What Are Some Facts About the Pyramids?

The ancient Egyptians built their stone pyramids as tombs for their pharaohs, whom they considered gods on Earth. Egypt experienced great prosperity and stability during the Old Kingdom era, further strengthening the pharaoh's position in society and allowing them to build large projects.

Pyramids evolved from rectangular mud-brick mastaba tombs during the Dynastic Era, starting in 2950 B.C. The Step Pyramid was the first pyramid, which started as a stone block mastaba until the builders added extra layers, eventually reaching a height of 204 feet. Built for the first king of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu, the Red Pyramid at Dashur was the first pyramid with smooth sides.

The most well known Egyptian pyramids are the great pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo. The Great Pyramid, the tomb for Sneferu's successor Khufu, is the largest pyramid, originally 481 feet tall. It is the only surviving structure of the Seven Wonders of the World. Mastabas and smaller pyramids accompany the Great Pyramid, built for the pharaoh's relatives, officials and queens. The two other large pyramids at Giza entombed Khufu's son and grandson, also pharaohs in their time.

The pyramids required a huge workforce to move the huge stone blocks and a great level of structural engineering to design the intricate burial chambers. Egyptians buried people with their belongings for use in the afterlife. Other cultures also built large pyramids, including the Maya and the Nubians.