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Ancient Egypt - The Third Pyramid of Giza


Khafre was succeeded by his son, Menkaure, who continued to build on the Giza Plateau. He constructed the smallest of the Great Pyramids, the Third Pyramid of Giza. With an original height of 228 feet, the small scale of this pyramid may have resulted from internal political problems during this time, most likely caused by the manpower and resources strained from the huge building projects of his father and grandfather. This pyramid was, however, built using more expensive material. The lower courses of the outer casing of the pyramid were built using red granite from Aswan, and much of this survives today. On the northern face of Menkaure's Pyramid is the sad scar from an attempted demolition of the pyramids by Cairo's rulers in the 12th century.

The upper casing blocks were made of white Tura limestone which made for an impressive-looking monument. The original plan of the pyramid was for a structure of only 100 feet. This plan included a north entrance at ground level, but a new entrance had to be constructed once the expansion began. What was originally intended as a burial chamber now simply became an antechamber.

Colonel Howard Vyse entered the burial chamber in 1837 and found a lidless basalt sarcophagus. Inside was a substitute coffin from the Saite period. Both items were shipped to England, destined for the British museum. Luckily they were shipped separately, because the ship carrying the sarcophagus sank in a storm in 1838, shortly after leaving Leghorn.

South of the pyramid of Menkaure are three satellite pyramids that are each accompanied with a temple and have a substructure. The southernmost is the largest and a true pyramid. Its casing is partly of granite, like the main pyramid, and is believed to have been completed due to the limestone pyramidion found close by. Neither of the other two progressed beyond the construction of the inner core.

The mortuary temple of the pyramid was not complete when Menkaure died. Construction began with huge limestone blocks and large pink granite blocks. One of the limestone blocks to this temple is the largest to be found in the whole of the Giza necropolis and weighs at least 220 tons. The foundation and the inner core of the mortuary temple were composed of limestone. The floors and walls were to be clad in granite as well as limestone. However, Shepseskaf used mudbrick to complete the building.

The causeway was partially constructed by Shepseskaf after Menkaure's death, but it seems that it was not completed. It halts at the west side of Khufu's quarry and we do not know for sure whether it connected to the valley temple or ran along the west wall of the temple.

The foundations of the valley temple were made of stone but the building was finished with rough bricks. It is thought that the west part of the base and the lower courses of the core of the north wall were built during Menkaure's lifetime, but the rest was built by Shepseskaf. Behind the entrance there was a square antechamber with four columns whose alabaster bases were recovered from the site. Through this chamber the temple opened out into a wide courtyard with a series of niches in the inner walls. A path paved with limestone blocks ran from the entrance chamber though the courtyard to a stair which led to a portico with two rows of wooden columns and an offering hall. On the north side of the offering hall there were eight storerooms and on the south side there were a further seven storerooms. Many of the beautiful statues of Menkaure recovered from the site were found in these store rooms.

The Portraits of the Pharaoh

Some of the finest statues are attributed to King Menkaure. Discovered by George Reisner between 1905-1927, these statues were all portraits of the king who was notable for his snub nose and slightly bulbous eyes. Four complete examples of the king standing with a deity survived, with fragments of others. Curiously,