Pyramids Around The Globe: The Pyramids of Egypt and Beyond

Pyramids Around The Globe: The Pyramids of Egypt and Beyond

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The Pyramids of Egypt are famous architectural feats known around the world, but they aren't the only pyramids around the Globe. This video will introduce you to the pyramids of Egypt and beyond, to a number of different pyramids around the world.

The most famous pyramid is the Great Pyramid of Egypt, also the only remaining of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World which will be explored, along with the first pyramids of Egypt; the stepped pyramids. This video will explore the tomb of Qin Shi Huang Di in China where the famous terra cotta warriors were uncovered in the hidden pyramid.

Not commonly considered pyramids are structures in Cambodia such as Prasat Thom, the structures at Tenochtitlan and Tenayuca and the Valleys at Tucume which will all be explored here!

More common structures such as the steep Nubian pyramids and the Pyramid of Cestius will be placed on the map of pyramids around the globe, but don't stop with this video! There are plenty more pyramids around the world to explore, all ranging in form and function!

Exploring the Ancient Pyramids of the World

If there is one structure that still gives rise to great amounts of interest, speculation and awe, it’s the ancient pyramids.

Oftentimes when we think of the pyramids, we concentrate our attention on the most famous –– the Egyptian pyramids so often featured in movies and travel magazines.

But there are actually many more pyramid locations other than Egypt, including Central America, China and beyond. You may be surprised by the varied places you can find pyramids across the world –– including underwater.

By delving into more pyramid facts, we can unlock more information and understanding about these sizable structures, their prominence throughout the world, and even their relevance for those throughout the world.

Rise of the Pyramid-Builders

Mesoamerican peoples built pyramids from around 1000 B.C. up until the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. (Egyptian pyramids are much older than American ones the earliest Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, was built in the 27 century BC). The earliest known pyramid in the Americas stands at La Venta in Tabasco, Mexico. Built by the Olmecs, the first major Mesoamerican civilization (a group famous for other firsts, like chocolate and the use of for sports), the pyramid dates to between 1000 B.C. and 400 B.C. American pyramids were generally built of earth and then faced with stone, typically in a stepped, or layered, shape topped by a platform or temple structure. They are often referred to as “stepped pyramids.”

Did you know? In many cases, pyramids in Latin America were rebuilt again and again over already existing structures, in order to glorify the current ruler. Rebuilding the pyramid, it was believed, was a crucial process that renewed the king&aposs relationship with the gods.

At one point, historians concluded that (in contrast with Egyptian pyramids), pre-Columbian pyramids were not intended as burial chambers but as homes for deities. However, more recent excavations have unearthed evidence that some pyramids did include tombs, and there is also evidence that city-states used the pyramids for military defense.


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pyramid, in architecture, a monumental structure constructed of or faced with stone or brick and having a rectangular base and four sloping triangular (or sometimes trapezoidal) sides meeting at an apex (or truncated to form a platform). Pyramids have been built at various times in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, western Asia, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, India, Thailand, Mexico, South America, and on some islands of the Pacific Ocean. Those of Egypt and of Central and South America are the best known.

The pyramids of ancient Egypt were funerary edifices. They were built over a period of 2,700 years, ranging from the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the close of the Ptolemaic period. But the time at which pyramid building reached its acme, the pyramid age par excellence, was that commencing with the 3rd dynasty and ending at roughly the 6th (c. 2686–2325 bce ). During those years the pyramid was the usual type of royal tomb. It was not, as such, an isolated structure but was always part of an architectural complex. The essential components, at least during the Old Kingdom, were the pyramid itself, containing or surmounting the grave proper and standing within an enclosure on high desert ground an adjacent mortuary temple and a causeway leading down to a pavilion (usually called the valley temple), situated at the edge of the cultivation and probably connected with the Nile by a canal. Scores of royal pyramids have been found in Egypt, but many of them were reduced to mere mounds of debris and long ago plundered of their treasures.

