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The Great Pyramid of Giza



piram1.jpg1.           The Kings Chamber

2.           The "air shafts"

3.           The Queens Chamber

4.           The Grand Gallery

5.           The Escape Shaft (or well shaft)

6.           The Subterranean Chamber and Pit



The Great Pyramid of Giza is arguably the most enduring symbol of Ancient Egypt. It is probably the most famous ancient structure in the world and the only one of the "seven wonders" which is still standing. It is also an architectural marvel. Although it was not the first true pyramid, in terms of its size (it was the tallest structure on Earth until the nineteenth century AD), technical development and accuracy of measurement it is the most spectacular. Today, with modern building techniques and equipment we would be hard pressed to build such an enduring and enigmatic monument.


The Great Pyramid was built from over 2 million blocks of stone, each weighing more than two tons. These blocks were1200px-kheops-pyramid.jpg carved so perfectly that the entire monument was constructed without mortar or cement. You cannot even slip a piece of paper between them. Although it is a true pyramid (flat sided as opposed to stepped), the sides are actually concave. This was not discovered until the advent of flight allowed aerial photographs to be taken of the site. This feature is thought to add to the integrity of the monument and prevent the blocks from slipping (although typically, some have suggested that the curvature had an astronomical significance).


The entrance

The entrance is on the north face. Just below it is the entrance tunneled in antiquity. From the descending entrance corridor, an ascending passageway leads to the Grand Gallery. Originally, the passageway was sealed with three, seven-ton blocks of pink granite (which are still in place). The passage is supported by a series of four single hollow stones known as "girdle stones". This ingenious feature allowed the passageway to bear the weight of masonry above it. There are also 3 "half girdles" (two stones combined for the same effect).


The Grand Gallery

grand-gallery.jpgThe Grand Gallery itself is an architectural masterpiece. Its ceiling consists of a corbel vault with seven layers built from enormous limestone blocks. Each block projects about seven and a half centimeters, dissipating the weight of the monument and creating an impressive visual effect.

There is disagreement as to the function of the low ramps which skirt the sides of the gallery. Twenty-seven square openings in the ramp corresponding to twenty-seven niches in the side walls and Borchardt suggested that wooden beams were placed in the openings to aid the transport of building materials or to support the huge blocks while the masons build the corbelled ceiling. Lehner suggests they were actually holes for large beams which had supported the blocks that roofed the horizontal passage into the Queens Chamber and provided a continuous floor for the Grand Gallery to the Ascending passage.


The Escape Shaft

There is a small opening in the west wall of the Great Gallery is a just above the door which is known as the escape shaft (also known as the well shaft or service shaft). It leads to a corridor deep under the pyramid, near the entrance to the underground chambers. There appear to be rough footholes in the shaft, which led Petrie to speculate that the shaft was an escape route for the men who were to lower the granite blocks into the ascending corridor when the burial ritual was over. However, it would have been fairly easy to fill in the shaft from above once the burial was complete, so this seems unlikely. Others suggest the shaft provided fresh air for the workers who were digging the underground chamber, but this suggests that the underground chambers and the shaft were built after the Great Gallery. This theory is largely rejected as the underground chambers are assumed to have been the first stage in construction.


The Subterranean Chamber and Pit

queens-chamber.jpgThe descending corridor cuts into the bedrock for a distance of about thirty meters under the base of the pyramid, before turning into a horizontal passageway which runs for about nine meters. At the end of this passageway, there is an unfinished niche and a rock-cut chamber. The chamber was apparently unfinished and the protective blocks were never placed at the entrance to the chamber. It has also been noted that the entrance was too small to allow a sarcophagus to be carried into the room after completion, leading most experts to agree that the chamber was not intended to be used for a burial despite the fact that the tunnel and chamber conform to the classic pyramid substructure (a descending corridor leading to a burial chamber below ground level).

A further unfinished corridor leads from the south wall for just over sixteen meters, and there is a square shaft on the east wall (halfway between the north and south walls) which descends for about five meters. The shaft is filled with rubble, but apparently descended for about 18 meters when it was cleared.


