The History of the Pyramids of Egypt for Kids

Bedtime History

Imagine the year is 1932 and you are in Egypt with a team of archaeologists exploring the ancient pyramids.  As you enter a dark dark hallway, you use torches to light the way.  Ahead is your guide, a local Egyptian, who is showing the way deeper and deeper into the pyramid.  It is dark and you are scared, but you keep going.  The hallway smells very musty; there has not been fresh air in this hallway for many years.  As you turn a corner, you see the door to a tomb.  You push back stones and other debris and after pushing forward with your torch, the next room lights up and it is overflowing with ancient treasures. You can’t believe your eyes! You see gold and gems and more artifacts than you’d ever have imagined. And lying in the center is the greatest discovery of all — a mummified Egyptian king! 

The Egyptian Pyramids are some of the most amazing man-made structures in history. At the time that they were built, Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world.  A civilization is the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area. The Egyptian pyramids were built over 4,000 years ago, but they still remain a mysterious and amazing piece of history. They also give us an idea of the wealth and glory of Ancient Egypt.

Thousands of years ago, Egypt was a poor country.  Then it started to grow in population and wealth around 3,000 BC. The Nile River is how Egypt became more wealthy as it could farm using the river and trade with other peoples. As Egypts power and wealth grew, so did the power and wealth of its kings. Kings in ancient Egypt held a unique position.  They were seen as being ½ human and ½ god. The Egyptian people believed that the king was someone who was chosen by the gods to work between the gods and people on earth. 

Ancient Egyptians believed that when the king died, part of his spirit remained in his body. Because they saw the king as working with the gods, they believed they needed to take care of the king’s body after his death and preserve it as much as possible. This is why the ancient Egyptians started to make mummies.  They wrapped the king’s bodies to keep it safe. Mummies are bodies of a human beings or animals that have been preserved.

After a king died, the Egyptian people mummified the body and buried the king with the things that they thought he would need in the afterlife.  This included gold, food and other valuable things. The Egyptians believed that the riches would go to the afterlife with the king and that the king could use the things he was buried with to care for himself and his relatives in the afterlife.

Around 5,000 years ago Egyptian people began creating royal tombs called “mastabas”, which came before the pyramids.  Mastabas were caves carved into rock and covered with a flat-rock roof.  Egyptians at the time put the mummified dead body of a king after he had passed away into the mastabas and covered it with the flat rock roof.  This became a preserved little room for the mummy and his things before he moved to the afterlife.

Eventually mastabas were made into bigger structures that were more beautiful and could house more things.  

In 2630 B.C., an architect and priest named Imhotep designed a mastaba for the King Djoser.  It was build up into a small “step pyramid” and was later considered to be the oldest known pyramid in Egypt.  It was built in the city of Saqqara.  At that time, king’s usually started the building of their masabas while they were still alive and would oversee the work.  King Djoser asked Imhotep to design this structure, which pyramid builders then put together.  It had six stepped layers of stone and was 204 feet or 62 meters high.  It was the tallest building of its time.

After King Djoser, the stepped pyramid became popular and Egyptian kings going forward had similar buildings constructed. Because these tombs were built while the kings were still alive, and ancient Egyptians lived much shorter lives than people do today, pyramids were often started for kings but not finished. Many kings died before they were complete, and the project would then be abandoned.

The first smooth-sided pyramid was built in Dahshur for King Sneferu in the late 2500s B.C.  It was called the Red Pyramid because of the colour of the blocks used to build the pyramid’s core. Pyramid’s started to be built with smooth angled sides to symbolize rays of sun.  They were designed to help the king go up to heaven and join the gods after they died.

The most famous pyramids in the world today are the Great Pyramids of Giza.  They are located near the Nile River in Cairo city. The oldest and biggest of the three Giza pyramids is the “Great Pyramid”.  It was built for King Khufu around 2570 B.C. It was originally 481.4 feet or 147 meters tall and is the largest pyramid in the world.  Do you know why there are three small pyramids lined up next to the Great Pyramid?  They were built for King Khufu’s queens. Ancient Egyptians usually built mastabas close to their family so that they could be with each other and support each other in the afterlife.

The middle pyramid at Giza was built for King Khufu’s son. This is the pyramid on which the Great Sphinx is carved.  The Great Sphinx is a carved statue of a man’s head with the body of a lion. It was a guardian for the King’s son’s tomb and was also the image of the god Horus.

The third of the Great Pyramids was built for the King’s grandson. It is the shortest of the three Great Pyramids. Later, future kings started to build their pyramids smaller than the Great Pyramid, and would build them closer in size to this smaller one.

Have you ever thought about the incredible amount of work and high level of design that would be required to successfully build a pyramid? For the Great Pyramid, about 2.3 million blocks of stone had to be cut and carried to the site.  It took 20 years to build the biggest of the pyramids and 20,000 to 100,000 men worked on it!

Beginning in about 2350 B.C., pyramid builders began to write about things that happened during the king’s life on the walls of the king’s tomb.  These were inscribed “hieroglyphics” or ancient symbols or writing.

From 2300 to 2100 B.C., pyramids continued to be built in Egypt but they were usually smaller and less well built than the earlier pyramids. This was because the wealth and power of the Egyptian kings was less and less during this time. The last king that built pyramids in ancient Egypt was Pepy II.  He became king when he was just a young boy and he ruled for 94 years. He built a shorter pyramid at Saqqara before his death.  After he died, the wealth of Egypt was getting smaller and people no longer saw the king’s as half-gods as they used to. 

In later years, Egyptian kings’ built pyramids again but they were never as big or amazing as the great pyramids.  But the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian pyramids carried on and still interests people around the world today. Most of the bodies and treasures from the old pyramids have been removed now, either by tomb raiders or by people wanting to protect them.  You can find some of these items in museums today. Millions of people continue to visit the pyramids each year to see these amazing structures that teach about Egypt’s rich and amazing past. 

Take some time to think about what it took to build these pyramids. The architects who built them had to understand math and physics and spent a lot of time drawing out plans and preparing before anyone started moving stones. Imagine the hard work and determination it took to work on these pyramids for many years. You should try designing your own pyramid with a pencil and paper. What would it look like? How many rooms would it have inside? Would it have any secret passages. 

Also, would you like to travel to Egypt one day and see the Great Pyramids?  Maybe someday you will travel to Egypt and step inside one of these amazing historical structures!

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