Friday, January 20, 2012

Understanding Pyramids I - What is a pyramid?

There are several pyramids in Egypt. Giza is of course the most commonly known five pyramids (Khufu, Khafre and the three queen's pyramids). There are also the red pyramid, the step pyramids, the bent pyramid and others. We also have to consider the mastabas at some point.

It may seem odd to ask what a pyramid is. Mathematically, it is an object consisting of a square base and four isosceles triangle sides.  This defines which monuments can be considered pyramids. However, talking about a pyramid and nothing else would be like talking about a house without commenting on the yard and landscaping. There is more than just a pyramid built when a pharaoh undertakes this kind of construction. First, we are going to talk about what makes up the building of a pyramid complex, i.e. the pyramid and the buildings associated with them.

Pyramids- these are the burial areas. We will get more into exactly what is constructed and included in a pyramid in later posts. For now, we will just consider this the focal point of the pyramid complex.

Workers Camp - during the production of a pyramid there are towns built up around them. These "towns" house the workers which can include painters, stone cutters, scribes, managers and other craftsman. These towns also had food production facilities to feed the workers. Other people who would live on site were overseers, sculptures and those in charge of gathering the vast resources.

Pyramid temple - This had several purposes which change over time as the pyramid is built. Early in construction this would be the place where the priests would reside who took care of the sacred elements of a pyramid's construction. Planning of writings and artwork would take place as well as sacred imagery such as statues would likely be constructed in or near the temple. Another function of the temple would be to minister to injured workers. The priests/tesses of several gods served as doctors in Ancient Egypt. After construction the Pyramid temple would become the place where the mummy would be prepared. After burial then it would become an offering location for sustaining the pharaoh.

Step pyramid of Djoser with enclosure wall Photo © Peter Brubacher.

Enclosure wall - This is a common element of both pyramid complexes and temples in general. The enclosure wall was a short stone wall, usually, that separated the sacred areas of the temple or pyramid from the rest of the world.

Subsidiary grave- These can include graves of officials, pyramid workers or other family members.

Avenue of Sphinxes - Luxor
Statue avenues or plain avenues - Most pyramids and temples have an avenue connecting the pyramid to the enclosure wall. Some temples have avenues of sphinxes. These are stone roads flanked by multiple stone statues.

These are the basic buildings and structures associated with pyramids. The subsequent posts will explain most of these items in depth but for now this is a good basic start for a discussion of pyramid construction.

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