The prototype of the pyramid was the mastaba, a form of tomb known in Egypt from the beginning of the dynastic era. It was characterized by a flat-topped rectangular superstructure of mud brick or stone with a shaft descending to the burial chamber far below it. Djoser, the second king of the 3rd dynasty, employing Imhotep as architect, undertook for the first time the construction of a mastaba entirely of stone it was 8 metres (26 feet) high and had a square ground plan with sides of about 63 metres (207 feet) each. Once completed it was extended on the ground on all four sides, and its height was increased by building rectangular additions of diminishing size superimposed upon its top. Thus Djoser’s original mastaba became a terraced structure rising in six unequal stages to a height of 60 metres (197 feet), its base measuring 120 metres (394 feet) by 108 metres (354 feet). This monument, which lies at Ṣaqqārah, is known as the Step Pyramid it is probably the earliest stone building of importance erected in Egypt. The substructure has an intricate system of underground corridors and rooms, its main feature being a central shaft 25 metres (82 feet) deep and 8 metres (26 feet) wide, at the bottom of which is the sepulchral chamber built of granite from Aswān. The Step Pyramid rises within a vast walled court 544 metres (1,785 feet) long and 277 metres (909 feet) wide, in which are the remnants of several other stone edifices built to supply the wants of the king in the hereafter.

A structure of peculiar shape called the Bent, Blunted, False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid, which stands at Dahshūr a short distance south of Ṣaqqārah, marks an advance in development toward the strictly pyramidal tomb. Built by Snefru, of the 4th dynasty, it is 188 square metres (2,024 square feet) at the base and approximately 98 metres (322 feet) high. Peculiar in that it has a double slope, it changes inclination about halfway up, the lower portion being steeper than the upper. It comes nearer than Djoser’s terraced tomb to being a true pyramid. A monumental structure at Maydūm, also ascribed to Snefru, was a true pyramid, though not originally planned as such. The initial structure was gradually enlarged until it became a gigantic eight-terraced mass of masonry then the steps were filled in with a packing of stone to form a continuous slope. The entire structure was eventually covered with a smooth facing of limestone a geometrically true pyramid was the final result. In its ruined condition, however, it has the appearance of a three-stepped pyramid rising to a height of about 70 metres (230 feet). The earliest tomb known to have been designed and executed throughout as a true pyramid is the Red Pyramid at Dahshūr, thought by some to have also been erected by Snefru. It is about 220 metres (722 feet) wide at the base and 104 metres (341 feet) high. The greatest of the Egyptian pyramids are those of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkure at Giza (see Pyramids of Giza).

3. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico

Despite being recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest pyramid in the world in terms of its volume, not many people have heard of the Great Pyramid of Cholula . Located just outside the city of Puebla, the pyramid was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important deities of the Mesoamerican pantheon, and during pre-Colombian times, Cholula was a large city and the religious center of highland Mexico. The construction of the temple began during the 2nd century BC, and went through several stages before achieving its final form. Around 1100 AD, the city fell into the hands of the Toltec-Chichimecas and the pyramid was abandoned as new temples were created. Over the centuries, it became covered in earth and vegetation and it was not until 1910, when authorities began the construction of a mental asylum, that the ‘natural hill’ was found to be the home of an ancient pyramid.

A section of the ruins of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. Photo source: Diego Delso/CC-BY-SA 3.0

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The birth of the ancient pyramid

Pyramids were developed independently by civilizations across the globe. If we are to look at the mainstream chronology of ancient Egypt, we will find that the first pyramid appeared around 4,700 years ago when the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Djoser commissioned the construction of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This revolutionary monument is regarded as Egypt’s earliest colossal stone building and the earliest large-scale cut stone construction, although the pyramids of Caral in South America are contemporary.

Curiously, the Brazilian pyramids predate the Egyptian pyramids by around 300 years. This means that pyramids appeared across the world in America, Africa, and possibly Asia no more than a few hundred years apart. As far as mainstream chronology goes, pyramids, as we define them today, appeared 5,000 years ago in the American Continent and around 4,700 years ago in Africa. This means that pyramids appeared in “the blink of an eye” and entirely suddenly in a historical context.

