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The Pyramids of Giza - History
Figure 1. Pyramid of Khafre (Photo: Amy Calvert)
The last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the great pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most famous and discussed structures in history. These massive monuments were unsurpassed in height for thousands of years after their construction and continue to amaze and enthrall us with their overwhelming mass and seemingly impossible perfection. Their exacting orientation and mind-boggling construction has elicited many theories about their origins, including unsupported suggestions that they had extra-terrestrial impetus. However, by examining the several hundred years prior to their emergence on the Giza plateau, it becomes clear that these incredible structures were the result of many experiments, some more successful than others, and represent an apogee in the development of the royal mortuary complex.
Wadi al-Jarf – Oldest harbor in the world
Wadi al-Jarf is the present name of the oldest known artificial harbor in the world that developed about 4500 years ago. Probably brought into operation during the reign of king Snofru (ca. 2620–2580 b.c.e.) and particularly used by expeditions under king Khufu (ca. 2580–2550 b.c.e.).
The site of Wadi al-Jarf was occupied exclusively at the very beginning of the 4th Dynasty in order to reach by boat to the Sinai Peninsula, the main mining area operated by the ancient Egyptians.
The port facilities at Wadi al-Jarf are quite extensive and multipolar. Port covered an area of ca. 6 km (3.7 mi.) from west to east, from the first foothills of the mountains of the Eastern Desert (Southern Gebel Galala) to the shore of the Red Sea.
More than 100 anchors belong to the first Old Kingdom found in their original context, and numerous storage jars. The jars have been linked with those of another site across the Red Sea, indicating trade between the two sites.
An entire roll of papyrus, a few feet long and still relatively intact written in hieroglyphics as well as hieratic (the cursive script used by ancient Egyptians for everyday communication) providing insight into life during the Fourth Dynasty, found at Wadi al-Jarf. Those are the oldest papyri ever found in Egypt (ca. 2560–2550 BC, end of the reign of Khufu).
Ten of the papyri are especially very well preserved dated to the year after the 13th cattle count of Khufu’s reign which describes how the central administration sent food and supplies to Egyptian travelers.
Out of those documents the Diary of Merer, a middle-ranking official with the title inspector, is thought to date to the 26th year of the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, has the special interest. Using the diary, researchers reconstructed three months of Merer life, providing new insight into the everyday lives of Merer and his coworkers.
Over a period of several months, Merer made reports in form of a timetable with two columns per day. Many operations are related to the transportation of stones to/from Akhet-Khufu “Horizon of Khufu” and the work at the limestone quarries on the opposite bank of the Nile.
The entries in the logbooks are all arranged along the same line. At the top, there is a heading naming the month and the season. Under that, there is a horizontal line listing the days of the months.
Under the entries for the days, there are always two vertical columns describing what happened on these days. For example,
- [Day XX] The director of 6 Idjeru casts for Heliopolis in a transport boat to bring us food from Heliopolis while the elite is in Tura,
- [Day YY] Inspector Merer spends the day with his troop hauling stones in Tura North spending the night at Tura North
Complete translation is available hereFirst 20 days of Merer’s Diary
According to the Merer records, these blocks were delivered within four days at the pyramid construction site called the Akhet-Khufu “Horizon of Khufu” (It is clear from a starting few lines where to/from Akhet-Khufu event was recorded) and were probably used for the external casing of the Great Pyramid made of fine limestone.
About every ten days, two or three round trips were done, shipping perhaps 30 blocks of 2–3 tonnes each, amounting to 200 blocks per month.
Merer’s records also mention a regular passing by an important administrative center, “Ro-She Khufu” (Rȝ-š Ḫwfw), which seems to have functioned as a logistical stop point, one day before its arrival at the construction site on the Giza plateau.
It is specially specified that this site is under the authority of a high ranking official Ankhhaf, half-brother of Khufu who was his vizier and “chief for all the works of the king.”
This diary highlights two major facts,
- It confirms that Ankhhaf was effectively vizier and in charge of some of the final steps of the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
- It verifies that the pyramid was clearly at a final stage of the construction project at the very end of Khufu’s reign.
The First "True" Pyramid
The first "true" pyramid (that is, smooth-sided rather than built as a series of steps), is located 25 miles south of Cairo. This "Red Pyramid" (so named for the color of limestone used in construction) at Dahshur was constructed to be the tomb of Pharaoh Sneferu (or Snefru), who reigned 2613-2589 B.C. Even though it's just a short drive from Cairo, Dahshur receives fewer jostling tourists than the popular pyramids at Giza, and possibly its relatively stark atmosphere lends itself to a more reflective experience.
