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Ancient Roots An Astronomical Wonder
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An Astronomical Wonder
The first Egyptian pyramid was the step pyramid for the pharaoh Djoser (or Zoser) at Saqqara. The pyramid formed a stairway for the dead pharaoh to ascend to the heavens. ( 1997 Deurer)
Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only one is still standing: the Great Pyramid of Khufu, on the Giza plateau near Cairo. That wouldn't come as a surprise to Khufu, the pharaoh who ordered its construction more than 4500 years ago: His pyramid was built to last for all eternity.

The pyramid towers 450 feet above the plateau, and covers an area equal to 15 football fields. Its its base is aligned in almost perfect north-south and east-west directions.

Yet Khufu's final resting place is only one of about 70 pyramids built along a short stretch of the Nile over several centuries. They served as tombs for the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom — and perhaps as royal stairways to heaven.

Egypt's FIRST pyramid was built for the pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara. It's made of several rectangular layers, like a cake. These layers create a series of tall steps — steps that would allow Djoser to ascend to the heavens.

Later pyramids were given the familiar streamlined appearance. Some of the oldest surviving records of ancient Egypt, called the Pyramid Texts, tell us that a pyramid's smooth, tapered sides may be a reflection of the Sun's rays. These rays served as a ramp or stairway for the soul of the dead king — the first step toward heaven.

In Egyptian theology, though, the first step wasn't that big. The king was considered divine — a man with supernatural qualities granted by the gods. When his body died, his soul joined the other gods in the sky.

Khufu strengthened this divine link. He proclaimed himself the incarnation of Re, the sun god. He called his pyramid the Akhet Khufu — the Horizon of Khufu. He expected to rise as the Sun each day from his own horizon — the Great Pyramid.

Re became the chief god of the pharaohs, who called themselves the sons of Re.

Re took many forms, and combined with many other gods. As Amen-Re, he joined with Amun to rule the pantheon of hundreds of Egyptian gods.

Yet the Egyptians saw the Sun as a physical object, too — a ball of fire. Each day, it sailed across the surface of the cosmic ocean in a boat. At night, it sailed through the underworld — a terrifying place filled with demons.

In the middle of this nightly journey, Re merged with Osiris, the god of the dead, and the Sun was given new life. The new day began at dawn, when the sky goddess, Nut, once again gave birth to the Sun.

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