he oldest and yet still erect monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World- the Egyptian Pyramids hardly require any introduction. The iconic pyramids of Giza of the pharaohs Khufu, Kafre, and Menkaure, are the most famous of the Egyptian pyramids. There are scores of pyramids in Egypt spread over several areas. The places where the pyramids are located is known as Pyramid Fields. Pyramid fields can be found in Abu Rawash, Zawyet el’Aryan, Abusir, Saqqara, Dashur, Lisht, and many other places which, of course, include Giza too.
A Resting Place for the Body and Soul
Ancient Egyptians believed in superstition to a great extent, so much so, that most of the decisions in daily life were based on them. They believed that after the death of a person their soul leaves the body and journeys to the Astral plane. However, there is a small part of the soul, which is represented as ‘Ka’, remains in the body. To provide a dwelling place for Ka, they started to create graves. The pharaohs and the rich among them wanted to ensure that their soul would enjoy the same lavish lifestyle that they enjoyed during their life, so they went on to create huge monuments to be buried in. Initially, these monuments were flat-topped like a plateau and were called ‘mastabas’.
Steps to the Afterlife
Later, around 2780 BC, renowned architect Imhotep stacked six large mastabas on top of each other in the order of their decreasing size. This was the first pyramid to be built for the pharaoh Djoser; however, it still did not have the iconic pointed top, instead, it was flat-topped because of the mastabas. These were seen as the steps to the astral plane to ease the process of the soul of the departed pharaoh joining the Sun god Ra.
A Great Sense of Direction
The skills and architecture that went into building these pyramids are, quite simply, unparalleled. All the pyramids are four-sided, and each of the sides faces the four true cardinal directions of North, East, South, and West. The entrances to the pyramids are on their Northern side and the temples, where the deceased are buried, are located on the East side of the pyramid. There are also narrow channels going from the temples in the East to the Western wall in the pyramids. This mysterious channel in every pyramid is speculated to have been built for the soul to travel to the astral plane through it.
Was NOT Built by Slaves
It is a common myth that slaves, which has been debunked built the pyramids. Architects and skilled workers built the pyramids from all the income groups, and it was considered to be a prestigious honor to be able to build them and were paid well enough for their services. Now it is also believed that these workers may even have had a union and other facilities similar to the modern day employees. There were also townships built for the workers, with access to clean water, as well as graves for those who passed away. This shows that they were not slaves.
The techniques used to build the pyramids are lost to us forever. Archaeologists are trying to find new clues which would help us learn more about this. There is a consensus that the stars were used to determine the place of the pyramids as well as to measure the distances. The four sides of the pyramids are of the same length with only slight errors of a few inches, while the degree of alignment of these pyramids is only off by 0.05° in certain cases, if at all. It shows the skills of the architects who achieved this feat without any modern day devices.
Using Science to Reduce the Workload
But what was a truly gigantic feat was transporting of huge blocks of rocks and limestone, which weighed tons, from the quarries to the building site. A recent interpretation of a hieroglyphics suggests that the workers pulled the tons of rocks on wooden sleds. Water was used to wet the sand before pulling which reduced the friction by nearly 50% thus making it easier to pull. The planets are the oldest known structures which were built by dressed masonry, which is the process of working on a block of rock until it is squared.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu, Giza
The Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, along with those of the pharaohs Kafre and Menkaure, is the most celebrated pyramid in the world. The pyramid of Khufu is also known as the Great Pyramid as it is the largest as well as the oldest of the pyramids in Giza. The sides of the Great Pyramid are 755.75 feet (230 meters) and it is 455 feet (139 meters) tall. It was the biggest pyramid to be ever built. It is also surrounded by three small pyramids which are the resting places of his queens and the tomb of his mother. There are also several mastabas of high ranking officials and relatives of the pharaoh near the Great Pyramid. The pharaohs Kafre and Menkarure were Khufu’s son and grandson respectively and the height of their pyramids are 448 feet (138 meters) and 204 feet (61 meters) respectively. Interestingly, because the pyramid of Kafre is built on elevated land, it gives it the illusion of being the tallest pyramid. The pyramid field of Giza also includes the mysterious statue of the Great Sphinx, which is considered to be guarding Kafre’s pyramid.
Boost to the Economy
Annually, more than 10 million tourists visit the pyramid field of Giza. In 2010, the number of tourists shot up to 14 million. The Government of Egypt promotes tourism to the Great Pyramid as it generates more than $10 billion (USD) in terms of revenue and a significant portion of the Egyptian workforce is employed in the tourism sector. For most people, these pyramids occupy one of the top spots in the list of places that they want to visit because of the grandeur and magnificence of the pyramids. The pyramids provide a glimpse into the glorious past of the eras bygone thousands of years ago. These pyramids also inspire many people to study Egyptology and archaeology in the hopes of uncovering all the secrets of the pyramids.
A Remnant of the Majestic Monument from 4,500 Years Ago
The tomb robbers throughout the ages have robbed the artifacts of the pyramids as well as the limestone which covered them. The pyramids have also lost some of their height due to erosion. Several of the sarcophaguses and mummified bodies of the pharaohs and other deceased people who were buried in the pyramids have been taken out to be studied and displayed in museums throughout the world.
The Attraction to the Unsolvable Mystery
Other than being the resting place of the pharaohs, the pyramids also act as sundials to tell the time with the help of several marks which are made on the stone around us which depict the hours. In addition to that, it can also signal the equinoxes and solstices in the solar year. Most of the mysteries of the pyramids are still shrouded in secrecy even after millenniums of being built. The near perfection of the pyramids hints to the outstanding levels of engineering knowledge and skills that were available to the Egyptians 4500 years ago. However, somewhere along all that time, this knowledge was lost forever. The scientists and archaeologists today and in the future can only speculate about it without any means of verifying their speculation. This unsolvable mystery adds to the charm of the pyramids.