The Queens Chamber

The so called Queens Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza received its name from Arab explorers, but scholars now agree that it was not actually intended to be the burial chamber of a queen. You enter through a horizontal passageway from the lower end of the Great Gallery. About five meters from the end of the passage, there is a step, before the passage slopes downward a further sixty centimeters to the floor level of the Queens Chamber. There is some speculation regarding this step. Some argue that the pink granite floor blocks originally started at the edge of the step and ran to join the floor of the chamber (so in fact there was no step). They suggest these block (being easier to remove) were stolen in antiquity. Other suggest that this feature is the result of the "changes in building plans" often referred to in discussions regarding this monument.


The chamber itself is made entirely of beautifully finished limestone blocks with a gabled ceiling. It sits on the twenty-fifth course of masonry on the pyramids east-west axis. The walls are bare and uninscribed, but there is a niche in the east wall about four and a half meters up from the floor. The niche also has a corbel ceiling. It is possible that a statue of the king or his ka (soul) might have stood in the niche, but this is pure speculation. Lehner argues that the Queen's Chamber would have been sealed off, transforming it into a Serdab (a room for the king's spiritual soul or Ka as found in many pyramids and in Djoser´s Step Pyramid Complex).


The Queen's Chamber Shafts

The two "air shafts" in the Queens Chamber were originally bricked up and not discovered until 1872. Averaging about twenty centimeters square, they rise from the north and south walls of the chamber and climb steeply up through the masonry above. The shafts are not entirely straight. The north shaft bends after about seventeen meters, possibly to curve around the Grand Gallery. Similar shafts can also be found in the Kings Chamber.

In 1993 Gantenbrink sent a robot called Upuaut2 (Wepwawet - "the opener of the ways") to video the inner walls of the shafts. He discovered that the southern shaft ended with a small Tura limestone slab in which two heavily corroded pieces of copper had been inserted. The door is estimated to be about six centimeters thick and is only about six meters from the outer surface of the pyramid. He tried to video the northern shaft, but couldn't get around the curve. In 2002, a National Geographic robot, inserted a miniature fibre-optic camera into a three-quarter-of-an-inch hole to reveal a rough-hewn blocking stone about 21 centimeters beyond the original southern shaft door. It looks as if it is covering something, and there are cracks all over its surface. Shortly after, a robot built by iRobot of Boston made it up the north shaft, only to discover a door just like that of the southern shaft. The doors are equidistant to the Queens Chamber.

Work continued in 2011 with the "Djedi Project" which used a fiber-optic "micro snake camera" to see around the corners. They made it past the first door of the southern shaft to get a look at the small chamber behind it. They found hieroglyphs written in red paint which may be workers marks or graffiti - no meaning has been suggested for them. They confirmed that the inside of the door was polished, suggesting it had a ritual or symbolic purpose rather than being intended only to block the shaft. They also had a closer look at the two copper "handles" embedded in the door and suggested they were only decorative.

Three strange objects were found in the Queens chamber; a granite sphere, a wooden slat and a copper object in the form of a swallow's tail (referred to as a hook). They were originally discovered by Dixon in 1872, but lost until the ball and hook were rediscovered in the British Museum depository.


The "Air shafts" of the Great Pyramid

One of the most mysterious features of the Great Pyramid of Giza are the so-called "air shafts". It has been suggested that the shafts were used to ventilate the monument during construction. This would certainly be a problem, but the shafts do not run all the way to the outside and so they may not have been able to fulfill this function. No shafts were discovered in other pyramids, so it seems that the ancient builders had found another way of overcoming this problem. The discovery of small finely finished limestone "doors" at the top of the shafts suggests that there was more to the shafts than ventilation. This was a very popular theory among scholars, but most are now of the opinion that it is unlikely that they served such a mundane purpose.


