Updated On: November 07, 2023 by Ciaran Connolly
The three pyramids of Giza come as the first item on your to-do list in Cairo, Egypt. We can see that right there. And this goes back to the history hidden inside this place along with those huge buildings built by the Pharaohs. Pharaohs built those pyramids to carry the bodies of their dead bodies along with their belongings – since they appreciated the afterlife and thought about building huge tombs that would fit them and their personal things. Let’s travel in time back to more than 7000 years ago and discover more about the secrets of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
What Are the Pyramids?
Egypt has around a hundred pyramids around its desert where the western bank of the Nile river is located. This is where the sunset occurs, but also where the soul moves towards the afterlife according to the ancient Egyptians (they believed it’s the direction of the afterlife). Among those pyramids stand the Great Pyramids of Giza, the oldest of the world’s seven wonders and the last remaining of them.
Khufu is the largest of them all, named after king Khufu. Khafraa is the middle pyramid. Then goes Mankure, the smallest pyramid, where the queen was buried. In front of the great pyramid, stands the gigantic sphinx statue, the protector of the pyramids with the body of a lion and the face of a human being. The great statue has been standing for thousands of years.
There is no way you’ve never heard about the Great Pyramids of Egypt, or seen them in pictures, videos, on postcards, or even on the tv. We all know the pyramids and probably know that pharaohs built them to be their last resting place after death. But have you ever asked yourself about the deep meaning or the symbolism behind the pyramids and why they were created in the first place?! Here are some secrets about the pyramids in ancient Egypt.
The Deep Meaning Behind the Pyramids
It is believed that there is a deeper symbolism behind the construction of the pyramids than just being burials. The theory is mainly based on the creation story in the Ancient Egyptian religion. In the beginning, there was a Nu (the infinite water) from which Benben (the primeval mound), and upon the sun rose “Atum” the source of all power gave birth to all other Gods, then by turn Gods created lands and humans.
The Benben, is the place where the earth was created and where the God Atum dwelled. The Benben is the stone on the top of a pyramid. As for the shape of the pyramid itself, it is believed to be representing the form of the sun rays coming down to earth.
The Pharaohs believed that they are the descendants of the Gods. And since Pharaohs were sons of Gods, they were buried in pyramids to represent the first creation and make their descent to the after-life in the protection of the sun rays.
The Relation between the Pyramids and Astronomy
Some people actually believed that aliens built the pyramids. Some others believed that ancient Egyptians traveled to the outer space and learned how to build the pyramids. Well, both teams stories are a bit exaggerating. We don’t know for sure how much did the ancient Egyptians know about the secrets of the outer space. But we know for sure that they had a thing for astronomy and what lies in the outer space. Here is another interesting fact about the pyramids! Let us tell you that ancient Egyptians usually named their pyramids after solar luminescence. For instance, They called the Bent Pyramid in Dahshour “The Southern Shining Pyramid”.
Furthermore, most of the pharaohs created their pyramids with a shinning and immensely reflective white limestone on the outer layer. The purpose behind this was to give them a glowing appearance when seen from a distance. This was the case with one of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the great Khufu pyramid. The great pyramid was named “Ikhet”, which means “the glorious light”.
It was said that the pyramid was covered with a shining limestone so that with the reflection of the sun rays on it, it would look like a gigantic glimmering gem when viewed from a big distance. And, if you’re standing on the moon, the pyramid would’ve appeared as a glorious star. You’re probably trying to picture it, right?! Or maybe you wish you lived at this time to see how it looked like! Unfortunately due to the weather changes this layer no longer exists. Also, historians said that Arabs took these stones to build mosques.
Here is another connection between the pyramids and astronomy. Do you know the circumpolar star? It is this dark spot of the night sky around which the sun and the stars revolve (known as the diurnal motion). This spot was known to be the physical entrance to heavens. Surprised enough?!! We haven’t told you everything yet.
An interesting fact about the Great Pyramids of Giza is that the main burial chamber in the Khufu pyramid has a narrow shaft extending from it to the rest of the pyramid and pointing straight towards the circumpolar star. It’s believed that the great pyramid might have been designed to be the bridge where the soul of King Khufu would go directly to the doors of heavens.
The Pyramids of Giza Complex
Egypt almost has the greatest share of the world’s monuments. From the ancient Egyptian civilization to Coptic civilization, the Islamic world and more. But when someone mentions the word “Egypt” in front of you, there is a big possibility that the first thing will pop into your mind is the picture of the pyramids. This is mainly because the Great Pyramids of Giza are the face of the Egyptian civilization and the most important of its monuments.
The Great Pyramids of Giza, or as they’re called The Giza Pyramid Complex, is located on the outer area of the capital, Cairo. The spot is also called “The Giza necropolis”, this is because there is more to the location than just the three pyramids. The spot is home to the great pyramids of Giza: Khufu (Cheops) pyramid, Khafre (Chepren) pyramid, and Menkaure (Mykerinos) pyramid. It’s also home to the great sphinx, many cemeteries, and industrial complex and a workers’ village. Other important monuments at the Giza necropolis are the small satellite edifices which are known as the valley pyramids, “queens” pyramids, and causeways.
Khufu’s Pyramid Complex
The Great Pyramid, or King Khufu’s Pyramid, or Cheops Pyramid, included a valley temple. The valley temple is now lying beneath Nazlet El Samman village. The site where the valley temple is buried has not been excavated yet. Only paving made of basalt and walls of nummulitic limestone has been found. Originally, the valley temple was linked to one of the causeways, but the causeway was destroyed during the construction of Nazlet El-Samman village.
This causeway was reaching to the Mortuary Temple of King Khufu. The temple has also been destroyed by time, and a basalt pavement is the only things that are still remaining from it. The Mortuary Temple by turn was linked to the great pyramid. Most noteworthy, the great pyramid has three small queen’s pyramids related to it in addition to five boat holes. The boat holes actually had a ship placed in them. There are two holes on the southern part of the pyramid that have complete ships, one of these ships has been brought back and put on display.
Who is King Khufu?
King Khufu is the second ruler of the fourth dynasty. The Greek knew him as Cheops. And of course, King Khufu was famous for building the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the world’s seven wonders. Most noteworthy, Pharaoh Khufu’s full name was “Khnum-Khufy”, after the God “Khnum”. If we translate the name it will be “Khnum protect me”. As for his family, King Khufu was the son of the Pharaoh Sneferu and Queen Hetepheres and it’s said that Khufu had three wives.
Moreover, the pharaoh became a ruler during his twenties. It is said that this is when he started to build the great pyramid especially that it took between 20 to 30 years to finish the construction of the great pyramid, so it kind of makes sense. It is also said that Hemiunu, Khufu’s nephew, was the one in charge of the construction project. Believe it or not, around 2,300,000 blocks were moved during the construction of the great pyramid, each one weighs around 2.5 tons.
King Khufu wasn’t only remarkable to the cultures and civilizations following the ancient Egyptian civilization. He was also a renowned king during his time. One of the reasons why King Khufu was famous during his time is that he’s the first Pharaoh to build a pyramid in the area of Giza. But it’s not just about that. That Pyramid which has been surviving through all the climatic conditions, the cultural changes and the various civilizations for thousands of years is the biggest proof of how smart and skilled King Khufu was.
Though his father, pharaoh Senefru, was more famous and more remembered than him. It cannot be denied that Khufu had left a special print in the ancient Egyptian civilization. For instance, King Khufu’s religious practices on the veneration of the dead – known as mortuary or funerary cult – were still performed in the 26th dynasty and even became more common during the Roman era.