Evidence of Seven Levels Beneath the Giza Plateau
Five miles from Cairo stands one of the most ancient and alluring sites in human history. This mystery comprises the three main pyramids of Giza that have come to represent one of the most famous ancient civilizations. The megalithic stones that form these structures lie on a great plateau, and now investigators have found something else fascinating that lies below the pyramids.
Gregg Braden explains that some of the earliest credible accounts of the Giza Plateau come from the Greek historian and geographer Herodotus, who, in the early 400s B.C.E, compiled a reference book on ancient civilizations, cultures, and technologies predating his time by thousands of years.
Prior to Herodotus, no one had presented a systematic, thorough study of the past, attempting to link events with how they shaped history. Herodotus speculated there were hidden passages beneath the pyramids, as well as chambers, pathways, and great spaces — all of which were created when the climate and topography of Egypt were very different than it is today. Herodotus felt that beneath the pyramids lay the remnants of other ancient civilizations.
If Herodotus was correct, the pyramids may be sitting upon the most amazing time capsule in history, revealing not only long-lost cultures but also their technologies and origins saved in the earliest of writings and images.
Two researchers stand out in the search to uncover the underground spaces beneath the pyramids: British Consul General Henry Salt and his hired explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. These men were able to survey the area with the limited technology of their time in the early 1800s and were led by the desert topography to an area at the edge of the Giza Plateau, now an archaeological find of its own called The Tomb of the Birds.
Andrew Collins, the author of Beneath the Pyramids , suggests The Tomb of the Birds was a tribute to a keeper of hidden records and perhaps this site, a stone’s throw from the pyramids, is one of the entryways into the subterranean world beneath Giza.
Modern science backs up Collins’ claim thanks to satellite images, revealing an underground passageway from The Tomb of the Birds to the second pyramid. This finding had nearly been lost to history but was rediscovered in 2008 when Collins read Salt’s 1817 diary journal. This is where the story just begins to get interesting, and in the episode titled “ Seven Levels Below Giza ” from season three of Ancient Civilizations, we learn why.
Giza has long been referred to as Rostau , meaning the “mouth of the passages,” and may be the key to this trove of lost knowledge. And with the help of British Egyptologist Nigel Skinner-Simpson, Andrew Collins brings new light to Henry Salt’s exploration on the plateau.
According to researcher Anton Parks’ translations of ancient Sumerian tablets, there were seven levels of caves beneath the Giza plateau. This underground system was inhabited by ancient Egyptian gods known as the Clan of Osiris. Parks’ research found that prior to these extraterrestrial “gods” another species of lion-headed extraterrestrials, known as the Urma, came to Earth and inhabited this underground infrastructure. This is why we see remnants of their species in the Sphinx and in the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet.
Parks says these seven levels were massive and initially carved by the Mediterranean, which engulfed Egypt thousands of years ago. The first level was inhabited by prisoners and people of the Egyptian court. The second level was where an underground tributary of the Nile ran through and was where gardens were kept. On the third level lived hybrids and their gods, as well as the humans dedicated to hybrid offspring. The fourth level housed the Egyptian god royalty. And the final levels housed the technology that created the artificial atmospheres and power generators to supply energy for the entire infrastructure.
Could this massive underground system still exist?
As with all such mysteries, only time will tell the truth and reveal what has been suspected by so many for so long regarding Giza’s underground system of caves, chambers, and perhaps even hidden treasures. And it seems that given today’s technology we may be able to peer into lost worlds far below the surface of the pyramids.
How were the pyramids built?
Many theories have been proposed since the rediscovery of the tombs within the pyramids, but there isn’t one that experts can agree on. The Great Pyramid casing is made from an estimated 2.3 million blocks of limestone. For the interior chambers, larger granite stones were used these were transported from Aswan, which is 800 kilometres (497 miles) away.
The Giza Complex lies west of the Nile River in a portion of the Sahara known as the Western Desert. The Nile was used to bring in materials and manpower from across Egypt and beyond. Some of the outer stones were loosened by an earthquake in 1356 and were used to build mosques in Cairo.
The Greeks believed that slaves were used to build the pyramids, but more recent discoveries of workers’ camps have led to theories that skilled workers were in fact enlisted for construction. There is evidence to suggest that the huge stones were rolled into place, but other experts think that raw materials were either dragged or even lifted into the structure.
