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Learning about the past: Pyramid 101

In collaboration with the world arts and science museum, we would be doing a three part series on ancient Egypt in celebration of the Egyptian artefact display over the course of this 3 months. For the first instalment, we would be looking at the ancient pyramids that has been crowned as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.When we talk about Egypt, people often think about wrapped mummies chasing after you and wanting to get your soul so as to revive from the dead. These are scenes from the Hollywood movie which wrongly depicts the grandeur of the entire Egyptian civilisation. The pyramids in Egypt are one of the only Seven Wonders of the World that is still fully intact and recognisable. Imagine a world without the technology of the modern world today, isn’t it amazing how such huge and complex infrastructures can be created? For the purpose of the article, we would be covering 4 different pyramid; namely the step pyramid, the bend pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the pyramid and sphinx. I’m sorry to disappoint those who were expecting us to cover the pyramid of Tutankhamun, the tomb to the well-known King Tut.

Step Pyramid (c. 2760 BCE)

step pyramidstep pyramid diagram

Being one of the first pyramids to be ever build, Pharaoh Djoser’s chief architect, Imhotep, build a 6 layer pyramid to hold his mummified body after his passing. It stood as 62 meters high and had a base of 125.27 meters. The smallest of the 6 layers was 109.12 meters. The steps were constructed from a core of rough stones and then cased in limestone with packing in between. The limestone was polished creating a gleaming monument. The extensive use of stones which were that carved to resemble reeds, wood or other softer materials help to strengthen the entire structure.

Bent Pyramid (c. 2600 BCE)

bent pyramidbent pyramid diagram

Build for Pharaoh Snefru, the bent pyramid was the first attempt at that time to build a smooth-sided pyramid. The effort was commendable, but perhaps due to the inexperience and lack of technology at that point of time, the angle had to be readjusted midway towards the top due to the steepness of the angle. One interesting fact about this pyramid is that the mummified body of the Pharaoh never resided in this pyramid. He had a total of 3 different pyramids built during his reign.

Great Pyramid of Giza (c. 2560 BCE)

giza diagram

Commissioned during his reign as Pharaoh, Khufu built one of the largest pyramids at Giza. Taking the bent pyramid as a lesson, the Great pyramid of Giza was successfully built and the length at each side of the base was 230.4 meters. It was constructed using around 2,300,000 limestone blocks and took about 20 years to complete building. Some believe that this pyramid was built by slaves but it was actually by one hundred thousand people. When the annual floods of the Nile arrives, this group of people would get to work and build the pyramid as they were jobless. In return, the Pharaoh gave them food and clothing as payment.

Pyramid and Sphinx (c. 2530 BCE)

spinxsphix diagram

The Sphinx is one that many people know but are unable to name. It is the structure with the head of a man, most probably Khefren himself, and a lion for the body. It was constructed along the Giza beside his own father’s (Khufu) pyramid. It might appear to me taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza but that is because it was built on higher ground. All the typical elements of a pharaonic mortuary temple are seen in one place for the first time. When we see the pictures of the Sphinx, have any of you ever wondered why the man has lost its nose? It was first rumoured that in the 18th century, Napoleon troops blew it up but a 15th century Arab historian already reported the loss of it. We have come to the end of the article on Egyptian pyramids but do stay tune for our next two instalments.