One of the seven marvels of the world: the Great Pyramid


You want to understand why the pyramids of Giza were built? Know which are the three Great Pyramids of Giza? Know what they contain?

Here is precisely an article made by enthusiasts of ancient Egypt that should help you!

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The three Pyramids of Giza were built by the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Known as the highest pyramids of Egypt and of the world, these pyramids are the tombs of the greatest pharaohs of the IVth dynasty of Egyptian kings.

In this article, we will discover together:

  • The three Pyramids of Giza
  • The reasons of their construction
  • The means necessary for their construction

Let's go right away to discover these three subjects without further delay!

1) The Pyramids of Giza

A) The Giza site

The Giza Plateau is located on the left bank of the Nile and thus faces the ancient city of Cairo.

The Great Pyramids of Giza were built to be eternal. Given the condition of these gigantic tombs after 4500 years of good and loyal service, it is safe to say that this goal was achieved by the Egyptian builders of the ancient world.

Red Pyramid of Cheops

B) The Pyramids of the Giza site

a) The Pyramid of Khufu

The pharaoh Khufu launched the first project for the pyramid of Giza around 2550 BC. Its "Great Pyramid" is the widest and highest of the site and rises 147 meters above ground level. The construction of this pyramid was made possible by the very long sixty-three year reign of the pharaoh Khufu.

b) The Pyramid of Khafre

The son of Khufu (the pharaoh Khafre) built the second Pyramid at Giza around 2520 BC.

His work also included the Sphinx, the mysterious limestone monument with a lion's body (giving it superanimal strength) and a pharaoh's head (giving it superhuman intelligence). The role of the Great Sphinx is to be the guardian of all the pyramids of the site.

c) The Pyramid of Menkaure

Built by the pharaoh Menkaure around 2490 BC, the third of the Pyramids of Giza is considerably smaller than the first two.

By comparison, the Pyramid of Menkaure is only one-tenth the volume of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. This pyramid is reputed to be smaller than the other two because of the much shorter reign of its builder (according to some archaeological finds, Menkaure would have reigned only for 18 years).

d) The other mortuary monuments on the site

Being buried near the pharaoh was one of the highest honors a citizen of the Nile Valley could receive. Moreover, in the ancient Egyptian Empire, anyone who owned a tomb next to the pharaoh's eternal home reserved a special place for himself in the Afterlife.

Then, in addition to these major structures, several smaller pyramids belonging to queens of Egypt are arranged around the pyramids of their pharaohs.

A large cemetery of smaller tombs, known as mastabas (in Arabic, "mastab" in reference to their rectangular shape with a flat roof) is also present on the site.

2) The secrets of the pyramids

The pyramids of ancient Egypt are among the most impressive structures built by mankind in antiquity. These immense monuments have survived well through the ages so that we can see and explore them today without envying an ancient Egyptian who would have visited them when they were built 3,000 years ago.

A) Who built the pyramids?

The pyramids were built by the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, the pharaohs. These monuments were intended to serve as burials and memorials of themselves and their dynasty.

As part of their religion, Egyptians believed that a pharaoh needed to carry many material possessions into the Afterlife to be welcomed by the gods. A pharaoh was therefore buried with all kinds of objects and treasures that could enhance his existence in the Egyptian world of the dead, the "Aaru" (or "Afterlife").

Let's come to the question "who physically built the pyramids of his arms?". In fact, it was not slaves who built the pyramids contrary to what is shown in the famous movie "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra" and what is reported by the Greek historian Herodotus.

According to papyrus from archaeological finds, the pyramids were built by free men who were fed, housed and paid. These free men, although summoned with some obligation, were moreover treated well and those who died from a work-related accident were entitled to a dignified individual burial in a cemetery adjacent to the pyramid.

The pyramids, these Egyptian antiquitiesAccording to experts of Egyptology, the very shape of the pyramid (a gigantic funnel towards the sky) was intended to allow the soul of the pharaoh to ascend easily to the sky. The soul of the ruler of the Egyptian empire would pass through the pyramid's highest point to reach the Afterlife where the Sun god Ra awaited him.

B) The types of pyramids

The first pyramids (called step pyramids) were formed of large squares stacked one on top of the other, squares which became smaller and smaller close to the top of the pyramids. Archaeologists believe that this stacking represented precisely a staircase that the pharaoh used to go up step by step towards the heavens.

The more recent pyramids, the best known today, have more inclined and flatter sides. These pyramids symbolically represented the island that emerged from the encounter between the original Ocean and the Darkness during the Egyptian Great Beginning. This island (on which Ra, the falcon-headed Sun god was born of himself to illuminate the Universe) represented the beginning of all life.

Thus, the pyramids can be seen as a means of symbolically bringing the pharaoh closer to the gods, furthering his journey into his future eternal life.

C) How tall were the pyramids?

The size of the 138 Egyptian pyramids varied greatly according to the times and the pharaohs who built them. Some of them are enormous: for example, the largest, the Pyramid of pharaoh Khafre, also called the Great Pyramid of Giza, was 145 meters high when it was built (a little lower today, as time has made its stones more compact, making it about 10 meters shorter).