An image of the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre at the Giza plateau. Shutterstock.

This doesn’t mean that some pyramids aren’t developments of earlier structures. According to Egyptologists, the Egyptian pyramids draw several ideas from previous structures known as mastabas. Egyptologists believe that the Step Pyramid of Djoser is the result of the evolution of the mastaba tomb, and the idea was introduced by Djoser’s royal architect Imhotep. The Step Pyramid was then further developed by Sneferu’s architects until the first smooth-sided pyramid was constructed during the Fourth Dynasty. This was the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, which directly influenced the construction of Egypt’s Greatest Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu.

However, in the American continent, things are different. We aren’t entirely sure why the ancient civilizations in Brazil saw the need to create massive pyramid-mounds using seashells, and whether this idea was developed independently, or whether it draws precedents from other structures. The North American pyramids, like those found in present-day Mexico, are believed to be temples that were essentially Step Pyramids. The pyramids created by civilizations such as the Olmec, Maya, or Aztec are massive superimposed structures where the builders would stack one temple atop the other, creating, essentially, a pyramid similar to that of Djoser.

And precisely in Mexico is where we find some of the sot striking examples of pyramids. Not only is Mexico home to the largest pyramid on Earth, but it is also home to a great variety of ancient pyramids, many of which date back thousands of years.

In this article, I’d like to introduce you to three ancient pyramids you’ve probably had no knowledge of.

The Early Dynastic Period (3100 BC- 2686 BC)

The Early Dynastic Period began after the unification of the Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt around 3100 BC and included the First Dynasty and Second Dynasty. This was an era that the Kingdom of Egypt established itself as a cultural and economic hub of the ancient world. The affluent persons in the society conducted high-profile funerals which comprised of the building of large brick flat-roofed tombs known as mastabas. These mastabas were the precursors of the pyramids. The last Pharaoh of this period Pharaoh Khasekhemwy had a large mastaba built in the 27th century BC which still stands to date.

What Was the Importance of Pyramids in Ancient Egypt?

The pyramids of Egypt are among the most recognizable and enduring monuments of the ancient world. Long after they were built, other ancient peoples, such as the Greeks and Romans, wrote about them with as much awe as people do today. The Greeks included the Giza Pyramids among the Seven Wonders of the World, which brought an appreciation of the structures to people who would not otherwise see them. The Greco-Roman admiration of the pyramids was transferred to medieval and early modern Europe, where early attempts to uncover the pyramids' mysteries were made. Influenced by the Bible, Europeans of these periods believed that the pyramids were the famed granaries of Joseph in Genesis's book. Around the same time, Arab and Persian writers postulated that Egypt's pyramids were actually vessels of esoteric knowledge of a previous age. Although these early writers erred in their judgment of the pyramids’ functions, they were correct to assume that they were important structures.

During the nineteenth century, when the discipline known as Egyptology was emerging, scholars discovered that the pyramids were, in fact, tombs for the Egyptian kings. This in itself was important, but it became even more so when scholars learned more about ancient Egyptian religion and discovered that Egyptian kings were also viewed as gods. The pyramids were more than just tombs, though. They were part of often expansive temple complexes that played an integral role in the religious life of Old Kingdom Egypt. Pyramid construction also evolved considerably during the Old Kingdom, demonstrating the Egyptians’ ability to tackle complex architectural problems early in human civilization.

The Symbolism of the Pyramids

Unfortunately, no manual has been discovered that details how the pyramids were built or what they were meant to represent. Although that certainly presents some problems to the modern scholar, some conclusions can be drawn concerning the pyramids' symbolism. Any discussion or examination of what the pyramids were meant to symbolize must begin with the ancient Egyptian concept of divine kingship and how that related to Egyptian religion.