But sadly we don’t have much left of King Khufu’s statues, all that was found was found in pieces, that’s beside the pieces which were already lost and never found. There is only one complete small statue of king Khufu left. The small statue is a three-inched high ivory portrait of the king which was found in the year 1903 in a temple at Abydos (near Sohag in Upper Egypt). So basically everything that is known about King Khufu is coming from the texts found in his cemetery at Giza and other documents from later periods. Those documents include the Westcar Papyrus and Papyrus Westcar, a famous example of the cultural tales in ancient Egypt.
Rumor has it that the Great Pyramids of Giza were built using slavery. But the majority of the experienced historians are saying this is not true. They instead suggest that the Great Pyramids of Giza were built using conscripted labor, something like army recruitment. The theory of slavery is mainly coming from Herodotus, the famous Greek historian. When he described King Khufu, Herodotus said that he was a cold-hearted brutal and evil leader, he also said that he prostituted his daughter at a point when he needed money. However, the Westcar Papyrus (a famous text in the ancient Egyptian culture) has proved all of this wrong.
Though it is said that the Westcar Papyrus was written between the time of the 13th dynasty and the 18th dynasty it described how great of both a leader and a person King Cheops was (he was the main character of the texts), that kind who ruled in the 4th dynasty. To get a quick closer look at the Westcar Papyrus, the text is consisting of 5 stories about miracles done by magicians and priests. All the stories are being narrated in the court of King Cheops’s royal palace by his sons.
The Construction of the Great Pyramid
The great pyramid of Khufu was built in the 4th dynasty. The pyramid is currently around 138 meters tall. But when Hemon, the grand architect designed the pyramid, it was 280 Egyptian royal cubits tall, which means it was around 146.6 meters. The mass of the pyramid is estimated to be around 6 million tons with an approximate volume of 2 million and half a million cubic meters.
Each base side was 440 royal cubits, with each royal cubit measuring 0.524 meters. That made it the tallest man-created building in ancient history for around 4000 years. The amazing part about this man-created construction is that it was created with little technology but with lots of innovation and brilliance in the design and the construction process.
It took 20 years to get it finished and hundreds of men working each day non-stop till the year 2560 BC. The Greeks believed that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids through slavery. But now the Egyptologists confirms that those workers were either paid with salaries or deduction of taxes.
The stones were brought from nearby quarries to construct to inner layers of the Pyramid, but the outer layer needed special smooth stones were brought from the South of Egypt through the Nile river. And on the top, a special stone covered in gold was put to represent the Benben. Sadly through time, the pyramid has lost the outer layer due to environmental causes and time damage. The layer we can see now is actually the internal layer.
Interior Design of the Great Pyramid
Let’s take a closer a tour inside this great Pyramid! Starting with the original entrance north of the pyramid, it is around 17 meters high above the ground. Then moving to the descending passage which goes through the pyramid to the bedrock and then we continue to the lower chamber where we can see it’s not finished. Egyptologists believe the chamber is not finished because it was meant to be the original King’s chamber but he had a change of heart and decided to be buried in a higher level.
On the roof of the descending passage there is a square hole which was originally concealed by a stone, here starts the ascending passage, which is as high and wide as the descending passage. It also it slops at the same angle – not enough wonders – to the grand gallery.
The roof of the grand gallery consists of slabs of stone placed at a rather steeper angle than the floor of the gallery so that each stone fits into an opening cut in the top of the gallery like a tooth. As for the upper right corner, there’s a short tunnel to one of the chambers, and if we continued at the start point of the grand gallery we’ll find a horizontal Passage leading to the “Queen’s Chamber”. The Queen’s Chamber is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of the pyramid. Even though there is a chamber for the Queen inside the pyramid, archeologists suggest that it’s not where the queen is buried.
Who is King Khafra?
