By Michael Wood
Last updated 2011-02-17
These structures are so familiar, and yet are still stunning when you actually go inside them and walk through their claustrophobic passages - which can suddenly open out into a great gallery as much as 150 feet long and 30 feet high.
When they were first built, the pyramids were covered with a gleaming case of white limestone - some remains of it can still be seen on Chephre's pyramid. They were mostly then topped with a gilded capstone, which must have glittered in the sunlight. The great pyramid of Giza was built by the pharaoh Khufu, in the Old Kingdom, before 2500 BC, and soared nearly 500 feet into the air.
The ancient texts describe pyramids as being a kind of stairway to heaven for the king's soul - an idea it is easy to understand when faced with these extraordinary monuments.
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