Pyramids of Giza - Massive tombs of Egyptian pharaohs in the Sahara (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Pyramids of Giza
THE LONE SURVIVOR of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza have been astonishing visitors since they were first erected in the 26th century B.C. “Forty centuries look down upon you,” Napoleon Bonaparte declared to his invading army gathered at the base of the pyramids in 1798. At a loss for words to describe his first impressions, 19th-century English novelist W. M. Thackeray jotted three giant exclamation points in his notebook.
Constructed as massive tombs for three 4th dynasty pharaohs—Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure—the pyramids are awesome for many reasons, foremost their scale. Largest and oldest of the trio, the Great Pyramid of Khufu looms 451 feet (137 m) above the Sahara. It stood at 481 feet (147 m) before it was stripped of its smooth white limestone casing to construct the palaces and the citadel of Cairo. The pyramid is built of some 2.3 million stone blocks with a total mass of 5.75 million tons (5.2 million metric tons).
Researchers continue to puzzle over how exactly such structures were designed and built, since the civilization that masterminded them had only rudimentary engineering knowledge and did not make use of wheels or pulleys. It must have also been an immense logistical challenge to muster as many as 25,000 men for years at a time for construction duty. But the one thing historians don’t dispute is the architectural sophistication and precise symmetry and stonework of these ancient tombs.
Archaeological excavations in modern times have revealed some of the pyramids’ secrets, like burial tombs hidden deep inside each one. Full-size wooden boats buried in adjacent pits were intended to expedite the pharaoh’s journey to the afterlife.
Another lingering mystery is the Sphinx, the giant human-lion carved from the native limestone of the Giza Plateau and one of the world’s largest monolithic statues (its paws alone are larger than a bus). Egyptologists generally agree that it was commissioned by Pharaoh Khafre and most likely bears his image. Its exact use has never been determined, though given its orientation to the east, the Sphinx was likely used in sun worship. Four millennia after the first surge of construction on the Giza Plateau, another structure is rising just 1.2 miles (2 km) from the Great Pyramid of Khufu. When completed (as of this writing, it’s tentatively scheduled to open in 2018), the Grand Egyptian Museum will showcase more than 100,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts including everything on display in the old Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo. Parks and gardens that evoke the ancient agricultural landscape of the Nile Valley and the temple gardens of Egypt will surround the building.