Khafre, Khefren, Chepren (the pharaoh’s Greek name), or Khafra is the son of King Khufu and another great pharaoh of the 4th dynasty. Khafre was the successor of pharaoh Djedefre, his brother. Most people know Khafre as the builder of the second pyramid of the Great Pyramids of Giza. We know already that some people believe that the great Sphinx of Giza belongs to King Khufu. But some others suggest that the Great Sphinx belongs to King Khafra. Modern Egyptologists believe that the Sphinx was built around 2500 BC.
Like his father Khufu, we don’t know much about Khafra. And like his father, Herodotus the Greek historian described Khafra as a brutal ruler kept the temples closed after his father Khufu has closed them. But apart from all these stories, there is one great fact, the fact that King Khafra has provided us with a great masterpiece in terms of art and architecture. The Pyramid of Khafr has the following pyramid but it’s not quite known who was buried in this pyramid.
Khafre’s Pyramid Complex
The Pyramid of Khafre, also known as the Pyramid of Chephren or Chefren, is both the second-tallest man and the second-largest of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramid was constructed as a burial to King Khafra. The complex of the pyramid contains a valley temple, a causeway, a mortuary temple, the Sphinx temple which is more likely to be built by Khafre, and the pharaoh’s pyramid. In the year 1860, the famous Egyptologist Auguste Mariette found many statues of Khafre in a well inside of the valley temple of King Khafra. Some other statues were found during another excavation in 1909 and 1910.
The complex also included five pits for boats and a connected pyramid with a serdab (a room or tomb for the Ka ‘soul’ statue of the dead person to be placed). Some historians believe that the pyramid was robbed during the time of the 18th dynasty. It’s also said that Ramses II took the stones covering the pyramid to build a temple in Heliopolis.
The base of the pyramid is around 215.5 meters in length while the height measures around 1366. Meters. The pyramid is built of limestone bricks of which each one of them weighs more than 2 tons. The angle of Khara’s Pyramid is different than Khufu’s Pyramid, the pyramid of Khafra actually has a steeper angle. An interesting fact about the pyramid of Khafra is that it was standing on a 10-meter bedrock, which makes it look taller than the pyramid of his father, Khufu. Even though its smaller in regards to both volume and height.
In 1646, the Astronomy professor at the University of Oxford John Greaves described Khafra’s pyramid in his Pyramidographia (a description of the pyramids). Greaves said that even though the blocks used in building the pyramid wasn’t as large as the blocks used in Khufu’s Pyramid, they were softer and finer except for the southern part.
Though the pyramid has two entrances both leading to the burial chamber, and both are located on the northern face of it. One of the entrances is a ground level one, while the other entrance is around eleven and a half meters higher than the ground level. No one knows for sure why the pyramid has two entrances especially that both are found on the northern side of the pyramid. Only theories and logical analysis to why it has two entrances. Furthermore, the ground-level passageway is primarily carved of the bedrock going down, running horizontal, the going up to associate the passageway to the main burial chamber.
There is a theory which suggests that the pyramid has two entrances because the plan was for the pyramid to be larger than his father’s pyramid. Another theory suggests that maybe the plan was changed during the construction and for that, the place of the entrance was changed.
The first time for the pyramid to be scouted during modern times was specifically on March 2, 1818, by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, an Italian explorer. The scouting took place when the entrance of the Pyramid was found. Belzoni’s hopes weren’t met when he couldn’t find an actual burial, but only a sarcophagus and its broken cover on the floor. The Pharaoh’s sarcophagus was engraved of a solid brick of granite and was partially drowned in the floor. Inside the sarcophagus, Giovanni found the bones of an animal. The bones are suggestively the bones of a bull. He also found a bit on the floor and canopic chest placed in it. But as we mentioned before, no one found the evidence of which king Khafra was buried in the pyramid or not.
Those temples in King Khafre’s complex are remaining in a better condition than those of King Khufu’s temples. Moreover, there is a very huge causeway which is extending for four-hundred and ninety-four meter moving past the Sphinx temple to link the valley temple to the mortuary temple created of big red granite blocks with the floors paved in alabaster as well as the interior walls of some of the chambers.
