The Egyptian pyramids continue to fire the imaginations of people all over the world, and have for centuries. There are over 130 pyramids in Egypt and most of them were specifically built to be used as tombs for the pharaohs of that land. While the oldest of the pyramids is suspected to be the pyramid of Djoser located northwest of Memphis at a location known as Saqqara, there are a few that have been in contention for the label of oldest pyramid over the years. It was built sometime around 2611 BCE by the great mathematician, physician and architect, a man called "Imhotep". His name meant the "one who comes in peace"; he was the engineer and designer of the king's monuments and served under Djoser as 'chancellor to the Pharaoh'.
The Pharaoh was so pleased with his knowledge and abilities, that Imhotep was one of a very small crowd of "mortal men" to ever be depicted with a Pharaoh in any monument. While it is well known that he was the designer of the step pyramid (of Djoser) at Saqqara, he also may have been the first builder to have utilized columns in Egyptian architecture. His own tomb remains hidden, and some believe it is most likely at a location near Saqqara. Of all of his achievements from curing massive head wounds and broken bones to designing the step pyramid tomb for his Pharaoh, Imhotep is most credited for the initiative of deciding to stack the great "mastabas" (the Arabic word for "benches or houses of mud") on top of each other in order to build the first step pyramid. Later the mud brick structures would become sandstone and limestone blocks for the "true pyramids"
So impressive are the pyramids, that throughout history people have stood beneath them and marvelled at the capacity and undertaking of manpower, required to build such structures. Many modern armies such as Emperor Napoleon's and General Patton's, have possibly rode past these wonders on horses and in tanks, and been inspired by the greatness of this ancient civilization. Saladin himself, even tried to knock down the Great Pyramid, but changed his mind because he realized how much effort that would take. Even in their diminished and corroded states, the pyramids still offer us a glimpse of the power of the pyramid builders. It is estimated that to build the pyramids there must have been close to 100,000 workers involved, the techniques of construction are still one of the great mysteries of the world today.
The most recognized of all of the pyramids are the ones located at Giza, not far from modern day Cairo. The shape of the structures is the most amazing feature of these wonders. The shape itself was considered by the ancient builders, to be the pinnacle of purity and energy. It represented the rays of their god "the sun" shining down on their civilization. In their original state the pyramids at Giza would have had highly polished white limestone surfaces and possibly a "great gleaming golden" cap stone. Sadly the cap stone of the great pyramid has been missing from history for several thousand years, and there are records even dating to Jesus's times, that tell of how the pyramid was "flat" on top. It can be imagined though, that coming towards Giza in those first days after the pyramids were built, that the sight of them must have been spectacular! From miles around they would have been visible as they sat glistening in the sun like beacons in the night, shining like the stars in the heavens. In fact that is exactly what the builders had in mind.
The three pyramids of Giza, the pyramid of Khufu (the great pyramid), the pyramid of Khafre, and the smallest of the three, the pyramid of Menkaure, are now believed to have been constructed as a perfect mirror image of the ancient sky above them. At the time that they were built, they would have lined up directly with "Orion's belt" overhead. Scientists have utilized computer technology and known star charts through history to reverse the positions in time of the stars and the night sky as it would have looked. Over the millennia the night sky changes due to polar drift as the Earth shifts and tilts slightly on its axis. This drift will change the vantage point of the stars and how they are perceived on Earth. At the time the pyramids were built, the three stars of Orion's belt would have been directly above the Giza plateau and the pyramids there. To the ancient Egyptians, this spot in the night sky was significant and holy. It was the point in the sky which as they watched it, seemed to be the place that all of the other stars in the heavens rotated around. It was considered to be the place where the "gods" ascended and descended from the stars.
In ancient times the inhabitants of the African continent constantly referred to Orion's belt as both "the three kings" and "the three sisters". Over time, the significance of this astrological point of reference in the heavens became a mystery. In today's world with technology like the Hubble telescope, it is much easier to see how this star and nebula system, could be viewed as a gateway to the god's. While most of the constellation of Orion is comprised of stars that are approximately 1500 light years from the Earth, each one of these stars, the way the ancients thought of them, were very obviously important! Some theorists attribute the 'ancient perspective' of this group of stars as a "pathway to heaven," for the people who were trying to assure that their king got back to where he was believed to have come from. This suggests that they believed that the pyramid was a device that could make certain that the Pharaoh could rejoin the other gods in heaven.
Some of the interesting things about these ancient structures are the way that they were built. The Great Pyramid at Giza was built with "narrow shafts" that run through the pyramid from the burial chambers. One of these small shafts runs from the main burial chamber to the outside of the pyramid. It coincidentally points to what would have been the part of the sky where Orion's belt was when the pyramid was first built. This shaft leads experts and amateurs alike to think of the pyramid not as a tomb, but as some sort of "resurrection device".
Since no pharaoh was ever buried in the Great Pyramid, and there are no hieroglyphs on any of its walls, one has to wonder what the actual purposes for these structures, were. All of the pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile, and no one knows why this is. Perhaps this is just coincidence or maybe it has something to do with the flooding waters of the Nile, which were at best unpredictable. Most of the kings and queens, "mummies", of the various Egyptian dynasties were relocated from the pyramid's built for them, to their final resting places in the "valley of the Kings ", or some other secret location. This measure was taken in ancient times to prevent looting of the king's corpse and treasure which he would need when entering the afterlife.
Whatever people may think or imagine of the pyramids, the pyramids are magnificent examples of human ingenuity and accomplishment. Whether the Egyptian pharaoh's belief that this spot in the heavens was where they were supposed to travel to when they died, and that the pyramid acted as some sort of transportation device for their soul, or not, matters little. Others imagined that the pyramids offered nothing more than an egotistical monument to the dead kings of Egypt. Whatever the truth, they are the only wonder left standing of the original seven wonders, and they still inspire and amaze anyone who stands in their shadows today.