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This article is about pyramid-shaped structures. For the geometric term, see Pyramid (geometry). For other uses, see Pyramid (disambiguation).
The Egyptian pyramids of the Giza Necropolis, as seen from the air
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan
Candi Sukuh in Java, Indonesia
Prasat Thom temple at Koh Ker (Cambodia)
Pyramids of Güímar, Tenerife (Spain)
A pyramid (from Greek: πυραμίς pyramis) is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge to a single point at the top, making the shape roughly a pyramid in the geometric sense. The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape. As such, a pyramid has at least three outer triangular surfaces (at least four faces including the base). The square pyramid, with square base and four triangular outer surfaces, is a common version.
A pyramid's design, with the majority of the weight closer to the ground, and with the pyramidion on top means that less material higher up on the pyramid will be pushing down from above. This distribution of weight allowed early civilizations to create stable monumental structures. It has been demonstrated that the common shape of the pyramids of antiquity, from Egypt to Central America, represents the dry-stone construction that requires minimum human work.
Pyramids have been built by civilizations in many parts of the world. For thousands of years, the largest structures on Earth were pyramids—first the Red Pyramid in the Dashur Necropolis and then the Great Pyramid of Khufu, both of Egypt, the latter is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still remaining. Khufu's Pyramid is built mainly of limestone (with large red granite blocks used in some interior chambers), and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It contains over 2,000,000 blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 tonnes (5,500 lb) to 15 tonnes (33,000 lb)  and is built on a square base with sides measuring about 230 m (755 ft), covering 13 acres. Its four sides face the four cardinal points precisely and it has an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5 m (488 ft), but today it is only 137 m (455 ft) high, the 9 m (33 ft) that is missing is due to the theft of the fine quality white Tura limestone covering, or casing stones, for construction in Cairo. It is still the tallest pyramid. The largest pyramid by volume is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla
Main article: Egyptian pyramids
The most famous pyramids are the Egyptian pyramids — huge structures built of brick or stone, some of which are among the world's largest constructions. They are shaped as a reference to the rays of the sun. Most pyramids had a polished, highly reflective white limestone surface, to give them a shining appearance when viewed from a distance. The capstone was usually made of hard stone - granite or basalt - and could be plated with gold, silver, or electrum and would also be highly reflective.
After 2700 BC, the ancient Egyptians began building pyramids, until around 1700 BC. The first pyramid was erected during the Third Dynasty by the Pharaoh Djoser and his architect Imhotep. This step pyramid consisted of six stacked mastabas. The largest Egyptian pyramids are those at the Giza pyramid complex. "The Egyptian sun god Ra, considered the father of all pharaohs, was said to have created himself from a pyramid-shaped mound of earth before creating all other gods. The pyramid’s shape is thought to have symbolized the sun’s rays" (Donald B. Redford, Ph.D., Penn State).
The age of the pyramids reached its zenith at Giza in 2575–2150 BC. Ancient Egyptian pyramids were in most cases placed west of the river Nile because the divine pharaoh’s soul was meant to join with the sun during its descent before continuing with the sun in its eternal round.
As of 2008, some 135 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest in Egypt and one of the largest in the world. It was the tallest building in the world until Lincoln Cathedral was finished in 1311 AD. The base is over 52,600 square metres (566,000 sq ft) in area. While pyramids are associated with Egypt, the nation of Sudan has 220 extant pyramids, the most numerous in the world.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is the only one to survive into modern times. The Ancient Egyptians covered the faces of pyramids with polished white limestone, containing great quantities of fossilized seashells. Many of the facing stones have fallen or have been removed and used for construction in Cairo.
The ancient pyramids of Egypt
Most pyramids are located near Cairo, with only one royal pyramid being located south of Cairo, at the Abydos temple complex. The pyramid at Abydos, Egypt were commissioned by Ahmose I who founded the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom.
The building of pyramids began in the Third Dynasty with the reign of King Djoser. Early kings such as Snefru built several pyramids, with subsequent kings adding to the number of pyramids until the end of the Middle Kingdom. The last king to build royal pyramids was Ahmose, with later kings hiding their tombs in the hills, such as those in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor's West Bank.
In Medinat Habu, or Deir el-Medina, smaller pyramids were built by individuals. Smaller pyramids were also built by the Nubians who ruled Egypt in the Late Period, though their pyramids had steeper sides.
Chogha Zanbil is an ancient Elamite complex in the Khuzestan province of Iran.
The Mesopotamians built the earliest pyramidal structures, called ziggurats. In ancient times, these were brightly painted in gold/bronze. Since they were constructed of sun-dried mud-brick, little remains of them. Ziggurats were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites, Akkadians, and Assyrians for local religions. Each ziggurat was part of a temple complex which included other buildings. The precursors of the ziggurat were raised platforms that date from the Ubaid period during the fourth millennium BC. The earliest ziggurats began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period. The latest Mesopotamian ziggurats date from the 6th century BC.
Built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the ziggurat was a pyramidal structure with a flat top. Sun-baked bricks made up the core of the ziggurat with facings of fired bricks on the outside. The facings were often glazed in different colors and may have had astrological significance. Kings sometimes had their names engraved on these glazed bricks. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven. It is assumed that they had shrines at the top, but there is no archaeological evidence for this and the only textual evidence is from Herodotus. Access to the shrine would have been by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit.
The Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places for public worship or ceremonies. They were believed to be dwelling places for the gods and each city had its own patron god. Only priests were permitted on the ziggurat or in the rooms at its base, and it was their responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs. The priests were very powerful members of Sumerian society.
Nubian Pyramids at Meroe with pylon-like entrances.
Nubian pyramids were constructed (roughly 240 of them) at three sites in Sudan to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. The pyramids of Kush, also known as Nubian Pyramids, have different characteristics than the pyramids of Egypt. The Nubian pyramids were constructed at a steeper angle than Egyptian ones. Pyramids were still being built in Sudan as late as 300 AD.
One of the unique structures of Igbo culture was the Nsude Pyramids, at the Nigerian town of Nsude, northern Igboland. Ten pyramidal structures were built of clay/mud. The first base section was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala/Uto, who was believed to reside at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction.