Updated: Nov 4, 2022
We have two relatively safe assumptions to make: a) most of the world knows about the Great Pyramids of Giza and b) most of the world has very little idea about the 100+ other pyramids that Egypt is home to.
Yup, when they started calling Egypt the Land of the Pyramids, they really weren’t kidding (not very sure who ‘they’ are but that’s besides the point). All of these pyramids are thousands of years old, and are tombs to different pharaohs and their consorts.
And while no one is trying to compete with the Giza Pyramids’ majesty, there are a few lesser-known pyramids that are most definitely worth a visit.
1. The Step Pyramid
Built: ~2670 BC (almost 4,700 years old)
Starting off with the next most-recognizable pyramid after the ones at the Giza plateau. This beauty is the oldest Egyptian pyramid to date -- ‘The Step Pyramid’ is thought of as the initial prototype for the later smooth-sided pyramids.
The architect was Djoser’s vizier Imhotep, thought of now as the founding father of Egyptian pyramids, and the design is six mastabas of decreasing size atop one another. Mastabas were how pharaohs and other Egyptian royalty and VIPs were buried before the invention of the pyramids -- mastabas were rectangular, flat-roofed tombs.
While there are other pyramids at the Saqqara necropolis, Djoser is by far the jewel in Saqqara’s crown.
2. The Red Pyramid
Built: ~2585 BC (around 4,600 years ago)
Not very far from the Giza and Saqqara pyramids you’ll find the necropolis of Dahshur, home to three different pyramids on this list.
Read more: Dahshur Pyramids - A Local's Guide
The Red Pyramid received its moniker due to its reddish hue, although it wasn’t always red. The entire pyramid used to be encased in white limestone, which you can still see at the base.
The white limestone was actually stripped from the pyramid in the Middle Ages (can you believe it?) to construct buildings in Cairo. The layer underneath was red limestone, which you can see until today.
The Red Pyramid is believed to be the first successful attempt at creating a smooth-sided pyramid, and was Pharaoh Sneferu’s third pyramid.
3. The Bent Pyramid
Built: ~2600 BC (around 4,600 years ago)
Another of Sneferu’s Dahshur pyramids, the Bent Pyramid was built right before the Red Pyramid. Archaeologists believe that the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form between the step pyramid and smooth-sided pyramid.
The ‘bent’ appearance is due to its base having a 54 degree inclination, but the top section having a narrower 43 degree angle. There are different theories as to why it was built this way: one was that as the builders reached the top, the top section started to show instability, so they narrowed the angle.
Another theory is that they anticipated Sneferu’s death approaching, so they wanted to finish his pyramid as soon as possible.
A third theory is that they were trying to avoid the same colossal disaster that occured with Sneferu’s first pyramid, the Meidum pyramid (below), which collapsed mid-construction.
4. The Black Pyramid
Pharaoh: Amenemhat III
Built: ~1860 AD (around 3,800 years ago)
This pyramid, while technically ruined, is still definitely worth seeing when you head to Dahshur to see the Red and Bent pyramids, just because it looks so different and vaguely creepy.
The Black Pyramid is believed to be the first pyramid in Egypt that was intended to house both the pharaoh and his queens.
It’s called the Black Pyramid due to is “dark, decaying appearance”. It collapsed partially due to it being made out of mudbrick instead of traditional stone (although it was encased in limestone), and partially due to its low elevation allowing Nile water to seep into the walls, ending with the structure cracking and sinking into the clay ground.
5. Meidum Pyramid
Built: ~2600 BC (around 4,600 years ago)
Meidum is believed to be the second oldest pyramid, after the step pyramid of Djoser. It was Sneferu’s first attempt at building a pyramid and unfortunately not a successful one -- the top collapsed pre-completion.
Archaeologists have a theory that the pyramid’s architect was trying to implement Imhotep’s step pyramid design (as seen in the step pyramid of Djoser), but tried to modify the original design halfway through.
6. Fayoum Pyramids
Pyramids: Hawara and El Lahun
Pharaohs: Amenemhat III (Hawara pyramid) and Senusret II (Lahun pyramid)
Built: ~1860 AB (Hawara) and ~1897 BC (El Lahun)
This entry is a two-for-one. Not many people, including Egyptian locals, know that not only is Fayoum Egypt’s oldest city (and one of the world’s oldest), but is also home to several pyramids (the nearby Meidum pyramid, while in Beni Suef, is usually part of the Fayoum pyramid tour as well).
While Hawara and El Lahun were built at two different times for two different pharaohs, they were both made of mudbrick with limestone casing, and the casing was stripped off of both pyramids, leading to their final deterioration.
7. Abusir Pyramids
Pharaohs: Niuserre, Neferirkare Kakai & Sahure
Built: 5th Dynasty (around 4,500 years ago)
If the above listing was a two-for-one, then this is your lucky day, because Abusir is a three-for-one. Technically, Abusir is home to fourteen pyramids, but only three of them are considered the “major” pyramids of Abusir.
They were styled after the Great Pyramids of Giza, but due to their lower-quality local limestone casing, they haven’t stood the test of time as well as their predecessors.
Theories around why the construction of these pyramids was inferior to those of the Giza plateau vary from a declining economy to the decrease of the absolute power of Pharaoh.
Interesting local tip: there are two pyramids in North Sudan, built when a Kushite (Nubian) pharaoh ruled Egypt. While these pyramids are geographically in Sudan, they are historically considered Egyptian.
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