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The Inside Plan of the Great Pyramid
The inside chambers of
the Great Pyramid are a little different from
all others. The entrance is on the northern
face, although there is another entrance forced
long ago by Arab treasure-hunters which is now
used for entering the pyramid. The original
entrance leads to a tunnel going low. After some
distance, this tunnel is divided in two paths.
One tunnel goes upwards, and the original
low-going tunnel leads to an unfinished
underground chamber. This is called the
'Subterranean Chamber'. Normally this is where
the King is supposed to be buried. But the fact
that this room is incomplete suggests that Khufu
later decided to have his burial chamber above
ground level, right inside the pyramid. No one
had done this previously.
The up-going branch of the main tunnel leads to the above-ground burial
chamber of the Pharaoh through a Grand Gallery. This Gallery is a
'corbelled-stone' gallery. Corbelled means that the stone blocks of the wall
of this gallery are protruded more and more into the corridor, thus making
the walls become narrower and narrower to the roof. The reason for doing
this is purely architectural -- to support the weight of the heavy stones of
the roof, which would be difficult if the wall was totally flat.
Sketch of the Corbelled Stone Gallery
Photograph showing the Grand Gallery. You can see the corbelled
stone, moving inside as the wall reaches the roof. The gallery is
slightly inclining upwards to the Burial Chamber.
Empty granite sarcophagus in King Khufu's Chamber, put in
place before the ceiling was built onto this room. Over the centuries
the coffer has been damaged. The lid is also missing. The walls are conspicuously bare and uninscribed. Only in
later pyramids would hieroglyphs adorn the walls of the inner chambers.
After passing the 'Grand Gallery', you come to a small chamber called the
'Antechamber'. In the antechamber, four gigantic stone blocks blocked the
entrance to the King's Chamber from robbers and intruders. These blocks are
called 'portcullis blocks'. After the 'Antechamber' is the burial chamber of the King. In
the middle of Burial Chamber, we find the granite sarcophagus of Khufu
totally empty. The granite lid is also long gone. The mummy, naturally, is
missing too. Probably, later Egyptians desecrated the tomb, as Khufu was not
very popular among them. A lower tunnel starting at the lower portion of the
inclining Grand Gallery leads to another chamber called the 'Queen's
Chamber', which is right below the King's burial chamber. But no mummy or
sarcophagus of a queen has been discovered here. Very likely no queen was
even buried here. Probably the purpose of
this chamber was to keep a life-size statue of the Pharaoh which represented
his 'ka' soul, this chamber is commonly called the 'serdab'.
This statue niche in the Queen's Chamber is thought to have housed a
life-size statue of the Pharaoh, symbolizing his 'soul'.
Two shafts in the Queen's Chamber. None of them open on the outside
like similar ones in the King's Chamber. A robot has explored
these shafts, but the shaft is plugged with stone blocks in two places.
A narrow shaft connects the upper and lower tunnels -- which was probably
made later and is now called the 'service corridor'. Two more mysterious
shafts are found in the burial chamber -- called 'air shafts' -- which
open outside the pyramid, probably was constructed for ventilation, at least
that is the use now. Similar shafts are also found in the Queen's Chamber. But
these do not open outside the pyramid, they stop after some 240 feet
distance through the pyramid! The proper purpose of these is not
known. A robot was sent through one of these in the 1990s which, after 250
feet ascent, found the
shaft to be closed by a limestone plug with two small pieces of copper
attached to it. This was the famous Upuaut Project. In 2002, covered by
live TV, the robot again returned with the tools to pierce the stone
block. But when the camera was entered through the tiny hole the shaft is
found closed with yet another stone block! We will have to wait until
archaeologists find what's behind these mysterious doors.
The Great Pyramid does not have any texts curved or painted on its stone
anywhere. The later pyramids had colorful texts and illustrations of the
Pharaoh's deeds in his life before death. They also had spells written all
around, which are called the 'Pyramid Texts' -- these were the predecessors
of the 'Book of the Dead' -- the mortuary bible of the Ancient Egyptians.
