Thursday, 20 August 2009

The History of Pyramid of Egypt

There are no more famous ancient sites within Egypt, or for that matter elsewhere in the world, than the Great Pyramids at Giza. They are, without question, the icon most associated with the Egypt. They have been both the main destination for tourists, and a source of imaginative thought to the world for over three thousand years.
we have a comprehensive site on the Pyramids of Egypt, this is a summary overview for those who would like to digest just a little less information.
However, there are actually over 100 pyramids in Egypt, many of which are relatively unknown to anyone who is not an ancient Egypt enthusiast. All but a very few are grouped around and near the City of Cairo, just south of the Nile Delta. Otherwise, only one royal pyramid is known in southern Egypt (at Abydos), that being the one built by Ahmose, founder of the 18th Dynasty and Egypt's New Kingdom. It may have also been the last royal pyramid built in Egypt.
Hence, major pyramids were not built throughout Egypt's ancient history. The Pyramid Age began with a burst of building, starting with the 3rd Dynasty reign of Djoser. Some of the early kings, most specifically Snefru, built more than one pyramid. Almost all of the kings added to their number through the end of the Middle Kingdom, with the possible exception of the First Intermediate Period between the Old and Middle Kingdoms. After the first Pharaoh of Egypt's New Kingdom, Ahmose, royal pyramid building by Egyptians ceased entirely. Somewhat abruptly the kings of the New Kingdom chose, rather than making their tombs completely obvious, to hide them in the hills of the West Bank of Thebes (modern Luxor).
However, smaller pyramids were constructed, for example in the Deir el-Medina necropolis, by private individuals. The Late Period Nubians who ruled Egypt also built relatively small pyramids with much steeper sides, though these were in fact constructed in Nubia itself. This tradition was carried on in Nubia after these southern rulers lost control of Egypt, and eventually, more pyramids were actually built in Nubia than Egypt, though on a much smaller scale.
Other pyramids in the world certainly exist, but their purpose, for the most part, was different than those of ancient Egypt. The most famous outside Egypt are probably those located in Mexico and to the south of Mexico, but these appear to have been built more as temples. In Egypt, all but a select few of the pyramids were built as tombs, sometimes to hold the physical body of a pharaoh (as well as other individuals), or to hold the soul of the deceased (as in the case of the small cult pyramids built next to the larger ones). Otherwise, the purpose of only a few small, regional stepped pyramids remains elusive.
While pyramids were, for the most part, tombs for the Pharaohs of Egypt, one must nevertheless question the reason that Egyptian rulers chose this particular shape, and for that matter, why they built them so large. Today, we believe that they chose the shape in order to mimic the Benben, a pyramid shaped stone found in the earliest of temples, which itself is thought to symbolize the primeval mound from which the Egyptians believed life emerged. This also connected the pyramid to Re, the Sun God, as it was he, according to some of the ancient Egypt mythology, who rose from the primeval mound to create life.
As far the great size of many of the pyramids in Egypt, we can really only surmise that the Pharaohs were making a statement about their own power and perhaps, about the glory and strength of their country. However, it should also be remembered that many of the latter pyramids were not nearly as large as the Great Pyramids at Giza (and elsewhere).
Pyramids evolved. The first of them was not a perfectly formed pyramid. In fact, the first Pyramid we believe that was built in Egypt, that of Djoser, was not a true pyramid at all with smooth sides and a point at the top. Rather, its sides were stepped, and the top of the pyramid truncated with a flat surface (as best we know). As the Egyptian pyramids evolved, there were failures as well glorious failures until finally, they got it right with what was probably the first smooth sided true pyramid built at Meidum. In fact, pyramids continued to evolve throughout their history, perhaps not always in outward appearances, but in the way that they were built and in the theology surrounding their construction. For example, towards the latter part of Egypt's Pyramid Age, Osirian beliefs seem to have had more and more impact on the arrangement and layout of the subterranean chambers.
However, soon after the first pyramids were built, their form became somewhat standardized. Royal pyramid complexes included the main pyramid, a courtyard surrounding the main pyramid, a much smaller cult pyramid for the king's soul, a mortuary temple situated next to the main pyramid, an enclosure wall and a causeway that led down to a valley temple. Some pyramid complexes included subsidiary, smaller pyramids for family members, and most were surrounded by some sort of tombs for family members.

