The First Egyptian Pyramid

Until the reign of the pharaoh Djoser in the Third Dynasty, the tombs of elite Egyptians were rectangular structures made of mud-brick. These tombs, called mastabas, included a burial chamber as well as a space for grave goods the tomb’s owner could use in the afterlife. Though mastabas may have been good enough for the early pharaohs, Djoser wanted his tomb to stand out among his predecessors. The task of planning a grander burial place for the pharaoh fell to his architect, Imhotep.

Imhotep’s design originally resembled a traditional mastaba, but from the start it had some important differences. For example, unlike the earlier rectangular mastabas, which were made of mud-brick, Imhotep planned a solid, square structure made of stone. The original mastaba was extended on all four sides, forming a two-stepped mastaba. Angling the bricks towards the center of the pyramid, the mastaba became the bottom step of a four-stepped pyramid. When the base was extended a final time, the six-step pyramid was complete. 

Djoser’s six-step pyramid stood almost 200 feet tall and was the tallest structure in Egypt until other pharaohs tried to outdo him with pyramids and monuments of their own. With its steps leading up to the heavens, the pyramid implied the pharaoh’s close connection to the Egyptian gods. By building the first pyramid, both Djoser and his architect Imhotep ensured their places in history as powerful and inventive men.

 To learn more about Egyptian pyramids and their builders, see Pyramids by Joyce Tyldesley.

 

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