The famous pyramids of ancient Egypt

The famous pyramids of ancient Egypt

The Egyptian pyramids are architectural constructions in the form of a geometric solid consisting of a polyhedron identified by a polygonal face called the base, normally square in shape, and by a vertex, which does not lie on the plane of the base indicated as the apex, or vertex, of the pyramid. It is believed, although none of those notes have found traces proving this use (funeral bodies or furnishings), they were buildings that were part of a larger funeral complex for rulers of ancient Egypt.


The term pyramid derives from the Greek word pyramids (πυραμίς) N 1 assigned to a typical spelled and honey-sweet, with a pointed shape (conical or vaguely pyramidal) that the Greek mercenaries presented as a funeral offer to the dead comrades N 2; however, it is likely that the choice of this term was derived from the assonance of the Greek word with the Egyptian one per-em-us, literally “that which goes up”, which in the mathematical papyrus Rhind N 3 indicates the height of the solid N 4 The Egyptian term to indicate the pyramid was MR vocalized N 5 in Mer in which “M” indicates “place” and “R” the act of going up with the complete sense, therefore, of the place where you go up, or there is the ‘Ascension Day. With this term, however, only the sepulcher of the king was indicated, while other words were used for tombs of other kinds The determinant for the hieroglyph that specifies in which area the sign to which it is placed should be interpreted, is a triangle with the vertex facing upward. This sign was mistakenly interpreted, among others, by Gaston Maspero who believed it to indicate all the royal burials to the point that, translating first the Abbott Papyrus, he called “pyramids” also the underground tombs of the Egyptian dynasty and of the Valley of the Kings.

However, it is good to keep in mind that among the Egyptians also the buildings were indicated with a proper name and, therefore, the term to indicate generically the pyramid building was scarcely used. The pyramid of Pepi, for example, was called Merenra-Khanefer, or Mennefermare. The Greeks, by assonance, obtained Mennefer who Greekized with the more familiar “Memphis”. The pyramids were in fact deified and possessed legal and religious personality. Each of them had a proper name and, from the IV to the XII dynasty the names always followed (except sporadic cases) the same grammatical structure: noun of the reverb – adjective as an attribute of quality or behavior. Therefore we had, for example, Cheops belongs on the horizon; Chefren is great; Pepi is stable in perfection; Snefru is shining; Unas is beautiful by a fence.

The origins

In order to reach the physical-architectural element of the Egyptian pyramid, one cannot ignore the intangible element that is, very likely, at the base: a real dispute, perhaps not only doctrinal, of the theological-religious order easily justifiable where it is considered that the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the I and II dynasty necessarily entailed the creation of a centralized administrative system, with a bureaucratic apparatus hierarchical and distributed throughout the territory. The religious context in which an attempt was made to reconcile the needs of unification with the theological ones of the two kingdoms and of the many existing divinities could not escape from such an amalgam work, in order to reach, moreover, a recognized and accepted pantheon.

The origins of the architectural work must therefore also be sought in the religious sphere and in the doctrinaire operation which, in the unifying phase of the country, aimed at incorporating archaic myths and legends, without however negating the relative religious independence of the kingdoms involved, concentrating the attention to a few centers of worship under the aegis of great deities who already could count on a prepared clergy and consolidated theological schools.

The successor king of Horus

With the unification of the Two Lands, the title result, proper of the kings of Upper Egypt N 6, merged with that of bity of the kings of Lower Egypt N 7, thus constituting the oldest of the five names of the royal title, the nesut- bity, literally “He who reigns over the rush and the bee”, who will characterize the king throughout the history of ancient Egypt. However, it was also necessary to sanction the right to reign over the two unified kingdoms with an epithet not linked to the distinct territorial units, but which in some way was superordinate to them, a condition that is possible only by making it subject to common divine descent.

The clergy of Ra of Heliopolis took charge of such an operation, perhaps because it was more prepared or theologically older, or perhaps due to a particular aggressiveness and particularly favorable political circumstances, who conceived, and made theologically impeccable, the divine descent of the king through the enunciation of the theory of the Great Enneade that saw the falcon god Horus as the last king of the divine dynasty and, therefore, the immediate predecessor of the terrestrial king N 8. The choice of Horus appears very thoughtful and acute considering that it was a divinity common to both geographic realities involved in unification; Horus was, in fact, the patron god of the largest religious center in the south, Nekhen (Ieracompoli), but also of the analogous important cult center, for the kingdom of the north, of Behdet N 9.

Already in the Thinita age, the serekh, dominated by the falcon god, in the oldest title of “name of Horus” N 10, will also be added to the title nesut-bity. and it’s rising, like Ra-Atum, on the benben stone of Heliopolis N 11 N 12.

An easy combination would allow, given the pyramidal shape of the benben stone, to derive from this the final shape of the monumental sepulcher, but this would be a somewhat simple solution that would not take into account, however, the long evolution of theological character that revolves around the shape definitive of the grave.

The solar underworld of the king

Thus characterized, even theologically, the figure of the living king, nothing yet differentiated him at the time of the transfer to the world of the afterlife since the royal mastabe of the first and second dynasty, at Saqqara N 13, were not very dissimilar architecturally from those of the officials, conceptually linked to the south of the country and, in particular, to the city of Abydos and the cult of Osiris N 14, a funeral cult, however, which already embryonically predicted, for the king, a destiny different from that of ordinary mortals. Precisely on this different conception of an afterlife reserved exclusively for the king, the doctrinal diatribe, and perhaps not only that, wanted the king destined not to the underworld of Osiris, but to the celestial world of Ra.

It seems clear that such a “solar” conception clearly contrasted with the primordial burial in the wells dominated by the mastabe which, although certainly capable of guaranteeing a comfortable life in the afterlife, were, however, far from the celestial afterlife that was emerging.

Although it is difficult to identify a precise moment in which solar theology prevailed over osiriaca, and when the tomb structure became a real means of achieving the ultimate goal, it is believed, however, that this can be identified towards the end of the second dynasty and a first reflection of the theological conflict, and of the possible solution, would be found in the double burial of King Djoser in Saqqara where the underground well N 15, hidden under the stepped pyramid, the king’s true tomb, is flanked by the so-called southern tomb, or “tomb a south “N 16 interpreted as a cenotaph in imitation of the double mastabe of the previous kings (in Saqqara and Abydos), but perhaps also directly connected to the new theological conception that wanted the existence of the royal underworld in the celestial regions, reserved only for kings to reunite with Father Ra.


To this solar conception, for the royal afterlife, the Texts of the Pyramids N 17 are connected, which will clearly express the solar destiny of the king and that if they appear, for the first time, during the fifth dynasty, they will see their evolution develop precisely at starting from III and IV.

According to this theological conception, the king, son of a god and god himself, was the link in the relationship between the earthly world and that of the divinities, he guaranteed his people well-being and prosperity, order and justice and his task was, in fact, the maintenance of the Maat on the Two Lands, but its protective activity did not fail with death since on the occasion of the passing it rose among the circumpolar stars (what the Egyptians called “Imperishable Stars”) and sat next to Ra; from here, thanks to the daily funeral cult of which his Kha N 18 was the object, he continued his concern for his earthly subjects.

That the affirmation of the solar underworld for kings, destined not to the west, like ordinary mortals, but to the east, has not been entirely peaceful, is traced by the very tone of some formulas of the Texts of the Pyramids; an entire section, from 1264a to 1279c, even presents extremely violent invectives against the gods of the Osiris cycle to prevent them from entering the pyramid, solar domain.

And it is still the formulas of the Texts of the Pyramids that theologically justify the very idea of ​​the stairway to heaven consisting, first, of the step pyramid and then, of the perfect pyramid.

