|The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) |
Cheops (Khufu). The tomb had been robbed long before
archeologists came upon it. Any information about him was taken with the objects inside the
tomb. He is thought to have been the ruler of a highly structured society and he must have
been very wealthy. He was buried alone in this massive tomb. His wives may have been
buried nearby in smaller mastabas.
The encasing marble which covered the outside of the pyramid has eroded or been removed
over time. With this casing off, the pyramid lost 33 feet (11m) of all of its dimensions. The top
platform is 10m square. The base of the pyramid is 754 feet and covers 13 acres. The original
entrance to the pyramid was about 15m higher than the entrance that is used today.
Apparently Al Mamum, who opened up the new passage, could not find the original opening.
The new passageway leads straight across and joins in with the original passage, the
descending passage. The descending passage led only to a subterranean chamber. This
descending passage that leads down is set at a 26 degree angle that descends down 345 feet
(105m) into the earth under the pyramid. The passageway is only 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11"
(1.2m) high. The chamber is closed to the public. The chamber itself is room that measures
about 46' x 27'1" x 11'6" (14 x 8.3 x 3.5m). There is a passage that leads 100 feet
horizontally to the western side. The purpose of the pit is uncertain. It is possible that it could
have been the burial chamber, but after a change of plan, it was abandoned.
The descending passage beyond where the new entrance meets it, is closed off by a steel
door. The ascending passage rises at the same angle as the descending, 26 degrees. The
ascending passage leads up into the pyramid. The ascending passage is the same dimensions
as the descending, 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. It can be quite a difficult trek for
some people. The passage leads on for 129 feet (39m).
At the point where the ascending passage levels off, you can go two different ways. If you
continue on horizontally, this passageway leads into the Queen's Chamber. The Queen's
Chamber was never used. The floor in this room was never polished, it's still rough.
Egyptologists believe that the chamber was brought to this point and then the builders changed
their minds and moved to the King's Chamber. The possible explanation for the abandonment
is that the sarcophagus built for Cheops was much too large for the narrow passageways that
had already been built. There are ventilating shafts that are another mystery. These shafts are
sealed at the extremities on both shafts. The shafts must have been made as the pyramid went
up, since the builders most likely would not have continued to make the shafts after the
decision to abandon the chamber. It is also thought that these are not actually ventilation
shafts, but more of a religious significance. This could be related to the Ancient Egyptian's
beliefs that the stars are inhabited by gods and souls of the dead.
The second, and more spectacular, way at the leveling off point of the ascending passage, is to
continue upwards to the Grand Gallery. The gallery is 157 feet (48m) long and 28 feet (8.5m)
high and is at the same 26 degree angle as the passages. The roof of the gallery is corbelled. It
is said that not a piece of paper or a needle can be inserted between the stones making up the
roof. The gallery is only 62 inches (1.6m) wide at the bottom and is only 41 inches (1m) wide
at the top of the incline.
The Grand Gallery leads into the King's Chamber. The walls of the chamber are made of pink
Aswan granite. Inside this chamber is the very large sarcophagus made of Aswan red granite,
with no lid. The sarcophagus must have been placed inside the chamber as the pyramid was
being built. It is much too large to have been moved in afterwards, as was the usual custom of
that time. The King's Chamber is 34'4" x 17'2" x 19'1" high (5.2m x 10.8m x 5.8m high). This
chamber also has the possible ventilation shafts as the Queen's Chamber. They are at the same
angle as the shafts in the Queen's Chamber. The thought about the religious significance
applies to these shafts as well. The main feature of the sky at night, was the Milky Way. The
stars were thought to have been the Nile in the sky. The southern shaft from the King's
Chamber points directly to where Orion's Belt would have been in the ancient sky. The
southern shaft of the Queen's Chamber points to Syrius. The northern shaft of the King's
Chamber points to the circumpolar stars. These stars never disappear in the sky. It is thought
that these shafts were to help the spirit of the dead pharaoh find the important stars.
Above this chamber is a series of five relieving chambers which are essential to support the
weight of the stones above and to distribute the weight away from the burial chamber. The top
chamber has a pointed roof made of limestone blocks. This is the most important of the
relieving chambers. In these chambers, are found the only inscriptions in the whole pyramid.
Around the Pyramid
As you come out of the pyramid you can see the remains of the original enclosure wall which
is on the north and east side. It lies about 10m from the base of the pyramid. Little remains of
Cheops' Mortuary Temple. What is left is basalt paving and lies near the east side of the wall.
You may also see occasional traces of the causeway that led from the valley temple in the
village, Nazlat al-Samman, at the foot of the plateau. This causeway collapsed during the last
150 years. Three small pyramids stand to the east of Cheops' pyramid. These are thought to
have been for his sister, Merites, who was also his wife, and possibly two other queens.
To the west of the great pyramid is the Royal Cemetery. It contains 15 mastabas which have
just recently been opened to the public after having been closed for over 100 years.
Discovered at this site was the mummy of a 4,600 year old female. She had a completely
unique plaster encasement that has never been seen or found anywhere else.
At the base of the south face of the Great Pyramid, sits the Boat Pits and Museum. The five
boat pits were discovered in 1982. One boat is located at the site and can be seen at the
museum. The boat, which is encased in the stones, has no nails. It was held together with
ropes and pegs, but not nails, and is amazingly intact. The purpose of these boats may have
been intended for travel to the after-life or to accompany the Sun-God on his journey.