The Pyramids of Giza - History
6, Pyramids Road
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With its own rich and colourful history, the Mena House is one of the most unique hotels in Egypt. Surrounded by 40 acres of verdant green gardens, this palatial hotel is located in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo. The royal history of the hotel is reflected in luxurious interiors that are embellished with exquisite antiques, handcrafted furniture, original work of arts and magnificent antiques that are rarely found in luxury hotels. Mena House has played host to kings and emperors, Heads of State and celebrities.
Originally a royal lodge, it was used as a rest house for the Khedive Ismail and his guest when hunting in the desert or visiting the Pyramids at Giza. Today, the main dinning room was once the entire lodge, but in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal, the lodge was enlarged. Also, a road was built between Cairo and the Pyramids (specifically for the visit of the Empress Eugenie) which made visits to Giza much easier.
In 1883 it was sold to Frederick Head as a private residence. The Heads, a wealthy English couple, lived an idyllic life at their new residence, enlarging their home and adding a second floor. Seeking a name for their estate, Professor A.H. Saya made the suggestion that it should be called Mena House, after the first king referenced in the Tablet of Abydos.
In 1885, another hugely wealthy English couple, the Locke-Kings purchased the house from Mrs. Head, and it was they who set about turning the estate into a luxurious hotel. A year later in 1886, ‘Mena Hotel’, as it was originally called, opened its doors.
With plenty of money to work with and an estate already rich with furnishings and other treasures left by the Khedive and the Heads, the Locke-Kings enlarged the building once again, adding the English touch of great fireplaces that were unusual in Egypt. However, they retained much of the Arabic ambiance of the facility, and enhanced this with fine Mashrabia (wooden screens) work, fine blue tiles, mosaics and medieval brass-embossed and carved wood doors. Their taste was excellent, and the hotel has been kept with such good care, that many of these original fixtures are still in use.
The leading society figures of all European spas and resorts, from the springs of Baden to the roulette tables of Monte Carlo, visited Mena House in 1889. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales had been welcomed by His Highness the Khedive, who showed him the Pyramids. Lunch was served at the old ‘kiosque’ of Empress Eugenie. After lunch, The Egyptian Gazette reported, they ‘went over to the Mena Hotel and took coffee there.’
Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes book and his wife Louise (Touie) spent the winter of 1895-96 at the Mena House Hotel.
Emil Weckel and a certain Mr Schick bought the Mena House in 1896. The hotel had lawn tennis, two croquet lawns, shooting, stables with Arab and English horses and desert carts for hire. In December 1899, the Golf Course was opened as a sandy Golf Course. It was turned into grass in 1917 by Roy Wilson.
In 1900, a lift had been built in the main building and for the first time electric light illuminated each floor, and all public rooms. The 1900 spring season at the Mena House offered a croquet lawn, lawn tennis, shooting, gymkhanas and the swimming bath. A daily coach service was in operation.
Schick and Weckel sold the Mena House to the George Nungovich company in 1904. Nungovich had started as a porter in Cairo station and built a hotel empire in Egypt.
Empress Eugénie, the widow of Napoleon III, arrived for a second visit to the Pyramids in 1909. In the same year, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Pyramids. The group’s general manager August Wild arranged for a banquet near the Pyramids. The best location was clearly the chalet that had been built for Empress Eugénie in 1869.
The 1913-1914 tourism season was great in Egypt, but the First World War came to Egypt amongst martial law. During the First World War, the Mena House became one of the hospitals, and remained so for the rest of the war.
In 1943, the Mena House saw one of its most exciting years. Plans for Overlord, the invasion of Europe, had to be discussed by Churchill and Roosevelt and operations in Southeast Asia needed consultation with General Chiang Kai-Shek. It was decided that the Big Three conference should take place at the Mena House Hotel.
The hotel was meticulously renovated and expansions incorporated in 1971. Under the Oberoi management, the hotel matched the highest standards of international hotel Dom and became a member of “The Leading Hotels of the World.”
In 1979, Mena House, was the venue for Mena House Conference, the pre-Camp David talks, where President Sadat met with President Carter and Prime Minister Began.
The Ovule In The Pyramid
Running in an outward direction from the interior of both the King’s and Queen’s Chambers in the Great Pyramid are four so-called ventilation shafts. There are two in each chamber. One of the shafts in the Great Pyramid was until very recently ovular in form. The two shafts do not run directly from the interior and outward there is first a small entrance chamber at the end of which the shafts begin their ascent. When in the mid-1990s one of the shafts in the King’s Chamber was earmarked for a new ventilation fan, in an attempt to control the humidity and keep the interior temperature constant, not much attention was paid to the symbolic nature of its form: its shape was duly destroyed after only a rudimentary survey was made and the form is forever lost. However, the shape remains intriguing.