The arrival of the king in heaven is also greeted by the gods themselves who consider him fully their equal and sometimes even superior to themselves, as detectable in the texts of the pyramid of Pepi, or even hyperbolically in itself including all the gods.

The echo of the victory of the clergy of Ra over others is still deducible from the texts of the pyramids which, for the first time, appear in the tomb of Unis (5th dynasty) where the heliopolitan birth of the king is emphasized with almost obsessive insistence and of the same Ra N 23.

And the solar concept of the pyramid understood theologically, and materially, as a stairway to heaven N 24 is strengthened and stabilized in the texts of the Old Kingdom from which it is possible to deduce, however, another interpretation of the pyramid structure as solidified stone rays filtered by clouds N 25.

Evolution of burials: Neolithic

In the Neolithic period (Egyptian Predynastic), to which the oldest burials of which we have knowledge in Egypt belong, there is no trace of sarcophagi for the burial of the deceased even though various forms of hospitalization are still used which, embryonic, they will in the meantime make to the sarcophagus reference. Since this archaic period, however, there has been a clear differentiation between the cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt also witnessed in the diversity of funeral rites N 26. The corpses are generally placed in a fetal position, lying on their side, in round pits or ovals that recall the plan of the houses, dug out of the earth, sometimes lined with mats.

Already from the first half of the Neolithic, however, there is a need to repair the dead from the sand with which the pit was filled, as well as, above, from the raids of predatory animals: it will come to the use of real wicker baskets, rush, leather, linen fabrics, in which the corpse was locked up; at the top mats are placed as a canopy sometimes cemented with mud, finally the exposed part of the burial was covered with brecciame and stones which also constituted a visible sign for the discovery of the burial itself N 27.

In the Naqada period there is a first important evolution of the burials which, as for the houses, from round or oval, become rectangular, sometimes, although rarely and in the more valuable burials intended for the representatives of the wealthiest classes, with internal walls covered in clay or brick cooked in the sun. Also for the burials intended for the chiefs or the sovereigns of divine derivation, there is an expansion of the underground structure, an internal subdivision appears in various environments made with wooden boards or brick walls, and an embryo of a cusp roof that is generally surmounted by piles of stones or bricks of which, today, it is not possible to establish the height for the collapses and for the removal of material occurred over the millennia.

Evolution of burials: Thinita Age and the Ancient Kingdom

In the Thinita Age the narrow hierarchy existing in the Pharaonic monarchy is also outlined in the burials: in Ieracompoli, the ancient Nekhen capital of Upper Egypt, in the image of the Tatenen mound, emerged from the Nun, the primordial ocean from which life originated, the body of the sovereign is “planted” in the earth, like a seed, so that it can be reborn with the annual Nilotic flood. In this period, and this custom will remain until the IV dynasty, the bodies are still deposited in a fetal position and complete extension and artificial mummification will be reached only at the end of the First Intermediate Period. On the body of the king, in the area of ​​the city reserved for burials, on the borders with the desert area, a mound covered with raw bricks is erected, with the various courses superimposed inclined at an angle of 45 ° N 28, surrounded by a wall in mud bricks of about 49 m. Given the collapses over the millennia, it is not possible to establish the height of the tumoral superstructure which, however, was probably to be in turn dominated by the Per-We’re chapel, or “the Great House” which was the name of the sanctuary of Ieracompoli and Southern Egypt. In the same enclosure was found by Quibell and Green, in 1898, the Narmer Tablet believed to be the symbol of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by the southern king Menes / Narmer of the first dynasty.

As a demonstration of the importance of this mound which, over the centuries, will undergo overlapping up to the New Kingdom, it should be considered that the construction of a masonry complex consisting of several rooms dating back to those foreseen for the funeral complexes dates back to the Middle Kingdom. pyramids of the early dynasties; in one of these, in the center of the complex, the gold head of Horus was found, with the head dominated by high feathers, known as Horus of Hieracompoli.

The Egyptian literature referring to the life of the afterlife contains many references to the primordial divine tumulus also considered, especially in the New Kingdom, a means for Osiris to ascend to heaven so that the god is sometimes represented supine, within a structure that recalls, in section, a step pyramid; in this sense, the Ieracompoli mound can be interpreted as a prefiguration of the concept behind the largest and most sacred of the mounds: the pyramid.

I and II dynasty

If politically the unification of the two lands could be said to be concluded with the mythical king Menes / Narmer, in fact, it was not yet completed and the kings of the I and II dynasty continued to choose which area of ​​Abydos N 29 as the necropolis. They are still tombs hypogea surmounted by raw brick structures which, in the case of the tomb of Khasekhemui, perhaps the last king of the II dynasty buried here, have allowed the identification of masonry structures that have been defined “proto-pyramidal”.


With the territorial unification occurred under the I dynasty N 30, it was necessary to choose a new capital that the southern kings, who came from Upper Egypt, decided to create at the confluence of the Nile with the extensive Delta area. At the end of the II dynasty, this city will be known as Ineb Hedj, or “the White Wall”, which the Greeks will call Menfi N 31.

Needing, in accordance with what was practiced in the land of origin, to create an area to be used as a necropolis on the edge of the city, Saqqara (about 30 km) was chosen as the area of ​​the royal necropolis, where directly deriving from the primordial mound and from the superimposed stones to protect the oldest burials, more squared and architecturally more defined, complex and monumental structures were conceived: the mastabe N 32. These, of a pyramidal shape, like the mounds of stones, actually protected underground burials and they were, originally, devoid of internal rooms N 33. Externally the mastabe was characterized by an average height of about 6 m, with walls with “recesses and protrusions” in brick cooked in the sun that recalled the so-called palace facade, covered of lime milk, in imitation of mats and polychrome curtains in fabric.


In the twenty years 1936-1956, under the guidance of the British Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery N 34, numerous mastabe from Saqqara were excavated, finding that some of them, had references to kings of the I and II dynasty whose tombs were already known at Abydos: this suggested that the mastabe of Saqqara, a locality linked territorially to the new capital, were actually cenotaphs of the authentic burials of Abydos or vice versa considering, however, that this second location was intimately connected to the cult of the god of the dead Osiris.

Evolution of the pyramids

The Egyptian pyramid in its final architectural conception of “perfect pyramid” is, in itself, only part of a larger funeral complex which, in its definitive structuring, will see coexist:

  • the main pyramid;
  • one or more satellite pyramids;
  • one or more secondary pyramids, or “of the queen”;
  • a funeral temple dedicated to the cult of the deceased ruler;
  • a downstream temple, or “welcome” temple, where the rites connected with the embalming of the king took place;
  • a processional, or “ceremonial” ramp that united the two temples and along which the funeral path unfolded and represented the ascent from earthly life to the Duat N 35.

Previous to this structuring, however, the pyramid went through successive phases whose genesis, theological and architectural, has been outlined above. From the tumulus, a simple burial mark and protective of mortal remains, we moved on to more complex structures than the tumulus were the architectural elaboration, the mastabe, which were the burials of the kings of the first two dynasties after the unification of the Two Lands. With these dynasties we witness the presence of double burials, in Saqqara and Abydos, probably to make both unified lands enjoy the divine funeral presence of the king-god.

The considered immediate predecessor of the step pyramid, which in turn originated the perfect pyramid, it is the “crepidoma pyramid” of Nebitka, in Saqqara N 36 which, like the subsequent pyramid of Djoser, of which it follows in small structure and proportions, has more building phases N 37.

III dynasty

Although we are not aware of a moment of clear separation from the previous funeral constructions, with the first king of the third dynasty, Djoser, and more specifically with his architect Imhotep, we are witnessing a real leap in architectural quality N 38.

