For years, writers have debated the Seven Wonders of the World. Two thousand years ago, the wonders included a statue of a Greek god—the Colossus of Rhodes stood as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Another wonder was an enormous lighthouse.
Both of these wonders were destroyed by earthquakes. Today, only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still stands. That survivor is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. For more than 3,000 years, it was the tallest structure in the world.
There are more than 100 ancient pyramids in Egypt. All were built as tombs for the rulers of Egypt, the pharaohs. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest of all. It was built for a pharaoh known as Cheops, who died in 2566 B.C.
The Great Pyramid is made of more than 2 million blocks of stone. The blocks weigh more than 5 million tons. Crushed wood and other materials made the mortar to hold the blocks together.
How could ancient people have made such huge structures? It’s hard to imagine. There was no modern technology. The stone to build the pyramids was taken from quarries up to 500 miles away. It was cut into blocks there, using stone and copper tools. The blocks were placed on a type of sled and dragged. It’s believed a thin film of water on the ground helped slaves move the sleds.
The foundation of a pyramid was built first, then steps rose up to the peak. As the pyramids grew, workers used logs as levers. The blocks were placed on the logs to lift them to the next level.
Somewhere between 40,000 and 200,000 workers built the Great Pyramid. Most likely, they lived together in camps for 10 to 20 years.
The Purpose of Pyramids
The ancient Egyptians believed that life did not end with death. Their religion taught them that after people died, they moved to the afterworld. It was important to plan for death and to prepare the dead for their journey to the afterworld.
Preparing a pharaoh’s body was especially important to Egyptians because they believed pharaohs controlled the movement of the sun. Pharaohs’ bodies were treated, wrapped in linen (mummified) to make the journey to the afterworld, and placed in stone chests (sarcophagi) inside their pyramid tombs. Since the journey might be long, the pyramid had to be strong enough to last forever. It had to contain items the pharaoh would need in the afterlife.
The pyramids contained boats and chariots to transport the pharaohs, weapons to protect them, and fans to keep them cool. They had games to entertain them, as well as food and wine. They had dozens of outfits and many pieces of jewelry made of gold and precious stones.
The pyramids’ royal treasure made them targets for looters and thieves. Over the centuries since the pyramids were built, many of the pyramids have been broken into and their valuable treasures stolen. The contents of many others have been carefully removed and placed into museums, where they can be seen and marveled at today. Egyptologists study ancient Egypt and its language, religion, and objects, as well as the pyramids and other ancient architecture.