As high as a 22-story building, the Pyramid of Khufu has been the tallest man-made structure for more than 3800 years and is one of the "Seven Wonders of the World". It is estimated that this pyramid was built with 2.3 million blocks of rock stacked on top of each other (5.9 million tons of rock).

The Egyptian sphinx of GizehSince antiquity, the Pyramids of Giza and their Sphinx have been recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, the understanding of their mysteries waited for the deciphering of the hieroglyphic writings by Champollion by means of his rosetta stone during the 19th century AD.

D) How were the pyramids built?

How the pyramids were built is a mystery that archaeologists have been trying to solve for many years.

It is believed that thousands of slaves were forced to quarry and then carve stone blocks in quarries near the pyramids. These slaves then stacked them block by block using a wooden scaffolding system.

Scientists estimate that it took 20,000 free men working every day for 23 years to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. Because of the length of a pyramid's construction, a pharaoh usually began building his own as soon as he was crowned.

The Land of Saqqara and LuxorAccording to Egyptologists, the pyramids were built far from the cities in order to create a site focused solely on pharaonic construction.

E) What's inside the pyramids?

A pyramid had many rooms where the pharaoh's possessions were stored to serve him in his second life alongside the gods. Next to the pharaoh's burial chamber were the (smaller) rooms of his family members and his most faithful servants.

The other rooms were used as temples to honor the various gods of Upper and Lower Egypt or as storage places for objects and treasures that could not be stored in the pharaoh's chamber because of lack of space. The walls of all these rooms paid homage to the gods and were covered with sculptures and paintings depicting scenes from Egyptian mythology.

Pharaohs knew that the contents of their pyramids would attract many looters. Indeed, in search of secret riches, the latter would steal the possessions of Egypt's rulers and desecrate royal sarcophagi to find anything of value.

To avoid these immeasurable sacrileges, traps and curses were placed inside the pyramids to deter thieves from entering. A fake burial chamber of the pharaoh that was easy to find was also supposed to prevent the discovery of the real one.

Despite all these precautions, almost all of the pyramids were quickly stripped of their treasures. Historians estimate that the vast majority of the pyramid treasures had disappeared before 1000 BC.

F) Were all the pharaohs buried in pyramids?

A pyramidal necropolis is the ideal final resting place for any pharaoh worthy of the name. However, although the sites at Giza and the older Saqqara site are impressive, a traditional tomb richly decorated with hieroglyphics is also a fitting burial place for the sarcophagus and mummy of a great pharaoh.

For example, the Valley of the Kings is home to many pharaohs (it contains all the pharaohs who reigned from 1539 to 1075 BC). Moreover, according to the religious beliefs of Egyptian civilization, the guarantee of a good place with the gods in the Afterlife can also be achieved through the construction of large temples.

Thus, the religious complexes of Karnak, Abu Simbel, Luxor and Thebes ensured the journey into the eternal second life of the pharaohs who built them (as much as the Pyramids of Giza ensured those of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure).

3) Modern Pyramids

A) The Louvre Pyramid

Pyramid of the LouvreThe Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre in French) is a large pyramid of glass and metal surrounded by three smaller pyramids in the main courtyard ("courtyard Napoleon") of the Louvre Palace (which was home to many French kings). The 21.6-meter high pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum (whose main entrance is no longer sufficient to accommodate its enormous flow of visitors).

Today, the Louvre Pyramid is a monument as well known if not more than the Louvre Palace itself. However, in 1984, a strong opposition welcomed the news of the making of this pyramid. Commissioned by the French president François Mitterrand, this pyramid was indeed doubly criticized for its potential distortion of the history of the Louvre Palace and for its design by an American architect.

B) A pyramid referring to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign

The Louvre Pyramid obviously refers to the victories of the Egyptian campaign led by Napoleon (then French general), who can be described as the greatest French conqueror. As a reminder, Napoleon Bonaparte had begun the military campaign in Egypt to fight against the growing economic power of the Great Britain during the end of the 18th century. One of the aims of this campaign was to cut the Great Britain's trade route across Europe (known as the "Sea Route to India").

The Egyptian campaign was notably marked by the "Battle of the Pyramids" that took place on the 21 July 1798 between Napoleon's "French Army of the East" and the "Mamluk cavalry forces" of the Egyptian commander Mourad Bey. This battle marked Napoleon's greatest success in Egypt with the defeat of the Mamluks on horseback charging at the French who massacred them using the military strategy formation called the "hollow square" (or "infantry square").

The Battle of the Rameses Pyramids II

Excerpt from Louis-François Lejeune's painting, The Battle of the Pyramids

The fearsome formation of "infantry squares", frightening the horses who refuse to charge the men amassed in the square. The latter can therefore freely fire on the opposing cavalry. The Pyramids of Giza can be seen near the battle.

This battle is known to have taken place at the foot of the pyramids, which was slightly inaccurate (the pyramids were barely visible from the battle site).

This battle gave an immense military credibility to Napoleon who lost only 29 men against 8000 losses for the Mamluks. It is this same credibility which allowed Napoleon to return acclaimed by all in France to carry out other adventures (in particular to bring the whole of Europe to its knees)!

The monuments of Egypt
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