At the eastern direction of the Pyramid, the mortuary temple is located. However, the valley temple is in a better condition than the mortuary temple. Now, the mortuary temple is mainly remaining in ruins, even though it has enough pieces surviving for us to understand the original plan of its construction.
The temple is actually the first temple that included the five basic main elements of mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five spots for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. The temple housed around 50 statues of King Khafre, but unfortunately, these statues were taken and probably recycled by King Ramsis II.
As for the Sphinx temple, it is not quite known for sure the temple belongs to which king. However, it has many similarities regarding the structure to Khafre’s mortuary temple. This supports the theory that assumes King Khafre is the builder of the Sphinx and its temple. With its twenty-four statue-columns standing in the hall of Sphinx Temple, the two sanctuaries and its symmetric design, some experts assume there is a symbolism behind the construction of the temple.
Who Is King Mankaure?
Menkaure, also known as Menkaura, is another great pharaoh from the 4th dynasty and the builder of the smallest of the great pyramids of Giza. Menkaure is also well known for his Hellenized names, the Greek historian Herodotus named him Mykerinos and Manetho named him Menkheres. Greatness runs in Mankaure’s family, he was the son of King Khafra and grandson of King Khufu. Some experts were confused about whether Mankaura was the throne successor of his father or not, but some archaeological evidence suggest that he was the successor of his father.
Of course, we know Mankaure as his name is connected to the great pyramids of Giza, but not everybody knows more about him. The pharaoh is not only famous for his pyramid but is also famous for his stunning statue triads, the statue is portraying the king with his two wives Rekhetre and Khamerenebty.
No one knows for sure how long did Mankaure’s reign last. Manetho the historian believes that his reign lasted for around sixty-three years, but a lot of experts believe that is a bit of an exaggeration. Unfortunately, the Turin Royal Canon (a papyrus that should tell how many years the pharaoh ruled) was damaged so no one could know for sure. However, the remained pieces with the construction process helped experts know it’s around “…+ 8 years of rulership”. So now some Egyptologists believe it is maybe 18 years while others believe they were around 22 years of rulership.
Attempts of Destruction
It’s so sad to say that the Arabs tried to destroy the pyramids. When Egypt was approaching the end of the twelfth century, the second Ayyubid Sultan Al-Malek Al-Aziz Othman Ben Yusuf and the son and successor or the great Saladin the Ayyubid, tried to destroy the great pyramids of Giza. The Sultan started with the smallest pyramid, Mankaure’s pyramid. So he hired workmen to do the job, those workmen worked on the destruction process for eight months but their attempts barely worked. Actually, they came to a conclusion, that the destruction might be even more expensive than the construction process itself.
During the demolition attempts, the workmen tried to use wedges and levers to remove the stones. Some others used ropes to remove the stones from their places. But all of this would only end up by removing one or two blocks a day. Even when the stones fell from their places, they would drown in the sand. Removing the blocks from under the sand also needed effort. After all these trials, they only succeeded to cause some damage to the pyramid’s north face. When you go there you would see a large vertical opening in the middle of the north direction of the pyramid. That’s the damage they were able to cause.
The fact that someone had the thought of actually destroying such a unique piece of art is shocking. But the same stories of destruction are stories of pride. How the pyramids stood through different attempts for damage and demolition proves how great they are. This is not only about a high and gigantic building, we have a lot of that now in the 21st century, but it’s also about a genius creation that survives for thousands of years through all natural and man-caused conditions.
Like its neighbor pyramid complexes, Mankaure’s complex includes a mortuary temple, a valley temple, a causeway, and the pharaoh’s pyramid. The pyramid has three queen’s pyramids connected to it. Unfortunately, Mankaure’s pyramid is the only one out of the three great pyramids of Giza to be left now without any of the glowy limestones that have been covering it for a long time. As for both the valley temple and the mortuary temple, they were both homes to many of King Mankaure’s statues.
