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Giza Pyramids Archaeological Site

Giza

 

 

Location: 12 km (8 mi) Southwest of Cairo Map
Tel. (02) 3383 8823
Bus: 355, 357 from Midan Tahrir 
Giza Plateau
Open: 8am- 5pm daily
 
Giza Pyramids
Open: winter 8am- 4pm daily
summer 8am- 5pm daily
 
Solar Boat Museum
Open: winter 9am- 4pm daily
summer 9am- 5pm daily 
Sound and Light Show
winter: 6:30pm, 7:30pm, 8:30pm
summer 8:30pm, 9:30pm, 10:30pm

 

 

 

Etymology of the Word "Pyramid"

Pyramids of Giza Archaeological Site is the largest and most recognizable symbols of the Ancient Egypt. It is the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World that survived to our days virtually in original condition. Its magnitude and difficulty of construction to this day is the subject of discussion among historians and archaeologists. Exact dating of the construction, names of leaders at the time of construction and even its purpose is still a subject of debates. Our main sources of information are Greek historians who unfortunately lived centuries after its construction. Their version of history and names of those who were supposedly buried here is the only source of information we have.

 

Modern word "Pyramid" comes from a Greek word "pyros" or "wheat". In the early medieval period during lives of Byzantine bishop Gregory of Nazianzus and scholar Stephanus of Byzantium it was widely believed that Giza Pyramids were constructed by legendary Joseph. In the Old Testament he was sold by his brothers to slavery in Egypt. There he became famous for his incredible ability to predict future. Egyptian pharaoh came to him with a sleep that predicted seven years of good harvests followed by seven years of bad ones. Thus Joseph ordered construction of several granaries around Egyptian lands to prepare population for the incoming years of low harvest thus saving people from starvation. It was believed that Pyramids served as these huge granaries for the wheat. Only in 820 AD workers of the seventh caliph of the Abbasid al- Ma'mun made an entrance inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. This tunnel is currently known as al- Ma'mun tunnel. It became evident that these huge structures didn't have significant space to keep huge stores of wheat.

 

 

Main Sights of Giza Plateau Necropolis

 

The Great Pyramid of Cheops

 

The most important and famous of the Egyptian pyramids is the Pyramid of Cheops. It is assumed that construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza was ordered by Pharaoh Cheops or Khufu who ruled over Egypt between 2620BC to 2580 BC. Other sources put years of his reign in 2604- 2581 BC. His workers spent much of his lifetime construction this huge grave site. It took about 25 years to complete around 2590 BC. Chief engineer that oversaw this mammoth construction project was vizier or advisor Hemiunu (pictured right). He buried on a cemetery next to the pyramid.

 

Each side of the pyramid is estimated at 227.5 meters long and 146.6 meters high and covers an area of 5.3 hectares. Inclination angle of the walls of the pyramid are measured at 51° 50'. Interestingly architects turned their structure into a mathematical puzzle. Lengths of various parts of the building was designed with incredible precision. It seems almost like a puzzle for the subsequent generations. For example if you take the height of the pyramid and multiply it times 2*π is almost exactly equal to its total perimeter. Technically number Pi was not invented at the time, so there is still some debate on whether it is a mere coincidence or was done on purpose. Another oddity is the fact that the area of the base of the pyramid of Cheops is almost exact as a Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan  in Mexico.

 

The surface for construction of the Great Pyramid was prepared using ingenious method. A grid of trenches was dug up, then they were filled with water. Since water surface is even all extra rock was removed. Once the surface of the platform was at the same level as water in the trenches, the trenches were filled with rubble. So the pyramids are perfectly level with the surface of the Earth. The construction of the pyramid took about 2.3 million stone blocks weighing 2.5 tons each, and the total volume of the pyramid is 2.34 million cubic meters. Blocks are so well fit together you can't even a insert a leaf of paper between the two blocks. Historians believe that stones were moved to the site of construction via a huge ramp, however there is still a subject of debate whether it was a single narrow ramp that must have extended for over a mile in length or whether it was less complicated by more efficient way to deliver stone to the top. Below you can see some of the examples of ramp design.

