Continued from yesterday”¦ The entrance fee included admission into the park where we could view the exterior of the pyramids and go into the temple with the sphinx. Going inside the pyramid was an extra fee, but is worth it. The closest and supposedly best of the pyramids is The Great Pyramid of Khofu. Khofu (called Cheops by the Greeks) reigned in the mid 2500 BC period, and his tomb is the oldest of the three. It is also the tallest at 482 feet, and held the title of “tallest building in the world” for 4,400 years, until in the 19th century a taller building was finally erected. The base is 756 feet and is level to within one inch. The margin of error in the length of the 4 sides is only .2%. It is estimated to contain 2.3 million limestone blocks, each block averaging 2.5 tons. The blocks at the base are larger than the average, weighing more like 16.5 tons. The blocks were floated down the river, but how they were hauled from the river and placed within the structure is a mystery. The pyramid is oriented within three degrees of true north.
There are also three small pyramids alongside the large one, the final resting place for his queens. When we say small, we mean relatively speaking. They are still quite a large structure by modern building standards. The satellite pyramids have deteriorated quite a bit.
We walked around the exterior for a little bit, then up the small stair case cut into the base that leads to the entrance. In the first picture, you can see just how big the stones really are, and the ones at the bottom are significantly bigger than the ones pictured here. The second picture is a view of Cairo from the pyramid entrance.
No cameras were allowed inside, so sadly, no interior shots. The entrance led to a corridor reminiscent of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Wide enough for to people, tall enough that a person of average height doesn’t have to bend down, definitely tunneled out of solid rock. After a short walk, the corridor we were in ended at a T intersection with another corridor. The corridor was sharply sloping. The downward slope was blocked off, and your only option was up. The corridor shrank to be only wide enough for one person, and so low that you had to seriously bend over while simultaneously climbing the fairly steep ramp. We waited for the group coming out, then ascended. This is definitely not an activity for someone who is claustrophobic, out of shape, or has difficulty staying bent for a prolonged period.
After what was definitely a good, long climb lasting maybe 5 minutes, we emerged at a threshold with a high ceiling. The path forward was blocked off. It looked like another long, narrow, low corridor that seemed to end in blackness. This is the entrance to the Queen’s chamber. On either side of the door to the corridor are three large stairs that take you to the top of the doorway, which is also the base of a very steeply sloping, very long ramp. The ramp is wide enough for one and a half people, making passing difficult. The ceiling of the corridor parallels the slope we were walking on, and is quite tall, maybe two stories high. The ramp leads up to the King’s burial chambers.
Entering the burial chamber was somewhat anti-climatic at first. It is a rather small room, though the ceiling is high. The room is made of dark granite, and is unadorned. The only thing in the room is the pink granite sarcophagus. There are no records of anything else in the chamber, but we can imagine it was filled with amazing treasures. The sarcophagus is larger than the portal to the chamber, which is why it was never looted. They literally built around it. It was weird to think that we were standing in the exact center of this monstrous pyramid and that we were surrounded on all sides, including above us, by tons of stone blocks. And, as far up as we had walked, we were only halfway up, which made us appreciate its size all the more. We are definitely amazed at the architectural feat of this colossal structure. As small as the room was, it was protected like no other. We read there is a saying, “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids”.
We decided that we didn’t need to go inside the other pyramid open to the public, which was supposedly “not as good” as the first one. Nor did we walk around the other pyramids, opting instead to go to the sphinx. Our guide took us to a view point, where we could see all three pyramids at once before taking us to the sphinx. Interestingly enough, the southeast corners of all three pyramids line up on an exact diagonal.
The second largest pyramid was built by Khafre, and is only slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid. It actually looks taller because it is on higher ground. It is easily identified in photos by the small amount of polished lime capstone that still remains at the tip. It has no satellite pyramids. When it was originally built, to access Khafre’s pyramid, you needed to walk through a temple and follow a connecting corridor from the temple to the pyramid. The infamous sphinx is the showpiece of that temple. We walked in through the temple entrance and looked around the ruins for a couple minutes. The walls are big stone blocks. The floor is smooth, slippery alabaster, with rows of insets in it that once held statues. The columns are square and blocky. It is not nearly as decorated and adorned as the temples of the later Kingdoms.
A ramp takes you up from the interior of the temple to the outer court yard where the sphinx lives. You can look at it, but not approach it. The head of the sphinx is that of Khafre. You can still see the head dress worn by the pharaohs, and the royal goatee of the pharaohs has been found in excavations. The body is a lion, which is believed to represent royalty. Amazingly, this giant statue is carved from one piece of stone, with supporting stones to build up its legs and paws. It is believed to be the first colossal piece of art made by the Egyptians. At some point in time during the Ottoman reign, a group of soldiers decided to use the sphinx for target practice and shot the nose off of it.
Of course, we need to mention the smallest of the pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaura. It is the last of the three to be built, and its base is only a quarter of the size of the other two. It also has three satellite pyramids for the queens. It is also easily recognized in photos by a huge gash that scars one of its sides. Saladin’s son decided he wanted the pyramid dismantled and ordered a demolition crew. After 8 months of work, the crew had only made that relatively small progress, so the ruler abandoned efforts at reconstruction. That is testament that the ancient Egyptians knew how to make an everlasting monument.
To be continued…