Religious Symbolism

Stadelmann suggested that the shafts allowed the king's soul to travel to the "stars that never die" (the circumpolar stars in the northern sky) and the "land of light" (the southern sky). This argument has a certain simplicity and seems quite reasonable. No similar shafts were found in other pyramids, but symbolic doors were often used (making the construction of physical doors rather unnecessary). However, building the shafts in as they constructed the pyramid cannot have been easy. So it is tempting to assume that they had a deeper significance.


Secret Doors

queens-chamber-shafts.jpgAt the top of the southern shaft of the Queens Chamber, a small limestone block with two copper fittings was discovered. Hawass has suggested that the fittings were hieroglyphic signs (rather than handles) which enabled the soul of the king to pass through the blockage. When an opening was drilled through this small limestone block and an endoscopic camera inserted, archaeologists discovered a narrow empty space terminated by a rough limestone block, thought to be part of the pyramid core.

The shaft in the north side of the Queens Chamber is the same. The corridor ends in front of a white limestone block bearing the traces of two copper fittings. Quarry marks are still visible, along with the sign of the work-gang "wadi" ("the green ones"). and a sign thought to be the hieroglyph "prjj" ("to come out" of the tomb).


Star Alignment

stars.jpgTheir astronomical significance was first recognized by Alexander Badawy, and Virginia Trimble, in the 1960´s. They suggested that the north shaft of the Queens Chamber aligned with "Beta" (B) in Ursa Minor, while the south shaft is aligned with Sirius. The constellation of Ursa Minor was only introduced in 600 BC. The Ancient Egyptians considered Ursa Major and Minor to be part of Draco (known to the ancient Egyptians as the Hippo). Draco was associated with the goddess Tawret (who took the form of a hippo). Sirius was associated with Isis and known as the "Nile Star" because of its annual appearance at sunrise on the day of the summer solstice which heralded the innundation.

The southern shaft in the Kings Chamber reaches to the outer surface of the Pyramid and is thought to be aligned with the Orion´s belt. Orion was associated with Osiris, and was also the god of the netherworld. The northern shaft aligns with Thuban, in the constellation of Draco. Nowadays, Polaris marks our celestial north pole, but at the time of the ancient pyramid builders the star closest to the pole was Thuban. Thus it was of high astrological importance and considered to be a symbol of immortality (as it never left the night sky).

stars2.jpgBadawy and Trimble concluded that the shafts were not astronomical sightlines, as is sometimes suggested (a view supported by the fact that the shafts are horizontal at their ends). Instead the shafts allowed the kings soul to reunite with the stars. This is in keeping with writings in the fifth dynasty pyramid texts which confirm that the king joins circumpolar stars which never rise or set. They turn around the north celestial pole without ever dipping below the horizon. The ancient Egyptians called them the "undying" stars and took comfort from their stability and endurance.



Stellar Clockpyramids_3.jpg

However, the stellar alignment is not exact. According to some theorists (including Buvall) the alignment of the south shaft of the Kings Chamber to Orion and the south Queens Chamber to Sirius actually occurred much earlier that the Fourth Dynasty (2575 - 2465 BC), when the Great Pyramid is generally thought to have been built. Hence the argument that the Pyramid is much older than previously thought, and that the shafts confirm the date actual date of its construction. Proponents of this view often suggest that there was an astrophysically advanced ancient culture which built the great pyramid and then disappeared, along with its advanced ideas. This is not a new idea. Plato (428 to 347 BC) refers to an ancient culture whose knowledge was lost in "Timaeus", and Atlantis is still a remarkably popular idea.

orion.jpgRobert Bauval (an engineer) and Adrian Gilbert propose that the three pyramids of Giza are an earthly representation of the Belt of Orion. They further suggest that the Fourth Dynasty "Unfinished Pyramid" at Zawyet el-Ayran, south of Giza, represents Bellatrix, and the pyramid of Djedefre at Abu Rawash, north of Giza represents Saiph. They suggest that the pyramids were intended to create an earthly copy of the stellar netherworld. Thus, the Great Pyramid of Giza becomes a time clock using the precession of the circumpolar stars to mark the dates of 10,500 B.C (when they suggest the plan was begun) and 2450 B.C (when they suggest the great pyramid was completed). So far no pyramids have been found which would represent Betelgeuse and Rigel, despite the fact that they are the two brightest stars in that area of the heavens.