In all of his manifestations, the sun-god was among the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon. After death, the king was associated with the sun-god, so Egyptologists have long argued that pyramids are solar symbols. One of the most common solar interpretations is that pyramids represent the sun's rays shining down on the deceased king's mummy. [1] It is also significant that the very tops of pyramids, known as “pyramidions,” were often gilded, giving a shiny appearance. Others have argued that pyramids, especially step pyramids, represent steps to the heavens that the deceased king will use on his journey in the afterlife. [2]

Another possible explanation for the pyramids' shape is that they were meant to represent the sacred benben stone in Heliopolis. The benben stone was a pyramidion, which according to the Helipolitan creation myth, was the primordial mound of creation. Because of that, many modern scholars theorize that the pyramids were meant to represent the primordial mound of creation through which life emerged. [3]

The layout of pyramids also had symbolic significance. Since pyramids were tombs, they were always located on the Nile River's west bank, where most tombs were located in ancient Egypt because the deceased needed to see the sunrise each morning. The layout of the Great Pyramids of Giza has particularly been a point of interest among scholars and laypeople alike. Noted scholars state that the three pyramids may indeed have pointed toward Heliopolis's city, further proving the structures' solar significance, but that they do not match Orion’s Belt as some fringe theories have claimed. [4]

=The Evolution of the Pyramids

Among the general public, there is often confusion about the origins of the pyramids, which is frequently the result of fantastic theories and outright falsehoods perpetuated on television programs and other media. Early Egyptian history examination reveals an evident progression that began with small burial mounds, developing gradually into “true” pyramids. In Egypt’s First and Second Dynasties, kings were buried in mud-brick mounds that are known as mastabas, which is an Arabic word for “bench.” Most scholars believe that the mound, or bench, represented the primordial mound of creation discussed above.

The earliest mastabas were built in the Upper Egyptian (southern) city of Hierakonpolis, probably where the Egyptian concept of divine kingship was first articulated. [5] Later in the Second Dynasty, the royal burials moved a bit farther north to Abydos and finally to the area near the modern village of Saqqara in Lower Egypt, just outside of the ancient capital of Memphis on the west bank of the Nile River. [6] By the end of the Second Dynasty, the mastabas had grown in size, and extended members of the royal family, as well as non-royal government officials, began to be buried near the kings in the royal necropolis.

The next step in Egyptian royal burial construction was to stack successively smaller mastabas on top of each other to create a “step pyramid.” The famed architect and scientist, Imhotep, is generally credited with being the “inventor” of the step pyramid as he was the vizier and “overseer of the works” under the first king of the Third Dynasty, Djoser (ruled ca. 2667-2648 BC). [7] Not only was Djoser’s step pyramid the first Egyptian burial monument made of stone, but it also provided a template for later pyramids as a “temple complex.” The king’s tomb was located beneath the 196-foot high solid structure, but all around it was a 5,397-foot long wall that enclosed the pyramid and several other religious buildings. [8]

The entire complex was essentially dedicated to the kingship god Horus and Osiris's divinity, the god of the dead, who were merged with the sun-god in the pyramid. Besides the religious significance, pyramid complexes became economic and population focal points of the community: merchants and artisans all were drawn to them for various professional reasons. [9]

The Pyramid Age

Although Djoser’s pyramid represented a major step forward in the evolution of pyramids regarding structure, style, and purpose, it would not be until the Fourth Dynasty when the first attempts at a “true” pyramid were made. King Snefru (reigned ca. 2613-2589 BC) started the Pyramid Age by building three pyramids: one near Meidum and two near Dashur. The Medium pyramid was originally intended to be a step pyramid early in the king’s rule. Later in his life, he had it filled in, making it a true pyramid, albeit with extremely steep angles. [10]

Snefru’s long reign allowed him the luxury to build three potential tombs and to choose which one best suited his mummy. The second pyramid Snefru had built was the Bent Pyramid, located near the village of Dashur. The pyramid is noticeable for its extreme angles near the top: the bottom of the pyramid has a 52-53 degree angle, while the top is 43 to 44 degrees. Modern scholars believe that the extreme difference in angles may have been the result of structural problems, but it is impossible to say for sure. [11]