 

The perplexing mystery about the pyramid is the absence of any decorations or reliefs inside. It is very strange and further deepens the mystery of this grandiose buildings. There are only three "burial chambers" that are completely barren. King's Chamber is a room about 11 feet long, 17 feet wide and a height of about 19 feet. Unlike the rest of the pyramid its walls are made of granite. The red sarcophagus in the middle of the chamber is empty. It is believed that the body along with all artefacts were stolen or thrown out during times of unrest and civil wars. Other claim it was never there on a first place.

 

On the south side of the pyramid stands a fairly recent discovery of a boat. This is so-called solar boat, one of the five, which Cheops had to take to the underworld. It is built of cedar and did not use a single nail. Judging by the remains of the Nile River mud on its sides, it was used during pharaoh's lifetime as his personal vehicle.

 

 

The Pyramid of Chephren

The second largest pyramid is a pyramid of Chephren or Khafre, built on 40 years later than the first. Looking from a distance it might give an impression that it is higher than the pyramid of Chephren, but in reality it is slightly shorter. Although it is logical to assume this was designed on purpose. Side of the base of the pyramid of Chephren is 215 m, it's height is 136 m. The complex of Pyramid of Chephren includes temple of the valley, the road to Nile River, The Temple of the dead, and a lower temple where mummification of Chephren took place. It was once guarded by 25 statues of the pharaohs.

 

The Pyramid of Menkaure

Completes the ensemble of the great pyramids of Giza is the pyramid Menkaure. Its construction was completed in 2505 BC. This pyramid is much smaller than their predecessors. Side of each base is 108 meters, the initial height was 66.5 m (today - 62 m). The pyramid contains the only burial chamber that is cut in rocky base.

Other pyramids

The Great Pyramids of Giza is only part of the vast necropolis of Giza. Next to them is a complex of several small pyramids, where the pharaohs burried their wives so they can join them in the afterlife. Also tombs of high priests and high officials were situated here. It was probably a high honor that would be granted by the pharaoh himself. At the foot of the vast plateau of Giza are numerous funerary temples. These are interesting structures and unlike the Pyramids their interior is more colorful. Additionally it is the only place on the Giza plateau where you will be allowed inside so there is little choice anyway. The interior of Pyramids are closed and climbing of the Pyramids is also prohibited after several fatal falls. Another mysterious figure on the plateau is the famous Great Sphinx, carved out, like most colossal statues of Giza, from solid rock. Its length is 73 m, height at 20 m. It is believed that the Sphinx was carved out during the construction of the pyramid of Khafre, and his face (almost destroyed by the Mamelukes and the cannon fire of the Napoleonic artillery) has the features of Chephren- Khafre, brother and successor of Cheops. Every evening, at the foot of the pyramids you can watch "The Sound and Light" show devoted to the pyramids.

 

Ancient Historians about Giza Pyramids

Any traveller that visits that pyramids on Giza plateau might ask herself or himself: "How do we know Cheops constructed the Great Pyramid?" or "When do we know these magnificent structures were built by the Egyptians?". And the answer might surprise you. We really have no credible source of information about these magnificent alleged mausoleums. We don't know for certain who ordered their creation, when and most importantly how it was accomplished.

 

Many assumptions of the history of Giza Pyramids were formed by works of Ancient historians from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Constant looting, rebellions and wars stripped clean the interior of the pyramids and surrounding buildings. Prominent appearance of the pyramids at the Giza plateau attracted numerous generals, kings, soldiers and simple local peasant who took everything that could be carried away. Thus our knowledge about timing of construction and its purpose is based largely on works on works of ancient historians rather than archaeological finds. However most of them lived centuries after the alleged construction of pyramids. Thus many of the assumptions and dogmas of Giza Pyramid origin and history is somewhat questionable.

 

Herodotus of Halicarnassus

Herodotus of Halicarnassus is one of the most respected historians in the Ancient Greek history that earned him a nickname of "father of history". He completed nine books dedicated to the History of Antiquity in a huge epos known simply as Histories. Herodotus travelled to Egypt around 450 BC at the time when this region of the Mediterranean was under control of the mighty Persian Empire. Information that he got from his travels around the land he stated in the second book of his works.