This theory remains contentious. Ed Krupp (Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles) and Anthony Fairall (astronomy professor at the University of Cape Town) have both criticized the astronomical observations which underpin the theory and even suggested that in order to make the facts fit the map of the pyramids had to be inverted. However, Archie Roy (Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Glasgow University) and Percy Seymour (astronomer and astrophysicist at Plymouth University) have defended the theory and noted that the visual correlation is striking when the pyramids of Giza are viewed from the north. Furthermore, there is some support for it in the fact that the Pyramid Texts (which date to the fifth dynasty but were most likely formed from earlier religious concepts) make frequent references to the connection between the resurrection of the king and Sahu (Orion).


The Kings Chamber

kings-chamber.jpgThe room near the top of the Great Pyramid is known as the Kings Chamber. Near the top of the Grand Gallery, three pink granite monoliths (which are still in place) from the door to the Kings Chamber. The modern entrance is located at the upper end of the south wall of the Grand Gallery.

The Kings Chamber measures 10.45 meters by 5.20 meters, and is 5.80 meters high and is made entirely of pink granite. It had to be built to resist an enormous amount of pressure from the masonry above it. It is a great feat of architecture as its flat roof (composed of nine huge granite blocks) supports over four hundred tons of masonry. In order to achieve this, the builders constructed five relieving chambers. In the four thousand years since their creation, only one small crack has developed in the ceiling slabs near the south wall.

The relief chambers of the Kings Chamber are only a few feet high. The sides are constructed of limestone and granite and ceilings from roughly cut blocks of pink granite. The higher chambers have saddle shaped ceilings to help bear the weight. The chambers were never meant to be seen, and so the builders left marks which have been preserved. Petrie claimed to have discovered a cattle census of the seventeenth year of Khufu´s reign. There is also quite a quantity of graffiti, left by more modern visitors, including; Nathanial Davison (an eighteenth-century diplomat), Lord Nelson, Duke Wellington, Lady Ann Arbuthnot, and Patrick Campbell (Scottish diplomat and amateur archaeologist).

Within the chamber lies a red granite sarcophagus. It is very large (with an estimated weight of about 3.75 tons), so it was probably placed in the chamber during construction. It follows the form of early dynastic sarcophagi (a flat-sided box with a groove on the inside to support the lid with one end left open to allow the lid to slide into place, and three pins to seal the lid when it was in place) However, the sides of the coffer are not well finished. There are clear saw marks on the outside, and on the northwest corner, the saw appears to have cut too deep on more than one occasion. There are also the remains of a number of drill holes which the masons tried to smooth over, but could not fully remove.

The cover of the sarcophagus is missing, as is the king's mummy. Some have suggested that it was a substitute sarcophagus, hastily prepared when the original was damaged, but there is no evidence to support this, and it doesn't explain why it is unfinished. It is by no means clear that the King's chamber was actually intended for a burial. If it was, it was the first and only time that a burial chamber was placed above the entrance.

Diodorus Siculus referred to ancient legends which claimed that Khufu was not buried in his pyramid. In contrast, Medieval Arab historians refer to a mummy-shaped coffin which held the king's body. However, the sarcophagus is not mummiform, the king´s remains are no longer there (if they ever were), and it must be remembered that they visited the pyramids over three thousand years after Khufu's death. More recently, Kozinski (a Polish architect) claimed that the crack in the chamber appeared before the pyramid was finished, leading to the construction of a new burial chamber which has yet to be found.

There are two "air shafts", similar to those in the Queens Chamber, at heights of seventy-one and fifty-three meters. At the moment there is a ventilation fan fitted into the southern shaft to regulate the moisture produced by visitors.



Preview of picture in folder Giza - A piramisok (The Pyramids)