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The Giza pyramid complex in Egypt

The History of Pyramids

Image Credit: | Above: The Giza pyramid complex in Egypt

Pyramids; some of the most iconic buildings throughout human history, they never cease to intrigue and teach us about the civilizations that created them. Where are they located and how did they evolve through history? Find out what all pyramids have in common, what their purpose was and much more surprising pyramid trivia!


There are thousand of pyramids around the world, including more than 100 in Egypt, double that in Sudan and dozens in the Middle East and China. The Americas have more pyramids than the rest of the world combined.


Early Egyptian pyramids featured mastaba, or steps, placed on top of each other. The oldest is at Saqqara, built in the 27th century B.C. The pharaoh Sneferu created the pyramid we recognize today; he built 3 pyramids during his 45-year reign. His first two attempts failed, but he finally got it right with the Red Pyramid, considered the first "true" pyramid. It was Sneferu’s son Khufu who built the Great Pyramid at Giza - the tallest manmade structure on Earth for almost 4,000 years. Latin American pyramids are similar to early Egyptian step-pyramids, but they were built independently with no knowledge of each other. The pyramids in Sudan were built around 700 B.C. and are tall but much narrower than those in Egypt.


These pyramids have one thing in common—they were all built without advanced tools or even the wheel. It took a lot of people: 20,000 men built the Great Pyramid of Giza, most of them skilled labourers - not slaves. And it took a long time to build the Great Pyramid at Cholula, Mexico, taking 600 years to complete. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built from 2.3 million limestone and granite blocks - each one weighing between 2 and 15 tons. Latin American pyramids have a massive inner core of rubble; the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan had 317 million gallons worth.


Pyramids had many uses: they were tombs for kings, sites for sacrifice, places for worship and astronomical tools. Egyptian pyramids had smooth, angled sides that were designed to help the pharaoh’s soul ascend to heaven. The Pyramid of the Sun was built over a series of caves that served as a passageway for the gods. The Maya built the Temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza to honour the god Kukulkan, usually represented by a serpent. Nicknamed El Castillo, it has 91 steps on each side plus a platform—that’s 365 steps, one for each day of the Mayan calendar. Because of its precise location, twice a year, on each equinox, serpent-shaped shadows "crawl" down the sides the pyramid to mark the change of seasons.