Want to understand how these gigantic buildings were built? To understand their mysterious internal structure? To discover the treasures and traps they contain?
You have come to the right place: as enthusiasts of ancient Egypt, we are here to answer these three questions!
Blocks of stone, elbow grease, machines and ingenuity have allowed the construction of the pyramids, the reference tombs of the greatest pharaohs. By their sizes and complexities, the pharaonic Egyptian pyramids have fed many more or less plausible theories.
In this article, you will discover:
- The method of construction of the pyramids
- The internal architecture of these monuments
- The example of the construction of the great and famous pyramids of Giza
- The theories dealing with the construction of the pyramids
The pyramids will no longer hold any secrets for you. This new acquaintance will make a great story to share.
And now, let's discover it all together!
1) The construction of the pyramids
The pyramids are not simple tombs, they are prestigious buildings to the glory of Egyptian pharaohs! First, let's look at how the builders of the IVth dynasty of pharaohs built the first pyramids in 2600 BC.
A) Built by pharaohs for pharaohs!
The pyramids, the ultimate and eternal homes of the kings of Egypt, were built during their reigns. According to Egyptian beliefs, they allowed the pharaohs to reach the "kingdom of the Afterlife" in complete serenity, while their mummified bodies remained safe on Earth, protected from time and from anything that might disturb their eternal sleep.
The pyramids were not only intended to protect the body of the late king of Egypt, they were also meant to show the world his greatness and wealth.
Once mummified, the pharaoh was buried with his most precious possessions such as gold or diamond jewelry and rare objects. Funerary vessels were also stored in the pyramids so that the pharaoh could sail serenely into the heavenly realm of the gods Osiris and Anubis.
The shape of the pyramids is not due to chance either! The purpose of this inverted square funnel shape was to channel the soul of the deceased so that he could easily reach the Egyptian Afterlife, the Aaru.
Some large choice pieces had their place in the tombs of the pharaohs, such as this funerary barge found in the Pyramid of Khufu.
B) Tombs made of numerous blocks!
It is impossible to talk about the pyramids without talking about their raw material, stone. Contrary to popular belief, not all parts of a pyramid are made of the same type of blocks. Indeed, we find on the Pyramids of Giza three types of rocks with different uses:
- Quality, well-cut limestone from southern Egypt, transported via the Nile. This well-worked rock that shone in the Sun was intended for exterior cladding.
- Pink marble was used to build the rooms and corridors inside the pyramid.
- Nummulitic limestone blocks from quarries near the pyramids were used to fill the pyramid with medium quality stone blocks.
Transporting the stones via the Nile was a long and tedious job that took several days. It was not uncommon for some ships to capsize under the weight of these imposing blocks!
These blocks of stone are massive, and can go from stones of 1 ton for the smallest, to stones of 20 tons for the monoliths of the pharaohs' chamber, the heaviest of which weighed up to 80 tons!
Moreover, these blocks were very numerous: the Pyramid of Khufu alone gathered more than 2 million of these blocks on its 146 meters high! The construction of a pyramid could take up to 20 years and simultaneously mobilize more than 15,000 workers.
To carve these blocks, the Egyptians had many tools of various shapes and sizes, each used to perform specific tasks. For example, the famous chisels and hammers of stone cutters are just a few of the many tools.
Because the wheel was not yet widely used, the only means of transporting these rocks were wooden sleds or numerous wet logs placed one after the other to slide the stone down huge ramps of various shapes (see image below).
Explanatory diagram - the different types of construction ramps
C) What there is in pyramids?
The interiors of these prodigious buildings were a mix of huge rooms able to resist the pressure of the heavy stones above.
The pyramids not only have a religious function, they are above all inviolable tombs allowing the pharaohs to rest in peace.
The many rooms and corridors of a pharaoh's pyramid are the burial chambers of its family members and its most faithful servants accompanied by many royal treasures. This wealth obviously attracts looters, so, many traps were present in each pyramid to receive them properly.
The most important room in the pyramid is the pharaoh's burial chamber. This room is so valuable that sometimes a clone of this tomb was created to protect it from looters.
Today, despite the traps and curses they contained, most pyramids have been looted. It is estimated that the majority of their treasures disappeared before 1000 BC, defeated by the immense greed of looters from all nations.
Each pyramid is unique in Egypt. The Pyramid of Khufu, far from the received ideas and in spite of its imposing size is for example of an astonishing sobriety. The walls of its burial chambers are smooth and not covered with hieroglyphics as popular culture shows. In fact, only the most fearful pharaohs on their journey to the afterlife had the entire walls of their tombs lined with hieroglyphics.
D) Were the pyramids built by slaves?
Long considered to have been built by slaves, the pyramids would have in fact less blood on the hands than that according to certain recent archaeological discoveries on the site of Giza.
