The Great Pyramids at Giza The architectural form most closely identified with Egypt is the true pyramid with a square base and four sloping triangular faces, first erected in the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2450 bce). The angled sides may have been meant to represent the slanting rays of the sun, for inscriptions on the walls of pyramid tombs built in the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties tell of deceased kings climbing up the rays to join the sun god Ra. Although not the first pyramids, the most famous are the three great pyramid tombs at Giza (fig. 3-5). These were built by three successive Fourth-Dynasty kings: Khufu (ruled c. 2551- 2528 bce), Khafre (ruled 2520-2494 bce), and Menkaure (ruled c. 2490- 2472 bce). The oldest and largest pyramid at Giza is that of Khufu, which covers 13 acres at its base. It was originally finished with a thick veneer of polished limestone that lifted its apex to almost 481 feet, some 30 feet above the present summit. The pyramid of Khafre is slightly smaller than Khufu’s, and Menkaure’s is considerably smaller. Fig. 3-5 GREAT PYRAMIDS, GIZA Fourth Dynasty, c. 2575-2450 bce. Erected by (from the left) Menkaure, Khafre, and Khufu. Limestone and granite, height of pyramid of Khufu, 450′ (137 m). Credit: © Olga Kostenko/Shutterstock The site was carefully planned to follow the sun’s east-west path. Next to each of the pyramids was a funerary temple connected by a causeway—an elevated and enclosed pathway or corridor—to a valley temple on the bank of the Nile (fig. 3-6). When a king died, his body was embalmed and ferried west across the Nile from the royal palace to his valley temple, where it was received with elaborate ceremonies. It was then carried up the causeway to his funerary temple and placed in its chapel, where family members presented offerings of food and drink, and priests performed rites in which the deceased’s spirit consumed a meal. These rites were to be performed at the chapel in perpetuity. Finally, the body was entombed in a vault deep within the pyramid at the end of a long, narrow, and steeply rising passageway. This tomb chamber was sealed off after the burial with a 50-ton stone block. To further protect the king from intruders, three false passageways obscured the location of the tomb. Fig. 3-6 RECONSTRUCTION DRAWING OF THE GIZA PLATEAU SEEN FROM ABOVE From left to right: the temples and pyramids of Menkaure, Khafre, and Khufu. Credit: Russell Barnett © Dorling Kindersley Constructing the Pyramids Building a pyramid was a formidable undertaking. A large workers’ burial ground discovered at Giza attests to the huge labor force that had to be assembled, housed, and fed. Most of the cut stone blocks—each weighing an average of 2.5 tons—used in building the Giza complex were quarried either on the site or nearby. Teams of workers transported them by sheer muscle power, employing small logs as rollers or pouring water on mud to create slippery surface over which they could drag the blocks on sleds. Scholars and engineers have various theories about how the pyramids were raised. Some ideas have been tested in computerized projections and a few models on a small but representative scale have been constructed. The most efficient means of getting the stones into position might have been to build a temporary, gently sloping ramp around the body of the pyramid as it grew higher. The ramp could then be dismantled as the stones were smoothed out or slabs of veneer were laid. The designers who oversaw the building of such massive structures were capable of the most sophisticated mathematical calculations. They oriented the pyramids to the points of the compass and may have incorporated other symbolic astronomical calculations as well. There was no room for trial and error. The huge foundation layer had to be absolutely level and the angle of each of the slanting sides had to remain constant so that the stones would meet precisely in the center at the top. Khafre’s Complex Khafre’s funerary complex is the best preserved. Its pyramid is the only one of the three to have maintained some of its veneer facing at the top. But the complex is most famous for the great sphinx that sits just behind Khafre’s valley temple. This colossal portrait of the king—65 feet tall—combines his head with the long body of a crouching lion, seemingly merging notions of human intelligence with animal strength (fig. 3-7). Fig. 3-7 GREAT SPHINX, FUNERARY COMPLEX OF KHAFRE Giza. Old Kingdom, c. 2520-2494 bce. Limestone, height approx. 65′ (19.8 m). Credit: © Orlandin/Shutterstock In the adjacent valley temple, massive blocks of red granite form walls and piers supporting a flat roof (fig. 3-8). A clerestory (a row of tall, narrow windows in the upper walls, not visible in the figure), lets in light that reflects off the polished Egyptian alabaster floor. Fig. 3-8 VALLEY TEMPLE OF KHAFRE Giza. Old Kingdom, c. 2520-2494 bce. Limestone and red granite. Credit: Werner Forman Archive Within the temple were a series of over-life-size statues portraying khafre as an enthroned king (fig. 3-9). The falcon god Horus perches on the back of the throne, protecting the king’s head with his wings. Lions—symbols of regal authority—form the throne’s legs, and the intertwined lotus and papyrus plants beneath the seat symbolize the king’s power over Upper (lotus) and Lower (papyrus) Egypt. Khafre wears the traditional royal costume—a short, pleated kilt, a linen headdress, and a false beard symbolic of royalty. He exudes a strong sense of dignity, calm, and above all permanence. In his right hand, he holds a cylinder, probably a rolled piece of cloth. His arms are pressed tightly within the contours of his body, which is firmly anchored in the stone block from which it was carved. The statue was created from an unusual stone, a type of gneiss (related to diorite) imported from Nubia that produces a rare optical effect: When illuminated by sunlight entering through the temple’s clerestory, it glows a deep blue, the celestial color of Horus, filling the space with a blue radiance. Fig. 3-9 KHAFRE From Giza, valley temple of Khafre. Fourth Dynasty, c. 2520-2494 bce. Diorite-gabbro gneiss, height 5’6⅛” (1.68 m). Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (JE 10062 = CG 14).