But Khufu's Pyramid does not have anything of that sort, with only one
exception. Above the burial chamber has been found some sealed chambers one
above the other. These were built to relieve the pressure of stones on the
Burial Chamber. In these 'Weight-Relieving Chambers' have been found
hieroglyphics written by the pyramid builders. These texts are the only
physical proof of Khufu's ownership of this pyramid.
Remains of Djedefre's pyramid at Abu Rawash,
the descending passageway that once led to his burial chamber. All
the remaining superstructure is destroyed, exposing the inside
corridors and chambers.
After Khufu's death, his son Djedefre (ruled c. 2528 - 2520 BC, the first
Pharaoh to use the name of the solar god Re in his name, a tradition to be
carried on for over 2000 years, his name means 'Son of Re') built himself a
pyramid at Abu Rawash or Abu Roash, 5 miles north of Giza. This pyramid is now completely destroyed, probably it
was not completed even -- because of the short reign of Djedefre. But it's
still worth a visit, because you get to see the inside chambers without
having to get into any narrow tunnels!
Pyramid of Djedefre
Pharaoh Khafre - Khufu's successor builder in Giza. Built the
second pyramid which he called the 'Great
Pyramid'. This seated statue was found in his valley temple.
After Djedefre, another son of Khufu, Khafre (Cephren in Greek,
ruled c. 2520 - 2494 BC) became Pharaoh and returned to the Giza plateau for
his tomb. The pyramid he constructed is only 10 meters shorter than his
father's. But as it is situated higher up the plateau, it looks higher than
the Great Pyramid! This probably Khafre did on purpose. Khafre's pyramid is
not very perfect geometrically either. The two diagonal points don't exactly
fall on a straight line, as a result the cap of the pyramid is a little
bit twisted. The limestone casing is intact around the top -- which really
shines nicely on moonlit nights. Khafre boastfully called his pyramid 'The
Great Pyramid'. The pyramid complex has an impressive valley temple made of
red granite. A life-size seated statue of the King has been found here. It
also has a clerestory hall which had considerable influence on later
The Pyramid of Khafre at night.
The Mighty Sphinx. It has the face of Khafre, its builder, and
the body of a lion.
The Pyramid of Khafre
Another of Khafre's achievements is the Sphinx. Everybody knows this
human-faced, lion-bodied giant statue of Giza! Khafre was the builder of
this statue. The face of the Sphinx is also his. The animal stands at right
angles with the eastern face of Khafre's pyramid, as if guarding it. The
limestone head of the Sphinx is quite well-preserved today, but due to poor
quality and rough workmanship, the rest of the body stones has been damaged
considerably. It has now been restored. A
temple is situated at the paws of the Sphinx, called the 'Sphinx Temple'. It
contained 10 colossal statues of Khafre.
Menkaure, the last Pharaoh to build
a pyramid at Giza
The Pyramid of Menkaure seen from
air -- it is the smallest of the
Giza pyramids. The satellite
pyramids and the mortuary temple are
The third and last pyramid in Giza was constructed by Khafre's son
Menkaure (Mykerinos in Greek, ruled c. 2490 - 2472 BC). This one is much
smaller compared to the two neighboring giants. The inside chambers are roughly cut
in some places, as if the work was done in a hurry. Probably, the
unexpected death of the Pharaoh forced the builders to complete it as
quickly as possible. Like other pyramids, this one was also supposed to have
a casing with granite. But, only the lower portion of the base was cased, which
can be seen now. Menkaure's pyramid also has a pyramid complex with three satellite
pyramids. Menkaure called his pyramid 'The Divine Pyramid'. His is the most
technically advanced and elaborate pyramid.
The Pyramid of Menkaure
All this pyramid-building exerted immense pressure on the common
in the form of taxes and labor. The Pharaohs were competing with each other
to build pyramids, and they were not probably paying enough attention to the
construction of temples. So, the priests were also dissatisfied with their
kings. This is probably why later Egyptians hated to even pronounce the name
of Khufu and his name was obliterated from everywhere. Herodotus in his
History also says the same thing. Anyhow, pyramids continued to be
built, but in a smaller scale.
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