The Architects Of The Pyramids

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Most people know that pyramids, of which between 118 and 138 remain today, were built as tombs for Egyptian kings called pharaohs during the Egyptian Old and Middle Kingdoms(2686 BCE-1650 BCE). The names of the architects, with the exception of Imhotep, are lost to antiquity.

Imhotep (2650 BCE -2600 BCE).

Imoteph served at the court of pharoah Djoser. At this time Egyptian nobility were buried in mastabas; flat structures built of baked mud bricks. Imhotep built the first step pyramid for Djoser at Saqqara using stone for the tomb and a basic mastaba design which he topped-off with rectangles of decreasing size.

Snefru's Southern Shining and Red Pyramid (2600 BCE) Pyramid building under Snefru saw a period of innovation and expansion. The Rhomboidal or Southern Shining Pyramid was the next stage. It is sometimes called the Bent Pyramid because its sides were built too step and the incline had to be reduced. The Red Pyramid was the first true smooth sided pyramid and reached a height of 320 feet.

The Giza Pyramids

The three different sized pyramids standing in alignment at Giza are perhaps the most famous. They are The Great Pyramid (2565 BCE), also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu, the son of Snufru. The Pyramid of Khafre (2545 BCE), son of Khufu and the Pyramid of Menkaure (2520 BCE), son of Khafre. The Great Pyramid, at a height of 481.4ft and made from 2 million blocks of stone weighing 2.5 tons each. The last pyramid builder was Pepy II (2278 BCE-2184 BCE) by which time pyramids had reduced in height significantly. By the time of the New Kingdom (1550 BCE) burial of the nobility had moved to mortuary temples although there was a brief revival in pyramid building around 664 BCE.

How Pyramids were built.

Archaeologists disagree on exactly how large stones were quarried moved and then manipulated into place. Experiments have replicated ways of doing this by using rollers and levers. A number of different types of ramp, some running at right angles to the main structure, others build on the stepping of each stage, were built to facilitate moving the huge blocks into place.

Surveying tools

We know that the Egyptians used two specialist surveying tools, the merkhet, similar to an astrolabe, and the bay, a sighting tool. These tools enabled engineers to lay out straight lines and right angles and orient the sides and corners in lines with astronomical alignments. Pi is also a feature of pyramid architecture although, as the Egyptians had no knowledge of Pi, how remains a mystery. Vast resources over significant periods of time were used to construct each pyramid. The Great Pyramid was ten years in construction using a workforce of approximately 14,500 workers. It is not known whether these labourers were paid or were slaves.


Evidence suggests the primary purpose of pyramids was to safeguard the dead body and propel part of the soul to heaven. Pyramids were all built on the west bank of the River Nile, which is where the sun sets and is, in Egyptian mythology, associated with the dead. Egyptians believed that part of the spirit of a dead person, the Ka, remained in the corpse which is why the body was mummified and placed in a tomb surrounded by food and implements for use in the afterlife. The rest of the spirit ascended to heaven and some Egyptologists believe that pyramids were built as resurrection machines through which the spirit could make its way from the burial chamber, along a shaft that ran to the outer wall, and away to the stars.