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Based on an excerpt of David Elkington’s The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound published by Inner Traditions.
David Elkington is an independent academic and historian, specializing in Egyptology and Egypto-Palestinian links. He has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and appeared on many television programs, including Forbidden History. He lives in The Hague, Netherlands. He is the author of The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound
Author Bio: David Elkington is an academic and historian, specializing in Egyptology and Egypto-Palestinian links. Known for his work on the Jordan Lead Codices—the earliest known initiatory Christian documents—he is the co-author of The Case for the Jordan Codices. He. Read More
How Were The Pyramids Of Egypt Built?
The construction techniques have been an arguable subject over the past several years in regards to the methods and the type of labour used during construction. One of the hypotheses suggests that humongous stones were carved from stone quarries using copper chisels then dragged to the desired location and lifted, placed on top of each other systematically to form a pyramid. However, this hypothesis raises questions about the kind of labour force used. Many years after pyramids were constructed the Greeks came to the conclusion that the construction must have been done using slave labour. Most archaeologists have reason to believe that some pyramids such as the Great Pyramid of Giza were constructed by skilled workers for a salary due to the cemetery for workers discovered by two archaeologists Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass in 1990.
Interior Design, Symbolism, and Furnishings
The interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza is more elaborate than most other pyramids and has three main chambers: a lower chamber which remains unfinished, a middle chamber called the Queen's chamber, and an upper chamber called the King's chamber. Above the King's chamber are five smaller units called relieving chambers. Speculation is that these chambers were designed to protect the King's chamber in case the roof collapsed, particularly since one wall in the King's chamber is of limestone, which is a relatively soft rock. The relieving chambers are unfinished and apparently were intended to remain unseen.
Access to the pyramid is through an entrance 17 meters, or 56 feet, above the ground. Long, sloping corridors link the chambers and are separated at intervals by decorative doors and small anterooms. The interior remains a constant 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees Fahrenheit, despite the sometimes blistering temperatures of the surrounding desert.
Shafts inside the pyramid were initially assumed to be for ventilation. However, modern research indicates that they were aligned properly for star-gazing at specific stars in the constellation of Orion. An Egyptian engineer named Robert Bauval discovered that the alignment of the three pyramids at Giza matched the alignment of stars in Orion's Belt other pyramids represented other stars in Orion's Belt. According to research conducted by American astronomer Virginia Trimble, because of the direction of the shafts, they were intended to allow the Pharaoh's soul to reunite with the stars when he died, which would enable his transition to a god.
Although there is a coffer in the King's chamber and the pyramid was thought to have been intended as Khufu's tomb, there is no evidence that anyone was ever buried in it. The coffer is too large to have been placed inside after construction was completed, therefore the coffer must have been placed inside beforehand and the structure erected around it.
Made of solid rose granite, modern-day analysis indicated that the tools needed for construction of the coffer were bronze saws between 8 and 9 feet long with sapphire teeth, as well as a fixed-point drill that used hard-jewel bits at least 2 tons of drilling force would have been necessary. Another unusual correlation is that twice the perimeter of the coffer's base multiplied by 10^8 yields the radius of the sun, or approximately 427,316 miles.
Originally, there did not appear to be any hieroglyphics inside the tomb, only a mark that indicated the work crew, and rolls of papyrus, which were discovered in 2013, that detailed the last few years of construction. However, research by the Djedi Project in 2011 revealed red-painted hieroglyphs in a chamber leading from a shaft in the Queen's chamber upwards in the direction of the King's chamber. At the end of one of these shafts, a British engineer named Waynman Dixon discovered a bronze tool and a black diorite ball.
Although the purpose of either remains a mystery, they may have been connected to a ceremonial rite called “the opening of the mouth” which a pharaoh's son performed at his father's death. The son had to open the mouth in order to restore life to his dead father and to ensure that the father could eat and drink in the afterlife. This rite was performed using the sacred adze, a tool made of meteoric iron, a rare metal in ancient Egypt.
Although many naysayers allege that the ancient Egyptians possessed little technological expertise, the sophisticated mathematics of Pi and Phi are evidenced in the construction of all the pyramids, particularly the Great Pyramid at Giza. Some scholars believe that the circular ratios are so mathematically accurate that the ancient Egyptians must have understood the concept of pi and phi there is no other explanation for the accuracy of the construction.