The ancient Egyptians built pyramids as tombs for their Pharaohs, or kings. A Pharaoh would begin planning his tomb, or "house of eternity," as soon as he took the throne. This was because the Egyptian pyramids held many items in preparation for the afterlife. It was believed that the Pharaohs would need many of his belongings, as well as slaves, for the afterlife.
There are more than 100 Egyptian pyramids, each built for a different person. Most pyramids were actually pyramid complexes including a main pyramid surrounded by a courtyard, a nearby mortuary temple, and a small cult pyramid that was to house the king's soul. Some pyramids had nearby small pyramids or other kinds of tombs set aside for family members.
In ancient Egypt, it was believed that death began a journey that brought the person to the next world of the afterlife. The king was mummified and the mummy kept inside the pyramid both for protection and for easier travel to the afterlife. His belongings were kept with him in the pyramid so that he might have access to them in the afterlife.
There was a specific reason for the shapes of the ancient Egyptian Pyramids. They believed that the Pharaoh ascended to heaven on the rays of the sun. The sun's rays, which a Pharaoh would use to climb to the afterlife, were symbolized by the shape of the pyramid. The pyramid shape could also have been a monument to Ra, the Sun God, who was believed to have created all life.
The location of the pyramids were also important, since the pyramids needed to be located under the stars which were considered the most important. Most pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile because the sun was thought to "die" in the west each night.
The first of the Egyptian pyramids of ancient Egypt was built in 2611 B.C. for Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid did not have smooth sides, but instead was comprised of six step-like levels. The "Bent Pyramid," the first pyramid without steps, was built approximately thirty years later. The angle of its sides were changed about halfway through construction, making the sides appear bent. This pyramid was not very tall.
About fifty years later, the largest of the pyramids at Giza was built. This pyramid was a true feat of engineering, built of about two million stone blocks, with each block weighing as much as fifteen tons. It took over 80 years to build all three pyramids located at Giza.