These statues included a breath-taking diad for the king and Khamerernebty II his main wife. This statue is being displayed now in the museum of fine arts in Boston. There are also statues found in the court of the valley temple portraying the kind being circled by different Gods. It’s believed that neither the valley temple nor the mortuary temple was completed before the king’s death. During the excavation process, the excavators found writings in the mortuary temple that says “made it as his monument for his father”. Most noteworthy, the valley temple we believed to be reconstructed again by the end of the 6th dynasty as it was destroyed by the flood.
Mankaure’s pyramid is the smallest and the last of the three great pyramids of Giza. Just like the three other pyramids, the pyramid of King Menkaure is constructed for the purpose of being a burial to the kind following the footsteps of his father and grandfather. The pyramid’s name was “Netjer-er-Menkaure” which is translated in English to “Menkaure is Divine”.
The pyramid’s original measure was around 65.5 meters height, but now only 61 meters are remaining from it. Experts do not know for sure how long did Menkaure’s reign be. And as a result to this, they also do not know what the exact date of the pyramid’s construction was. Some of them believe it was completed around the 26th century BC. Furthermore, the pyramid has three subsidiary satellite pyramids, each of them has its own temple. The pyramid on the south is the most complete and has more similarities to Mankaure’s pyramid than the others.
During his visit to Egypt, the Major General Richard Howard Vyse the British soldier and Egyptologist, discover a man like a wooden coffin in the upper antechamber of the pyramid in July 1837. The wooden coffin had human bones and had inscriptions with King Mankaure’s name. Later on and when the experts have done the carbon dating method on the bones to determine their age turned out the bones’ age is less than 2,000 years. Experts have two theories regarding this point: some believe those human bones are from a different site and were brought and left in the coffin, or maybe someone accessed the pyramid during the Roman period.
As he did further discoveries, Vyse found a sarcophagus made of black basalt deeper inside the pyramid. This sarcophagus was said to be stunning especially with its beautifully carved details. The beautiful sarcophagus had the bones of a young woman. It was one of a few sarcophagi surviving from the Old Kingdom till the modern period. Unfortunately, the sarcophagus is now lying under the deep waters of the Mediterranean Sea. During the process of moving it from the pyramid to the British Museum the ship – Beatrice – which was transporting it got lost in 1838. Luckily, the cover of the wooden manlike coffin and other materials were found in the pyramid made it to the British Museum as they were transported by another ship.
The Great Sphinx
Known for being the guardian of the Pyramids, the great Sphinx is the world’s largest and oldest sculptures and the most mysterious of them all. It stood there for thousands of years and witnessed different civilizations. No one is certain when the Sphinx was built, for what reason, and by whom or for whom. However, it had and still has great fame worldwide. The statue is made of limestone. Portraying a mythic creature with the body of a lion and the face of a man. The Sphinx of Giza is located towards to west bank of the Nile and is facing from west to east.
The Sphinx, also known as the Sphinx of Giza or Abu Al Hawl, is widely believed to be representing King Khafre the builder of the middle pyramid. It’s strongly believed that the Sphinx was carved during the Old Kingdom. However, its original name is one of the secrets connected to it. No one knows what the builders called it back then and it’s not even mentioned in any of the inscriptions found about the Old Kingdom. There are also no inscriptions found describing the method of its construction or the purpose of it.
Through times, the sphinx was referred to with different names. For instance, during the New Kingdom people referred to it as the solar God “Hor-em-akhet”, meaning “Horus of the Horizon”. As a part of its significance too, the pharaoh Thutmose IV mentioned him in what so called his “Dream Stele“. It’s also said that the pharaoh built a huge wall around the gigantic statue to protect it.