Djoser complex

In the meantime, it is the first construction of which there is memory in which the raw brick is replaced by the square stone used to make the whole complex N 39. Being the first experiment of use of the new building material, the stone blocks have dimensions slightly larger than the previous raw bricks; however, it is symptomatic that, hand in hand with the experience gained and with the greatest confidence in the architectural solution, the dimensions of the blocks will increase until, just over a century later, they reach the immense ones found in the perfect pyramids of Giza. The Djoser complex in Saqqara is, in size, approximately 60 times the largest of the cenotaphs of the 2nd dynasty of Abydos N 40 and the architect Imhotep was able to transpose in stone, on a monumental scale, structures already existing in previous buildings, but made of perishable materials such as raw bricks, tree trunks, bundles of reeds and N 41 mats. The solutions put in place by Imhotep, however, were anything but simply imitative since it was able to combine the novelty with the strict respect of the precepts of the ceremonial and of the royal, solar funeral doctrine, which had meanwhile begun. The fact that, among the countless titles that he boasted of, Imhotep also possessed that of Kheriheb her tep, that is First Priest reader of the Eliopolitan clergy, was not likely removed from this conception.

As already for Nebitka’s crepidoma mastaba, the Djoser complex was also erected by successive expansions; in fact, it was originally a màstaba with vertical walls, with a square plan of 62.90 MX 8.32 in height, with a flat roof, with limestone coating N 42. The whole complex, in the visible part, constitutes a real and proper simulation of buildings since most of them are not practicable, as if they were a theatrical scene; the real funeral complex develops, in fact, underground with eleven funerary wells, 33 m deep, difficult to access, since obstructed by the growing expansion of the pyramid, and a large number of rooms (over 400) which, it is believed, housed 40,000 vases alabaster, schist, porphyry, rock crystal, serpentine, breccia and other types of stone, almost all dating back to the 1st and 2nd dynasty, in terms of shape or inscriptions, of which at least two-thirds bear the cartouches of predecessors of King Djoser N 43 others the names of officials and the monument to which they were originally intended and, inside, in ink, the name of the donor and, sometimes, that of the potter N 44.

The final result is, however, a pyramid consisting of six steps, for an overall height, today, of about 59 m, a real staircase that was to facilitate the king in his ascent to heaven and his father Ra, in perfect adherence with the heliopolitan theology to which the so-called South Tomb N 45 would also refer.

Other Pyramids in Gradoni

One could assume that, after Djoser’s, a long trail of stepped pyramids were built, but this was not the case; although some elements will also be found in subsequent complexes, the step pyramid, with a rectangular base, did not have a great following.

In addition to Djoser’s, only three other large complexes are known to date, attributable to the III dynasty, including a step pyramid [53]: in Saqqara, the pyramid of Sekhemkhet; to Zawyet el-Aryan, attributable perhaps to King Khaba; to Meidum, attributable to Huni, but later usurped by Snefru who transformed it into a perfect pyramid N 46.

Sekhemkhet complex

In the uncertain panorama of the order of succession of the kings of the III dynasty, the pyramid of Sekhemkhet, in Saqqara, allows, for a series of objective considerations N 47 to confirm that this king was the immediate successor of Djoser. The Sekhemkhet complex, perhaps also built by Imhotep (as evidenced by a short inscription in italic hieroglyph that mentions it), was also surrounded by a wall, today 3.10 m high of the 10 likely foreseen, with recesses and protrusions of white limestone. The excavations started in 1951 by the Egyptian archaeologist Zakaria Goneim N 48, made it possible to ascertain that the complex was never completed N 49, but that it was enlarged, from the original 340 m x 183, up to 523 x 194 m; from the remains of the step pyramid, it was also possible to ascertain that the same had to have a square base of 120 m and a height, on seven steps inclined by 15 °, of about 70. In contrast to the incompleteness of the superstructure, the underground apartments had reached almost a final stage and included a funeral chamber at a depth of 32 m, which can be reached via a ramp 36 m external and 78 underground, 8.70 MX 5.20 x 4.50 in height. The chamber, not completed, contained an alabaster sarcophagus, closed but empty N 50 which was interpreted as a second burial, being the main one still under the pyramid debris, not yet excavated to date. The underground rooms include a corridor N 51, which intersects in the center, orthogonally, a 152 m transverse gallery from whose ends two corridors of 90 m branch off, giving access to 132 rooms probably reserved for funeral offerings; even these rooms were obviously not completed and in some cases full of processing debris not yet removed. The excavation works were suspended in 1959 and were resumed in 1963 bringing to light, also in this case, a “south tomb” consisting of a very damaged màstaba since it was used in antiquity as a quarry of stones already worked N 52.

Khaba (or Ka’ba) complex

In Zawyet el-Aryan, about 6 km from Saqqara, there are the scarce remains of the superstructure of what was to be another stepped pyramid, probably destined for King Khaba, also known as “Layer Pyramid”, or “Pyramid a Layers “, due to the presence of independent layers perpendicular to the coating of which, however, there is no trace.

Again, this is a complex never completed; the step pyramid was to have a base side of about 84 m and had to develop over five steps for a total of 42–45 m. Always known, it was visited by Karl Richard Lepsius in 1849, but only in 1900 Alessandro Barsanti explored its underground part reaching, at a depth of 29 m and after a corridor 80 long, a burial chamber of 3.63 MX 2.65, 3 m high which, however, contained neither a sarcophagus nor a trace of a burial [58]; also in this case, as for the pyramid of Sekhemkhet, a corridor met, orthogonally in the middle, another of 120 m which, at both ends, had corridors at 90 ° 50 m long. Overall, in this case, there were 32 rooms that opened on the corridors N 53, intended to contain the funeral offerings.

The complex of Huni / Snefru

Third, large, complex in which stands a pyramid with steps is, in Meidum, the one named after Snefru, of the IV dynasty, but, most likely, started during the reign of Huni, of the III. It is perhaps the last and largest of the tiered pyramids of the III dynasty. Today, it looks like a sort of square tower N 54, which stands on a high pile of debris consisting, in fact, of the covering of the perfect pyramid that Snefru had erected by leaning on the existing structure used, therefore, as nucleus N 55. Originally, the structure of Huni consisted of seven steps, with six “cloak” casings on four sides, of decreasing height; subsequently, a seventh enveloping envelope was added and, perhaps, an eighth, for a base side equal to 122 m and a height perhaps greater than 82 N 56. More elements will be provided when, with the IV dynasty, it will be the pyramids of Snefru.

Pyramids with minor steps

Besides the aforementioned four major step pyramids N 57, seven other minor pyramids of the same case N 58 are known; these are pyramids, or what remains of them, of small dimensions dating back to the final part of the III diagnostic which, by common factor, have the arrangement of the walls of the nucleus with “inclined beds”, that is parallel to the faces of the external covering. Given the small size and the almost total absence of archaeological explorations, it was hypothesized that they could be cenotaphs or pyramids intended for princes in the places where they were governors, or queens in the places of birth, or that they were markers for places sacred to Horus and Seth or, again, that they were symbols of the primeval mound from which life sprang. Of the 7 pyramids indicated by Lehner, the southernmost is located on the island of Elephantine, three others are located near Ombos, one in Sinki, near Abydos, one in Middle Egypt, in Zawyet el-Aryan and another at Seila N 59, south of the Fayyum area.

Particularly interesting is the step pyramid of Seila where, in 1987, an expedition of the Brigham Young University of Provo (Utah) found a stele headed by King Snefru, founder of the IV dynasty, and holder of three other N 60 pyramids. Seila is the only one that retains part of the limestone cladding, it had to have a base of 22.50 m for a height of 17 m spread over three steps.

