The ancient Egyptians built pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs and their
queens The pharaohs were
buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes from before the
beginning of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Middle Kingdom. There are
about eighty pyramids known today from ancient Egypt. The three largest
and best-preserved of these were built at Giza at the beginning of the
Old Kingdom. The most well-known of these pyramids was built for the
pharaoh Khufu. It is known asthe 'Great Pyramid'.
How they built the pyramids:
The pharaoh Khufu, like the pharaohs before him, began planning his
'house of eternity' as soon as he took the throne. A spot was chosen for
building on the west bank of the Nile. Cemeteries were usually built on
the west bank because the sun 'died' on the western horizon every night.
Khufu's architects were wise and experienced men. They knew the
importance of building the pharaoh's final resting place so that its
sides faced directly north, south, east and west.
They planned a large pyramid- the largest one ever built in ancient
Egypt. The outlines of the pyramid were measured and marked in the
Then the building began. Large blocks of stone were cut from quarries
nearby. They were dragged by groups of men across the desert to the site
of the pyramid and set in place. Most of the workers were farmers who
worked on building the pyramid during the flood season when their fields
were under water.
After the first level of blocks was in place, the workers built ramps of
mud brick, limestone chips and clay. The workers dragged the large
stones up the ramps to build the next level of the pyramid
For about 20 years, hundreds of men worked on building the pyramid. As
they built each level, they also built up the ramps around the pyramid.
When the pyramid was almost finished, a special block covered in shining
metal (eithergold or electrum) was placed on the top of the pyramid,
then, blocks of white limestone from quarries across the Nile were used
to cover the pyramid. The blocks were trimmed to make the outside of the
pyramid smooth, Finally, the pyramid was finished.
Khufu's pyramid was only part of the complex built for him at Giza, this
complex had many different parts:
• Three pyramids for Khufu's queens.
• Several deep pits containing boats that had been buried.
• A mortuary temple where Khufu would be worshipped after he died.
• A causeway leading from the pyramid complex down to the valley temple.
• A valley temple where the pharaoh's funeral would begin.
• A small 'satellite' pyramid.
• The mastaba tombs of nobles.
To find out more about the pyramid complex, see 'Explore'.
Who is Khufu?
Khufu (in Greek known as Χέωψ, Cheops) was a
Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom. He reigned from around 2589 BC
to 2566 BC. Khufu was the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty.
He is generally accepted as being the
builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World still standing.
Khufu was the son of King Sneferu, and Queen Hetepheres. Unlike his
father, Khufu was remembered as a cruel and ruthless pharaoh in later
folklore. Khufu had several sons, one of which, Djedefra, was his
immediate successor. He also had several daughters, one of who would
later become Queen Hetepheres II.
It is generally thought that Khufu came to the throne in his twenties,
and reigned for about 23 years, which is the number ascribed to him by
the Turin Papyrus. Other sources from much later periods suggest a
significantly longer reign: Manetho gives him a reign of 65 years, and
Herodotus states that he reigned fifty years. Since 2000, two dates have
been discovered from his reign. An inscription containing his highest
ruling years, the "Year of the 17th Count of Khufu", first mentioned by
Flinders Petrie in an 1883 book and then lost to historians, was
rediscovered by Zahi Hawass in 2001 in one of the relieving chambers
within this king's pyramid. Secondly, in 2003, the "Year after the 13th
cattle count" of Khufu was found on a rock inscription at the Dakhla
Oasis in the Sahara. See this photo which contains Khufu's name enclosed
in a Serekh and the aforementioned date.
He started building his pyramid at Giza, the first to be built in this
place. Based on inscriptional evidence, it is also likely that he led
military expeditions into the Sinai, Nubia and Libya.
The Westcar Papyrus, which was written well after his reign during the
Middle Kingdom or later, depicts the pharaoh being told magical tales by
his sons Khafra and Djedefra. This story cycle depicts Khufu as mean and
cruel, and is ultimately frustrated in his attempts to ensure that his
dynasty survives past his two sons. Whether or not this story cycle is
true is unknown, But Khufu's negative reputation lasted at least until
the time of Herodotus, who was told further stories of that king's
cruelty to his people and to his own family in order to ensure the
construction of his pyramid. What is known for certain is that his
funerary cult lasted until the 26th Dynasty, which was one of the last
native-Egyptian royal dynasties, almost 2,000 years after his death.
Most likenesses of Khufu are lost to history. Only one miniature
statuette has been fully attributed to this pharaoh. Since he is
credited with building the single largest building of ancient times, it
is ironic that the only positively identified royal sculpture of his is
also the smallest that has ever been found: a 7.6cm (3 inch) ivory
statue that bears his name. It was discovered not at Giza, but in a
temple in Abydos during an excavation by William Matthew Flinders Petrie
in 1903. Originally this piece was found without the head, but bearing
the pharaoh's name. Realizing the importance of this discovery, Petrie
halted all further excavation on the site until the head was found three
weeks later after an intensive sieving of the sand from the area where
the base had been discovered, this piece is now on display in the
Egyptian Museum, Cairo. In more recent years two other likenesses have
been tentatively identified as being that of Khufu, based largely on
stylistic similarities to the piece discovered by Petrie. One is a
colossal head made of red granite of a king wearing the white crown of
Upper Egypt that resides in the Brooklyn Museum, and the other a
fragmentary miniature head made of limestone that also wears the white
crown of Upper Egypt, which can be foundin the Staatliche Sammlung für
Ägyptische Kunst in Munich.
An empty sarcophagus is located in the King's Chamber inside the pyramid
though it is unclear if it was ever used for such a purpose as burial.
While his mummy has never been recovered, his impressive and well
preserved solar barge--or Khufu ship--was discovered buried in a pit at
the foot of his great pyramid at Gizah in 1954 by Egyptian
archaeologists. It has been reassembled and placed in a Solar museum.
While pyramid construction had been solely for the reigning pharaoh
prior to Khufu, his reign saw the construction of several minor pyramid
structures that are believed to have been intended for other members of
his royal household, amounting to a royal cemetery. Three small pyramids
to the east of Khufu's pyramid are tentatively thought to belong to two
of his wives, and the third has been ascribed to Khufu's mother
Hetepheres I, whose funerary equipment was found relatively intact in a
shaft tomb nearby. A series of mastabas were created adjacent to the
small pyramids, and tombs have been found in this "cemetery".