The Sphinx was abandoned, as well as the necropolis of Giza, actually more than once. The sphinx was buried under the sand. King Thutmose IV was known to be the first one to excavate the site of the Giza necropolis and dig out parts of the Sphinx. That’s when he placed his “Dream Stele”, in which he said about the great statue:
“The royal son, Thothmos, being arrived, while walking at midday and seating himself under the shadow of this mighty god, was overcome by slumber and slept at the very moment when Ra is at the summit [of heaven]. He found that the Majesty of this august god spoke to him with his own mouth, as a father speaks to his son, saying: Look upon me, contemplate me, O my son Thothmos; I am thy father, Harmakhis-Khopri–Ra–Tum; I bestow upon thee the sovereignty over my domain, the supremacy over the living … Behold my actual condition that thou mayest protect all my perfect limbs. The sand of the desert whereon I am laid has covered me. Save me, causing all that is in my heart to be executed.”
Where Did the Sphinx’s Nose and Beard Go?!
If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian history, then you probably heard many stories about how the great Sphinx lost his nose. Well, just like a lot of mysteries and secrets around the statue and the three great pyramids, no one knows for sure how the Sphinx lost his nose. Let’s surprise you more?! The Sphinx did not just lose his nose but he also lost his beard.
The nose measures around one-meter-wide. According to different examinations of the statue’s face, it turned out that the nose was broken due to the usage of chisels or rod that were pounded on it. One of those rods was pounded under the nostril and another one was pounded down from the bridge.
Al Maqrizi, an Arab historian, wrote in the 15th century suggesting that the nose was lost due to a religious rejection of the statue. Al Maqrizi said that “Muhammad Sa’im Al Dahr”, a Sufi Muslim, tried to break the nose in 1378 AD. Sa’im Al Dahr did that after he saw local farmers proposing offering to the Great Sphinx in hopes to increase the harvest of their crops. That’s when he got angry and destroyed the nose.
Most noteworthy, Muhammad Sa’im Al Dahr was hanged later for the acts of destroying the public properties. Furthermore, in his descriptions of the Great Sphinx, Al Maqrizi described him as the “talisman of the Nile”. A talisman is an item that holds a great fortune, magic or luck within it. In other words, the common people believed that the Sphinx could affect the flood cycle.
The story of Sa’im Al Dahr wasn’t the only story told about the Sphinx’s nose. In fact, there is a more famous story. Through time, people actually believed that Napoleon and his soldiers were the ones who destroyed the nose of the great statue using cannonballs. But this story is proven wrong, as the Dane Frederic Louis Norden, a Danish explorer drew sketches of the Sphinx without the nose in 1738 and published them in 1757. The sketches were drawn and published before the birth of Napoleon, as he was born in 1769.
There are many other variants of the nose story. Some say that the British troops destroyed it. Some other believe the Mamluks did. Other people believe it was destroyed by the Turkish. But only the Sphinx himself knows what happened to his nose!
The nose was not the only thing the great statue lose. In fact, he also lost his beard at some point. But the beard has a different story. The Egyptologist Vassil Dobrev had an important theory regarding the beard of the Sphinx, he believed the beard was attached to the statue after it was primarily built. The theory suggests that if the beard was originally created with the creation of the Sphinx, it would have destroyed the chin of the Sphinx when it fell down. But there is no seen damage to the chin, and this supports the theory that says the chin is not original.
Another interesting fact about the pyramid is that had marks of red pigment seen on his face. There are also marks of yellow and blue pigment seen around the rest of the body. Mark Lehner, the American archaeologist, said about the great monument that it “was once decked out in gaudy comic book colors”.
Equally important, the name “the Sphinx” we all know the statue for was not actually used before 2000 years ago. The name “sphinx” actually has a connection to this beast from the Greek mythology who had the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle who killed every person who couldn’t solve her mystery. Even though the Egyptian Sphinx did not have wings.
People referred to the statue with different names throughout history but never disagreed on its greatness. Arab Medieval writers called it “balhib” or “bilhaw” for instance. While modern Arabs call it “Abu Al Hawl” or “Abu Al Hul” which is translated in English as “The Father of Terrors” or “The Terrifying One”.
