Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Pyramids

The very first pyramid was built by King Djoser, who ruled during the third dynasty. It was a step pyramid, which basically meant that if you were a giant, you could step up the pyramid like a set of stairs. Djoser took the idea of a mastaba (a flat, rectangular tomb) and copied it smaller and smaller (or, bigger and bigger?) until he created a pyramid.


100 years later, the “true” pyramid had evolved, and King Khufu gave us the Great Pyramid at Giza during his reign (2585-2560 BC). The belief was that when pharaoh died, the sun created beams with which he can ascend into the afterworld. These beams created a pyramid shape, and so that’s how Khufu wanted his tomb to be built. The very apex of the structure was called a pyramidion, which was supposed to represent the primordial hill of which the earth was created.

It took 2.3 million blocks to build the Great Pyramid, and it is almost a perfect square. It points true north, and there’s evidence that the workers used stakes to create reference lines. It’s still unclear how exactly the pyramid was built, though evidence points to the use of ramps connected to the quarry where the stone was gathered. The Great Pyramid was built on the west bank of the Nile because Egyptians believed that the West was closer to the land of the dead, so the pharaoh wouldn’t have to travel so far.


But, oh, the pharaoh wanted more than just a pyramid. He wanted a whole complex. Around the pyramid were built homes for the workers, mortuary temples, subsidiary pyramids, storage units, a farm, and even a harbor for the pyramid boats. Every household in the area provided help, either in sending workers or providing food. The "Overseer of All the King's Works" was the boss, and he managed everything that had to do with building the complex. 

So, because the pharaoh was a trend-setter, pyramid building actually lasted through the Middle Kingdom. The Old Kingdom brought inscriptions on the walls called "Pyramid Texts", which were spells and paintings to help in the pharaoh's next journey. Later on, during the Middle Kingdom, these texts were moved directly to the coffin, changing the name to "Coffin Texts". This time also brought mazes, secret rooms, traps, and false entrances to try to deter robbers from entering and stealing the treasures. Unfortunately, it didn't work as well as everyone hoped.



Pyramids stopped at the beginning of the New Kingdom. The pharaohs decided they'd rather be buried in the Valley of the Kings outside of Thebes. Thutmose I was the first one to be buried here. The tombs were hewn out of the rock, and still included chambers, tunnels, and staircases. Inscriptions covered the walls, and they were filled with treasure, just like the pyramids. These tombs were also robbed, and eventually the mummies were moved to a secret location in the 21st Dynasty.



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