IV dynasty

Less than a century separates Djoser’s ascension to the throne from that of Snefru, the first king of the dynasty considered par excellence the greatest pyramid maker. The III dynasty ends, architecturally speaking, with the construction of a stepped pyramid (perhaps the last of a very short series) in Meidum, started under Huni, which will be continued under Snefru and brought to an unimaginable stage only at the time of the architect Imhotep. Even that of Huni, like the precedents of Djoser and Sekhemkhet, underwent variations of the project in progress N 61; in particular, the pyramid of Huni was structured on seven steps with six “mantle” casings on four sides, of decreasing height, resting on each other and inclined towards the center so as to unload the weight towards the core of the building. A subsequent expansion involved the addition of a seventh “mantle” (and perhaps an eighth) so that the completed pyramid had to have a base side equal to 122 m and 82 m in height.

The pyramids of Snefru

Egypt, after the unification of Meneses / Narmer and the policy of the first two dynasties, was now a well-organized country, rich in raw materials, with well-structured agriculture and with well-identified contacts and foreign trade N 62; also significant were the mining activities in Sinai for copper and in Wadi Meghara for turquoise, or in Wadi Allaqi and Wadi Hammamat for gold. Politically the figure of “ti (a) -ty” (normally translated with the term “visir”) is already attested, there are six “Big Houses” (hwt-wrt), or six “ministries” with well-differentiated functions, and with The census of livestock is constantly carried out every two years.

The “False Pyramid”

In this context, of political solidity and hierarchical organization, King Snefru ascended the throne who, about fifteen years after the second variant N 63, put his hand to the pyramid of Huni to transform it into a regular pyramid. To obtain this result, the steps were filled and the covering blocks were laid on this filling, obtaining the first geometrically perfect pyramid with a square base of 144 m, the height of 91.70 m and a slope angle of 51 ° 50’35 “[ 69]. Of this pyramid, perhaps the first one built by Snefru N 64, there remains only a sort of square tower consisting of three steps (in fact the fifth, sixth and seventh steps, the others being buried by the high heap of debris), which are the core of the Huni pyramid. On the north side, at a height of 18.50 m, there is the entrance of a downhill corridor which, after 58 m and seven steps, becomes horizontal for another 9, 45 m; at the end of this blind corridor, a vertical well about 3 m deep opens. In the well-concealed ceiling, however, an opening rises vertically for 6.65 m and gives access to the funeral chamber which, for the first time, it has an “overhanging” vault N 65 of 5.90 MX 2.65, with a height (in the peak) of 5.05 m. This chamber is dug into the bottom rock and only 0.50 m of the walls, and the entire overhanging vault, are located within the massif of the superstructure.

The presence, on the east side of a very small chapel (9.18 x 9 x 2.30) in white limestone, a prototype of the “Funerary Temple” of the successive pyramidal complexes, flanked by two high steles of 4.20 m completely not inscribed, suggested that the building was abandoned again N 66. The Snefru complex in Meidum has, in fact, all the elements that will characterize the subsequent complexes of the 4th dynasty: besides the embryo of the “Funerary Temple” mentioned above, there is, in fact, a “Ceremonial Way” 210 m long between two walls about 2 meters high and it is supposed to exist, given the presence of the Via Cerimoniale, also a “Tempio a Valle” although not yet excavated. On the south side, there is also a trace (only the base of 26.65 m side remains) a “satellite pyramid”, perhaps in memory of the southern Tomb of the previous complexes. Over the centuries, the pyramid became a building stone quarry and from travelers’ reports, it appears that between 1117-1119 (visit by Shaykh Abu Mohammed Abdallah) and 1737, a visit by Frederic Louis Norden, at least two were dismantled steps leaving the structure as you can see it today. The systematic dismantling work, especially in the Middle Ages, was the cause of the current state of degradation of the structures also due to the habit of the Arab stone quarry to precipitate the blocks that were removed from above causing the fracture and the projection of debris and splinters that formed the heap of almost 50 m in height on which stands what remains of the pyramid of Huni. The current final shape, which cannot be fully assimilated either to a stepped pyramid or to a perfect pyramid, meant that the Snefru complex in Meidum was called Haram el-Kaddab, or “the False Pyramid”.

The “Rhombus Pyramid”

For unknown reasons, around the fifteenth year of reign, Snefru abandoned the necropolis of Meidum moving 40 km further north, to Dahshur where he founded another necropolis, probably in an area still a virgin, where he erected two other funeral complexes, the “Rhombus Pyramid” and the “Red Pyramid”. The first, due to its unusual shape, has been defined in several ways: (EN) Bent Pyramid (folded pyramid), (DE) Knickpyramide (elbow pyramid), Rhombus Pyramid, Curved Pyramid, but the most exact definition is certainly the one assigned by Alexandre Varille of “Double slope pyramid”.

The pyramid, in fact, altogether 101.15 m (originally reached 105.07) and with a square base of 188.60 m on the side, has an inclination of the walls of 54 ° 3’13 “up to the height of 49.07 m and then varied in 43 ° 21 ‘for the next 56 m. It is, in fact, the best-preserved pyramid since the original limestone coating is still almost complete. If the angle of the slope had not been changed, it would have reached a height of 128 m N 67. Precisely the excellent conditions of the external coating did not allow for more detailed research to establish the exact structure of the massif (“mantle” or “stepped”) which, however, with a few breaches existing, appears to consist of limestone blocks laid inclined inwards to ensure greater stability.

There are various hypotheses as to why the double slope had to be used: according to John Gardner Wilkinson the change of slope was due to the need to speed up the construction in anticipation of the imminent death of King N 68; according to Alexandre Varille, however, the double slope had already been pre-established as an architectural transposition of the duality of Upper and Lower Egypt, a hypothesis also supported by the double presence of some elements (two entrances, two descending corridors, two funeral apartments) and the fact that the root sn of the same name as Snofru indicates the number two N 69. More plausible appears the hypothesis put forward by Jean Yoyotte N 70 according to which the double slope was derived from technical reasons in the consideration that an inclination too pushed, like the initial one of more than 54 °, it could cause an overload of the structures that would have caused the collapse of the same, or of failures actually found during the work. As proof of the validity of this thesis, some showy lesions in some of the internal blocks that affect all the coating layers and which are also detectable in settling fractures inside the funeral apartments.

The “double slope pyramid” has two entrances on the north and west walls; the first entrance to the north, at 11.80 m from the base, gives access to a 79.53 m long corridor that drops down to 25 m below ground level and then rises abruptly, with a steep staircase, which leads to a room funeral of 6.03 MX 5 with overhang vault 17.40 m high; some lesions in the walls and ceiling were repaired with chalky mortar. The second entrance, to the west, 33.32 m from the base, is followed by a descending corridor with a square section 1.10 m long, 67.65 m long, which ends in a sort of vestibule beyond which another 20.12 m corridor gives access to the 6.56 MX 4.10 funeral chamber, with a 16.50 m high overhang vault, positioned higher, inside the structure, than the previous one. In this burial chamber, the subsidence of the structures ventilated by Yoyotte is more evident, which justified the variation in the slope. Between the two funeral chambers, which are not located on the same vertical, there is a difference in height of 17.25 m. None of the burial chambers bore traces of sarcophagi or the presence of wooden boxes.

