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pyramid of Khufu

Great Pyramid of Cheops: Architectural Marvel of Antiquity

In the Giza Necropolis, the Great Pyramid of Cheops is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to have survived intact. Near the Egyptian capital Cairo, we can observe this massive funeral monument built for the Pharaoh Cheops, who ruled Ancient Egypt during the 4th dynasty.

In this article, we want to take you on a discovery of this Pyramid, the largest of the three built-in Giza.

This way, during your trip to Egypt, you will have all the information necessary to understand its internal and external characteristics and history, which is still in mystery today.

This wonder was finished around the year 2560 BC. It was initially taller than 145 meters (today reduced to 138 due to removing external architectural elements).

It is a math and engineering marvel and is taller than any building built before the industrial age. It was built using highly developed geometric knowledge and techniques.

History of the Pyramid of Khufu

Its construction

The Great Pyramid of Cheops, or Khufu, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the only one that has not come down to us destroyed.

Consisting of around 2,300,000 huge stone blocks weighing over 2 tons each, its construction is still in mystery today. According to scholars and Egyptologists, it took about 30 years to build.

The dating of the beginning of the works has been identified as 2,560 BC, at the behest of the pharaoh Cheops, who reigned over Ancient Egypt during the IV dynasty.

Furthermore, scholars have also traced the identity of the architect who designed the Pyramid, namely the royal superintendent Hemiunu.

Initially, the Cheops pyramid had a height of approximately 146 meters. At the same time, today, it is reduced to 138 meters due to atmospheric erosion and the probable loss of its apex called the pyramidion.

Its original cover was in white limestone, which today we can only observe on the top of the Pyramid of his son, Chephren. Numerous earthquakes, such as the one in the 14th century, caused part of the roof to crumble, which we can only partially observe in the lower leg.

On the other hand, the inside of the Pyramid is made with care, and the stones are worked with millimeter precision, certainly a sign of the excellent knowledge possessed by these people since ancient times, which remains a mystery to us today.

The knowledge reached today is the result of the studies of Herodotus, the father of history, who analyzed the work of the priests of ancient Egypt, including them in his writings.

Furthermore, the funerary complex of Cheops is not limited to its Pyramid. Still, we can observe other places of worship that branch out around it, such as a courtyard, a processional ramp connecting the mortuary and valley temples, three queen pyramids, and another recently discovered satellite pyramid.

The Byzantine and Arab Periods

During the period of Byzantium and Nazianzen, the Pyramids of Giza were incorrectly referred to as granaries, a belief held until the 15th century.

This misunderstanding arose from a problem of etymology between Greek and the dispersion of the ancient Egyptian language, which occurred during the Byzantine domination of Egypt.

In 649, during the Arab conquest of the country, numerous Coptic and Islamic writings were collected by the historian Al-Maqrizi, where evidence was composed of access to the inside of the Pyramid of Cheops, opened by the caliph Al-Mamun, where created a passage right next to the original one.

In this way, a burial chamber and sarcophagi inside the Pyramid came to light, thus excluding once and for all that it was a granary.

In the work Akhbār al-zamān, the historian and philosopher Al-Mas’udi described access to the Pyramid, certainly not skimping on imagination to make the job more lively.

But to obtain a description that also concerned the interior of the structure of the Pyramid of Cheops, we have to wait for the middle of the 11th century, within the writings of Ali ibn Ridwan and in the 12th century by Muhammad al-Kaisi.

The ingenuity with which the Pyramid of Cheops was built amazed scholars, philosophers, explorers, and writers such as ‘Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi for centuries.

He was a traveler who wrote of when they tried and failed to remove the massive boulders that make up the Pyramid of Menkaure, leaving only a long furrow on his side. Furthermore, thanks to him, we know that some of the stones used as coverings for the pyramids are today, and we can find them inside some buildings in Giza.

Also, thanks to Al-Latif, we have obtained some of the earliest descriptions of the chambers inside the Cheops Pyramid and its upper ventilation systems.

Finally, Sultan Hasan had the covering of the Pyramid removed in many parts to be used in constructing the mosque in the current capital Cairo.

