The mysterious Pyramids The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt. These massive stone structures were built around 4500 years ago on a rocky desert plateau close to the Nile. But the intriguing Egyptian pyramids were more than just tombs for kings. The mysteries surrounding their symbolism, design and purpose have inspired passionate debate. It is likely that many of these mysteries will never be solved...
The rise and fall of the pyramid era The pyramids epitomize ancient Egypt, yet the biggest were constructed during a short span of time early in a civilization that was to last almost three millennia.
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 the king Djoser who died around 2649 BC. It was this feat that heralded the short age of the gigantic stone pyramids of ancient Egypt.
The first large pyramid in Egypt was the Step Pyramid of Djoser. It was built at Saqqara, about 15 kilometers from Giza.
The Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre. The age and purpose of the Great Sphinx are debated, but it was probably part of Khafre's Pyramid complex. The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. When we stand before these Old Kingdom monuments, it can be hard to comprehend their huge size or their great age.The greatest achievements of the pyramid builders were the Pyramids of Giza, built near the capital city of Memphis for the fourth dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure who ruled through 2589-2504 BC. But pyramid building soon waned as the power and prosperity of the kings of Egypt weakened with the end of the Old Kingdom.
Unfortunately, the pyramids became obvious targets for tomb robbers. The Giza Pyramids were plundered long ago of the bodies and anything entombed with them, despite the almost superhuman efforts of the Egyptians to protect the remains of their kings.
The remarkable size and precision of the Pyramids of Giza The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest of the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and was regarded by the ancient Greeks as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Khufu (Cheops to the Greeks) ruled about 2589-2566 BC when the Old Kingdom of Egypt was nearing a peak of prosperity and culture. After his death, he was entombed in a pyramid that is astonishing for both its size and mathematical precision.
The pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure tower over the Giza plateau in Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is regarded as the most massive building ever erected in the world - a remarkable statistic for a construction feat achieved 4500 years ago!It is often said that the Great Pyramid of Khufu contains 2.3 million stone blocks, although some now question this figure. The four sides of the pyramid are accurately oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. The base has sides 230 meters long, with a difference between them of only a few centimeters. The pyramid was originally 146 meters high until it was robbed of its outer casing and capstone.
What was the purpose of the Egyptian pyramids? The people of ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the king was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife, and a place among the gods.
Each of the Giza Pyramids had an adjoining mortuary temple where rituals for the dead king and for the Egyptian gods may have been carried out. A causeway ran to a lower temple near the Nile floodplain that acted as an entrance to the complex. The Giza necropolis also included pits for funerary boats, small subsidiary pyramids and numerous other tombs for the royal family and officials.
Agents of the Gods
During the Old Kingdom era, kings of Egypt began to emphasize their divine associations and their people believed them to be manifestations of the god Horus. After the time of Khufu, kings were also proclaimed to be sons of the great sun god Re. After his death, the king became associated with Osiris, father of Horus and god of the underworld. The king's sacred powers were passed on to the new ruler - usually his son. The pyramid shape might have represented the sun's rays which the dead king would use as a ramp to the celestial realm. Or, it may have symbolized a primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the world was created.The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. The mysterious Great Sphinx presides over the Giza necropolis.
Inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu From an entrance just above the base of the Great Pyramid, a cramped Ascending Passage climbs for 36 meters up through the solid stone core to a towering Grand Gallery. This climbs another 46 meters to reach the King's Chamber and the now empty sarcophagus in the heart of this colossal pyramid. The enormous weight that bears down on the King's Chamber is dissipated by a series of ingenious stress-relieving chambers and massive granite beams built above it.
The Ascending Passage The Grand GalleryThe King's Chamber in the heart of the Great Pyramid holds the now empty stone sarcophagus. This stark room is walled by huge granite blocks.
How were the pyramids built? It seems likely that the Pyramids of Giza were not built by slaves but by paid laborers motivated by a faith in the divinity and immortality of their kings. Exactly how the pyramids were built is unclear. It is likely that a sloping embankment was built up to or around the pyramid. The huge blocks would then have been hauled on sledges with the aid of rollers, papyrus ropes and levers. Although most stone was quarried locally at Giza, some had to be transported to the site along the Nile.
Originally, the Giza Pyramids were encased in lighter limestone that must have gleamed in the harsh Egyptian sun. Unfortunately, this was plundered long ago to provide building materials for Cairo.
Statue of Amun at the
Temples of Karnak TEMPLES AND TOMBS An introduction to the wonders of ancient Egypt.
ANCIENT THEBES Explore temples to the god Amun at Karnak and Luxor.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS View magnificent tombs of New Kingdom pharaohs.
EGYPT WALLPAPER For your computer.
OTHER DESTINATIONS Pictures from more of the world's stunning locations.
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KEY RESEARCH SOURCES
THE COMPLETE PYRAMIDS, by Mark Lehner. TREASURES OF THE PYRAMIDS, edited by Zahi Hawass. ANCIENT EGYPT, edited by David P. Silverman. THE OXFORD HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT, edited by Ian Shaw. CHRONICLE OF THE PHARAOHS, by Peter A. Clayton. DEVELOPMENT OF THE ROYAL MORTUARY COMPLEX, on the website of Dr. Zahi Hawass. A note about chronology
Dates are approximate because Egyptian chronology is sometimes uncertain. Dates given in this web site are those used in Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton.
Egypt links:NOVA ONLINE: THE PYRAMIDSA beautiful site that explores the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza.
EGYPT: SECRETS OF AN ANCIENT WORDExplore the pyramids with National Geographic.
EXPLORE KHUFU'S PYRAMIDMove through a 3D model of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. From PBS.
ANCIENT EGYPT HISTORYAn introduction to ancient Egypt history from the BBC.
TOUR EGYPT: ANCIENT EGYPTMonuments, rulers, culture and religion of ancient Egypt. From the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism.
GUARDIAN'S PYRAMIDSLinks to pages on the Guardian's site by Andrew Bayuk that feature each of the Giza Pyramids, and links to other useful web sites about ancient Egypt.
EGYPTIAN MONUMENTSHistory and archaeology of Egyptian monuments by Su Bayfield.
ANCIENT EGYPTA guide to the sites and history of ancient Egypt by Mark Millmore.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL ODYSSEYEthan Gelber explores the historical heritage of Egypt. From the Great Outdoor Recreation Pages.
LIFE IN ANCIENT EGYPTAn online exhibit from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
DESTINATION EGYPTA Lonely Planet travel guide to Egypt with information on history, culture and sights.
ROUGH GUIDE TO EGYPTThe online version of the popular travel guide to Egypt.
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