The great Piramyds of Giza
Situated west of the Nile, bordering the Sahara Desert, the Giza plateau rises up in its glory to present its full authority. It is here that an ancient King coordinated a mammoth undertaking exploiting the full value of the looming plateau. Eternal life would surely be granted with the precision and meticulous execution of King Khufu's perfect pyramid. Other pyramids had been built before, but none would ever achieve the genius, grace and competence of this Great Pyramid.
today, it stands a silent witness to the events that immediately followed the
kings decision to build his pyramid on this site. Strangely, Khufu decided to
build his pyramid just to one side of the highest ground on the plateau.
Perhaps this section would require less work to lay the foundation, over 9
acres, of the pyramid. We can begin to surmise how the pyramid was built by the
abundant evidence at the site. A project of this magnitude would require
people, housing, food and tools. Traces of all of this have been found, and a
small village has been excavated that would be sufficient to house the
appropriate number of people necessary to build the largest pyramid. The
graffiti of the original work gangs are scrawled across the upper most
chambers, chambers that were never meant to be entered, which may have only
been included to relieve the tremendous weight upon the main chamber.
Following the lead of Khufu, two of his successors also built their pyramids on the plateau. His son, Khafre, exploited the higher ground, and was able to achieve the illusion of his pyramid as being the tallest. In actuality, his pyramid was shorter than Khufu's. Khafre is assumed to have been responsible for carving the Great Sphinx which is aligned to his pyramid. The smallest pyramid, that of Menkaure, was the final attempt to pyramid the plateau. Menkaure's pyramid also suffered the fate of other pyramids and tombs throughout Egyptian history, the king died before his tomb was finished.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)
How the Great Pyramid
was built is a question that may never be answered. Herodotus said that it
would have taken 30 years and 100,000 slaves to have built it. Another theory
is that it was built by peasants who were unable to work the land while the
Nile flooded between July and November. They may have been paid with food for
their labor. The flooded waters would have also aided in the moving of the
casing stones. These stones were brought from Aswan and Tura and the water
would have brought the stones right to the pyramid. This pyramid is thought to
have been built between 2589 - 2566 BC. It would have taken over 2,300,000
blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would
have been 6,000,000 tons and a height of 482 feet (140m). It is the largest and
the oldest of the Pyramids of Giza.
Not much is known about Cheops(Khufu). The tomb had been robbed long before archeologists came upon it. Any information about him was taken with the objects inside the tomb. He is thought to have been the ruler of a highly structured society and he must have been very wealthy. He was buried alone in this massive tomb. His wives may have been buried nearby in smaller mastabas.
The encasing marble which covered the outside of the pyramid has eroded or been removed over time. With this casing off, the pyramid lost 33 feet (11m) of all of its dimensions. The top platform is 10m square. The base of the pyramid is 754 feet and covers 13 acres. The original entrance to the pyramid was about 15m higher than the entrance that is used today. Apparently Al Mamum, who opened up the new passage, could not find the original opening. The new passageway leads straight across and joins in with the original passage, the descending passage. The descending passage led only to a subterranean chamber. This descending passage that leads down is set at a 26 degree angle that descends down 345 feet (105m) into the earth under the pyramid. The passageway is only 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. The chamber is closed to the public. The chamber itself is room that measures about 46' x 27'1" x 11'6" (14 x 8.3 x 3.5m). There is a passage that leads 100 feet horizontally to the western side. The purpose of the pit is uncertain. It is possible that it could have been the burial chamber, but after a change of plan, it was abandoned.
The descending passage beyond where the new entrance meets it, is closed off by a steel door. The ascending passage rises at the same angle as the descending, 26 degrees. The ascending passage leads up into the pyramid. The ascending passage is the same dimensions as the descending, 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. It can be quite a difficult trek for some people. The passage leads on for 129 feet (39m).
