The Pyramids of Giza located just outside Cairo, are one of the engineering marvels of all time and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. The complex consists of tombs, temples, and associated buildings constructed for the burial of the kings of the fourth dynasty, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure who ruled Egypt from 2589-2504 BC.
The Pyramids are located at Giza just outside Cairo and is one of the engineering marvels of all time and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Situated on the west bank of the Nile, which is associated with death, the pyramids are generally believed to be tombs for the Pharaohs or a resurrection machine for their rebirth. The first large Egyptian pyramid was the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom to protect the body of king Djoser who died around 2650 BCE. The Pyramid was the development of the Mastaba which was a house built over the body. The most prolific builder was Sneferu who ruled from around 2612–2589 BCE.
Built on a Plateau they consist of a number of other buildings associated with the preparation and maintenance of the Pharaoh and his afterlife. Such buildings include mortuary temples, where rituals for the dead king and for the Egyptian gods may have been carried out; the remains of these can still be seen. Small subsidiary pyramids and numerous other tombs for the royal family and officials together with storage for objects including pits for funerary boats are also to be found on the site. The complex consisted of a causeway running to a lower temple at the Nile that acted as an entrance to the complex.
The first and the Great Pyramid was constructed by Khufu (also known as Cheops) the son of Sneferu. Khufu ruled around 2589-2566 BCE when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was nearing its peak of prosperity and could afford the vast amounts of money required to build the pyramid.
Constructed of limestone and granite the total weight is 6.5 million tons with some of the 2,300,000 blocks weighing 70 tons. The whole structure reached 140 metres in height and had a base length originally of 230 metres. It is believed that the stone blocks were hauled up gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone, and with wood runners which would be lubricated by water, the Sledges pulled by a team of men using ropes of papyrus twine. To complete the face white limestone blocks were placed, smoothed, and polished. It is believed that construction took 20 years. The original entrance to the great pyramid is on the North face, 15m high and surmounted by a double vault. The modern entrance is located several metres down, which was forced in the 9th century. Inside the pyramid are a number of chambers and passages. The burial chamber is almost six meters tall and was built by solid blocks of granite to prevent penetration. The floor is made with blocks of pink granite, which covers 60 square meters. Inside the chamber is the sarcophagus, which was built inside the pyramid during construction as it would have been almost impossible to move it in considering the confined and narrow passage.
The second pyramid built on the site was that of Khafreand although Khafre’s (who is also known as Chephren) Pyramid looks higher than Khufu’s it is actually half a metre smaller but was built on higher ground.
The most distinctive feature of Khafre's Pyramid is the topmost layer of smooth stones that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid. Located in front of Khafre's Pyramid is the Sphinx. It is 73.5 meters (241 feet) long and 21 meters (69 feet) high. It has a human face 5 meters (16 feet) high, on the body of a lion. This is very unusualas the Gods that were worshipped at that time all had the body of a human and the head of an animal.
Some believe that the Sphinx has the face of Khafre while others that it was Khufu, and that it was part of Khufu’s pyramid complex, while others believe that it was there before Khufu built his pyramid.
The third and final pyramid was constructed by Menkaure (also known as Mycerinus), which is the smallest.
Visitors are able to go inside the pyramids with each of the pyramids rotated for visitors. On the photograph below the method of construction can be seen with the rough stone, then the stone with the lugs left to allow for them to be maneuvered and then the facing stone was given a smooth finish.
Due to the vast expense, the end of the Old Kingdom, and the movement of the capital to Thebes, modern-day Luxor, the Pharaohs started to be buried in tombs cut out of the rock in the Valley of the King and the construction of pyramids ceased.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
To watch a presentation given on the Pyramids by Ron Gatepain as part of a lecture programme on Iconic Buildings and Sites on cruise ships, click on the image below.