The arrival of the Europeans

Let’s get to the fifteenth century when the Pyramid of Cheops and the Necropolis of Giza became focal points of interest for European scholars and pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

Numerous writings of that time that we can find about the Great Pyramid are due to monks, as in the case of Boldensele, who in 1335 described the inside of the structure, confirming that it could not be a granary, as some still erroneously he thought.

In 1765, Nathaniel Davison discovered the lower and upper discharge chambers, giving these spaces his name. But undoubtedly, we owe the significant discoveries about the Pyramids of Giza to the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt, which took place mainly during the famous Battle of the Pyramids.

Here, Napoleon hadn’t come to fight. Moved by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, he brought scholars, philosophers, cartographers, drafters, and other specialists, deepening a lot about these monumental burials and creating numerous legends, attributing too many pseudo-scientific meanings to them.

Furthermore, a legend has it that the night before the Battle, Napoleon decided to sleep inside the Pyramid of Cheops, coming out the next day with a terrified look, not talking to anyone about what happened to him.

The discoveries from 1817 to 1900

To discover the vertical tunnel, however, we must wait for 1817, by the Italian Giovanni Battista Caviglia, who managed to eliminate the rubble and find the chamber inside the rock and the tunnel for its access.

While in 1837, the English explorers and scholars Howard Vyse and Perring discovered the entrance to other discharge chambers, superior to Davison’s, thus bringing numerous light inscriptions on the walls, understanding thanks to them that the Pyramid was the burial place of Pharaoh Cheops.

Furthermore, the same archaeological expedition allowed the discovery of his mortuary temple, but the use of dynamite during the work damaged the structure in many parts.

During the Prussian expedition to Egypt, wanted by King William IV, Lepsius deepened the discoveries regarding the Pyramid of Cheops.

Still, at the same time, he ruined the Pyramid, placing the Prussian flag on the tip in honor of the king’s birthday, climbing it and engraving messages for the ruler, using hieroglyphic writing and defacing the entrance. Unfortunately, even the various studies on the pyramids and the Giza site have not always brought only benefits.

Even the scholars of the past have very often brought forward and confirmed theories that are not precisely appropriate and truthful, as in the case of the Englishman Piazzi Smyth, fascinated by the ideas in the book The Great Pyramid by John Taylor, who declared, after having falsified the numbers and measures that concerned the structure of the Pyramid of Cheops, that its construction was the work of the biblical Noah.

Fortunately, after a few years, archaeologist Petrie denied these theories during his campaign inside the cemetery, stating that Smyth’s ideas were only for speculation purposes, also coining the word pyramidiot.

From the 20th century to today

Great Pyramid of Cheops

In 1925, archaeologist George Reisner excavated west of the plain, thus discovering the tomb of Cheops’ mother, Hetepheres I. Furthermore, during this expedition, the statue of Hemiunu was found, the one to whom today’s supervision of the works of the Pyramid of Cheops is attributed.

While in 1954, the Egyptologists el-Mallakh and Iskander discovered the wells that contained the sacred solar boats of Cheops. One was exhibited after a long restoration process in 1982, and we can still observe it today in the museum dedicated to it next to the Pyramid.

With the arrival of more precise instruments in 1987, it was possible to examine the material and the interior of the Pyramid of Cheops in a new way, with micro-gravimeters and electromagnetic scanners, thus finding new rooms inside.

In 1992, Hawass found the satellite pyramid of Cheops, making numerous discoveries on the workers’ village and bringing to light new burials.

Thanks to the use of specific robots and the collaboration between German and Egyptian associations, in 1993, it was possible to examine the various ventilation ducts, thus freeing them from the rubble and allowing the installation of multiple ventilation systems. In 2002, the National Geographic Society let the Pyramid Rover enter the Pyramid of Cheops with its small camera, thus discovering new ducts, and the same thing happened in 2009 with Djedi.

Unfortunately, the grave goods and the pharaoh’s coffin were not found in the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Indeed, the Pyramids, for many years, were plundered by looters.

Today, we can visit the inside of the Pyramid thanks to the restoration work carried out inside. Even if the visit is not recommended for those with claustrophobia, the rooms are safe and have an effective ventilation system.

The characteristics of the Pyramid of Cheops

After observing the Pyramid’s location plan, we know its internal and external characteristics more closely and then see them in detail.

