Although many cultures have constructed pyramids, those of Egypt are among the most famous structures in the world. The ancient Egyptians erected huge pyramids as burial monuments for their kings, the PHARAOHS.
Around 2650 B.C. an Egyptian architect named Imhotep built the oldest known pyramid for his king, Djoser. It was the first royal tomb in Egypt to be made entirely of stone, instead of mud-brick. It consists of six layers, each smaller than the one below it, and is known as the Step Pyramid. Beneath the pyramid is a network of underground rooms and tunnels, including the king's burial chamber.
The next 500 years were the golden age of pyramid construction in Egypt, as kings and nobles ordered ever more massive or elaborate structures. Surrounding each pyramid, which contained or stood on top of the tomb, the Egyptians erected many other buildings, such as temples and smaller pyramids for family members. In some cases, a wall enclosed the entire complex, and passages and shafts ran underneath the structures. The pyramids were built of mud-brick or limestone blocks and were covered on the outside with a layer of the whitest limestone.
Of the 80 or so pyramids found in Egypt, many fell into ruin long ago. The best-preserved structures are found at Giza, Dahshur, and Saqqarah, sites south of CAIRO that were close to the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. The three large pyramids at Giza have been a major Egyptian tourist attraction since the 400s B.C., when the Greek historian Herodotus marveled at them. They were built between 2575 and 2465 B.C. for the kings Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The largest, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, has been called the largest building ever constructed. It measures 756 feet on each side and was 481 feet high when it was new. It is shorter today because people stripped its outer limestone blocks for use in other structures. The Great Pyramid contains about 2.3 million blocks of stone weighing almost 6 million tons. Nearby is the Great Sphinx.
The pyramids were designed to proclaim the might and power of the kings who lay buried beneath them. Unfortunately, they called too much attention to the royal burial sites. Beginning in ancient times, robbers looted nearly all the tombs, carrying off the goods and treasures that were buried with the royal and noble dead. Eventually, the kings of Egypt stopped erecting pyramids and instead built secret royal tombs in the remote caves of the Valley of the Kings. (See also Egypt, Ancient.)