Of all 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 ones 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 famous 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 one of them remaining. For a period of 4300 years the pyramid was also 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 tons to 15 tons. Its square base covers 13 acres and its sides measure about 230m (755ft). Its four sides face the four cardinal points precisely and it has an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the pyramid was 146.5m (488ft) but today it is only 137m (455ft) high. Tthe 9m (33ft) that is missing is due to the theft of the fine quality limestone covering or casing stones by the Ottoman Turks in the 15 Century A.D to build houses and Mosques in Cairo.
The pyramid\'s entrance along with that of almost every other pyramid in Egypt is located at the northern side. On this side there are actually 2 entrances one is the original and is 17m (55ft) above ground level and the other one is a man-made forced entrance located below it. Created in the 9th Century A.D by Khalif El-Mamoun who was seeking the treasures that 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 was 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 actually considered to be a shortcut.
Please Note: If you attempt to go inside the pyramid you will have to bend down all the way till you reach the burial chamber!
From the main entrance of the pyramid there is a long narrow corridor with 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 there is another corridor connected to it which takes you up into the heart of the pyramid. This ascending corridor reaches one of the great 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 the 2nd chamber which is famously known as the "Queen\'s Chamber". It actually 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 real burial chamber of King Khufu and this is where you will find his stone sarcophagus which was made out of one block of granite. This amazing chamber is rectangular in form has a flat roof and is built out of granite that was brought from the city of Aswan which is located 1000Km (625 miles) away. The roof consists of 9 slabs of granite; each one estimated to be around 50 tons in weight! Above the roof of the burial chamber the Ancient Egyptians built 5 small relieving chambers so that the huge pressure of the weight above would not cause the burial chamber to collapse. These 5 chambers are also made of granite and are about 1m (3 ft) above each other. The tops of the first 4 are flat the 5th one having a pointed top to divert the enormous pressure of weight away from the burial chamber.
Both the northern and southern walls of the burial chamber have two small tunnels with rectangular entrances. They are small and once were thought to go all the way through the outer sides of the pyramid though no exterior openings have been found and are believed to be “star shafts” that served a certain purpose in the ancient cult connecting the King with the stars.
If you need to know more about these small tunnels and their connection to the stars it is a long story! I guess 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 names 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) and 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 still remain near its summit and this along with the fact that it actually 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 in the same north facing side. 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 face. A large black sarcophagus is found in this room.
A lower corridor is directly under the upper corridor and once contained a portcullis that could be lowered to prevent entry as well as an unfinished burial chamber which was 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 2 of them join together. The United passageway then leads to the burial chamber.
The Pyramid of Menkaure:
Khafre\'s son Menkaure built the smallest of the 3 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. It is thought that this pyramid was altered during its construction and made a lot bigger than originally planned. The original smaller pyramid had a simple descending corridor and burial chamber but when it was enlarged a new corridor was built with 3 portcullises and a small paneled chamber. Later still another burial chamber along with a storeroom were added at a lower level. This pyramid like its 2 neighbors has a north facing the 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 completely cased in fine white Turah limestone Menkaure\'s Pyramid was only partly cased in Turah limestone from about 15m up! The first 15 meters was 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 “Shesib
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 (6 ft) high. It faces 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 to him that if he did this he would become King of Egypt.
Thutmose cleared away all the sand and s after 2 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 big one at British Museum in London which reputedly belong to the Sphinx but 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 causing 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.