The Great Pyramid of Giza well earns the epithet "Great" - as do the other two giant pyramids. But there are many other Egyptian pyramids that are often overlooked in the shadows of these greats. These smaller pyramids are important too.
Nothing happens in a vacuum and many of these smaller pyramids were the stepping stones and learning curves that made the Great Pyramids possible. There are some things everyone should know before visiting the Pyramids of Egypt.
Historical Context of The Pyramids
It is common knowledge that the pyramids are tombs and the Pharaohs were buried in them with all the treasures and servants that they would need for the afterlife. But what is often not asked is how all this got started.
In a time before Egpyt was a kingdom or a had cities, the people were nomadic. People would still claim the land as their ancestral home and the burials of their clans would stand as a monument to their clan's claim on the land. The burial mounds were the visual symbol tying them to the land through their ancestors being buried there.
As time progressed and cities were built, this idea and the importance of their burial mounds were deeply woven into the fabric of Egyptian thinking. Naturally, the kings sort larger mounds than the others they ruled - that snowballed into the pyramids. Of course, many other beliefs were also associated with the pyramids like being the stairway for the soul of the pharaoh to ascend to the gods.
The Pyramids Of Egpyt
Some sources cite there being at least 118 Egyptian pyramids that have been identified. Most of them were built as tombs for the pharaohs and their consorts. They were mostly built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms.
- Built: During the Old And Middle Kingdoms
- Number: 118 Pyramids Identified
The earliest Egyptian pyramids that are known are at Saqqara northwest of Memphis (not THAT Memphis). This pyramid dates to the First Dynasty and has been attributed to Pharaoh Anedjib. From its inscriptions, it seems there were even more pyramids that have been lost.
Another early pyramid is the Pyramid of Djoser that was built around 2630 to 2610 BC during the Third Dynasty.
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Today many of the pyramids are in a poor state of preservation or have been buried by the desert sands. Some of these pyramids (if they are visible at all) may just seem like a mound of rubble. Archaeologists are continuing to discover new pyramids.
All but one small pyramid are on the west bank of the River Nile and most are grouped in clusters. Two of the most important grouping of pyramids outside of Giza are at Saqqara and Dahshur.
Pyramids At Saqqara
Saqqara boasts some of the most important pyramids - including the Pyramid of Djoser that is often identified as the world's oldest substantial monumental structure to be built of dressed stone.
- Pyramid of Djoser
- Pyramid of Userkay
- Pyramid of Teti
- Pyramid of Merikare
The pyramids date to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt and are very old. The site is home to the earliest known restoration attempt - that of Khaemweset restoring the Pyramids of Unas and Userkaf.
Here one will also find an incomplete step pyramid known as the Buried Pyramid.
- Buried Pyramid: An Incomplete Pyramid
The Pyramid of Unas is the smallest of the Old Kingdom pyramids, but it is significant for a number of reasons. One is because of the discovery of the Pyramid Texts. They are spells for the king's afterlife that were inscribed for the first time in this pyramid. The tradition of funerary texts would continue in later pyramids and would form the basis of the Book of the Dead.
- Unas Pyramid: Started The Tradition Of Pyramid Texts
Another significance of the Unas pyramid is that it retains a pyramid causeway that is one of the best-preserved in Egypt.
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To the south of the main pyramid field at Saqqara is another cluster of later and smaller pyramids but these are mostly in a poor state of preservation.
Pyramids At Dahshur - The Bent Pyramid
Even though Dahshur has one of the most important pyramid clusters in Egypt, it was inaccessible until 1996 because it was located within a military base. And it was also relatively unknown to the general public.
- Dahshur: Inaccessible Until 1996
The Bent Pyramid is one of the most famous pyramids outside of Giza. It is only about 40 kilometers ( or 25 miles) south of Cairo and was built during the Old Kingdom by Pharaoh Sneferu in around 2600 BC.
- Built: Around 2600 BC
The Bent Pyramid is a unique example of early pyramid development in Egypt. The pyramid starts at its base at a 54-degree inclination and but the top part was built with a shallower angle of 43 degrees.
It is thought to have been the first true smooth-sided pyramid. While others had smooth sides like the pyramid at Meidum, they still stepped pyramids that had their steps filled in and concealed. The Bent Pyramid was only a partial success. It is also the only major pyramid to still retain a decent amount of its original smooth outer limestone casing.