Egypt Pyramids of Giza: Monuments of Eternity
Of Egypt's major tourist attractions, only one is at the top of any list: the Pyramids of Giza. They're Egypt's three main pyramids, built in the 4th Dynasty (circa 2550 B.C). The pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built as tombs for kings (and queens), and it was an exclusive honor to have such a tomb. However, this tradition only applied in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Today, there are more than 93 pyramids in Egypt; the most famous are those at Giza.
Now let's go for a little tour around the site of the pyramids and try to explore the magnificence of the area:
The Great Pyramid of Khufu:
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is by far the biggest, tallest, and most intact Pyramid in Egypt. After its construction, it became one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World," and today, it is the only remaining. For 4300 years, the Pyramid was the tallest building on earth until the French built the Eiffel Tower in 1889.
Khufu's Pyramid is built entirely of limestone and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It contains around 1,300,000 blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 to 15 tons. Its square base covers 13 acres, and its sides measure about 230m (755ft). Its four sides precisely face the four cardinal points, with an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5m (488ft), but today it is only 137m (455ft) high. The 9m (33ft) missing is due to the theft of the delicate quality limestone covering, or casing stones, by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century A.D. to build houses and mosques in Cairo.
The Pyramid's entrance and almost every other Pyramid in Egypt are on the northern side. On this side, there are two entrances; one is the original and is 17m (55ft) above ground level, and the other is an artificially forced entrance below it. Khalif El-Mamoun created it in the 9th century A.D., who sought the treasures he thought might have been kept inside. He sent out stonemasons to open up an entrance, and they cut it midway across the center of the northern side. Their tunnel goes almost 35m into the Pyramid and is crudely cut, and at the end, it connects with the original inner corridors of the Pyramid. Nothing was found inside, as it was plundered in antiquity. Nowadays, visitors to the site use Mamoun's entrance to gain access to the Pyramid, as it is considered to be a shortcut.
Please Note: If you attempt to enter the Pyramid, bend until you reach the burial chamber!
From the main entrance of the Pyramid, there is a long narrow corridor with a low roof that descends for more than 100m (330ft), which takes you to a chamber located about 24m (79ft) below ground level, which is an unfinished burial chamber with very little fresh air inside and is inaccessible today.
Almost 20m (66ft) from that descending corridor, another corridor is connected, which takes you up into the heart of the Pyramid. This ascending corridor reaches one of the significant parts of the Great Pyramid, the "Grand Gallery"! This large, long, rectangular hall is 49m (161ft) long and 15m (49ft) high, with a long tunnel at the bottom that takes you to the 2nd chamber, which is famously known as the "Queen's Chamber." It has nothing to do with a queen and was given this name by the early Arabs, who went inside the pyramids and gave it its name. It is commonly believed that it served as a magazine or a storeroom inside the Pyramid.
When you ascend the "Grand Gallery," you will find, at its end, an entrance to the 3rd chamber, which was the actual burial chamber of King Khufu, and this is where you will find his stone coffin, made out of one block of granite. This great chamber is rectangular, has a flat roof, and is built out of granite from Aswan, 1000 km (625 miles) away. The top consists of 9 granite slabs, estimated to be around 50 tons in weight! Above the roof of the burial chamber, the Ancient Egyptians built five small relieving rooms so that the massive pressure of the weight above would not cause the burial chamber to collapse. These five chambers are also made of granite and are about 1m (3 ft) above each other. The tops of the first 4 are flat, with the 5th one having a pointed top to divert the enormous weight pressure away from the burial chamber.
The burial chamber's northern and southern walls have two small tunnels with rectangular entrances. They are small and were thought to go all the way through the outer sides of the Pyramid, though no exterior openings have been found. They are believed to be "star shafts" that served a particular purpose in the ancient cult connecting the King with the stars.
It is a long story if you need to know more about these small tunnels and their connection to the stars! You will need to come to one of my lectures!!!
One last point! The Great Pyramid is the tomb of the great Egyptian King, Khufu. The name "Cheops" is also associated with this King and his Pyramid, the name being given to him by the Greeks. Though both terms are generally accepted, Khufu was used in this description because it was his birth name! The same goes for Khafre (Chephren in Greek) and Menkaure (Mycerinus); their pyramids are described below.