 

Despite vast information and interesting insides about the Giza Necropolis the work of Herodotus has its own shortcomings. First of all he travelled to the region 2000 years after their alleged construction. Much was lost and destroyed by the subsequent generations of various generations of different peoples and conquerors. Many parts of the history was replaced by stories, legends, theories with little or no factual evidence or historic documents. Unlike other graves and temples in Egypt pyramids of Giza Plateau has no original inscriptions or dedications that could be attributed to any ancient pharaoh. Secondly Herodotus relied on translators to talk to the locals. Much of information and knowledge was misinterpreted or misunderstood by the Greek traveller. It is possible that the ownership of the pyramid didn't even belong to Cheops, Chephren and Menkaure. Archaeologists never discovered any hieroglyphs or symbols that represented these famous Egyptian rulers. In fact the only connection that we have between Cheops and his alleged pyramid is a small inscription that was made above so- called King's chamber that was made by the slave of Cheops. The same stones has inscriptions made by Arabs, French soldiers of Napoleon's army, soldiers of the British Commonwealth and many other. So it is logical to assume that Herodotus read the inscription, misunderstood it as a sign of ownership and called the Giza Necropolis after men who in fact had nothing to do with the pyramids. After all it is highly unusual that the pyramids were constructed and yet no one tried to put a huge sign that states the name of the builder.

 

And thirdly Herodotus obviously belonged to freedom loving Greek culture. Much of what he saw and heard he viewed through the eyes of his subjective culture. For example he described Cheops as a tyrannical king that forced his people to work for decades. Those who disobeyed his orders were put to death. In his unstoppable lust to internalize his name he forced his family to work to gather the resources. "When he needed money, his [ordered] own daughter to sit in a brothel and forced them to earn certain sum of money (Histories II, 126)". It is possible that Herodotus simply assumed that Cheops was a ruthless ruler since he couldn't explain the reason why would free man spend months working on construction a huge structure.

 

Diodorus of Sicily

Diodorus of Sicily visited Egypt in 60 BC. He based his historical work partially on earlier works of Herodotus and partially on his own experience and knowledge that he got from the Egyptian priests that he encountered. Here again we met certain degree of uncertainty. We don't have the names of source of his information and we don't know if they told the truth. So whatever we learned from Diodorus of Sicily must be taken with a certain grain of salt. However his works carries a certain degree of authenticity of that the Egyptians believed about the origins of Giza pyramids.

 

Unlike Herodotus Diodorus of Sicily did not believe that the pyramids were used to store the bodies of famous kings. In his historic works he believed that pyramids were abandoned shortly after their construction. The bodies of kings were buried elsewhere in an undisclosed location since Egyptian priesthood was too scared to put coffins in a pyramids that was visible to everyone. They were afraid that workers that were forced to work on construction of the site would rebel and destroy bodies. Egyptians believed that without preservation of bodies their spirits would never find peace in the after life.

 

Additionally Diodorus of Sicily states that the actual builders of the Giza pyramids were different altogether. Thus the Great Giza Pyramid was constructed by king Harmais. Pyramid of Chephren was constructed upon orders of Amasis (570- 526 BC), a king in the 26th dynasty, and finally the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure was constructed by Inaros I (middle of the 7th century BC). The last pharaoh became famous as a man that red a revolt against the rule of the Persian Empire. It is possible that this different ownership came from the local legends that surrounded the pyramids and the whole necropolis for centuries.

 

Additionally Diodorus states lining of the pyramids was still present at the time of his visit. However the top of the pyramid already lost significant part of its original height. A platform that measured sis cubits wide (approximately 3 meters or 10 feet). Furthermore famous historian claims that the construction of this significant structures took about 20 years to complete and required participation of over 360,000 slaves, overseers and engineers of the project.

 

Strabo of Amasya

Strabo visited Egypt around 25 BC, shortly after Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus conquered Egypt and Cleopatra along with her lover Antonius committed suicide. He stated that pyramids were used as a huge mausoleum for the Egyptian pharaohs, but he didn't mention their names. He probably entered the Great Pyramid via an entrance made by the grave robbers.

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder is a Roman historian who visited and described the pyramids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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