Egypt was home to the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world with fascinating art and culture. The most powerful legacy they left behind were the Great Pyramids of Giza, which were built to last forever. Today these monumental tombs – constructed between 2500 and 2490 B.C – are remainders of Egypt’s Old Kingdom era and make Giza one of the top places to visit in Africa.
The pyramids of Giza are not the only pyramids in that were built. There are more than a hundred small pyramids still evident today though most of them are damaged.
When people died they would be buried in the desert sand but their graves were dug up by wild animals and thieves who wanted to steal the things they were buried with. The dead used to be buried with items they thought would be of use in the afterlife because ancient Egyptians believed that life continued after death. Egyptian pharaohs were expected to become gods in the afterlife, so in their tombs, they were buried with things a ruler needed like boats, chariots, clothing, jewellery, games, weapons, oil and ointments.
In order to protect the dead and the property they were buried with, they started building flat tombs called Mastabas out mad bricks and stone.
Later on, an architect called Imhotep developed the idea of building a stack of Mastabas on top of each other resulting into a step pyramid. He is believed to be the mind behind the construction of Djoser’s six-step pyramid at Saqqara – 10 miles south of Giza; who was the third dynasty Egyptian pharaoh in the 27th Century B.C.
The step pyramids were meant to be a giant stairway for the souls of pharaohs to climb into the heavens.
Evolution Of The Pyramids
Over time, grave making progressed from step-pyramids and the first king of the fourth dynasty, King Sneferu, decided he wanted a smooth-sided pyramid for his tomb. Three pyramids were built before the pharaoh was pleased. It is the third pyramid called the Red Pyramid at Dahshur that is believed to the first true pyramid to be built in Egypt.
Following King Sneferu was King Khufu who decided in 2500 B.C to build his own pyramid, bigger and better than the Red Pyramid. The result was the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest pyramid ever built with an estimated 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons over a period of 20 years. At 481 feet or 147 meters high on 13.1 acres, it is was the tallest man-made structure on earth for nearly 4,000 years. The construction materials were transported 500 miles from the site and the pyramid was encased in polished white limestone.
Khufu also constructed 2 temples for his honour after his death and three smaller pyramids for his wives to be buried in.
Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid at Giza in 2520 B.C. It covers 11.5 acres and is 471 feet high. His burial ground also included the Sphinx, a mythical limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head. It is one of the oldest and largest statues in the world. It is 73 meters long and 20 meters high
Pharaoh Menkaure in 2490 B.C. constructed the third Giza Pyramid which is considerably smaller than the first two but features a much more complex mortuary temple. This pyramid on 2.9 acres and is 218 feet tall.
People including scientists today have wondered for thousands of years how it was possible to build something of this magnitude with the technology available at the time.
What is known archaeological discoveries is that the builders were skilled, energetic Egyptian workers who lived in highly organized communities which had a strong central authority rich with resources.
How Were The Pyramids Built?
The white limestone that was used to cover the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre was got from a quarry at Tura along the Nile’s banks along with the granite beams that were used for the inner chambers.
At the Giza quarries and sites along the Nile, stone blocks were cut and transported to the construction sites by sledges that were pulled by cattle and men. As they dragged them, water would be poured on the sand before the sledges passed over as a way to reduce friction. Researchers have simulated this technique to great success.
Stones from quarries of Tura and Aswan were transported by cargo boats especially when the Nile flooded from August to October. The water would reach the pyramid construction site making transportation by boat possible. The Egyptians even dug canals that remained flooded to allow the use of boats even in the low season.
The exact methods the ancient Egyptians used to stack multiple blocks of stones to create a pyramid remains a mystery but some ideas have been suggested and agreed. Some methods they could have used include the straight-on ramp, a switchback or wrap-around design, and the ramp rubble.
The manpower needed for the pyramids’ construction came from young men from the villages especially during the rainy season when the farming fields were flooded. They owed the Pharaohs the service in the feudal government system.
How To Get To The Pyramids
Though there are many pyramids in Egypt, the main attractions are the great pyramid of Khufu, the pyramid of Khafre and the pyramid of Menkaure. They are not only Egypt’s top attractions but the only remaining wonder of the original Seven Wonders of the World that are still standing.
By bus, you can board from Midan Tahir, the largest public square in the centre of Cairo. You can also inquire from your hotel if you can get a bus tour. This normally has a tour guide that will assist you with the tour. It is important to note that Cairo Transport Authority buses are available from the airport as well.
By a cab, you can easily spot the black and white taxis that you can hire to the pyramids. It is important to negotiate your fare before setting off and have money in small bills for easy transactions.
Travel by both cab and bus can take about 20 minutes to get to the pyramids from Cairo city and 30 minutes from Cairo airport.
Activities That You Should Engage In
A good view of the pyramids may be your main activity while entering them would bring more excitement to the tour. However, climbing inside the pyramids needs one to be fit since the climbs are narrow and steep. The entry fee to the Giza pyramids site is about 160 Egyptian pounds which is about USD 10 while entry inside the Great Pyramid will cost you about 360 Egyptian pounds which is about USD 21.
You should spare time to visit the Giza Pyramids sound and light show where you will get in-depth details of the history of Giza in various international languages.
The camel rides around the pyramids are available daily from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm. It is an enjoyable 2-hour ride that can cost up to USD 49. You can also opt for a horse ride.
Do you wonder why the Egyptian pharaohs chose that shape for their tombs and built them so large? Well, it is believed they copied the pyramid-shaped stone called the Bonbon found in the temples; which the Egyptians believed were a source of life.
The Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt remain the most famous of all historical sites receiving over 8 million visitors every year. They have inspired the creation of great movies like The Pyramid, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Building of the Great Pyramid, Land of the Pharaohs and documentaries like The Revolution of the Pyramids.