The Workers’ Village
All the work was done in the process of building the three great pyramids, the temples, the causeways, the Sphinx and everything else, of course, required thousands and thousands of workers, very skilled and dedicated workers actually. And the presence of this many workers also required other resources like food, water, etc. So for example, bakers were needed, carpenters were needed, and workers who did carry water around the site were also needed.
Many things are mysterious when it comes to the pyramids and the ways of their construction. The exact number of workers is also mysterious. That’s a pretty huge project and it needed tens of thousands of workers throughout dozens of years.
The Greek historian Herodotus when he visited Egypt in 450 BC talked much to the Egyptian priests about the pyramids. The priests told Herodotus that “the Great Pyramid had taken 400,000 men 20 years to build, working in three-month shifts 100,000 men at a time.” However, experts found much evidence from the tombs in the site proving that it took around 30 years to build every pyramid and 10,000 workmen who worked in three-month shifts to complete the pyramids.
Mark Lehner is a famous American archaeologist who actually spent 30 years of his life excavating and discovering the pyramids. During his excavation, Mark and his team found a huge wall made of stone around the pyramids’ complex. The team discovered a whole worker’s village outside of the wall, located exactly towards the southeastern direction of both Khafre and Mankaure complexes.
Sleeping spots, bakeries, breweries, kitchens, a hospital, and a cemetery were found during the excavation process in the village. Some human bones found to show some damage related to accidents happened during the construction process. According to Lehner, the construction might have taken from 30 to 50 years. Evidence also show that the workers’ village dates back to the 4th dynasty and exactly during the construction of both Khafre and Mankaure’s pyramids.
The Cemeteries around the Pyramids
Since it required thousands of workers to almost live there by the pyramids during the construction process. There had to be cemeteries for those who weren’t royal, like the workmen and the carpenters for instance. There were also cemeteries for the families, sons, and wives of the dynasty royals. The royal cemeteries mainly are located in cemetery G 700, G 1200, and G 4000. Some expansion happened to these cemeteries during the 4th and 5th dynasties.
In the year 1990, tombs of the workmen who built the pyramids complexes were found near the pyramids. Another burial was found in 2009. The dead bodies weren’t mummified as mummification wasn’t for everyone, only for those who can afford it. But beer and bread were found in the workmen’s tombs, it was put with them to help them in the afterlife. All of this proves the theory that says pyramid definitely wasn’t constructed by slavery. Those men were actually paid or worked for their taxes to be deducted.
Night at the Pyramids
Sure the pyramids have a great historical value that a person would love to keep digging more into its mysteries. But there is another side you need to know about. We all know the pyramids as a place we can visit in the morning and spend the daytime there riding horses and camels as well as taking tours around the monuments and of course taking pictures.
But have you ever imagined how great it would be to visit the great pyramids of Giza at night?! It is actually possible, yes!! The good news is that Egypt organizes many events and performances at the pyramids at night. This includes the famous sound and light show where the magnificent historical stories are told by the Great Sphinx.
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting Cairo or staying in it when there is one of the big events taking place then you better seize the opportunity and go. You better not miss something like this! Seriously, do you want to miss the opportunity of enjoying the view of the three pyramids and the sphinx under the moon and the stars?! With the Sphinx standing there with his head high up in the sky telling the stories he witnessed through history. That’d be an awesome experience!
It would take us forever to write or read about the secrets of the great pyramids of Giza and we’ll never unravel all the secrets. But the more we know the more we’ll be fascinated and more curious. The ancient Egyptians had one of the grandest civilizations in the history that the world is still learning from up till now. And the pyramids are one of the most important faces of this great civilization. With all the known and unknown symbolism, the greatness and the mysteries lying behind them the great pyramids of Giza will remain an artistic masterpiece and a world great wonder no matter how many years pass by.