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The Pyramids of Egypt
pyramids egypt
The Pyramids of Egypt

pyramids egypt


By Nabil Swelim

The Superstructure

The Great Pyramid of Khufu has a base length of 230 m and a height of 148 m. There is a stepped accretion layer pyramid imbedded within. We are looking along the N-E diagonal, thus we see the corner angle, (right) looks along the east-west axis, where we see the side angle. Note how the side angle is steeper than the corner angle. Nabil Swelim 2005.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu Giza

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The pyramid edifice is composed of a superstructure and a substructure; here is a compiled model from the Old Kingdom originals. The section goes along the N-S axis looking west.
Drawn by Nabil Swelim 1987.

The superstructure of a pyramid is a free standing construction built of stone or of bricks. It has a volume equal to the area of the Base, times one third of its Height; i.e., (B2 X H/3) The superstructure is composed of a core, nucleus and an outer facing:


The core contains a tumulus imbedded in a retaining mastaba (see above). These are the innermost parts of the pyramid in the Old Kingdom. Alternatively they could contain a solid construction or a natural feature as seen at natural rock knoll within the brick pyramid of Abu Rawash.

brick mastaba K1 Beit Khallaf

A tumulus of gravel imbedded inside the brick mastaba K1 at Beit Khallaf, dating to the reign of Horus Netjerykhet. A similar tumulus is imbedded in the initial mastaba of the step pyramid of that king. Nabil Swelim 1980.

egypt pyramid Saqqara

The NE corner of the initial mastaba imbedded in the Step pyramid at Saqqara, exposed on the east side. Nabil Swelim 1985.


In the Old Kingdom the nucleus is composed of an accretion layered step pyramid and packing masonry over its steps. This is the principal construction in the building project, but it could be built in a few different ways in the Middle Kingdom: embankments with a fill, solid masonry, cross walls etc. This is the penultimate project in the construction of a pyramid.

Pyramid King Pepi II Saqqara

To the right is the exposed nucleus of the pyramid of King Pepi II at south Saqqara; he is the 6th king of the 6th dynasty 2400 BC. The accretion layers of the stepped pyramid within are built with small blocks of limestone unlike those at Giza.  To the left are the ruins of the small subsidiary pyramid, they show nice details of the outer facing. Nabil Swelim 1980.

Red Pyramid Snofru Dahshur

Remains of the outer facing at the Red Pyramid of Snofru at Dahshur, the discolouration was caused by several episodes of being buried and being exposed over the ages. The base of the pyramid is 220.8 m and height is 100 m. Nabil Swelim 1983.


In the Old and Middle Kingdoms the outer facing completely covers the nucleus of the pyramid and is composed of the first course which determines the orientation, the casing, and a pyramidion. These items are constructed of the finest stone material available. They are dressed and polished to a high degree. They cover the nucleus to complete the ultimate pyramid shape after the pyramidion is fixed.

pyramids egypt

egypt pyramids

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