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Last Part - Part 5 of 6 - Next Part

Part V
Inside the Great Pyramid - Pyramid of Khafre - Pyramid of Menkaure
All Photos & Illustrations from Guardian's Giza & Guardian's Abu Roash and sections of Guardian's Egypt



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.

Inside the Great Pyramid

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, showing 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 architecture.

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 seen clearly.

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 Egyptians 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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