At the point where the ascending passage levels off, you can go two different ways. If you continue on horizontally, this passageway leads into the Queen's Chamber. The Queen's Chamber was never used. The floor in this room was never polished, it's still rough. Egyptologists believe that the chamber was brought to this point and then the builders changed their minds and moved to the King's Chamber. The possible explanation for the abandonment is that the sarcophagus built for Cheops was much too large for the narrow passageways that had already been built. There are ventilating shafts that are another mystery. These shafts are sealed at the extremities on both shafts. The shafts must have been made as the pyramid went up, since the builders most likely would not have continued to make the shafts after the decision to abandon the chamber. It is also thought that these are not actually ventilation shafts, but more of a religious significance. This could be related to the Ancient Egyptian's beliefs that the stars are inhabited by gods and souls of the dead.
The second, and more spectacular, way at the levelling off point of the ascending passage, is to continue upwards to the Grand Gallery. The gallery is 157 feet (48m) long and 28 feet (8.5m) high and is at the same 26-degree angle as the passages. The roof of the gallery is corbelled. It is said that not a piece of paper or a needle can be inserted between the stones making up the roof. The gallery is only 62 inches (1.6m) wide at the bottom and is only 41 inches (1m) wide at the top of the incline.
The Grand Gallery leads into the King's Chamber. The walls of the chamber are made of pink Aswan granite. Inside this chamber is the very large sarcophagus made of Aswan red granite, with no lid. The sarcophagus must have been placed inside the chamber as the pyramid was being built. It is much too large to have been moved in afterwards, as was the usual custom of that time. The King's Chamber is 34'4" x 17'2" x 19'1" high (5.2m x 10.8m x 5.8m high). This chamber also has the possible ventilation shafts as the Queen's Chamber. They are at the same angle as the shafts in the Queen's Chamber. The thought about the religious significance applies to these shafts as well. The main feature of the sky at night, was the Milky Way. The stars were thought to have been the Nile in the sky. The southern shaft from the King's Chamber points directly to where Orion's Belt would have been in the ancient sky. The southern shaft of the Queen's Chamber points to Syrius. The northern shaft of the King's Chamber points to the circumpolar stars. These stars never disappear in the sky. It is thought that these shafts were to help the spirit of the dead pharaoh find the important stars.
Above this chamber is a series of five relieving chambers which are essential to support the weight of the stones above and to distribute the weight away from the burial chamber. The top chamber has a pointed roof made of limestone blocks. This is the most important of the relieving chambers. In these chambers, are found the only inscriptions in the whole pyramid.
Around the Pyramid
As you come out of the pyramid you can see the remains of the original enclosure wall which is on the north and east side. It lies about 10m from the base of the pyramid. Little remains of Cheops' Mortuary Temple. What is left is basalt paving and lies near the east side of the wall. You may also see occasional traces of the causeway that led from the valley temple in the village, Nazlat al-Samman, at the foot of the plateau. This causeway collapsed during the last 150 years. Three small pyramids stand to the east of Cheops' pyramid. These are thought to have been for his sister, Merites, who was also his wife, and possibly two other queens.
To the west of the great pyramid is the Royal Cemetery. It contains 15 mastabas which have just recently been opened to the public after having been closed for over 100 years. Discovered at this site was the mummy of a 4,600 year old female. She had a completely unique plaster encasement that has never been seen or found anywhere else.
At the base of the south face of the Great Pyramid, sits the Boat Pits and Museum. The five boat pits were discovered in 1982. One boat is located at the site and can be seen at the museum. The boat, which is encased in the stones, has no nails. It was held together with ropes and pegs, but not nails, and is amazingly intact. The purpose of these boats may have been intended for travel to the after-life or to accompany the Sun-God on his journey.
Pyramid of Chephren (Khafre)
The Pyramid of
Chephren, often called the "Second Pyramid", is built next to the
Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops). Chephren is the son and successor of Khufu and
Hensuten. Khufu's other son and also successor, Ra'djedef, started constructing
his own pyramid at Abu Rawash, which is north of Giza. Chephren's pyramid is
designed more modestly than Khufu's. The Chephren pyramid originally was 10
feet (3m) shorter and 48 feet (14.6m) more narrow at the base. The estimated
weight of all the stones in the pyramid is 4,880,000 tons. Because it is built
higher on the plateau, it looks taller from most angles than Khufu's pyramid.
