Every ancient civilization had its own famous landmarks. Some were destroyed by disasters like fires, earthquakes, and wars. But others have survived and remained standing even today. Egypt's pyramids are those fortunate ones in the second category. They have weathered all sorts of obstacles, including the
demise of the very civilization that helped create them.
About 4,600 years ago, an Egyptian pharaoh (king) named Djoser ordered the construction of his own tomb. His specification was fairly straightforward. He wanted something unique. Pharaoh tombs before his time were rectangular bunkers made out of stones. Those tombs (called mastabas) looked bulky and
unimpressive. Djoser didn't like them, so he commissioned an architect named Imhotep to come up with a new design.
Imhotep did not let the pharaoh down, for he built the world's first pyramid! Djoser's pyramid is a step pyramid. It does not have smooth, triangular faces that a true pyramid must possess. When Imhotep began tackling the project, he first constructed a huge, rectangular mastaba covering an area of about 142,400 square feet. He then built five more mastabas of various sizes on top of it. The series of six mastabas, once completed, rose to a height of 198 feet. It resembles a wedding cake, with the smallest layer at the top and the biggest at the bottom. The base mastaba has a vertical shaft leading to Djoser's burial chamber about 100 feet underground. The only way to get to that shaft is from the mortuary temple located north of the step pyramid. Besides the limited access to the burial chamber, Imhotep also put in several other security measures to ward off intruders. For example, he surrounded the entire 37-acre complex with a 34-foot wall. Along the walls, he installed many fake entrances. The real entrance was at the southeastern corner.
After the debut of Djoser's Step Pyramid, pharaohs of later times all wanted this kind of grand-looking tomb. Thus, step pyramids mushroomed in Egypt. Building a pyramid, by all means, was not an easy task. While the actual construction method is still an unsolved mystery, many scientists believe that the ancient Egyptians slid massive blocks of stones up a long ramp to the level of the pyramid they were working on. The entire project, from the beginning to the end, could easily take two decades. Given that it took so long to build a single pyramid, one may assume that Egyptian pharaohs would never bother to construct more than one. Well, guess again.
Sneferu was the first pharaoh of the 4th dynasty. He ruled Egypt about 40 years after Djoser. Over his 24-year reign, he built three pyramids. The first one, commonly known as the Medium Pyramid, was originally a step pyramid. When the work was done, the steps were filled in with stones, and a smooth outer limestone casting turned the structure into a true pyramid. Unfortunately, the casting did not last long and started to crumble. So Sneferu, determined to have a tomb in the shape of a true pyramid, tried again. The Bent Pyramid was his second attempt. This pyramid started out at a very steep angle of about 52 degrees and then suddenly reduced in midway to a more gradual angle of 43 degrees. The last-minute change in the blueprint was probably because the original angle was too steep, and the inside began to collapse. No matter what the real reason was, the Bent Pyramid was rather awkward-looking. Sneferu didn't like it. He figured that he ought to try again. The third time was indeed a charm! The Red (or North) Pyramid, rising at an angle of 43 degrees, became the world's first true pyramid.
After Sneferu's success, step pyramids fell out of fashion, and true pyramids were in! Three of his successors -- Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura -- constructed three large pyramids in Giza. Those three, without a doubt, are the most famous of all pyramids. They have become the symbols of Egypt. Of the trio, the Great Pyramid by Pharaoh Khufu is the tallest. It stands 480 feet high. Its burial chamber is hidden away at the heart of the pyramid. The entire complex in Giza contains more than the three celebrated pyramids. It also has several temples, seven smaller pyramids for members of the royal families, and the Sphinx. The Sphinx is a huge stone sculpture of a human-headed lion in a crouching position. The Sphinx's face is believed to be that of Pharaoh Khafra. Pyramids are not an exclusive affair in Egypt. Many other ancient civilizations, such as the Mayas and the Aztecs, also had similar structures. But none had perfected the skill the way the Egyptians had, for the other pyramids were all step pyramids!
_____1. Who designed the world's first pyramid?___________________
_____2. How many pyramids did Sneferu have?
A. Two B. One C. Four D. Three
_____3. Djoser's Step Pyramid is taller than Khufu's Great Pyramid.
A. True B. False
_____4. How many layers does Djoser's Step Pyramid have?
A. Nine B. Four C. Seven D. Six
_____5. What was the name of the first true Pyramid?__________________________________
_____6. Khafra's pyramid is the tallest pyramid in Giza.
A. False B. True
_____7. Which of the following about Djoser's pyramid is correct?
A. The burial chamber for Pharaoh Djoser is hidden away at the heart of the pyramid.
B. The steps of the pyramid were filled in with stones, and a smooth outer limestone casting turned the structure into a true pyramid.
C. The base mastaba is about 142,400 square feet.
D. The 37-acre complex contains nothing but the pyramid itself.
_____8. What did the complex at Giza include besides the three great pyramids? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_____9. What is the angle of Sneferu's last pyramid?
A. 43 degrees B. 37 degrees C. 90 degrees D. 52 degrees
_____10. What is the sphinx?______________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Imagine you are the ancient ruler of an ancient land! You have hired builders to create the monument that will commemorate your rule and will tell people thousands of years from now who you were and how you ruled. Draw a picture of the monument. And write a paragraph explaining why you created what you did! (do this on a separate piece of paper)