One of the greatest man-made structures of ancient times that continues to intrigue and amaze us is the Great Pyramid of Giza, also called the Pyramid of Khufu. It remains an enduring reminder of the marvelous architectural techniques used in ancient Egypt and the rich socio-cultural and religious life of the civilization. The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World and an iconic symbol representing Egypt and its rich historic legacy. It is also the site of continued historic and archaeological research and along with the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure (which form part of the same complex) remains one of the greatest tourist attractions of the world.
The Pyramid of Khufu
The Giza Pyramids were constructed some 4,500 years ago, vestiges of the reigns of three kings of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. What strikes us most about these pyramids is their endurance despite their age and exposure and their massive size. The Great Pyramid is the oldest among the three and was built for King Khufu (Cheops), who was the second king of the 4th dynasty. It is believed to have been constructed between 2580 BC and 2560 BC. It is also the largest in the complex. When it was built, the Great Pyramid is believed to have measured 481.4 feet (147 metres) in height – the tallest man-made structure on the face of the earth. This is a laurel it held for over 3800 years till the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France) was completed in the year 1889 CE. The Pyramid of Khufu has a base of 754 feet (230 metres) and over 2.3 million stones each weighing between 2.5 and 15 tons are estimated to have gone into its construction.
It is not only the precision and the size of the pyramid that have inspired awe. The interiors of the Great Pyramid have been designed to reflect the intricacy of the religion and culture and the mysteries of the metaphysics followed by ancient Egyptians. The lower chamber seems to be a preparation chamber while the King’s Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber are built high into the pyramid.
The Other Pyramids
The second pyramid in the complex was built by Pharaoh Khafre, Khufu’s son in about 2520 BC. His pyramid is smaller than his father’s but the necropolis includes the renowned monument of the Sphinx – a mythical creature with a pharaoh’s head and the body of a lion.
The other major pyramid in the complex belongs to Pharaoh Menkaure, the son of Khafra and the grandson of Khufu, and was built in 2490 BC. It towers to a height of 213 feet and features a very complex and well-preserved mortuary temple. A dark basalt sarcophagus found in the pyramid is believed to have been a beautiful one, rich in detail but this was lost when the ship transporting it from Malta to Cartagena sunk in 1838.
Apart from these pyramids there are smaller pyramids in the complex which are believed to be the tombs of Khufu’s wives. There are also two beautiful mortuary temples and a small mastaba.
An Enduring Mystery
The engineering precision and the perfect orientation of the pyramids have continued to baffle us through the ages. The fact that such huge and heavy stones could be raised and placed in perfect symmetry makes these a challenge even to modern technology. The ability to achieve such exactingly brilliant feat without the support of modern equipment and machinery seems to have given birth to many theories about their origins. Not all of these theories are based on archaeological evidence or even scientific ones for that matter. Some have held that these massive structures were constructed by extra-terrestrial entities while others have more complex occult explanations (about the manipulation of energies by ancient Egyptian priests) about its construction. Historians, however, believe that these pyramids of Giza where the culmination of architectural experiments of ancient Egyptians across generations, particularly in the building of royal mortuaries and tombs.
One of the popular (and persistent) theories about the construction of the pyramids is that the Egyptians used ramps. This, however, has been discredited because the construction of a 480 feet tall structure would require a mile-long inclined plane – this amount of wood was not to be found in Egypt at the time and the construction effort would have been about as much as building another pyramid.
Excavation of the Great Pyramid
The pyramid of Giza was first excavated in 1880 CE by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, a renowned archaeologist from Great Britain. This was the first time modern scientific and excavation techniques were used in the Giza complex. His work and studies set the protocols for future archaeological excavations and research in Giza and elsewhere in Egypt.