As you may guess, originally Egyptian Pharaohs weren’t buried pyramids, but in Mastabas, which were slanted subterranean single story rectangular tombs. It wasn’t until King Djoser, around 2680 BC, that the architect Imhotep had the great idea to start putting one Mastaba ontop of the other. This idea, which created a step pyramid, was to be the start of a long line of pyramids stretching thousands of years. The next great builder of pyramids was Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.), creating the first true pyramid as he filled in the steps to create the familiar angular shape we know today as pyramids. It was his son though, Khufu (2589-2566 B.C.) who was to create the largest pyramid the world would ever know (around 147 meters). Khufu’s son Khafre was to build the second largest (only 10 meters shorter), this shortness he made up for by building the Sphinx(apparently one of the largest statues in the ancient world). Finally there was one more in the triad of the Pyramids at Giza, which was built by Menkaure, Khufus grandson, which was also the smallest (66 metres). After this the Egyptians started making smaller and smaller pyramids and never again would such large pyramids ever be built.
The illustration shows the great pyramid at around the time of the funeral of Khufu. The great pyramid of today is more yellow but thats because of the removal of outer encasing of white Tura Limestone, which was re-used for mosques in the middle ages (a similar thing happened to Roman buildings in Europe for churches). It must have been an awe inspiring sight at the time though, a bright shining white gigantic pyramid surrounded by desert, many jaws must have dropped. There are a few theories as to why the pyramid shape (besides the practical one), it could have been based on rays of sun or a stairway to heaven for the pharaoh’s soul, or as the Egyptians also believed the mound was the shape the world was as it rose from the primeval waters so could this artificial mound be echoing the same. Unlike what the movies tell us, it was Egyptian Farmers who built the pyramids, not slaves, in fact the Egyptians had very few slaves. During certain times of the year when the farms were flooded by the Nile, the farmers would build the pyramid as a sacred duty on their time off, this would have taken many many years as you can imagine! There is a reason as well that the Pyramids were built in desert areas as to the west of the Nile was desert, which were barren but it was also where the sun set, so believed to be the land of the dead by the Ancient Egyptians.
At the base of the great pyramid you see an enclosing wall made of the same white Tura Limestone, this was transported many miles and across the Nile to Giza. Attached to the enclosing wall is the Mortuary temple, before the Pharaoh died he set aside lands for the maintenance of a community of priests, whose duty it was to maintain this temple and provide offerings for the dead Pharaoh long into the future. Attached to this in turn is the causeway that was for the procession carrying the body of the Pharoah from the Valley temple below to the Mortuary temple shown here. The Valley temple was at the Nile itself, it was here they deposited the body via boat from the western side of the Nile, where all the cities were. They are not sure as to the purpose of both temples, but the Valley temple may have been used to mummify the Pharoahs body before it was transported via the causeway, while the Mortuary temple was where other rituals may have taken place, and afterwards, where offerings were left to Khufu.
You can also see 4 smaller pyramids at the great Pyramids base; 3 of these were the queen tombs, one may have been for Hetepheres, mother of Khufu, another for his queen Meritetes, and another to Henutsen who was his 2nd or 3rd wife. Each of these queen pyramid’s, also had small chapels, which like the mortuary temple of the pharaoh were for offerings to be made to them. Only found recently, but behind these queen pyramids is a 4th smaller pyramid that was for the Pharaohs’ ‘Ka’, something similar to a soul or a spirit. Around these you will notice a myriad of smaller structures, these were the aforementioned Mastabas, after the Pharaohs started being buried in pyramids, the mastabas were still being built for officials and the upper class. There are many more mastabas at Giza now, but what is shown here are the ones believed to have been built at the same time as the pyramid itself. One of the people buried in the mastabas is Kawab, the eldest son of Khufu. Actually one theory is that the mastabas closest to the small pyramids were the sons of the associated queen. Another person of note buried in one of the mastabas is Hemiunu, who may have been the architect of the Great Pyramid itself, he was buried in a mastaba near the pyramid.