The Cheops pyramid has a height of 138.8 m, a width of 230.36 m, and a total volume of 53 077 m². These data make it, without a doubt, the largest Pyramid that we can observe in the Giza plain and the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still perfectly preserved.

The outside of the Pyramid of Cheops

The Pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the three in the Giza Necropolis, has a base of 5 hectares, and its construction was carried out with almost mathematical accuracy.

Indeed, its sides are perfectly aligned, and even its corners border on perfection. Given the instruments of the time, the base is not square but concave. Scholars, however, say that this effect is not the result of an error but instead wants to be able to balance the structure.

The outside of the Pyramid was composed of limestone, only visible today in a small part on the base and apex of the Pyramid of Chephren.

Furthermore, the limestone came from Tura, representing a precious material that was worked to smooth it and make the coating uniform and smooth. Today, these blocks can be seen in some monuments in Cairo. Furthermore, scholars affirm that the original cover was not soft but covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions.

But that’s not all; experts believe that the Pyramid of Cheops is most likely missing a piece: the Pyramid. This pointed “hat,” which must have been on the top of the Great Pyramid, is only a hypothesis; the top could be flat or have some valuable artifact. Numerous writings, however, report the presence of this tip, made of precious materials, such as gold, to reflect the sun.

The interior of the Pyramid

To be able to speak correctly and in-depth about the interiors of the Pyramid of Cheops, it is necessary to divide them. In this way, we can better understand its structure.

Entrances

To observe the entrance of the Pyramid of Cheops, which was initially designed, we must go to the north side of the structure. This passage, to date, has not been used but can be seen thanks to the work that the researchers have carried out. Furthermore, it is thought that it was initially an actual door with hinges for its opening.

On the other hand, the door visitors use today to visit the Pyramid was created in 820 AD. , during the works by the caliph Al-Ma mun.

Indeed, he was searching for the legendary treasure that was said to be kept inside. From here, a tunnel was created by digging and cutting the stone for 27 m, thus freeing the passage.

Tunnels

Inside the Pyramid of Cheops, various tunnels lead to different chambers. We can observe an ascending, descending, vertical, and horizontal tunnel, the multiple ventilation ducts, and the Great Gallery.

Many of these passages have been discovered by scholars or opened to improve ventilation inside the chambers, in addition to those created by the raiders who plundered the interior of the Pyramid in the past. In fact, for example, the vertical tunnel is called the passage of thieves.

The ducts that allow the ventilation of the chambers are among the most recent discoveries inside the Pyramid, between 1610 and 1872. Furthermore, these discoveries have also allowed us to guess the presence of numerous cavities and chambers and find numerous artifacts inside the tunnels.

Recently, robots have made it possible to explore new ducts, like the one leading to the Queen’s Chamber, discovered in 1993.

On the other hand, the Great Gallery opens about 1 meter wide from the ascending tunnel, with a stepped pavement and side niches. The purpose of the gallery, to date, is still unknown. However, it is assumed that it was a sort of temple for funeral rites or contained the tools necessary to construct the pyramidal structure.

Rooms

Also, in the case of the chambers inside the Pyramid of Cheops in the necropolis of Giza, we can find several, such as the lower one, the lowest, and rectangular. Here, we can observe archaeological excavations to find more secret chambers.

The Queen’s Chamber, or intermediate, on the other hand, is located halfway between the north and south parts. Unlike her name, this chamber most likely did not contain any burials.

After the Great Gallery, on the other hand, we can reach the antechamber of the portcullises, where we find tunnels intended for closing off the main burial chamber. After it, we can get the King’sroom or drain due to the structure on the ceiling.

Unfortunately, past Egyptologists damaged part of the chamber using dynamite. We can observe the monolithic sarcophagus inside the king’s room, made of pink granite and without the cover.

The importance of the Cheops Pyramid

Great Pyramid of Cheops

Archaeologists think the stability of Ancient Egypt’s economy and government can be seen in the pyramids. Notably, it took a lot of money and organization to fund a pyramid and get people to work on it.

The size and quality of the building at different times in ancient Egypt’s history suggest that during the fourth dynasty, there were more resources to put toward the building than at any other time.

