When Cleopatra and Julius Caesar looked upon the Great Pyramid of Giza, they saw a monument as ancient to them as they are to us. The Great Pyramid is as impressive as it is ancient, but most only know it for its shape and size. There is so much more to the Great Pyramid; its construction, interior, and history weave the pyramid not only into the history of Ancient Egypt but also the history of the entire region of Egypt.
History Of The Great Pyramid Of Giza
Almost all of the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built as tombs for the Pharaoh, the king of Ancient Egypt, and the Great Pyramid of Giza was no different. Who the Great Pyramid was built for was a matter of debate for some time, but it is now generally attributed to Khufu, the Second Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Pharaohs would commission their pyramid tombs long before their deaths and would often oversee their construction in some capacity. Khufu, however, is unlikely to have designed the pyramid himself, with many Egyptologists believing it was his vizier, Heminu. Ancient Egyptian viziers served as the Pharaoh's most senior official and carried out his orders.
Due to the age of the Great Pyramid and the lack of sources, it is difficult to ascertain exact construction dates, but most Egyptologists put it circa 2570 B.C.E., over four thousand years ago. Based on archaeological experiments and reconstructions, the Great Pyramid would have taken roughly 27 years to build, with a workforce of between 13,000 and 40,000. Whether Khufu was laid to rest in the Great Pyramid is unknown. At some point of time in the early Middle Ages, the Great Pyramid was robbed, and the sarcophagus gutted and looted, including the mummy of Khufu if it had ever lain there. During the Middle Ages, the Great Pyramid was left mostly alone except for the occasional researcher who came to study the engineering or history of the monument. It was left relatively undisturbed until the 18th and 19th centuries when European expeditions from many nations began excavating the site. From there, the history of the building of the Great Pyramid was rediscovered.
One major expedition accompanied Napoleon's campaign in Egypt. At the Battle of Embabeh, the Great Pyramid of Giza was visible 9 miles away as Napoleon defeated the Ottomans. After the battle, he gave it the name 'Battle of the Pyramids.' After the battle, Napoleon's scientists and Egyptologists examined the Great Pyramid and its complex, making many maps and sketches of the site and examining and looting many artifacts. Later expeditions were made by Italian explorers Giovanni Battista Cavigila in 1816 and Giovanni Belzoni in 1818. Further British expeditions followed in 1835, 1872, 1880, and 1902, all of which were accompanied by major discoveries, looting, and questionable methods, such as blasting charges. Many archaeological investigations and digs have been done in the modern day by many nations, with the French, Japanese, and Egyptians taking the lead.
Construction Of The Great Pyramid of Giza
How exactly the Great Pyramid of Giza was built is still debatable, but the method presented here has the most consensus among the Egyptology community. The Great Pyramid was constructed by a force of between 13,000 and 40,000 conscripted and paid laborers, not slaves, as has been suggested by the ancient Greeks and modern pop culture. The limestone that makes up the bulk of the pyramid was quarried and cut to the south in Giza. The limestone that used to cover the exterior of the Pyramid was hauled across the Nile River on boats from quarries in Tura. The last major material, granite, was quarried in Aswan in southern Egypt and floated to Giza on Nile River boats.
The workers would have used chisels, mallets, saws, and other stone tools to shape the stone. The actual movement of the stone is a matter of some debate. While riverboats could be used for long-range transport, two theories exist on how the workers would have hauled stone blocks weighing hundreds of tons. They either used a system of wooden log rollers to roll the stone along or wetted the sand in front of the brick as they dragged it with a team of around 40 people. Either way, the bricks could be pulled up large ramps built around the Great Pyramid as it was built upwards.
Exterior Of The Great Pyramid
The exterior of the Great Pyramid would have looked quite different when it was built. Instead of the large chunks of earthen-colored limestone, smooth white limestone would have encased the pyramid. This was slowly removed over time to be used in other building projects, sometimes thousands of years later, as was the case with the Alabaster Mosque built between 1830-1848. The top of the Great Pyramid would also have looked different, as it would have been topped with a pyramidion. This pointed capstone would probably have been made of white limestone, basalt, or granite, but it has also been suggested to be gold or electrum. The fate of the pyramidion is unknown, as it was stolen or destroyed in antiquity, with Roman scholars like Pliny, the Elder, remarking on the missing top.
The Great Pyramid of Giza held the record of the world's tallest building from its construction circa 2570 B.C.E., taking it from the Red Pyramid in Egypt, until 1311 C.E., when Lincoln Cathedral was finished after almost 300 years of construction in Lincoln, England. Today, it stands at 481 feet, but with the missing pyramidion, it now stands at 454 feet tall. It weighs around 6.5 million tons.
Interior Of The Great Pyramid
There are two entrances to the Great Pyramid; the original path and the robbers' path. The original path rests on the pyramid's north side, alongside the robbers' entrance, carved out by looters at some point, which is also on the pyramid's north face. The robbers' entrance is where modern tourists enter the Great Pyramid.
Inside the Great Pyramid is the subterranean chamber, dug into the bedrock beneath the Pyramid and has a Greek calendar on the ceiling. It currently houses rumble from many other expeditions into the pyramid. The next major chamber is the Queen's Chamber, bearing clear marks of looters. It has been explored by both a robot and a snake camera, showing hieroglyphs written in red paint on the wall. Connected to the Queen's Chamber is the Grand Gallery, which connects to the Antechamber and then the King's Chamber. The Antechamber was supposed to protect the King's Chamber from looters with a stone portcullis but failed to do so as looters could dig through the ceiling above. Unlike what is often portrayed in pop culture, there are no booby traps. Finally, there is the King's Chamber. All that remains in the King's Chamber is a hollowed-out and opened granite sarcophagus, completely emptied by looters. There are also airways in both the King's and Queen's chambers.
Visiting The Great Pyramid
As with a lot of travel, the best times to go are during the off-season and at off times. For the Great Pyramid, that's during the winter and in the early morning. There is a small fee for entering the Giza Pyramid complex and a smaller fee to enter the interior of the Great Pyramid, though it's only a small portion of the interior. It is prohibited to climb the pyramids though some people have been known to bribe the guards to allow them to do so. It should also be noted that in Egypt, tipping is an important part of the culture, so keeping coins around to tip guides, servers, taxi drivers, and any other service provider is important. There are also many tours around the Great Pyramid and the complex on foot, horseback, or camelback. As with all travel, be sure to arrive early with plenty of time and be courteous to tour staff and animals.
The Great Pyramid of Giza and the complex of other pyramids and monuments surrounding it is one of the ancient world's last surviving wonders. It has endured for over 4,000 years and dozens of kingdoms, empires, and nations. Not only is the Great Pyramid impressive as a towering structure, but it is also a testament to the ingenuity and determination of humanity who, even without advanced technology or machinery, built these titanic structures that tower over the desert to this day.