History of The Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also called the Khufu's Pyramid, Pyramid of Khufu, and Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now Cairo, Egypt, and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that survives substantially intact. It is believed the pyramid was built as a tomb for Fourth dynasty Egyptian King Khufu (Cheops in Greek) and constructed over a 20 year period concluding around 2560 BC. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Originally the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface, and what is seen today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. There have been varying scientific and alternative theories regarding the Great Pyramid's construction techniques. Most accepted construction theories are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.
Many Egyptologists have some what different views on exactly why the ancient Egyptian kings built Pyramids as their tombs, but all of them seem to agree that it had to do with their worship of the sun god, Re (Ra). Most believe that the Pyramid was symbolic of the Benben, a mound that rose from the waters during the creation of the earth, in ancient Egyptian mythology, which was closely associated with Re as the creator god.

There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called. Queen's Chamber and King's Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the main part of a complex setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honor of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles.

Building the pyramid
How pyramids were built is also a matter of some controversy. Traditional views, regarding the length of time and the labor force of workers required has changed in recent years. Most Egyptologists no longer believe that many slaves were used, and it is probable that much of the most difficult work of hauling the large blocks up ramps was probably performed using beasts of labor such as oxen. Experiments have also demonstrated that it probably took less time to build them then we originally thought. One reason is that there were probably not as many solid blocks used as we once believed. Rubble and sand were instead used to fill pockets surrounded by solid stone, in many instances.
The Pyramids of Giza are very important, and world famous, but they are not the only important pyramids in Egypt. For example, The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (Sakkara) is extremely important as the first pyramid built in Egypt, though it is not a true, smooth sided one. There are also a number of pyramids in and around Dahshur that are important because they show the evolution, including the failures and the first success of the pyramid builders, as they tried to build the first true, smooth sided pyramid. Other later pyramids are less spectacular, sometimes made of mudbrick and therefore not as well preserved today, but still important, because they are the first to be decorated with inscriptions and various scenes. For example, the ruined pyramid of Unas at Saqqara was the first one that we know of to be inscribed with the 128 magical spells of the Pyramid Text.
Many alternative, often contradictory, theories have been proposed regarding the Pyramid's construction techniques. Not all even agree that the blocks were quarried, they might conceivably have been cast. However, most accept it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry, being only unable to agree whether they were dragged, lifted or even rolled into place. The Greeks believed that slave labour was used but modern Egyptologists accept that it was built by many tens of thousands of skilled workers. They camped near the pyramids and worked for a salary or as a form of paying taxes until the construction was completed. Their cemeteries were discovered in 1990 by archaeologists Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner. Verner posited that the labor was organized into a hierarchy, consisting of two gangs of 100,000 men, divided into five zaa or phyle of 20,000 men each, which may have been further divided according to the skills of the workers.
One of the mysteries of the pyramid's construction is how they planned its construction. John Romer suggests that they used the same method that had been used for earlier and later constructions, laying out parts of the plan on the ground at a 1 to 1 scale. He writes that "such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with a precision unmatched by any other means." He devotes a chapter of his book to the physical evidence that there was such a plan.

The Great Pyramid Materials
The Great Pyramid consists of more than 2.3 million limestone blocks. The Egyptians shipped the limestone blocks from quarries all along the Nile River. The largest stones in the pyramid, found in the "King's" chamber, weigh upwards of 60 tonnes and were transported more than 500 miles away from Aswan. Traditionally, ancient Egyptians cut stone blocks by hammering wedges into the stone which were then soaked with water. The wedges expanded, causing the rock to crack. Once they were cut, they were carried by boat either up or down the Nile River to the pyramid

The Great Pyramid Interior
The Great Pyramid is the only pyramid known to contain both ascending and descending passages. There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. These are arranged centrally, on the vertical axis of the pyramid. From the entrance, an 18 meter corridor leads down and splits in two directions. One way leads to the lowest and unfinished chamber. This chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built. It is the largest of the three, but totally unfinished, only rough-cut into the rock. The other passage leads to the Grand Gallery (49 m x 3 m x 11 m), where it splits again. One tunnel leads to the Queen's Chamber, a misnomer, while the other winds to intersect with the descending corridor. The Grand Gallery itself features a corbel haloed design and several cut "sockets" spaced at regular intervals along the length of each side of its raised base with a "trench" running along its center length at floor level. What purpose these sockets served is unknown. An antechamber leads from the Grand Gallery to the King's Chamber.

