November 16, 2022
Erosion, disintegration, conspirology, and OMG-views: the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt.
As promised, herewith, a continuation of tales and pics and musings from my recent trip to Egypt. I’ll pass over the business segment of the trip (as it was much the same as most business segments when traveling: meetings, new acquaintances, discussions, new products, cyber immunity, and plans for the future), and get straight to our first tourism – the Giza Pyramids, no less (plus a spot of Kasperology)…
The Pyramids of Giza are probably one of the most popular and well-trodden places of interest to the tourist in the world – fantastical objects a gobsmacked public has been beholding with wonder for 4500 years already. Down the years terabytes of photos have been taken of them, zillions of tales written about them, and gazillions of scientific articles and assorted other dissertations published about them – and all that came before my short trip to see them the other week. Nevertheless, I wanted to take some photos of my own to share with you, and also to add my two cents in terms of observations and impressions of, and thoughts on, these wondrously wonderful wonders of the world…
So here we go: Cairo, Giza, the ancient Egyptian Pyramids…
My first impression: complete and utter ecstatic delight. Primordial, colossal constructions built several millennia ago! Just imagine the things they’ve endured and outlived! And did you know they were once coated in smooth granite tiles, or that the upper sections were covered in similarly smooth, perfectly white limestone? (Our guide also mentioned how there’s a hypothesis that states the peaks were covered in gold, or at least gold-colored stone.) One can only begin to wonder how grandiose such a spectacle must have been. What a civilization! And soooo long ago!
The largest of the Pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza. It’s reckoned to be made up of around 2.5 million (!) stone blocks. That crazy number takes on more craziness when you think how every single block needed to be (i) chiseled out of a quarry, (ii) delivered to nearby the construction site by river, (iii) transported from the riverbank to the construction site, and (iv) hauled up to where it was needed on the Great Pyramid – and all in strict accordance with the project documentation (on papyrus)!
Curiously, what our guide told us somewhat differed to what the internet generally says. Wikipedia, for example, states that the burial site of Khufu was looted in ancient times. Our guide told us that a full nine chambers had been discovered inside the pyramid, but all of them are fake, while the location of the real burial chamber of the pharaoh is still unknown. Intriguingly mysterious…
Next to the Great Pyramid is the Pyramid of Khafre. It’s a little smaller in size than its big brother, but still gigantic. Btw, its peak still has remnants of the original granite cladding, which you can see here:
The smallest of the three main Pyramids is the Pyramid of Menkaure. Taken all together, they’re simply a jaw-droppingly monumental sight to behold:
Most interesting of all (besides the magical grandiosity of their external appearance) is that you can go inside the Pyramids. Woah! I didn’t know that. Yep, for example you can go through the tunnel inside the Great Pyramid to its central chamber…
The “official” entrance is the one up above in the following pic; a little lower there’s a hole – made by one of the researchers looters of the tombs, Al-Ma’mum, in the year 820. It’s through this hole that tourists are led inside today ->
This is the view from inside the pyramid:
A little further – a staircase up to a fairly steep tunnel. Up we go…
It’s fairly steep, and also very narrow. Not easy clambering up it, especially when you meet a group of tourists coming down the other way. Going up not so tough, but coming back down – best going backward!
After the stretch of tunnel cut coarsely through the rock (artlessly hacked by the above-mentioned Al-Ma’mum in the 9th century) it joins another tunnel – an original – whose walls are made up of the sides of large, smooth, flat stone blocks. You’ll notice how the blocks of granite are laid not horizontally like the sandstone blocks on the outside of the pyramid, but at the angle of the tunnel. This got me thinking… Could it be that the outer sandstone blocks were hauled up to the top during construction at such an angle? It certainly would have been easier to slide them so. Maybe yes, maybe no – for it’s still unknown precisely how they managed such an awesome feat of engineering-construction so long ago…
Up and up we climb…
We finally come to this here passage through to the main chamber:
If the internet is to be believed, we’d arrived at the very center of the pyramid:
Main my impression in here? Alas – that it was so darn hot and stuffy! No A/C in the Pyramids! Trying to put this lack of comfort to the back of my mind, we get to where the tunnel leads to – my hopes: up. Alas, more chagrin; this is where the tunnel leads to:
An empty chamber.
You think I was displeased? Then imagine how it was for the tomb-raiders in the ninth century: it’s thought to have been similarly bereft of anything at all (no intricately decorated – priceless – sarcophaguses, no mummies, no jewels…) by them too!
After all of a single minute checking out this empty room, we headed back down – backward, as mentioned – and out. Next up, time for looking around outside the Pyramids. There are three ways to do this: on these here pony-drawn carts, on the back of a camel, or on foot…
Since the distance of a full tour around all the Pyramids is just four or five kilometers, we decided we’d walk; going by foot is also the best way to be able to control the tempo of the excursion. In the end we completed our stroll in around two hours at a very steady pace – including lots of stops for lots of photos.
