The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt.
There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country’s Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.
The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found at Saqqara, northwest of Memphis. The earliest among these is the Pyramid of Djoser (constructed 2630 BCE–2611 BCE) which was built during the third dynasty. This pyramid and its surrounding complex were designed by the architect Imhotep, and are generally considered to be the world’s oldest monumental structures constructed of dressed masonry. The most famous Egyptian pyramids are those found at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. Several of the Giza pyramids are counted among the largest structures ever built.
The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest Egyptian pyramid. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence.
By the time of the early dynastic period of Egyptian history, those with sufficient means were buried in bench-like structures known as mastabas.
The second historically documented Egyptian pyramid is attributed to the architect Imhotep, who planned what Egyptologists believe to be a tomb for the pharaoh Djoser. Imhotep is credited with being the first to conceive the notion of stacking mastabas on top of each other — creating an edifice composed of a number of “steps” that decreased in size towards its apex. The result was the Step Pyramid of Djoser — which was designed to serve as a gigantic stairway by which the soul of the deceased pharaoh could ascend to the heavens. Such was the importance of Imhotep’s achievement that he was deified by later Egyptians.
The most prolific pyramid-building phase coincided with the greatest degree of absolutist pharaonic rule. It was during this time that the most famous pyramids, those near Giza, were built. Over time, as authority became less centralized, the ability and willingness to harness the resources required for construction on a massive scale decreased, and later pyramids were smaller, less well-built and often hastily constructed.
Long after the end of Egypt’s own pyramid-building period, a burst of pyramid-building occurred in what is present-day Sudan, after much of Egypt came under the rule of the Kings of Napata. While Napatan rule was brief and ceased in 661 BC, the Egyptian influence made an indelible impression, and during the later Sudanese Kingdom of Meroe (approximately in the period between 300 BC–300 AD) this flowered into a full-blown pyramid-building revival, which saw more than two hundred indigenous, but Egyptian-inspired royal pyramid-tombs constructed in the vicinity of the kingdom’s capital cities.
Al-Aziz Uthman, son of the great Saladin who crushed the Crusaders, tried to demolish the Great pyramids of Giza, but had to give up because the task was too big. He found it almost as expensive to destroy as to build. However, he did succeed in damaging Menkaure’s pyramid.
In 1842 Karl Richard Lepsius produced the first modern list of pyramids, in which he counted 67. A great many more have since been discovered. As of November 2008, 118 Egyptian pyramids have been identified.
The location of Pyramid 29, which Lepsius called the “Headless Pyramid”, was lost for a second time when the structure was buried by desert sands subsequent to Lepsius’ survey. It was only found again during an archaeological dig conducted in 2008.
Many pyramids are in a poor state of preservation or buried by desert sands. If visible at all they may appear as little more than mounds of rubble. As a consequence archaeologists are continuing to identify and study previously unknown pyramid structures.
The most recent pyramid to be discovered is that of Queen Sesheshet, mother of 6th Dynasty Pharaoh Teti, located at Saqqara. The discovery was announced by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, on 11 November 2008.
All of Egypt’s pyramids, except the small Third Dynasty pyramid of Zawyet el-Amwat (or Zawyet el-Mayitin), are sited on the west bank of the Nile, and most are grouped together in a number of pyramid fields. The most important of these are listed geographically, from north to south, below.