Entrance of Great Pyramid
Today, tourists enter the Great Pyramid via a forced tunnel dug by the Caliph Al-Ma'mum and his men around 820 AD. The tunnel continues for approximately 30 meters and eventually meets up with the Descending Passage which at the time was found to have been blocked by a series of massive granite plugs. Unable to remove the blocks, the workmen tunneled around the plugs discovering the Ascending Passage which leads to the Grand Gallery and interior chambers only to find them empty. The original entrance, which was apparently unknown at the time, can be seen today several meters directly above the forced entry and would have also been blocked by the granite plugs.
Pyramid complex
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the main part of a complex setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honor of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles. One of the small pyramids contains the tomb of queen Hetepheres (discovered in 1925), sister and wife of Sneferu and the mother of Khufu. There was a town for the workers of Giza, which included a cemetery, bakeries, a beer factory and a copper smelting complex. A few hundred meters south-west of the Great Pyramid lies the slightly smaller Pyramid of Khafre, one of Khufu's successors who is also commonly considered the builder of the Great Sphinx, and a few hundred meters further south-west is the Pyramid of Menkaure, Khafre's successor, which is about half as tall. In May 1954, 41 blocking stones were uncovered close to the south side of the Great Pyramid. They covered a 30.8 meter long rock-cut pit that contained the remains of a 43 meter long ship of cedar wood. In antiquity, it had been dismantled into 650 parts comprising 1224 pieces. This funeral boat of Khufu has been reconstructed and is now housed in a museum on the site of its discovery. A second boat pit was later discovered nearby.

However, after the very earliest period of Egyptian history, the tombs of kings were almost always complexes, having other buildings and structures other than the tomb itself. Almost all royal tombs, including pyramids, had a mortuary temple where priests were supposed to take care of the king's soul (known as his Ka). During the Pyramid Age, the mortuary temple was located right next to the pyramid itself, though after the Pyramid Age, the mortuary temple was separated from the tomb so that the tomb's location would be less obvious to grave robbers. Other structures usually included a valley temple, usually near the Nile River, which was sort of an entrance to the complex, a causeway, which was a corridor that led from the valley temple to the mortuary temple, and usually a "cult pyramid", which was a smaller pyramid set next to the larger one. We think that the cult pyramid was probably built for the king's Ka. Usually, the pyramid complex was surrounded by a wall, known as an enclosure wall. Pyramid complexes also typically contained other tombs or smaller pyramids belonging to the king's wives and other family members, and there were also pits dug for boats, which were the boats that carried the dead king in his funeral, or were symbolic boats for his journey through the afterlife. Other parts of the greater pyramid complex might include storage buildings, a village for the workers who built the pyramid, and housing for the priests who took care of the dead king.
The Pyramids of Egypt are a fascinating topic that have created many controversies over the years, and which continue to do so today. They have not given up all of their secrets even after over four thousand years, and these first of mankind's large, stone buildings will probably intrigue us for many years to come.
The King's Chamber
The King's Chamber is lined with red granite brought from Aswan 935 km (580 miles) to the south. There are 5 relieving chambers above the kings chamber. The first one is reached through a breach in the wall at the upper end of the Grand Gallery, this was named the Davidson chamber. Howard Vyse suspected there was another chamber above this when he found that he was able to thrust a long reed through a crack in the ceiling. He blasted through to find 4 more relieving chambers. These chambers were named the Wellington, Nelson, Lady Arbuthnot and Cambell's chambers. The kings chamber and the first 4 relieving chambers have roofs made out granite. Each roof includes 8 or 9 granite slabs weighing 25 to 80 tonnes each. Cambell's chamber has a pented roof made of large limestone slabs. Egyptologists believe they were transported on barges down the Nile river.
The Queen's Chamber
The Queen's Chamber is the middle and the smallest, measuring approximately 5.74 by 5.23 meters, and 4.57 meters in height. The chamber is lined with fine limestone blocks and the pented roof is made of large limestone slabs. Its eastern wall has a large angular doorway or niche. Egyptologist Mark Lehner believes that the Queen's chamber was intended as a serdab, a structure found in several other Egyptian pyramids, and that the niche would have contained a statue of the interred. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the statue would serve as a "back up" vessel for the Ka of the Pharaoh, should the original mummified body be destroyed. The true purpose of the chamber, however, remains uncertain. The Queens Chamber has a pair of shafts similar to those in the King's Chamber, which were explored using a robot, Upuaut 2, created by the German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink. In 1992, Upuaut 2 discovered that these shafts were blocked by limestone "doors" with two eroded copper handles. The National Geographic Society filmed the drilling of a small hole in the southern door, only to find another larger door behind it. The northern passage, which was harder to navigate due to twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a door.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative post. Pyramid of Djoser is known as step pyramid. This is a first Egyptian pyramid. height of the pyramid is 62 meters tall and base of the pyramid is 109 x 125 m. Jean-Phillipe Lauer was the major excavator of the Step Pyramid.Djoser is famous for his pioneering tomb. Best time to visit is October till May.For more details refer The Step pyramid of djoser