The “red pyramid”, or “of the north”

Not far from the double slope pyramid, Snefru had a third pyramid built, known as “Red Pyramid” N 71, or “Northern Pyramid”; the same is locally known also as “bat pyramid”, or “chain pyramid”, or “pointed pyramid”, or, again, as el-haram el-wat wat, or “blind pyramid”. Although of the three pyramids erected by Snefru this is the least studied and the least known, it was designed, and built, with a less pronounced inclination of 43 ° 22 ‘, an inclination that will be repeated later, almost identical, in the following pyramids. The “red pyramid” is universally recognized in the Egyptological world, for the quality of its construction, the first conceived and built as a perfect regular pyramid. On one of the block fragments found at the base of the pyramid, the name of Snefru and the dating of the fifteenth census were found, but considering that this took place every two years, this would indicate the thirtieth year of Snefru which, however, according to the Papyrus of Turin, reigned only 24 years N 72.

The base is not perfectly square (218.50 m x 221.50), it is 104.40 m high; the entrance is 28.65 m from the ground and gives access to a descending corridor of 58.80 m followed by another horizontal corridor of 7.40 m which reaches the room of 8.35 MX 3.60, with a vault 12.31 m high overhang; from this, a short corridor of only 3 m gives access to the second anteroom of 8.30 m x 4.15, with a projecting vault 12.30 m high. In this room, which like all the rest of the apartment so far seen is located below the ground on which the pyramid was built, at 7.80 m above the ground there is a 7.50 m tunnel which gives access to the funeral chamber, this inside the massive wall, of 8.30 x 3.60, with an overhang 15.25 m high. in which, together with evident traces of a large bonfire and systematic works of predatory excavation in search of additional N 73 rooms, few human remains were found which cannot be unequivocally assigned to Snefru N 74.

Studies carried out by Charles Maystre on quarry marks affixed to some blocks of the Red Pyramid, allowed to demonstrate that their processing took place at the same time as the cladding blocks of the “False Pyramid” of Meidum and that, therefore, the two yards would have worked at the same time.

In conclusion, mention must also be made of a fourth pyramid linked, in some way, to Snefru; it is, in fact, a minor step pyramid, in Seila, south of the Fayyum area, where, in 1987, a stele headed to King Snefru was found.

After the move of the royal necropolises from Meidum and Saqqara to Dashuhr, under Snefru, with the successor Cheope, there is a new migration of the royal funeral complexes on the Giza plateau, about 8 km from the capital Menfi. The structure of the funeral complex is now defined in its essential elements and the mastery in the working of the stone offers levels previously unthinkable N 75.

On the plateau, given also the small size N 76, there are only the three most important, and famous, funerary complexes of Ancient Egypt represented by the pyramids of Cheops, Chefren and Micerino surrounded by the countless màstabe of officials and nobles authorized to rest nearby to kings. The area, without prejudice to some private burials at the base of the plateau and in the wadis, must have been virgin when Cheope decided to use it for the construction of its huge funeral complex. It is good, first of all, to keep in mind that during the First Intermediate Period the necropolis was systematically looted and the only tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, mother of Cheops, was saved, as it was completely underground and without any element indicating its presence. Furthermore, the first stone withdrawals from the pyramid coverings and the dismantling of temples to obtain building stones date back to this period; the withdrawals continued also in subsequent periods and, in particular, during the Middle Kingdom especially under the dynasties XI and XII. As for the funeral furnishings, although entirely plundered of the most precious parts and of the riches contained, it is known until the VII-VI century BC.

There is little information on Cheops N 77 and it is paradoxical that of the manufacturer of the largest pyramid in Egypt, there are only one of the smallest statues (only 7.6 cm) N 78.

It was possible to define, archaeologically and architecturally, the various construction phases of the pyramid of Cheops as follows:

  • leveling of the surface involved in the erection of the pyramid until it reaches the underlying rock layer N 79 with a difference in height of 2.1 cm;
  •  preparation of a foundation pavement in rough blocks of local limestone reinforced on the edges of white Tura limestone;
  •  growth of the assemblies by overlapping parallel layers (it is not believed that there could be a “mantle” central nucleus for subsequent growth).

The pyramid currently develops on 203 assemblies, but originally there must have been at least 210 whereas, currently, on the top, there is a platform of 10 m on the N 80 side.

The base is almost perfectly square with a side of about 230 m N 81 and the current height reaches 137.25 m which originally were, however, missing seats and pyramidion included, 146.70; the base area occupies 5.24 hectares; the inclination, constant, is equal to 51 ° 52 ‘and the orientation of the sides sees a difference equal to 0 ° 3’06 “. Considering the existing ones, larger at the base (about 1.50 m) and smaller hand as you go up (0.75 cm to the top), it is believed that the coating, completely removed over the millennia, was made up of about 115,000 blocks of fine white limestone from Tura N 82.

As for the internal structure, with the pyramid of Cheops one tries to repeat the underground structure of the funeral apartment, but this remains incomplete N 83 (n. 5 in the “schematic section”) and, contrary to what was found in the previous pyramids, there is the positioning of the funeral apartment no longer in the rocky bottom below the superstructure but, probably due to the difficult and hard excavation works, inside the massif; this allowed to always work in the open air, as the structure itself grew. It is not known when and why the idea of ​​the underground chamber was abandoned, but in the descending corridor (numbers 3 and 4 in the “schematic section”), at 28.21 m from the entrance, an ascending corridor was created ( no. 6 in the “section”), with a slope of 26 ° 2’30 “, closing the continuation downwards in such a perfect way as to hide it for centuries. The new corridor develops, with a very narrow section of slightly more of 1 m, for 39 m; from here, in a sort of small vestibule, it becomes horizontal (n. 8 in the “section”) for 36 m and gives access to what was improperly called “Camera Della Regina” (n. 7 in the “section”) and that, most likely, must have been the funeral chamber of King N 84 before a subsequent, further modification during the course of work N 85.

From the one indicated above as the “vestibule” two structures depart that characterize the interior of the pyramid of Cheops: a vertical wall of 0.60 x 0.65 m cross-section that crosses the descending well 60 m lower (no. 11 in the “section”) N 86, and that which, in size and conception, was defined and is known as the “Grand Gallery” (n. 9 in the “section”). It is an uphill environment (which follows the slope of the ascending corridor: 26 ° 2’30 “) 46.66 m long, and 2.06 wide. The walls are vertical for 2.25 m and then start once overhanging, consisting of 7 assemblies of blocks each protruding over the one immediately below 0.7 m. At the top, the roofing slabs are visible for 1.04 m and the Gallery is 8.54 m high overall.

The Grand Gallery continues in a horizontal corridor in which there are three granite slabs to form as many vertical shutters to close and seal the funeral chamber N 87, the “Camera del Re” (No. 10 in the “section”), which opens immediately after. It is an environment, 48.28 m above the ground, of 10.47 m x 5.23 x 5.08 in height, entirely covered with red granite slabs. The ceiling, made up of 9 granite slabs weighing between 25 and 40 t, is flat and, while the “queen’s room” was exactly on the vertical of the top of the pyramid, this is displaced N 88.

The situation created in the double slope pyramid of Snefru, with the structural failures of the lining and of the funeral chamber itself, due to the enormous weight on the compartments, forced the builders to study and solve the problem by preparing 5 discharge compartments that overlook the Chamber del Re N 89. The unloading compartments are delimited, above and below, by unfinished slabs, with a thickness varying between 0.80 and 1.80 m, which rest transversely on the walls; only the highest room (Campbell’s room) is made with a pitched roof, with an inverted “V” (like the Queen’s room) made up of granite beams over 4 m long, 1 m wide and more than 2 m thick. Just inside these unloading compartments, red-colored writings were found, made by the foremen who worked there; in the Chamber of Campbell, the highest was found an inscription (not intended for position to be seen by anyone) referring to the king Khnum-Khufu (Cheope) holder of the pyramid; this is the only reference to the owner of the tomb inside N 90.

