The ancient Egyptian pyramids are truly one of the most astounding man-made structures on the face of the earth. I used to think the word pyramid meant something mysterious, or at least pointed to the shape of the magnificent architecture Egypt is famous for. Then I found out that it came from the Greek word pyramis, which referred to a kind of wheat cake. Oh well :-)
The Egyptians called the pyramid mr. The mr was created allegedly to protect royal graves from thieves. The graves, sarcophagus, treasures and supplies of the deceased were situated in various chambers underneath the pyramid.
There are so many records of what a pyramid was used for and what it symbolized. The Egyptian Pyramid was a larger and more sophisticated form of the earlier tombs called mastabas. Then there were the step pyramids before the great, true pyramids recognized by everyone today. According to Egypt's creation mythology, the creator began forming the world on an island that came out of the great primeval ocean. This island was in the shape of a mr or a mastaba. By fashioning tombs with a similar shape, the ancient Egyptians believed that they could harness the unseen magical force that would empower the deceased underneath to wake up from physical death and reincarnate.
The true Egyptian pyramid or mr also represented the solidified form of the rays of the sun. Based on ancient records, the step pyramid was to be the stairway of the deceased pharaohs to reach heaven after their physical death. The pyramid's tip was painted in gold, signifying its use as a seat by the Sun God. All Egyptian pyramids were constructed so that they were in line with the North Pole star. This star was the ancient Egyptians' heaven or gate to the place where one desired to go after his death in the physical world.
Imhotep and the Pyramids
Imhotep. Sounds familiar? The famous linen-clad high priest in the Mummy movie series was named after him. Imhotep was the first Egyptian to erect a step pyramid, particularly for Djoser, the second pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. This is the period roughly from 2686 BCE to 2613 BCE.
vizier and a high priest, Imhotep was also the first architect to use
stone for the pharaoh's pyramid. Instead of using the traditional
mud-bricks and wood for mastabas, Imhotep used only limestone for the
king's mastaba, a six-step pyramid, at Saqqara.
Imhotep enjoyed the patronage and admiration of Djoser while he lived. His name was ordered by Djoser to be placed alongside the pharaoh's on a statue in the entrance colonnade within the pharaoh's complex. No man before Imhotep was granted the honor of having his name written on a monument reserved for royalty. Imhotep grew to be quite famous after his death and throughout the ages. There was an Imhotep cult all
over Egypt and Nubia during the Greco-Roman period, which is ca 332 BCE to 395 CE. He had been worshipped as a god and the Greeks identified him with Asklepius, the god of medicine.
The grandest Egyptian pyramid of all time is the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. Khufu, whom the Greeks called Cheops, was the second Egyptian king of the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Pyramid at Giza is the largest of a system of three main pyramids and a number of smaller pyramids. Egyptologists calculate the age of the Great Pyramid complex to be around 4,690 years old, although many archeologists claim they are much older based on physical signs.
Below are some amazing facts about the Great Pyramid of Khufu:
The pyramids at Giza were designed by priests who were also mathematicians highly knowledgeable in geometry.
The Egyptians knew the value of the pi almost 1,600 years before Archimedes was acknowledged as having approximated the pi.
The sides of the Great Pyramid are almost all symmetrical, with lengths varying by only 0.1%!
Each side precisely faces a true or cardinal point of the compass.
The Egyptians were not known to use a type of compass, which would be invented by the Chinese 2,300 years later.
The Great Pyramid's base is just less than 15 millimeters (less than 0.590 inch) off from being a perfect square!
Compared with many modern structures with the most leveled surfaces,
the Great Pyramid was built on ground that is more precisely leveled.
The smooth casing stones used to cover this Egyptian pyramid were so tightly
packed side by side that it would be difficult to insert paper-thin blades in between!
It is really curious why Khufu, who was said to be very aggressive and determined to outshine his father Khafra, never commissioned a grand statue, mural or monument of himself all over the Great Pyramid.
The only likeness of him found in the pyramid was a three-inch ivory statuette! Perhaps he meant the Great Pyramid itself to represent his magnificence?
A more bizarre fact is that the Great Pyramid might have never been used as a tomb for Khufu's remains. This can also be said of the other two pyramids supposedly built for Khafra and Menkaura. Even counting the possible burglaries by ancient tomb raiders, archeologists say there simply was no evidence of Khufu's sarcophagus, offerings or embalming jars ever being there.
A sarcophagus, plus the many priests and mourners,
not have fit into the narrow entrance and corridors for the traditional
funeral procession. It was as though his pyramid and all of the
pyramids in Giza, for that matter, were never meant to be used as tombs.
What's more, the three main pyramids at Giza are the exact replicas of
the positions of the three main stars that make up the belt of Orion's
Inside the Great Pyramid
Within the majestic Great Pyramid are intricately designed corridors, dead-end passageways, chambers, galleries and shafts. The Descending Passage is the original entrance, then there is the Ascending Passage, the Grand Gallery, an unusual grotto, a subterranean chamber, two main chambers that were dubbed the King's Chamber and the Queen's Chamber.
The King's Chamber measured
10.46 meters long, 5.23 meters wide and 5.81 meters high. You might say
it is not so big a chamber for a king, but what's really amazing is
that its measurements allegedly express the Phi, or the Golden Ratio! I
say allegedly because I do not know how to compute the Phi for a
rectangular room. Anway, if this is true, Fibonacci would be ecstatic:-)
Odd things inside the Great Pyramid. Some of the things that have been found inside Khufu's pyramid were fossils, seashells and a large amount of crystallized sea-salt - not limestone salt - suggesting a flooding by a nearby ocean. There was also evidence that the pyramids have been submerged up to about 14 feet high from the ground. Although the age of the pyramid was placed at some 4,600 years old, the seashells and fossils found inside were around 10,000 to 12,000 years old based on radio-carbon dating.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article about the great Egyptian pyramids. If you would like to know more about the Great Pyramid of Giza, you can check out anthropologist/photographer Martin Gray's fascinating account of its mysteries here.
You can also read about the Egyptians' mummification process here.
OR access the Symbolisms homepage here.