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Egypt's pyramids – truth and myths

It's impossible to think of sunny Egypt without remembering the ancient civilisation that made the country so famous. If you close your eyes and think of this fascinating country you're bound to conjure up images of the Great Pyramids of Giza. And you may be surprised to learn that there are approximately 120 pyramids dotted across Egypt's dramatic landscape.

To say that these great monuments have withstood the test of time is an understatement almost as great as the legends behind them. When you head to Egypt, make sure you're armed with a few facts so you can fully enjoy the pyramids and their majesty.

Tombs of the pharaohs

Many of us grew up learning about the pyramids, and were led to believe that these structures acted as tombs for pharaohs and their queens.

In ancient Egypt bodies were mummified in wrappings and buried, this meant that when they died they would go to another world where they would lead a new life.

The truth behind these distinctively shaped buildings is as fascinating as it is diverse. For most, the pyramids are marvels of ancient engineering far ahead of their time.

The pyramids are thought to be a further evolution of burial tombs, known as mastabas, which were sloped rectangular structures with much flatter tops. Of course, most of these are less impressive than the pyramids we know – but that's because they come from an older period in Egypt's history. It's thought that the pointy tips of the pyramids were added later on.

The decision to make the pyramids pointy all ties into the mythology of the era. Egyptians believed that the pointed peak of a pyramid would form a focus for the transition of the soul into the afterlife, literally beaming the energies of the deceased pharaoh's soul into the sky to soar beyond the stars and into the realm of the gods.

This is also why the pyramids are built west of the great River Nile, as that's where the ancient Egyptians watched the sun set. At the time, it was thought that where the sun went, the spirits and gods followed.

How were pyramids created?

The most famous pyramids in the world are the Great Pyramids of Giza, which rest on a massive burial complex that's also close to the mythic and magnificent Great Sphinx. This is the trio that you see depicted in paintings and photographs, although there are plenty of other pyramids to explore during your stay.

The Red Pyramid, built during the rule of Sneferu, is the third largest in Egypt. It's also one of the first to use the smooth-sided look we recognise of pyramids today. For a blast from the past, the stepped slopes of the Pyramids Djoser and Sahure show the more rugged means of construction used on early structures.

Building a pyramid of such size and complex engineering would prove quite the project even for today's technology, let alone what they had available in ancient Egypt. Nonetheless, through a combination of ramps, stepped inclines, wooden sleds to haul stone across the sand and careful planning, the pyramids were put together successfully.

Many of the methods they used continue to baffle architects and history lovers today, but you never know – take a trip to see them for yourself and you might just crack the code.

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