In the Camera del Re there is a red granite sarcophagus (like the walls), 2.5 m wide, which has a recess to accommodate the lid (not found, but which had to exist anyway because damage was detected due to the insertion of levers to lift it); given the size, the sarcophagus, as noted by Petrie [96], was placed during work since it could never have passed through the narrow corridors.

Undisputed controversy and interpretations have aroused two conduits that, from the King’s Chamber, depart through the whole pyramidal massif until reaching the outside at the height of the 85th assembly of blocks, about 76 m from the ground. According to some interpretations, these are ducts with magical intent to allow the king’s kha to ascend to the imperishable stars. According to other hypotheses, these are only ventilation ducts to allow workers to work in the phases following the closure of the vault of chamber N 91. Other ducts have been detected inside the Queen’s chamber, but do not reach the outside and are ” forgive “in the massive N 92.

Beyond the pyramid, which was originally surrounded, at 10 m from the base, by a wall more than 8 m high in white limestone from Tura, the complex included the Funeral Temple N 93, where Via Processional N 94 reached, the only entrance to the fence the pyramid, which started from the Valley Temple N 95, as well as other structures such as for sacred boats and minor pyramids, one of which is a “satellite” and three “queens”. Traces of the first, perhaps destined for Cheope’s kha, with a base side of only 20 m, have only recently been detected; the three “pyramids of the queens” are called (from north to south) GI-a, GI-b, GI-c N 96, were built with less care and had a base side equal to about a fifth of the main pyramid, about 40–45 m.

The pyramid of Djedefra

Djedefra / Kheper N 97, son of Cheops and a minor queen, perhaps of Libyan origin, succeeded his father by marrying his half-sister Hetepheres II probably to confirm his right to the throne; it is believed, in fact, that heir to the throne was Khawab, whose mastaba is located near the Pyramid of Cheops, and that Djedefra was, therefore, a usurper. The proof would be, in the meantime, the choice of Abu Rawash, about 8 km from Giza, to erect his pyramid, as well as the discovery of some inscriptions and statues were deliberately broken into a sort of damnatio memoriaeN 98. The pyramid of Djedefra is today reduced to a few traces which make the structure scarcely legible which, most likely, was a step pyramid. The death of the sovereign, however, did not allow to complete the tomb which, at the time of the suspension of the works, should not exceed 10-12 m in height and was further dismantled in accordance with the damnatio memoriae above ventilated N 99.


The conditions of the pyramid do not allow exact measurements to be obtained, Howard Vyse indicated a base side of 97.28 m, while Lepsius indicated 95 and today a side between 104.60 and 106.20 m is considered more plausible; it is not possible to establish what it was, or what it should be, the height and the inclination that had to be, however, it must be quite steep N 100. Also from an architectural point of view, Djedefra tries to break with the new trends by having the funeral apartment excavated again in the subsoil, and not in the massif, with a 49 m long access corridor and a 22 ° 35 ‘slope; the remains of a small satellite pyramid, of the funerary temple and of a pit for a sacred boat, were found by Lepsius in the area which, in assonance with what were the complexes of the III dynasty, was included within a boundary wall. In 1901 Chassinat found what must have been the remains of the Valley Temple (of which no trace is known today); from this began what, despite the few remains, was defined the most beautiful Processional Way among those known: it had to be between 1,500 and 1,700 m long, it was built on a ballast of limestone blocks, to keep it flat and overcome the height differences that, in some points, reached 12.20 m in height; the walking surface was 9 m wide and, overall, including the side walls “to shoe” had to be over 15 m wide.

The pyramid of Chefren

Djedefra’s successor was Chefren who, probably, ascended the throne after having had his predecessor of probable Libyan origins killed, to bring the dynasty back to the Egyptian line. Son, or perhaps brother, of Cheope N 101, according to Manetone, he reigned 66 years; Herodotus gives him 56 years of reign, but a period between 25 and 29 years is plausible. As evidence of the contrast with his predecessor, who had moved the royal necropolis to Abu Rawash, Chefren returns to the Giza plateau where he has his funeral complex built in the immediate vicinity of Cheope’s. Its pyramid has a base side of 215.16 m, an inclination of 52 ° 20 ‘and originally reached a height of 143.50 m N 102. The pyramid, which still has part of the white limestone cladding in the upper quarter (for about 45 m), has a slightly twisted top since the four cornerstones were not exactly positioned; the lower covering must have been in granite and already in Egyptian times the monument was exploited as a stone quarry, as evidenced by some graffiti inside, of May, “Head of the works of His Majesty”, which during the reign of Ramses II he removed blocks to erect public buildings in Menfi. The stripping continued over the millennia even though a 16th-century French traveler wrote that the bottom covering was still in good condition. As in the case of the Cheops pyramid, the pyramidion is also missing here.

The accesses to the pyramid, discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni are two, both on the north side: one on the facade, at 12.90 m from the ground, descends for 37 m, and, after a granite gate N 103, it then becomes horizontal for 52 it reaches the sepulchral chamber which is dug in the rock of the plateau up to the height of the roof which, consisting of granite slabs placed in an inverted “V” shape, is therefore located inside the pyramid massif. The second passage opens instead into space, 10.47 m, between the pyramid and the wall that enclosed it; older than the previous one, it was closed with stone caps and masked with white limestone slabs of the pavement. It consists of a 41 m descending corridor, 1.05 wide and 1.20 m high, which, after a granite gate, becomes horizontal for 20 m and then goes up for another 26 m until it almost reaches the surface. In the horizontal section, there is a lateral chamber 10.46 MX 3.13 x 2.56 in height (with an inverted “V” ceiling) perhaps originally planned as a burial chamber or, as in the case of the Queen’s Room in the pyramid of Cheops, serdab for the royal statue.

The sepulchral chamber, in which Belzoni’s signature written in black smoke N 104 stands out, is 14.17 MX 4.97 x 6.84 m wide; the sarcophagus, found empty except for some bones that turned out to be animal (perhaps bull), is recessed in the floor up to the level of the lid, dug in a block of granite and measures 2.63 MX 1.07, with a thickness varying between 0.21 and 0.25 m. The 17 pairs of inverted “V” roofing sheets are 2 m thick; their perfect connection made it impossible to establish whether there are upper discharge compartments. At the current state of knowledge, the entire bulk of the Chefren pyramid does not have internal rooms and the only space created in the massif is, therefore, the upper part of the funeral chamber.

The funerary complex of Chefren is quite well preserved, presenting one of the few examples of a well-known Valley Temple N 105; the pyramid was surrounded by a white limestone wall, built on foundations 3.50 m wide, perhaps 8 m high, 10.47 m from the base of the pyramid. Space was paved with white limestone slabs (which, in the case of the access discovered by Belzoni, covered it perfectly), with a thickness of 0.30-0.45 m, which fit into special grooves cut into the rock below; everything was built on a slight slope to facilitate the flow of water.

The Valley Temple, excavated in 1909-1910 by Ludwig Borchardt and Georg Steindorff has a square plan of 44.80 m and the scarp walls were 13.10 m high; on the facade, there were two doors, 6 m high and 2.80 wide; in the center, probably, a colossal statue of Chefren. The two doors were originally flanked by two sphinxes, of which no trace remains except in the bases of 8 MX 2, and gave access to a transversal corridor, called “vestibule”, 20 m long and 9.40 m high whose ceiling consisted of granite slabs 5 m long and whose floor was in alabaster; in this vestibule, in a well dug in the floor, Auguste Mariette found, together with other 8 not of the same manufacturer, the statue of the king in black diorite today in the Cairo Museum. From the center of the vestibule, a corridor leads to an upside-down T-shaped hypostyle hall with red granite walls, in which 23 Chefren statues in alabaster, schist, and diorite were aligned (as can be deduced from the recesses in the floor). from below thanks to the light that penetrated from slits in the walls and was reflected by the shiny alabaster floor. At the front of the temple, an approximately 8 m wide paved floor was interpreted as a quay, a landing stage. On one side of the “T” room, a staircase opened onto the roof of the building and, from this to the professional way.