The slope of the angles is higher, 53 degrees compared to Khufu's 51 degrees.
There is no evidence that anyone was ever buried in the main chamber. No inscriptions have been found in the pyramid, however there is a sarcophagus in the main chamber. There are two entrances that lead into the pyramid which are placed one directly above the other. The upper entrance is 50 feet (15m) above the ground. This is the one that is used for entrance now. A narrow passage leads into a large limestone chamber. This passageway descends at a 25 degree angle to the chamber. The walls are lined with red granite. This inner chamber is quite large, 46.5' x 16.5' x 22.5' (14.2m x 5m x 6.9m). The roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the pyramid face. This is designed to take the weight of the pyramid, as is the relieving chambers in Khufu's pyramid. Apparently the roof designed this way has worked, the pyramid has not collapsed. The lower corridor is directly under the upper corridor. This lower corridor once contained a portcullis, which could be let down to prevent entry. This corridor declines on the same angle as the upper and eventually joins into the upper. Once joined, the passageway leads into the inner chamber. Located in the lower passage is a burial chamber that is apparently unfinished and unused. It is in the bedrock under the pyramid. The passageway leads through this chamber and joins the upper corridor.
top of the pyramid still has some of the limestone casing that once covered the
entire pyramid. There may have been a change in the method of positioning the
blocks that has kept these pieces still intact. It gives the appearance of a
white cap on top of the pyramid. As was Khufu's pyramid, the pyramid of
Chephren had been looted before it was entered in 1818 by Belzoni.
The Mortuary Temple of Chephren is to the east of the pyramid and is better preserved than Khufu's temple. Chephren's temple is more elaborate, although the statues and other contents have been stolen than his father's. Some of the limestone walls had granite casing, which is still present in some places. Parts of a small sanctuary, outhouses, a courtyard and a large hall with pillars still remain. A causeway that connected the Mortuary Temple to the Valley Temple is better preserved than any other causeway. It was hidden in the sands until Mariette found it in 1852. The causeway is 500m long and was lined with red granite which protects the limestone. There are two entrances to the temple that face east and lead into a T-shaped hall which has huge pillars. Twenty-three statues of Chephren were found in this hall. The only one which remains intact is in the Egyptian Museum. This statue, which is possibly the most famous Egyptian statue, shows Chephren sitting in his throne with a hawk perched on the back of the throne. Chambers can be found on the south side of the hall, but a passage that joined the causeway is now closed off to visitors.
Pyramid Complex of Menkaure' (Mycerinus)
The Pyramid of
Menkaure' (Mycerinus) is the smallest of the three pyramids of Giza and shows
the beginning of the decline in workmanship in the Egyptian pyramid building.
The attention to detail is not as it is on the earlier pyramid. Menkaure was the successor to Chephren. The pyramid
was not complete when Menkaure died. Shepseskaf, who was Menkaures son,
finished the pyramid. The granite encasement was never finished. The pyramid
stands 66.5m high, which is much smaller than the other two pyramids at Giza.
Another difference between Menkaure's and Chephren's and Khufu's pyramid is
that Menkaure's burial chamber was the lower chamber. The walls were lined with
granite and below the pyramid's foundation. The sarcophagus was found, but was
lost at sea while it was being shipped to England. A wooden coffin was found,
supposedly that of Menkaure's. It was actually put in the pyramid about 1800
years later. It is thought to have been an act of restoration. In 1968 an
inscription was found near the entrance in the casing which referred to this
To the east of the pyramid is the Mortuary Temple. This temple is fairly well preserved, even though the walls were not encased with granite or marble. It was actually made of red mud bricks and then lined with a thin layer of limestone. A 660m mud-brick causeway connected the Valley Temple to the temple. The causeway is now beneath the sand.