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 eraThe 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 BCE.
It was this feat that heralded the short age of the gigantic stone pyramids of ancient Egypt.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 BCE. 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 GizaThe 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 BCE 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.
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 GodsDuring 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.
What is 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.