|The old kings slumber in their pyramids,|
Likewise the noble and the learned, but some
Who builded tombs have now no place to rest .....
|"Lay of the Harper"|
here are many pyramids, not just the three at Giza. At least another 80 exist in Egypt while in Sudan there are over 100 later and smaller examples. The Giza Pyramids are the most famous, being so impressive in construction, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World still standing.
These pyramids were simply the burial places of the pharaohs situated on the west bank of the Nile where the dead were traditionally buried. They formed part of a large group of buildings which included temples and the tombs of lesser members of the royal family, priests and court officials.
The Step Pyramid
Until the 3rd Dynasty the traditional royal tomb had been a mastaba, a flat-topped building with sloping sides. Burial chambers were cut into the rock beneath them. The Step Pyramid at Saqqara had originally been a mastaba but at some stage, under the guidance of the architect Imhotep, it grew into a six-tiered pyramid. The remains of this are what we see today.
Imhotep's Step Pyramid, built for King Djoser around
2650 BC, overlooked the ancient capital of Memphis as part of a complex of funerary buildings. It is the oldest large stone building in the world.
The Bent Pyramid
Over the next century pyramid style underwent several changes. South of Saqqara King Sneferu built the so-called 'Bent' Pyramid which was not tiered but straight sided except for a curious change of angle in the middle. It was Sneferu's son, Khufu, who selected the site at Giza for, what was to become, the most spectacular pyramid of all.
In its original state the Great Pyramid rose 481ft (160m) with an estimated 2,500,000 blocks of stone. Its size has prompted people to calculate some fascinating statistics. The area covered is large enough to hold the cathedrals of Florence, Milan and St. Peters in Rome, as well as St. Pauls and Westminster Abbey in London. Napoleon estimated that there was enough stone contained within the three pyramids at Giza to build a wall 10ft high (3m) and 1ft thick (30cm) all the way around France. The four sides, each over 700ft long (230m) are aligned on true north, south, east and west.
The Pyramids at Giza
The millions of blocks of stone are of three types. The great bulk is of poor quality limestone that was quarried locally. Much finer white limestone was mined at Tura further up the Nile. Blocks of granite, some weighing more than 50 tons, were used to line the internal chambers. This was quarried at Aswan, some 500 miles (800km) away. With quarries close to the Nile, as were the pyramids, the stones could be carried by raft to the construction site.
Associated with the pyramids of Giza is the Sphinx. It is situated in a slight depression on the Giza platform about quarter of a mile from the Great Pyramid and represents a creature with a human body and a lion's head. It was hewn out of the solid rock over 4500 years ago and is 70ft at the highest point. The body is about 150ft long and the paws 50ft. The head is 30ft long with a width of 14ft. The face of the sphinx looks towards the rising sun and is possibly the likeness of Khafre.