the Bent Pyramid, usually called Sneferu’s second pyramid. Once the Bent Pyramid was built, the ancient Egyptians erected the Red Pyramid, giving rise to the greatest monument ever built in ancient Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza.

But in terms of total volume, what are the largest pyramids of Ancient Egypt? You’d be surprised to know that the third largest pyramid of Egypt is not located at the Giza plateau.

Pyramid of Djoser

The smallest of the five pyramids was the first one to be built. The Pyramid of Djoser once stood 62.5 meters (205 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 121 m (358 ft × 397 ft). Considered a proto-pyramid, it was the first such structure built by the ancient Egyptian civilization, and it resulted in a revolution of monumental buildings in Egypt. The total volume of Djoser’s pyramid is 330,400 cubic meters (11,667,966 cu ft).

The Bent Pyramid

Located around 40 kilometers from Cairo are the remnants of a unique ancient Egyptian pyramid ever built. The Bent Pyramid is one of Egypt’s best examples of pyramid building evolution. Scholars argue that the Bent Pyramid perfectly represents a transitional form from building step-sided to smooth-sided pyramids. From its foundation, the Bent Pyramid rises towards the sky at a 54-degree inclination. However, the top section of the pyramid, just above 47 meters in height, was altered and built with a much shallower angle of 43 degrees, giving the pyramid its bent appearance. With a height of 104.71 meters (344 ft), the Bent Pyramid has a total volume of 1,237,040 cubic meters (43,685,655 cu ft) and is the fourth largest pyramid of ancient Egypt.

The Red Pyramid

Also referred to as the North Pyramid, this structure is the largest of three pyramids at the Dashur Necropolis. It is the third-largest pyramid built in ancient Egypt and is considered ancient Egypt’s first successful attempt at building a true smooth-sided pyramid. The Red Pyramid marks the successful transition from step pyramids to smooth-sided pyramids. Although dubbed the Red Pyramid because of the rusty, reddish hue of its limestone, the pyramid was not always red, as the builders cased it with highly polished white Tura limestone. The total height of the Red Pyramid is 105 meters, with a total volume of 1,694,000 cubic meters (59,823,045 cu ft).


The Pyramid of Khafre

The Pyramid of Khafre is the second-tallest and second-largest of the ancient Pyramids of Giza, argued to have been constructed s the eternal resting place for the  Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre, who ruled from c. 2558 to 2532 BC. Today, the pyramid stands at 136.4 meters in height, although it is argued that when it was initially built, it stood 143.5 m or 471 ft. Khafre’s pyramid has a total volume of 2,211,096 cubic meters (78,084,118 cu ft), making it the second-largest pyramid built in ancient Egyptian Times.

The Great Pyramid

The largest pyramid ever built in ancient Egypt, the Pyramid of Khufu, is a towering structure built of granite and limestone that once rose to the sky at 146.7 meters (481 ft). Today, the pyramid’s height has been calculated at 138.8 meters (455 ft). The pyramid was supposedly the eternal resting place of Pharaoh Khufu and was built around 20 years. It is the culmination of ancient Egyptian pyramid building, and not a single monument of ancient Egypt is as impressive as the Great Pyramid. With a total volume of 235,183 cubic meters (8,305,409 cu ft), the Great Pyramid of Giza is a mammoth building. It is so large that scholars estimate that the builders of Khufu’s Pyramid used 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tons of mortar to build the Great Pyramid.

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Written by Justin Gurkinic

Hey, my name is Justin, and my friends call me Gurk. Why? Becuase of my last name. It sounds like a vegetable. Kind of. I love sleeping and writing. History is my thing.

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