Ancient Egypt - The Second Pyramid of Giza


Khafre's layout of the temple complex – the valley temple, causeway, mortuary temple, and pyramid – set the standard for the rest of the Old Kingdom royal tombs.


To give the impression of a taller pyramid, Khafre built on slightly higher ground. At 447 feet, his pyramid was 33 ½ feet smaller than Khufu's Great Pyramid. I often joke that he was in competition with his father by building a smaller pyramid on higher ground, but truthfully Khafre may have built his pyramid smaller out of deference, respect for his father. This pyramid does have the advantage of retaining some of its original Tura limestone casing on the upper courses leading to the apex.



It was believed in classical antiquity that Khafre's pyramid was completely solid with no entrance or rooms inside. This pyramid actually contains two entrances, both on the north face. The lower descending passageway is carved completely out of the bedrock, descending, running horizontal, then ascending to join the horizontal passage leading to the burial chamber. There is a subsidiary chamber that opens to the west of the lower passage, the purpose of which is uncertain. The upper descending passage is clad in granite and descends to join with the horizontal passage to the burial chamber.


The chamber is almost centrally located and cut from the rock at ground level. The roof is constructed of gabled limestone beams. Archaeologist Giovanni Belzoni entered this chamber on March 2, 1818. He was disappointed to find that Medieval Arabs had previously entered. But even before this, the pyramid had been robbed in ancient times. All that remained in the chamber was a plain polished red granite sarcophagus sunk into the floor at the west end, which contained a few animal bones. Another pit in the floor likely contained the canopic chest, its lid would have been one of the pavement slabs. Belzoni wrote his name and date of entry on the south wall and above the entrance, before leaving.


Along the centerline of the pyramid on the south side was a satellite pyramid, but almost nothing remains other than some core blocks and the outline of the foundation. It contains two descending passages, one of them ending in a dead end with a niche that contained pieces of ritualistic furniture.


Though it is now largely in ruins, enough of the Mortuary Temple survives to understand the plan. It was larger than previous temples and was the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five niches for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. There were over 50 life size statues of Khafre, but these were removed and recycled, possibly by Ramesses II. The temple was built of megalithic blocks, the largest is an estimated 400 tons.



A causeway runs 541 yds to the valley temple, which was very similar to the mortuary temple. Khafre's valley temple is the largest Old Kingdom structure to survive, other than the actual pyramids. It was built of local limestone, but the walls were veneered with great slabs of red granite stones brought from the quarries at Aswan, some 600 miles to the south. The square pillars of the T-shaped hallway were made of solid granite, and the floor was paved in alabaster. The exterior was built of huge blocks, some weighing over 100 tons.


The Portrait of the Pharaoh

In 1860, Auguste Mariette discovered one of the finest masterpieces in ancient Egyptian art. Buried in a pit just inside the entrance to the Valley Temple, he found a larger than life size statue of Khafre with the Horus falcon protecting the back of his headdress. The statue is generally acknowledged as one of the great masterpieces of world sculpture. In terms of technique and expressiveness, this would be a marvel of sculpture even if it was carved from marble or some other easily managed stone, but it is carved from diorite, a granitic rock among the hardest known.

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