Khufu improved on his father’s ideas to build the curved and red pyramids in Dahshur, south of Giza. The Pyramids of Sneferu were big, and they were the first to have the smooth sides that the Pyramids of Giza are known for. Still, during Khufu’s rule, the shape of the Pyramid and the right angle for a pyramid to be structurally sound were set.

1- What is the Cheops Pyramid?

The Khufu Pyramid (Cheops) is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one still standing in Giza, Cairo, and Egypt.

2- Where is the Cheops Pyramid?

The great Cheops pyramid is in the Haram area of the Giza Necropolis. The Khafre and Menkaure pyramids, the Sphinx, the Temple of the Valley, and the Museum of the Solar Boat are also on the site.

3- How tall is the Cheops Pyramid?

The Khufu pyramid is 138 meters tall and was finished in 2560 BC. The sides of the Great Pyramid of Khufu rose at an angle of 51.8 degrees, and the base was 227 meters high. The Khufu pyramid used to be 147 meters tall, but when its shell and lining were removed, it shrunk by 9 meters.

4- How was the Cheops Pyramid built?

The architect Hem-euno was in charge of the pyramid project. Even after 7,000 years, a pyramid is still the best way to build it. More than 20,000 people worked on the project for more than 20 years.

More than 2300 million stone blocks with weights from 2.5 to 15 tonnes were used for the project. In the tomb, the blocks weigh up to 51 tonnes each.

5- Is the king’s chamber advisable or not?

The King’s Chamber can be seen, and a short staircase outside the Great Pyramid leads to it. Not everyone should do this, but everyone would like to be able to say they’ve been inside a pyramid.

Before you get inside, you must deal with steep slopes and tight spaces. It’s not a good idea for people with claustrophobia or heart problems, but everything is clean and well-lit, and there are handrails and wooden ramps to help you go up and down.

Here are ten interesting things about the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

1- It is composed of 2,300,000 blocks of stone

The weight of the blocks varies from 900 kilograms to 30,000 kilograms. Inside, the temperature stays at 20° C all the time. It was made of limestone, which made it look like a huge mirror.

2- The Pharaoh’s chest was placed there during the construction

The pharaoh’s chamber has a chest too big to fit through the small tunnels of the Pyramid. It must have been put there when the Pyramid was being built.

3- This Pyramid is aligned with two others

The Pyramid of Cheops, also called the Giza Pyramid, is lined up with the Pyramids of Khafra and Menkaura by the stars that make up Orion’s Belt. The path down the Pyramid leads to a star called Alpha Draconis, which is a polar star.

4- It has revolving doors

The only two pyramids with this kind of door are Huni and Snefru. In that order, they were a son, a father, and a grandfather. Even though it weighs several tonnes, Giza’s revolving entrance is easy to open and almost impossible to find outside.

5- One of the seven wonders of the world

The only one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World that still stands is the Giza Pyramid. Also, it was the world’s tallest building for thousands of years until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889.

6- Cheops had the enormous Pyramid and the most diminutive statue

Even though the Great Pyramid of Giza is the biggest, the most diminutive statue of a pharaoh is of Cheops, and it is made of ivory and is only 7.5 centimeters tall.

7- Enslaved people did not build it

For a long, people thought thousands of enslaved people built the Pyramid. However, Egyptologists now agree that skilled workers led this project. Cheops’ nephew planned the building, and the pharaoh spent a lot of money on good clothes and food for the workers.

8- It was built with levers

Even though it was never clear how it was made, it is known that wooden or bronze levers would have been the easiest way. After the first step was built, stones were moved to the second step using a machine made of logs, and so on.

9- There are three chambers inside the Pyramid

There are three places inside it: the king’s chamber, the queen’s chamber, and the unfinished chamber. But experts say that Cheops was buried in a fourth space under the queen’s room, while others think Cheops was never really in the Pyramid.

10- A boat was also found there

A well with an unarmed boat was located at the base of the Pyramid. The ship was later put back together and kept in a museum. The boat was probably put there by Dyedefra, the son and heir of Cheops, whose name was written on the stones that covered the well.

About the author

Egypt Planners Team is a highly experienced travel agency specializing in memorable trips to Egypt. The team comprises expert travel planners and tour guides with a deep knowledge of Egypt's history, culture, and top tourist destinations.
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