Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the one and only Wonder which does not require a description by early historians and poets. It is the one and only Wonder that does not need speculations concerning its appearance, size, and shape. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.

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Based on a mark in an interior chamber naming the work gang and a reference to fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BCE. Initially at 146.5 metres (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface, what is seen today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. There have been varying scientific and alternative theories about the Great Pyramid’s construction techniques. Most accepted construction hypotheses are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.

There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called Queen’s Chamber and King’s Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only pyramid in Egypt known to contain both ascending and descending passages. The main part of the Giza complex is a setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honour of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s wives, an even smaller “satellite” pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles.

On the north face, is the pyramid’s entrance. A number of corridors, galleries, and escape shafts either lead to the King’s burial chamber, or were intended to serve other functions. The King’s chamber is located at the heart of the pyramid, only accessible through the Great Gallery and an ascending corridor. The King’s sarcophagus is made of red granite, as are the interior walls of the King’s Chamber. Most impressive is the sharp-edged stone over the doorway which is over 3 m (10 ft) long, 2.4 m (8 feet) high and 1.3 m (4 ft) thick. All of the interior stones fit so well, a card won’t fit between them. The sarcophagus is oriented in accordance with the compass directions, and is only about 1 cm smaller in dimensions than the chamber entrance. It might have been introduced as the structure was progressing.

 

Location

At the city of Giza, a necropolis of ancient Memphis, and today part of Greater Cairo, Egypt.

 

History

Throughout their history, the pyramids of Giza have stimulated human imagination. They were referred to as “The Granaries of Joseph” and “The Mountains of Pharaoh”. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his pride was expressed through his famous quote: “Soldats! Du haute de ces Pyramides, 40 siecles nous contemplent”. (Soldiers! From the top of these Pyramids, 40 centuries are looking at us)

Today, the Great Pyramid is enclosed, together with the other pyramids and the Sphinx, in the touristic region of the Giza Plateau. Also in the area is the museum housing the mysterious Sun Boat, only discovered in 1954 near the south side of the pyramid. The boat is believed to have been used to carry the body of Khufu in his last journey on earth before being buried inside the pyramid. It may also serve him as a means of transportation in his afterlife journey according to Ancient Egyptian beliefs.

The pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, unsurpassed until the 160-metre-tall (520 ft) spire of Lincoln Cathedral was completed c. 1300. The accuracy of the pyramid’s workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have an average error of only 58 millimetres in length. The sides of the square base are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points (within 4 minutes of arc) based on true north, not magnetic north, and the finished base was squared to a mean corner error of only 12 seconds of arc. The completed design dimensions, as suggested by Petrie’s survey and subsequent studies, are estimated to have originally been 280 cubits high by 440 cubits long at each of the four sides of its base.

 

Materials

The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million limestone blocks which most believe to have been transported from nearby quarries. The Tura limestone used for the casing was quarried across the river. The largest granite stones in the pyramid, found in the “King’s” chamber, weigh 25 to 80 tonnes and were transported from Aswan, more than 800 km (497 mi) away. Traditionally, ancient Egyptians cut stone blocks by hammering wooden wedges into the stone which were then soaked with water. As the water was absorbed, the wedges expanded, causing the rock to crack. Once they were cut, they were carried by boat either up or down the Nile River to the pyramid. It is estimated that 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.