Ancient Egyptian culture had a strong belief in the afterlife, so burials
were extremely important. Tombs were thought to be the home of the dead
when they weren't in the afterlife, so much importance was placed on
them. Funerary structures took on different forms over the centuries,
the main two categories being mud and stone.
By the time of the New Kingdom, it was decided that the large expense of the pyramids wasn't really worth it with looting being so prevalent. At this time, man-made stone structures pointing to the sky were replaced by natural ones: mountains. Tombs were carved into stone in several locations, most notably the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. These tombs were much more hidden, and we are still making new discoveries there today.
Pyramid of Djoser
Djoser's pyramid was the first pyramid constructed in ancient Egypt. While most mastabas of the time were a single level, Djoser's vizier and architect Imhotep built a series of smaller mastabas on top of each other in stone, and then covered it with a casing of limestone.
The Artist's Work:
The pyramid strongly resembles a staircase leading into the sky, and its purpose was to allow Djoser to ascend into heaven and return when he pleased. Mass labor was used to transport, cut, sand and place all of the stone used to build this six-tiered monument, but the plan and idea were Imhotep's alone. He is considered to be the first architect in history to be known by name.
At first glance, this pyramid looks unimpressive. Having seen so many pictures of the huge pyramids at Giza, this one seems small and almost crude. However, once I found out that it was the first of its kind, and was once covered in limestone, I began to be more impressed. I imagine all of Egypt was impressed when out of the plain mastabas rose a giant monument, a shining stairway to heaven. I am also fascinated by the parallels with pre-Columbian pyramids.