The Pyramid of Khafre:
Khafre's Pyramid, or the 2nd Pyramid, is easily recognizable by the layers of its original casing stones that remain near its summit, and this, along with the fact that it stands on a higher part of the plateau, gives the impression that it is taller than the Great Pyramid. An optical illusion, as it is only 136m (446 ft) tall, with sides of 214.5m (704ft), a surface area of 11 acres, and an angle of 53 degrees. It also has lost some of its original height through the years, once being 143.5m (471ft) tall.
The only similarity to his father's Pyramid is the entrance on the same north-facing side. However, there are no corridors leading into the heart of this Pyramid, the burial chamber being underground, and a long descending passageway has to be negotiated to reach it. This entrance is 50 feet (15m) above ground level, leading to the narrow passage, which descends at a 25-degree angle into the large burial chamber, which measures 14.2m by 5m by 6.9m (46.5ft by 16.5ft by 22.5ft). To take the weight of the Pyramid, the roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the Pyramid's face. A large, black sarcophagus is found in this room.
A lower corridor is directly under the upper hall and once contained a portcullis that could be lowered to prevent entry, as well as an unfinished burial chamber cut from the bedrock and, it is thought, unused. Like the upper corridor, this one has a 25-degree slope; it then levels out, climbs slightly, and eventually, the two join together. The united passageway then leads to the burial chamber.
The Pyramid of Menkaure:
Khafre's son, Menkaure, built the smallest of the three main pyramids on the Giza Plateau. This one was only a mere 65.5m (215ft) tall, nowadays 62m (203ft), with sides of 105m (344ft) and an angle of 51.3 degrees. This Pyramid was altered during construction and made much more significant than initially planned. The original, smaller Pyramid had a simple descending corridor and burial chamber, but when it was enlarged, a new hall was built with three portcullises and a small paneled section. Later still, another burial chamber, along with a storeroom, was added at a lower level. This Pyramid, like its two neighbors, has a north-facing entrance.
Apart from the size, Menkaure's Pyramid differed from the other 2 in the choice of casing stones. Whereas the pyramids of his father and grandfather were wholly cased in fine, white Turah limestone, Menkaure's Pyramid was only partly cased in Turah limestone, from about 15m up! Instead, the first 15 meters were cased with pink granite, which had come from Aswan, the last of which was taken by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848), who used them to construct his arsenal in Alexandria.
The Great Sphinx:
The Great Sphinx, or as the ancients knew it, "Shesep Ankh" or "the living image," has to be one of the most recognizable constructions in history. Think of the Sphinx, and you automatically think of Egypt and the Giza Plateau.
Sculpted from soft sandstone, many believe that it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried in the sand for so many long periods in its lifetime. The body is 60m (200ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Its face is 4m (13ft) wide, with eyes measuring 2m (6ft) high. It faced the rising sun and was revered so much by the ancients that they built a temple in front of it.
The 18th Dynasty King, Thutmose IV., installed a stele between its front paws, describing how, when Thutmose was a young Prince, he had gone hunting and fell asleep in the shade of the Sphinx's head. Thutmose had a dream where Ra-Hor-Akhty, the sun god, talking through the Sphinx, spoke to him, telling the young prince to clear away the sand because the Sphinx was choking on it. The Sphinx said he would become King of Egypt if he did this. So Thutmose cleared away all the sand, and after two years, the god fulfilled his promise to the price, and he was made the King of Egypt.
Today, part of the "uraeus" (the sacred cobra at the forehead) and the nose are missing (not shot off by Napoleon's men as many believe, but were destroyed by Sa'im Al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the Khanqah of Sa'id Al-Su'ada. In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im Al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose!). There are small parts of a beard in the Cairo Museum and a big one at the British Museum in London, which reputedly belongs to the Sphinx. Still, many Egyptologists deny this, as the style of beard found does not relate to the "names" that The Sphinx wears – different Dynasties! Because of the soft sandstone, the Sphinx has been repaired many times; sometimes, the repairs cause even more damage! Also, due to the wind, humidity, and pollution from modern Cairo, its condition is still deteriorating, and the present renovations are a never-ending task.