The final pyramid Snefru constructed was the North or Red Pyramid, so named for its reddish color. The king began the pyramid in his thirtieth year of rule, but it remains unknown if that was the final resting place. The Red Pyramid is considered the first true pyramid that survived unblemished and therefore provided the later Giza Pyramids template. [12]

The Giza Pyramids

Snefru left his son and successor, Khufu (ruled ca. 2589-2566 BC), known as Cheops to the Greeks, with an impressive architectural base from which to build. Khufu did so by building the greatest of the three pyramids known collectively as the “Great Pyramids” or the “Giza Pyramids” for the modern town in Lower Egypt near where they are located. Khufu’s Pyramid covers 13.1 acres, is 479 feet high, and has a slope of 53 degrees. Smaller pyramids accompanied the Great Pyramid for the king’s queens and a royal bark that was never used in the temporal world but was buried next to the pyramid to be ridden by the king through the underworld. [13]

The organization of the labor needed to build the pyramids was almost as incredible as the pyramids themselves. The Great Pyramid was built from 2,300,000 limestone stones, each weighing about 2.5 tons. [14] The workers were picked from villages throughout Egypt in a conscription/draft system, were paid, and their families were also taken care of while they were away. The men would be divided into groups of 25,000 who would work for three-month “tours.” There were two gangs of 1,000 men working on any working day, further divided into “phyles” of 200 men, subdivided into groups of twenty.

The quarry was less than a mile away, making hauling the stones easier, but the workers had to do so without wheels. Twenty men could pull a two-ton block on a sled from the quarry to the pyramid in about twenty minutes, less if they poured water into making the sled slide better. Ten stone setters would work per block. The builders had no pulleys, so they constructed dirt ramps that allowed them to stack the blocks. [15]

Two kings after Khufu, Khafra (reigned ca. 2558-2532 BC), called Chephren by the Greeks, was the next king to build a pyramid at Giza. Although Khafra’s pyramid looks bigger than Khufu’s, it is thirty-three feet higher on a bedrock foundation. Khafra’s pyramid is slightly sharper than Khufu’s, and the bottom is made from red granite. [16]

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Khafra’s pyramid is the larger complex, which contains the fabled Sphinx. The Sphinx, which was carved from the natural bedrock instead of limestone, and the temple complex are connected to the pyramid by a causeway that at one time would have connected to canals that brought people to and from the Nile. [17] The smallest of the three Great Pyramids was King Menkaura’s (reigned ca. 2532-2503 BC), known to the Greeks as Mykerinos. After Menkaura, the Pyramid Age's high point peaked, but it was not completely done.

Later Pyramids

The pyramids constructed after the Fourth Dynasty were inferior in size but not so in religious importance. The last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas (ruled ca, 2375-2345 BC), introduced an innovation to the Pyramid Texts pyramids. The Pyramid Texts were a collection of hieroglyphic texts, known as Utterances, inscribed on the pyramid’s tomb chamber walls, which served to unite the king in death with Osiris and the different manifestations of the sun-god. [18] One Utterance describes how the rides an ethereal bark with the sun gods Re and Atum and Isis, who was the goddess of magic and Osiris’ wife:

Pyramid building continued into the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1975-1640 BC), which comprised Egypt’s Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties. Most of the prominent pyramids from this period were built near the city of Lisht in Middle Egypt, but some were also constructed near Dashur. [20] These pyramids were. Still, a shadow of those built during the Fourth Dynasty and by the New Kingdom, the royals abandoned pyramids as royal burials in favor of more isolated and hidden tombs in the Kings' Valley near Thebes in southern Egypt.


Pyramids played an important role during ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom for some reasons. They not only functioned as tombs for their kings, who were seen as gods but were the focal point of a much larger temple complex. The pyramids' structure gradually grew from being simple mound tombs into the grand structure that most people think of today. Once the size and quality of pyramids declined slightly, their theological significance did not. Later kings plastered their pyramids' interiors with some of the oldest religious texts known to man as a testament to pyramid building's importance in ancient Egypt.

Until next month happy stitching,


Watch the video: Pyramids Around The Globe: The Pyramids of Egypt and Beyond (December 2022).

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