This developed with an oblique path up to the Funerary Temple and the enclosure of the pyramid, overcoming a vertical drop of about 50 m; it was 494.60 m long and delimited, laterally, by scarp walls with a thickness of 3.13 m at the base. The walking surface of the Via Processional was 4.50 m wide and rested on the integrated rock, where there was the leveling to be corrected, by rough limestone blocks; from the remains still visible, it is not believed that the internal walls of the Via Processional were decorated and the light was most likely provided by slits in the central part of the ceiling. The whole Via Processional was flanked by two roads from 4 to 5 m wide, but only the Via Processional had access to the Funeral Temple.

The latter, the least readable of the constituent elements of the funeral complex, had a facade almost equal to that of the Tempio in Valle, about 50 m, but depth of almost 112; also, in this case, the floor was in alabaster, but only one slab remains today. The number of statues of the king also had to be substantial in this temple, but while traces and remains of small statues have been found, so it is not for the larger ones, perhaps 52 in full size, and this because they were removed for royal order during the XVIII dynasty or, subsequently, during the long reign of Ramses II to be reused in other structures. Through a corridor, which opened into the hypostyle hall, we reached a courtyard of 30 MX 18, with an alabaster floor, surrounded by an ambulatory in which five rooms opened, without doors, 2.78 m wide (except the median 3.30 m) and 10 m deep; in the west corner of the ambulatory, there was the only access to the enclosure of the pyramid. The study of the Funerary Temple of Chefren has made it possible to identify a hypothesis of planimetric reconstruction that is paradigmatic of the structure of similar buildings of the subsequent V and VI dynasty that will develop with:

  • entrance hall;
  •  short portico with pillars or columns;
  •  compartments for statues;
  •  room of the offers;
  • various warehouses and service spaces;
  • the marked separation between the “public” part and the “private” part in which only priests assigned to the cult of the deceased could access.

On the south side of the pyramid, a satellite pyramid was erected, with a base side of 20.90 m, whose superstructure has now completely disappeared.

The Sphinx

Although not included in the specific topic of this entry, one cannot neglect a brief mention of the huge statue of King Chefren in the form of a lion: the Sphinx [N 106] which stands near the Valley Temple N 107. It is believed that during the construction of the pyramid of Cheops it was neglected to obtain material, or to demolish, a hill of rock of about 80 MX 20 in height which, suitably roughed, became the body of a lion crouching with its legs outstretched N 108 while the face of the sovereign N 109 was carved in the rock. The sculpture measures 57 m in length by 20 in height; Chefren’s face, framed by the names headdress on which the ureus stood out, is 4.10 m wide, ears and nose N 110 are 1.70 m long and a limestone beard was applied to the chin, which also served as a head support pillar.

The pyramid of Micerino

The Turin Papyrus has a gap after the name of Chefren large enough to contain the names of two other sovereigns that could be Djedefhor and Ba [u] fre or Bakha N 111. These sovereigns could be assigned a construction now reduced to a level of real “Grande Fossa” (this is the name with which it is actually known) in Zawyet el-Aryan which is believed to have been the excavation for the construction of the funerary apartment of a pyramid under construction N 112 then abandoned. Different philological interpretations have provided different interpretations of a fragment bearing the name of a sovereign variously interpreted as Aakha (Arthur Weigall), Neferkha (Alessandro Barsanti), Nebkha (Kurt Sethe), Makha (Flinders Petrie); however, all scholars agree in interpreting the “Great Pit” of Zawyet el-Aryan as the probable connecting line between the reign of Chefren and that of the owner of the third great pyramid: Micerino.

According to the List of Abydos, the Papyrus of Turin and the Tables of Saqqara, Micerino reigned 18 years, but some authors bring this period to 28 basing the calculation on two-year censuses. Little is known about King Micerino N 113 whose funeral complex is small. The funerary temple was built hastily and roughly, perhaps due to the premature death of the king, but the pyramid was designed in the dimensions visible today N 114 and, however, not detectable with precision due to heavy debris that covers the base that was to be of 105.50 m according to Petrie, or 108 m according to Lauer, for a total height of 66.40 m pyramidion, lost, included. While the upper part was still covered with white Tura limestone, the lower seats of the pyramid of Micerino (perhaps 16) were of pink Aswan granite so that many Arab authors agree in calling it Maulana, or “the Painted” N 115. In spite of its small size, however, Micerino resorted to precious materials, such as Aswan granite, difficult to extract and, given the great distance, to transport. The Arab historian Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi reports that Al-Aziz al-Malik Othman, son of Saladin, attempted to demolish the pyramid in 1196 and the Arab historian Muhammad al-Idrisi reports that the pyramid was explored in 1226 and found empty of treasures. The same had, however, to present the cladding still in place at the beginning of the seventeenth century as there are many testimonies from European travelers who agree that there were no steps to climb it. Not so already in the second half of the same century according to the testimonies of travelers like John Greaves, or Balthasar de Monconys, or Benoît de Maillet. The greatest damage, the large vertical breach visible on the north facade of the Pyramid of Micerino, is due to Murad Bey’s attempts to find the entrance to search for hidden treasures. This breach, however, made it possible to study the internal structure of the building; it was thus ascertained that, paradoxically, despite being the smallest of the pyramids in the Giza area, blocks of a larger size were used to build it. The massif consists of well-squared limestone blocks of uniform height.

The funerary apartment is entirely excavated in the subsoil of the plateau, about 6 m deep; the entrance is on the north facade of the pyramid, 4.20 m above the ground (at the height of the 5th assembly), and is followed by a descending corridor, with an inclination of 26 ° 2 ‘, for about 31 m, here it becomes horizontal and gives access to a decorated “vestibule”, unique case, with “palace facade” walls of 3.65 MX 3.04 x 2.13 in height. After a system of granite shutters the corridor continues for 12.60 m and leads to an “anteroom” of 10.48 m x 3.84 x 4 in height; from this room, a 9 m descending corridor, which then becomes horizontal, leads to the funeral chamber of 6.50 m x 2.30 x 3.50 in height. In this room, Vyse found a basalt sarcophagus, weighing 3 t, decorated “on the facade of the building” which, brought to light, was directed to the British Museum in London but was lost in the sinking of Beatrice N 116, the ship who carried it.

While from the horizontal part of the corridor leading to the funeral chamber a short corridor branches off which gives access to a room on which six niches open, in the “anteroom” an ascending corridor opens (probably what was originally supposed to be the access corridor ) about 20 m long, but which does not reach the outside and therefore stops in the pyramid massif just above the ground level. Just in the “antechamber”, Howard Vyse found, in 1837, pieces of a wooden sarcophagus, which allowed the assignment of the pyramid to the sovereign: “The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menkhaura, who lives eternally, given birth by Nut, Geb’s heir, his favorite. ”

Due to the premature disappearance of the king, parts of the complex were probably finished with raw bricks, apparently quickly, by his successor Shepseskaf. The feeling that one has, observing the complex of Micerino is that the ancient builders, with a project, perhaps started already under Chefren, were tending to enhance the Templar part to the detriment of the pyramid itself; during the remaining part of the Old Kingdom, in fact, a reduction in the size and quality of the pyramids corresponds to a greater sizing and greater care in the construction and construction of the Funerary Temple and the Valley Temple.

