The pyramids were constructed as tombs for kings and queens, as parts of funerary complexes, where there would also be shrines and temples. The priests would summon the spirits of the deceased royalty and make offerings to ensure their immortality would be realized.
Many pyramids were built between 2700 and 1640 BC and there are still plenty surviving today, although many were reduced to rubble.
An architect with the name of Imhotep was the first master pyramid builder. He began by making a tomb in the shape of a mastaba, which is a long, flat, rectangular building, made of sun-baked mud bricks. The walls stood about 12 feet high.
Imhotep used stone to build with and kept adding to the tomb until he had made a six layered, stepped pyramid, which stood 200 feet high. This was the Step Pyramid and Saggara, the first Egyptian monument to be made completely from hewn stone.
Imhotep was greatly respected and worshipped, after his death, as a god. His incredible achievement is still standing today at Memphis, south of Cairo.
Between 2600 and 2500 BC, the time of the fourth dynasty, the Egyptians had honed their great architectural abilities to allow them to build the most famous and spectacular pyramids, the ones at Giza.
These pyramids, known as Mycerinus, Khufu and Khafre, were of a true pyramidal form and originally were built with smooth, white, limestone faces. They went on to become one of the Seven Wonders of the World because of the awe they inspired.
The biggest Egyptian pyramid at Giza, built for and named after the pharaoh Khufu, is 481 feet tall. It contains about two and a half million stone blocks and the average weight of the blocks is two and a half tons. Some weight up to fifteen tons.
Most of the stone used to build these monuments was quarried limestone. A much harder stone, granite, was also used for building the internal passages and burial chambers. This was brought a distance of over five hundred miles by river from the quarries in Aswan, in the south. Ramps were then used to drag the stones into place.
The later Egyptian pyramids of Mycerinus (204 feet high) and Khafre (471 feet) stand next to Khufu.
Within the Khafre funerary complex is also the famous limestone statue of the Sphinx, which is the biggest and oldest image of a man-headed lion.
The Sphinx is a lot smaller than the huge pyramids but is still large. It stands 66 feet high and is 240 feet long. The statue was meant to represent a divine guardian and its head is thought to be Khafre himself.
There is an inscribed granite slab between the paws of the Sphinx. This slab describes a dream which a prince called Tuthmosis had while resting in its shade during a hunt for gazelle.
He dreamt the Sphinx approached him and promised him the whole kingdom if he would clear the sand from his body which made breathing very hard. Tuthmosis did this to oblige the Sphinx and even ordered the construction of mud brick walls around the monument to discourage further encroachment.
That the Sphinx kept his word is demonstrated by the 3000 year old slab placed by Tuthmosis IV, who was the new pharaoh of the land.