The pyramids

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The pyramids - Situated west of the Nile, bordering the Sahara Desert, the Giza plateau rises up in its glory to present its full authority. It is here that an ancient King coordinated a mammoth undertaking exploiting the full value of the looming plateau. Eternal life would surely be granted with the precision and meticulous execution of King Khufu's perfect pyramid. Other pyramids had been built before, but none would ever achieve the genius, grace and competence of this Great Pyramid.

Still standing today, it stands a silent witness to the events that immediately followed the kings decision to build his pyramid on this site. Strangely, Khufu decided to build his pyramid just to one side of the highest ground on the plateau. Perhaps this section would require less work to lay the foundation, over 9 acres, of the pyramid.

We can begin to surmise how the pyramid was built by the abundant evidence at the site. A project of this magnitude would require people, housing, food and tools. Traces of all of this have been found, and a small village has been excavated that would be sufficient to house the appropriate number of people necessary to build the largest pyramid. The graffiti of the original work gangs are scrawled across the upper most chambers, chambers that were never meant to be entered, which may have only been included to relieve the tremendous weight upon the main chamber.

Following the lead of Khufu, two of his successors also built their pyramids on the plateau. His son, Khafre, exploited the higher ground, and was able to achieve the illusion of his pyramid as being the tallest. In actuality, his pyramid was shorter than Khufu's. Khafre is assumed to have been responsible for carving the Great Sphinx which is aligned to his pyramid. The smallest pyramid, that of Menkaure, was the final attempt to pyramid the plateau. Menkaure's pyramid also suffered the fate of other pyramids and tombs throughout Egyptian history, the king died before his tomb was finished.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)

How the Great Pyramid was built is a question that may never be answered. Herodotus said that it would have taken 30 years and 100,000 slaves to have built it. Another theory is that it was built by peasants who were unable to work the land while the Nile flooded between July and November.

They may have been paid with food for their labor. The flooded waters would have also aided in the moving of the casing stones. These stones were brought from Aswan and Tura and the water would have brought the stones right to the pyramid. This pyramid is thought to have been built between 2589 - 2566 BC. It would have taken over 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would have been 6,000,000 tons and a height of 482 feet (140m). It is the largest and the oldest of the Pyramids of Giza.

Not much is known about Cheops(Khufu). The tomb had been robbed long before archeologists came upon it. Any information about him was taken with the objects inside the tomb. He is thought to have been the ruler of a highly structured society and he must have been very wealthy. He was buried alone in this massive tomb. His wives may have been buried nearby in smaller mastabas.

The encasing marble which covered the outside of the pyramid has eroded or been removed over time. With this casing off, the pyramid lost 33 feet (11m) of all of its dimensions. The top platform is 10m square. The base of the pyramid is 754 feet and covers 13 acres. The original entrance to the pyramid was about 15m higher than the entrance that is used today. Apparently Al Mamum, who opened up the new passage, could not find the original opening. The new passageway leads straight across and joins in with the original passage, the descending passage.

The descending passage led only to a subterranean chamber. This descending passage that leads down is set at a 26 degree angle that descends down 345 feet (105m) into the earth under the pyramid. The passageway is only 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. The chamber is closed to the public. The chamber itself is room that measures about 46' x 27'1" x 11'6" (14 x 8.3 x 3.5m). There is a passage that leads 100 feet horizontally to the western side. The purpose of the pit is uncertain. It is possible that it could have been the burial chamber, but after a change of plan, it was abandoned.

The descending passage beyond where the new entrance meets it, is closed off by a steel door. The ascending passage rises at the same angle as the descending, 26 degrees. The ascending passage leads up into the pyramid. The ascending passage is the same dimensions as the descending, 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. It can be quite a difficult trek for some people. The passage leads on for 129 feet (39m).

At the point where the ascending passage levels off, you can go two different ways. If you continue on horizontally, this passageway leads into the Queen's Chamber. The Queen's Chamber was never used. The floor in this room was never polished, it's still rough. Egyptologists believe that the chamber was brought to this point and then the builders changed their minds and moved to the King's Chamber.

The possible explanation for the abandonment is that the sarcophagus built for Cheops was much too large for the narrow passageways that had already been built. There are ventilating shafts that are another mystery. These shafts are sealed at the extremities on both shafts. The shafts must have been made as the pyramid went up, since the builders most likely would not have continued to make the shafts after the decision to abandon the chamber. It is also thought that these are not actually ventilation shafts, but more of a religious significance. This could be related to the Ancient Egyptian's beliefs that the stars are inhabited by gods and souls of the dead.

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