Pyramids are buildings mostly constructed out of stone in ancient times, which have a pyramid shape. The simplest ones have a square or rectangular base and four triangular sides which meet in a peak at the top. With this shape, most of the building's weight is at the bottom, which means that pyramids are very stable and could be built very high.
Pyramids have been built by many peoples throughout history, mostly for religious reasons.
The Egyptians are the most famous culture to have built pyramids. They built them for about a thousand years, until around 1500 BC when they decided they were too expensive to build. The purpose of pyramids was as tombs for the Egyptian pharaohs. The Egyptians believed that their pharaohs were gods on earth, and that the best way to make sure they returned to the realm of the gods after death was by burying them inside a pyramid.
Egyptian pyramids had a main room where the pharaoh's mummified remains would be placed along with a large amount of treasure. The shaft which led to the burial chamber would be closed off after the pharaoh's remains were placed there to prevent robbers from stealing the treasure. The builders also placed various traps along the shaft to further prevent robbery, as well as false burial rooms which were empty to further confuse thieves. There would also be a narrow chute from the pharaoh's burial room to the outside, pointing at the stars, so the pharaoh's soul could exit the burial room and go up to heaven.
The Egyptians built more than a hundred pyramids, almost all of them near Cairo, on the west side of the Nile river (since the sun sets, or 'dies', in the west). These were usually lined with polished white stone, and topped off with a pyramidion-or capstone-made of gold or marble to make them gleam in the desert. This gleaming lining has since fallen away. The largest, the Pyramid of Khufu, built in 2560 BC, was the tallest building in the world until it was beaten by an English cathedral in 1311. It is known as the last remaining 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
Egyptians weren't the only ones to build pyramids. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Mesoamerican peoples also built pyramids in what is today Mexico. These pyramids were not smooth like the Egyptian ones, but made of several tiers which got smaller as they got higher. They would usually have stairs on the sides, which led all the way to the top. Many had a temple or statue at the top.
The Mesoamerican pyramids were built my many different cultures. Some of the earliest, like the temple at Tikal, or El Castillo, were built by the Maya people at some point between 700 and 1200 AD. Others were built by the earlier pre-Colombian peoples in 250 AD, such as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in modern-day Mexico. They were discovered in an abandoned state by the Aztecs 1000 years after they were built. These cultures all had slightly different religions and different uses for their pyramids. Some Mesoamerican pyramids were tombs for kings. Others were religious shrines dedicated to specific gods or to planets. Others might have been used for human sacrifices. Many of the outside walls of these pyramids are covered with writing explaining various stories about the gods to the reader.
The Egyptian and Mesoamerican cultures were very different. They were on two different sides of the ocean, spoke different languages and separated by 2000 years of history. But they had one thing in common-they both used enormous pyramids to get closer to their respective gods.
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