The Pyramids are the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt and still fascinate people in the present day. These enormous tributes to the memory of the Egyptian kings have become synonymous with the country even though other cultures (such as the Chinese and Mayan) also built pyramids. The evolution of the Pyramid form has been written about and debated for centuries but there is no question that, as far as Egypt is concerned, it began with one monument to one king designed by one brilliant architect: the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.
Djoser (c. 2670 BCE) was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt and the first to build in stone. Prior to Djoser’s reign, mastaba tombs were the customary form for graves: rectangular monuments made of dried clay brick which covered underground passages where the deceased was entombed. For reasons which remain unclear, Djoser’s vizier, Imhotp (c. 2667 BCE), conceived of building a more impressive tomb for his king by stacking mastabas on top of one another, progressively making them smaller, to form the shape now known as the Step Pyramid.
The Step Pyramid has been thoroughly examined and investigated over the last century and it is now known that the building process went through many different stages and there were a few false starts. Imhotep seems to have first begun building a simple mastaba tomb. The highest mastaba was 20 feet (6 meters) but Imhotep decided to go higher. Investigations have shown that the pyramid began as a square mastaba, instead of the usual rectangular shape, and then was changed to rectangular. Why Imhotep decided to change the traditional rectangular mastaba shape is unknown but it is probable that Imhotep had in mind a square-based pyramid from the start.
The pyramid and its surrounding complex was designed to be stunning and inspire awe. Djoser was so proud of his accomplishment that he broke precedent of having only his own name on a monument and had Imhotep’s name carved as well. The complex consists of the Step Pyramid, the House of the North, the House of the South, the Serdab, the Heb Sed Court, the South Tomb, Temple T, and the Northern Mortuary Temple. All of these, with the surrounding wall, made up a complex the size of a city. in ancient Egypt. Djoser’s complex, in fact, was larger than the city of Hierkanpolis at the time.