Check out that ancient car! It’s a Fiat, which looks like it’s from the 80s. With so little in Egypt to corrode metal (precipitation, damp, salt) – it still looks in reasonable nick! ->
The views – to die for (perhaps appropriate given the Pyramids are essentially burial sites:). And occasionally a cloud’s shadow adds even more aesthetic awesomeness. Long-zoom lens recommended, and even binoculars…
Imposing, majestic, magnificent, grandiose. And that’s today. Imagine how they looked 4500 years ago with their shiny tiled surfaces? Btw, apparently the Pyramids were the world’s tallest buildings for a full 3000 years! Oh yes. Ancient Egypt: respect!
The Great Pyramid of Giza (at least – its outer part) is made up of large blocks of sandstone all the same size. The Pyramid of Khafre differs in that the lowest five or six layers of are made up of large blocks, then there are five or six layers of smaller sized blocks, and higher up come much smaller ones – “bricks” almost. Note the “little” guy to the bottom-left of the pic – he’s there so you get a grasp of the scale ->
In this photo you can see how they hacked out the foundation of the pyramid in the sandstone bedrock:
Nearby – the homes of the construction workers of the Pyramids, and also their cemeteries. And all of this, just once more, four-and-a-half thousand years old!
And now for my telephoto lens…
The Pyramid of Menkaure. Down below you can see some remains of the granite outer coating:
Here’s some of the outer shell that’s still intact. You can see how the “bricks” were all placed like in a mosaic:
The granite is clearly less vulnerable to the elements than the sandstone:
There’s the peak. If only one could climb up to it. But of course that’s forbidden:
On the northern side quite a lot more of the granite outer-shell is still intact:
Back to the Pyramid of Khafre. You can see how the blocks are smaller, and there’s quite a bit of outer-shell still intact up top:
Erosion and disintegration…
So, just how did they build the Pyramids? There are many different hypotheses – including some far-fetched ones (using ancient concrete) and outlandish sci-fi ones (the Pyramids are the work of aliens!). There’s another theory whereby they formed a big mound of sand and simply laid the blocks over the top. I think there’s a more plausible one though: they used ropes and pulleys and wooden contraptions (platforms, etc.) and horses and camels and a lot of manpower. After all, the blocks are big (especially those of the Great Pyramid), but still – not gigantic. Here, gauge for yourself, with O.S. handily in the foreground )->
And sure, lifting them up 100+ meters (the Great Pyramid was almost 150 meters tall) had been no trivial task, but still: doable.
First, about the theory where the blocks weren’t quarried sandstone, but cast of concrete. What were all the quarries along the Giza plateau for, then? There’s even a quarry right next to the Pyramids. Concrete? Really?! Also, all the blocks are of different shapes and sizes (when you view them up close). Concrete?!
Btw, talk of ancient quarries reminded me of the one I saw in Baalbek in Lebanon:
Look at the size of that stone block. Somewhat larger than the ones used for the Pyramids, right? Sure, it’s some 2500 years younger (and it never did make it to its intended building), but construction in Baalbek used the same technologies as those used in Ancient Egypt: manual labor, ropes, pulleys, hoists, logs forming wheels, horses, donkeys. What I’m saying here is that moving very big stones about was a thing 2500 years ago, as was moving relatively small stones 4500 years ago. Btw, here’s another snap from Baalbek:
I’m going off at a tangent here, but… well why not?…
Here’s the list of the largest ever moved monoliths (a monolith, in its simplest form, is just a very large rock, btw). Incidentally, the world’s largest monolith happens to be up in St. Petersburg: Thunder Stone – the pedestal upon which the statue of Peter the Great on horseback stands.
Back to other theories… – there’s one that states there’s a correlation between the location of the three main Pyramids and the three stars that make up Orion’s Belt in the constellation Orion! Could be! Who knows? No one for sure it seems…
To me though, the three main Pyramids of Giza – their lay-out, sizes and proportions resemble more… the three main volcanoes of the Klyuchevsky group of volcanoes in Kamchatka. See for yourself!…
The three Egyptian kings:
And here’s Kamchatka’s royalty: the three volcanic kings of Bezymianny, Kamin, and Klyuchevskaya Sopka (the latter – the one puffing away in the far distance) ->
And here they are again from another angle. A mirror image of the Giza Pyramids! ->
Orion’s Belt? Give over!
Assorted other pics… ->
And that’s all about the Pyramids folks. Back soon with more tales from the Egyptian side…
The rest of the photos from Egypt are here.