The latter, in the case of Micerino, was probably only started as it results from the stone foundations N 117 in contrast with the brick walls, covered with a thick layer of plaster N 118 which were due to the successor Shepseskhaf that: ” he made it as an eternal monument for his father, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Menkhaura “. Of this temple, discovered and explored in 1909-1910 by George Reisner, no trace remains since it has now disappeared under the houses of a village; inside Reisner found the statue of King Micerino presented to the gods by the bride Khamerernebty II, as well as the triads representing the king between deifications of some names of Egypt N 119.

The funerary temple was also started under Micerino, in granite, and contains the largest and heaviest block known about 200 t N 120 in the Giza plain, but also this construction was later completed by his brick successor Shepseskhaf raw plastered in white; similarly in raw bricks, resting on limestone blocks, the 608 m long Via Cerimoniale was built, of which few traces remain and which has only been partially excavated.

The complex of Micerino includes, in the south, three “queen” pyramids, one of which, probably destined for Queen Khamerernebty II, in geometric form, with a base side of 44 m and a height of 28.40 m, probably with granite coating N 121. The other two are examples of stepped pyramids with a base of 31.15 m and a height of 25.40; it is not known whether they were “perfect” or if they had a coating in a precious stone.

5th dynasty

Although there is no news of a traumatic transition, equally scarce are the news on the moment in which the transition from the kings of the IV to the V dynasty N 124 N 125 occurred which, with Sahura, reinserted the theophore Ra in their name and then, with Neferirkara Kakai, will definitively assume the title “Sa-Ra”, or “son of Ra”, among the five royal names.

From an architectural point of view, with the 5th dynasty we witness the return to the pyramidal shape, but a considerable reduction of the structures in favor of the temples linked to the cult of the ensuing funeral complex. More generally, particular emphasis is given to the Templar complexes intended for the cult of Ra; paradoxically, however, the reduction of the size of the pyramids by the fifth dynasty kings seems to respond mainly to political considerations.

On the one hand, the allocation of the great resources necessary for different uses (and not by chance the 5th dynasty will be considered, in the Old Kingdom, one of the most prolific in terms of commercial shipments N 126), on the other the reiteration of the attempt, still, away from the Eliopolitan clergy despite the birth of the great solar temples N 127 that characterize the first kings of this dynasty N 128. It is symptomatic, in fact, that the solar temples, except for what will later occur with the New Kingdom, constitute a parenthesis somewhat brief in the architectural history of Ancient Egypt of less than 100 years, which denotes a rapid appearance and an equally sudden cessation almost coinciding with the appearance, within the royal tombs (with Unis), of the Texts of the Pyramids and a modification of the previous funeral concept. In this sense, the movement of the royal necropolis from Giza to Saqqara, first, and to Abusir, then, must also be interpreted.

Another motivation, of a socio-political nature, which justifies the different dimensions and the lower quality of the pyramids of this period would be to be found in a lower flow of goods to the royal coffers, hand in hand with the administrative decentralization and the concomitant, slow, increase in the power of the local hierarchies which, started towards the end of the 5th dynasty, with the VI will reach the level of transition to the chaotic First Intermediate Period.

Userkaf’s pyramid

Son of the last king of the fourth dynasty, Shepseskaf, and of the queen Khentkhaus, daughter of king Djedefhor, and therefore himself fully legitimized to assume the royal power, Manetone indicates in Userkaf the first king of the fifth dynasty who, having reigned between 7 and 10 years, he chose the area of ​​Saqqara and, in particular, the area closest to the Djoser complex for the construction of his funeral complex. After the brief interlude of the last kings of the IV dynasty who had privileged màstabe as their burials, Userkaf returned to the perfect pyramid, “Pure are the places of Userkaf” N 129. To build the pyramid a steeply sloping area was flattened and, in this phase, just taking advantage of the leveling works, the descending corridor leading to apartment N 130 was excavated. Although the shape was quite similar to the pyramids of the IV dynasty, that of Userkaf had a nucleus consisting of roughly squared blocks, many of which, as evidenced by writings in red ocher, taken from other monuments and reused; the total removal of the coating over the centuries, and especially in the Middle Ages, led to the total collapse of the pyramid of which there remains, today only a shapeless heap of blocks. Jean-Philippe Lauer took over a side of 73.30 m, for a height of about 49 m, but given the total absence of coating and the size of some broken blocks found at the base, these measures are believed to be greatly increased. Some traces of inscription on the limestone blocks of the cladding have suggested that the pyramid and the funeral apartment may have undergone a restoration during the 19th dynasty.

No traces have been found of the Temple downstream and few traces of the Via Processional; few traces also remain of the Funeral Temple which was dismantled, until the foundations, in the Saitic era (XXIV – XXVIII dynasty) for the construction of four other tombs.

The pyramids of Abusir

When Userkaf died, Sahura ascended the throne which, according to the Pietra di Palermo, reigned “7 censuses” or 14 years since they took place every two years. With Sahura the royal necropolis moves again, albeit a few kilometers, from Saqqara to Abusir N 131. Even the predecessor Userkaf had somehow chosen this location because here he built his “Solar Temple” N 132 and here will find the funeral complexes of Sahura, Neferirkhara, Raneferef (probably a reigning ephemeral), Niuserra and the queen mother Khentkhaus.

VI dynasty

During the 6th dynasty all the pyramids, of the canonical type, have a good approximation of the same size, about 80 meters on the base side and 52 meters high, and there is limited use of precious materials. They have come to us practically in ruins and almost all of them are located in Saqqara on the plateau overlooking the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis near the Pyramid of Djoser. The pyramids of the 6th dynasty include those of Teti, with basalt sarcophagus, Pepi I, with the remains of a False door, Merenra II which is unfinished but equipped with a chapel to the north, Temple downstream and Processional ramp, Pepi II wherein the pyramidal complex we also find three secondary pyramids reserved for three of the consorts of the sovereign, the queens Iput II, Neith and Udjebten, Kakara Ibi still partially to be explored but significant for the evolution of the inscriptions of the texts of the pyramids, to what will become the texts of the sarcophagi, Khui built-in Dara.

The tradition started by Unis is continued by inserting religious texts inside the pyramids, on the walls of internal rooms. The blue ceilings have engraved golden stars depicting the night sky as in the tomb of Teti. The walls are decorated with blue or green hieroglyphics, colors that represent water and rebirth, reciting the texts of the pyramids. The green hieroglyphics of the tomb of Pepi I are splendidly made. The construction of pyramids was interrupted during the first intermediate period.

The XII dynasty and the last pyramids

The pharaohs of the XII dynasty resumed the custom of being buried in pyramid-shaped tombs. Their pyramids were lined with precious limestone but, with the exception of the pyramid of Amenemhat I, the material used was no longer stone, but bricks. The state of conservation in which they arrived (exemplified by the images on the side) is very precarious. The dimensions were greater than those of the 6th dynasty: the height exceeded 100 meters. The Dahshur site, already used by Djoser, is chosen again. In this period, the small pyramids built for queens or other members of the royal family multiplied. The last two known pyramids date back to the XIII dynasty, during the second intermediate period and other types of tombs were preferred with the rulers of the New Kingdom.


The list shows the main pyramids in Egypt. In dark yellow, the pyramids attributed to pharaohs, in light yellow the secondary pyramids and in blue the other architectural structures (mastabe, solar temples) identified in the past as pyramids.

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Naboossi, I am 46 years old, a blogger, very interested in the field of technology and informatics. My goal is to promote content. Founder of dove world news blog.

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