Ancient Egyptian pyramids stand the test of time.
Like an oasis in the desert, the pyramids of Egypt–120 discovered as of June 2010–stand like ancient guards on duty protecting the royalty buried beneath. The pyramids have few equals on earth to rival their longevity, design and force of will to build them over thousands of years. Even before the time of Christ, Egypt’s spiritual beliefs in the gods formed the basis for the pyramids.
The Egyptians adapted the Greek word for a wheat cake, “pyramis,” to invent their word for a pyramid. The shape of the cake looked like the pointed top of a pyramid. The earliest Egyptian burial sites were an underground chamber that was covered with a small chapal structure where family members could place offerings. The shape of the tomb was named “Mastabas” because it resembled the benches commonly found outside homes. Pyramids were constructed as burial monuments for the pharaohs, often as soon as he assumed the throne since it took many years to build one. Each king constructed at least one pyramid but many pharaohs built up to three during their reigns.
Stairway to Heaven
Since the sun sets in the west, all pyramids face the setting sun over the Nile River. Construction of the pyramids on the banks of the “river of life” served as a method of transporting the pharaoh’s spirit through the gateway into heaven. The main burial chamber of the Great Pyramid, among other pyramids, has a narrow passageway that points to the center of the sky as if to propel the spirit directly in to the awaiting arms of the Great God Re.
The Shape of Benben
A symbol of the source from which all life on earth originated, Benben is a pyramid-shaped stone used in early burial temples to form a mound. Egyptians believed the shape united the pyramid and its deceased pharaohs directly to Re, the Sun God. The pyramids took on the shape of Benben to preserve the sacred connection between man and god in the afterlife.
Rays of the Sun
The pyramids’ shape represents the sun’s rays coming from heaven. As the source of all earthly life, the pyramids stood as monuments to the ultimate power. The pyramids had a glossy look from the tons of white limestone, polished smooth to a reflective finish. The sun’s beams bounced off and ancient scholars reported seeing the pyramids’ glow for miles. Even the names of the pyramids are similar, the Bent Pyramid is also called The Southern Shining Pyramid, while Senwosret is Shining is the name for the pyramid Senwosret at el-Lahun.
Meidum–The Step Pyramid
Built at the end of the Third Dynasty in about 2613 B.C., the pyramid’s step design consisted of eight layers constructed in phases. It was the first major attempt at standardizing a pyramid’s design. A series of steps lead to the next layer and so on. At some point in the 11th century, the pyramid collapsed. When European explorers discovered it in the 1700s, only three layers of steps remained reaching a height of 213 feet.
The first smooth-sided pyramid constructed in the third century was the southern pyramid of Snofru built by the same pharaoh, King Sneferu, who built Meidum. Bent, also a step pyramid, had the same design of placing the stones inward identical to Meidum. Halfway through construction, the placement pattern of the stones changed to horizontal. The change reduced the stress of the weight on the pyramid, eliminating it from future collapse and using fewer stones to complete it. White limestone covered the pyramid’s exterior, giving it a smooth glossy finish.