Indeed, contrary to the writings of Herodotus, the Bible and Hollywood culture, the pyramids were not built by slaves but by free men. These workmen came from the poor families of Egypt and sought respect and wealth by coming to build these fabulous monuments.
This hypothesis has been confirmed by the graves of workers who died on the construction site. Indeed, the cemeteries of Giza being much too prestigious to bury simple slaves, the construction of the pyramids was thus necessarily carried out by free men!
2) Giza Pyramid Complex
A) The seventh wonder of the world
The Giza site is located on the left bank of the Nile and thus faced the antique city of Memphis, capital of ancient Egypt. This site includes three great pyramids, accompanied by other smaller ones. All these pyramids are guarded by the "Sphinx of Giza". Built more than 4500 years ago, these ancient skyscrapers have braved time and periods of instability.
On the site of Giza there are three types of pyramids:
B) The Pyramids of Giza
I) The Pyramid of Khufu
The pharaoh Khufu launched the project of the first pyramid of Giza around 2550 BC. His pyramid is the largest and widest of the site with its 147 meters high and 230 meters wide at its base. The construction of this unusually large pyramid was only made possible by the long reign of Khufu, which lasted 63 years.
II) The Pyramid of Khafre
The pharaoh Khafre is the son of Khufu. He built the second pyramid of the site of Giza (completed 30 years after that of his father). This pyramid is however much less famous than its legendary guardian built at the same time.
Indeed, the work of Khafre also included the Sphinx, the enigmatic stone edifice representing a creature half-lion half-pharaoh. According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, this mythical Egyptian animal is a excellent guardian for Egyptian tombs and temples because of its animal essence (which gives it prodigious strength) and its pharaonic essence (which gives it prodigious ingenuity).
III) The Pyramid of Menkaure
Built by the pharaoh Menkaure in 2490 BC, the last of the Pyramids of Giza is the smallest of the site.
It is often said that the size of the Pyramid of Menkaure is proportional to his reign if compared to that of Khufu. Indeed: Khufu having reigned only 18 years (compared to the 63 years of his reign), his pyramid is thus 3 times smaller.
3) Theories on pyramids
A) Golden number, number π and angled
Built 4500 years ago, the pyramids are the bearers of a strange mathematical mystery. Surprisingly, their constructions are based on the number Pi (π) and the golden number, even though these two numbers were discovered 2300 years after their construction.
But how to build on a base that does not yet exist? This puzzle has long troubled Egyptologists trying to solve it.
The explanation lies in the Egyptian measurement system. Slopes, sizes, heights, are based on the unit of length of the "human average elbow", that is to say the size of an adult man's elbow (52 centimeters from the elbow to the tip of the hand). Thus, the Pyramid of Khufu is not 146 meters but 280 Egyptian cubits long.
However, it so happens that the proportions of the human body are related to the golden ratio (the golden ratio being a number that can be observed many times in nature, as for example in the number of seeds in a sunflower flower).
Thus, without even knowing the existence of this number, the Egyptians built perfect pyramids using the measuring tools at their disposal!
Very few Egyptian wooden measuring instruments have survived the millennia, but some remain, such as this "cubit" dating from the reign of Tutankhamen.
B) Buildings representing the constellations of the Milky Way
What if the pyramids were the earthly representation of the stars (the kingdom of the dead associated with Osiris in Egyptian beliefs)? The location of these monuments should indeed not be anything random but would be more related to the constellation of Orion.
Thus, the Pyramids of Giza would be nothing less than a star map where:
- The three central stars of the constellation of Orion are represented by each of the Pyramids of Giza.
- The Milky Way is represented by the river Nile.
- The three stars forming Orion's belt are represented by the southward direction of the king's chamber.
- The shepherd's star of Orion is represented by the northward direction of the king's chamber.
C) The pyramidions
One of the greatest mysteries of the Pyramids of Giza remains whole: where are the pyramidal stones forming their tops (the pyramidions supposed to be made of the most beautiful stones of the pyramids)?
Each pyramid being unique, it is also very likely that their summit is unique. Did the "funerary complexes" of Giza have a bronze block as a pyramidion? Was it covered with gold? The mystery remains for the moment.
Great Egyptian monuments
As you will have understood, the pyramids are fascinating monuments and their construction is even more so. Ingenuity, collective work, luck and mythology are at the base of the mystery on which the numerous theories on the pyramids have developed.
Armed with all this precious information, you are now in the confidence of the secret of the pyramids. It is a chance because this enigma has fascinated all the peoples who have followed the one led by the pharaohs.
Our modern society is no exception, as the Louvre pyramid of Paris shows.
This is why we propose to our readers to store a precious souvenir of this great story.
Discover our Egyptian necklaces, bracelets and rings by simply clicking on the image below.