Updated: Nov 10
The Great Pyramid is 480 feet high with a ground surface of 13 acres. It would remain the tallest building in the world for four-and-a-half thousand years until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. A proud achievement for any architect.
The Chief of Works for this project was Khufu's cousin, Hemiunu. He was buried in a mastaba close by the Great Pyramid. Exactly how he built this masterpiece remains a debated subject. Also unknown is why Khufu would turn away from his father's site at Dahshur and choose a location on the Giza plateau, just south-west of Cairo. His work appears to have been the first on the site and it is curious why he did not build on the highest point of the plateau. This area would be taken by his son, Khafre,
and would produce the optical illusion that his pyramid was taller, which it is not.
The exterior of the pyramid was cased with white Tura limestone. Like other pyramids, this was largely removed in the Middle Ages to build Medieval Cairo.
The original entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north side, 56 ft vertically above ground level. From this original entrance, there is a Descending Passage which goes down through the masonry of the pyramid and then into the bedrock beneath it. After 345 ft, the passage becomes level and continues for an additional 29 ft to the Lower Chamber, which appears not to have been finished. There is a continuation of the horizontal passage in the south wall of the lower chamber; there is also a pit dug in the floor of the chamber. Some Egyptologists suggest that this Lower Chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but Pharaoh Khufu later changed his mind and wanted it higher in the pyramid.
93 ft from the entrance is a square hole in the roof of the Descending Passage. Originally concealed with a slab of stone, this was the beginning of the Ascending Passage, which is 129 ft long that slopes up at almost precisely the same angle to reach the Grand Gallery. The lower end of the Ascending Passage is closed by three huge blocks of granite. One must use the Robbers' Tunnel to access the Ascending Passage. At the start of the Grand Gallery there is the Horizontal Passage leading to the "Queen's Chamber".
The Queen's Chamber is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of the pyramid and has a pointed roof with an apex above the floor. The chamber was discovered empty.
The Grand Gallery continues the slope of the Ascending Passage. This engineering marvel is a 28 foot high, corbelled ceiling that goes all the way up the pyramid. Its function remains unknown. It is roofed by slabs of stone laid at a slightly steeper angle than the floor of the gallery, so that each stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. The purpose was to have each block supported by the wall of the Gallery, rather than resting on the block beneath it, in order to prevent cumulative pressure.
The King's Chamber is entirely faced with granite. Remember Khufu's father used the corbelled ceiling in his pyramid. Khufu took it one step further by creating relieving chambers. These five chambers, above the roof, consist of nine slabs of stone weighing in total about 400 tons. These compartments were intended to safeguard the King's Chamber from the possibility of a roof collapsing under the weight of stone above the Chamber. As the chambers were not intended to be seen, they were
Tombs of courtiers surround the pyramid's west side and three smaller pyramids for the queens were constructed on the east side. As recorded by Herodotus, the central pyramid was a product of the of one of Khufu's daughters. He states Khufu had her placed in a brothel to raise more money for building the Great Pyramid.
'She not only obtained the sum appointed by her father, but she also
formed a design for herself privately to leave behind a memorial,
and she requested each man to give her one stone upon her building.'
-Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2, Section 126
Nothing but the black basalt floor remains of the Great Pyramid's mortuary temple, and the valley temple, at the end of the causeway, has disappeared.
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