1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > The Great Pyramid and Other Pyramids

Architecture
(Part 7)



Ancient Egyptian Architecture: The Great Pyramid and Other Pyramids

The next structure of which we have noticed is the Great Pyramid, the most gigantic work in the world -- one which never has been, perhaps never will be surpassed.

At this time the Egyptians must have reached a proficiency in the mechanical arts of which we can form no conception. They seem to have been able to quarry rocks of the hardest stone, even granites -- to transport them to great distances- to raise huge blocks, vast monolith obelisk, that would puzzled our engineers with their best tackle -- and, more wonderful still, they appear to have had the power not only of polishing granite, but of carving that most stubborn material with utmost facility, large surfaces and even huge statues being covered with hieroglyphics of the most minute kind and of the highest finish.

It is impossible to discover how this was done, for though Herodotus (ii. 124, 125) tells us they had iron tools, it was long before the conversion of that metal into steel had been found out; and with all the best modern tools of steel, it is difficult and costly to carve even plain letters in granite.

Section of the Great Pyramid image

Fig. 12 -- Section of the Great Pyramid.
From Vyse's Pyramids of Ghizeh.



Entrance to the Great Pyramid of Gizeh image


Fig. 13 -- Entrance to the Great Pyramid of Gizeh.


According to the account of Herodotus, the occasion of erection of this great work was caprice of a king, Cheops, who is supposed to be the Suphis of Syncellus, and Chembes of Diodorus. This king was a tyrant of very worst kind; he closed all the temples throughout the Egypt, forbade every sort of religious observance, and forced all his subjects to labor for him as he pleased. Among other whims, he determined to build this pyramid as a tomb for himself. The stone was quarried in the Arabian mountains, and none were less than 30 feet long. They were conveyed by the Nile to newly constructed road, three quarters of a mile long, 60 feet broad, and in cutting of 48 feet. This road, of polished stone, carved with figures, took ten years to complete. Twenty years were spent in building the pyramid itself.

The site of this extraordinary structure is at Ghizeh [Giza], in the neighbourhood of Cairo. The base was, Herodotus tells us, 8 pletha (about 808 English feet) square, and the height the same. This, however, is not the case, the Greek author having probably measured the sloping edge. The dimensions are variously given by various persons who have measured it. M. Nouet, who was of the French commission in Egypt, and had perhaps the best means of ascertaining the truth, states its base to be a square whose side is 716 French or 768 English feet, and gives a height as 421 French and 452 English feet.

The dimensions of the pyramid in its original state, as given by Colonel Vyse, are 764 length of base, 720 feet slant side, and 480 feet high. According to Sir Henry James (Notes on the Great Pyramids, 1869), the side of the base is 760 feet; while Professor Piazzi Smyth gives this as 763.81, and the height as 468.2567.


Section of the Great Pyramid image

Fig. 14 -- Section of the Great Pyramid.
From Vyse's Pyramids of Ghizeh.


The site of this extraordinary structure is at Ghizeh, in the neighbourhood of Cairo. The base was, Herodotus tells us, 8 pletha (about 808 English feet) square, and the height the same. This, however, is not the case, the Greek author having probably measured the sloping edge. The dimensions are variously given by various persons who have measured it. M. Nouet, who was of the French commission in Egypt, and had perhaps the best means of ascertaining the truth, states its base to be a square whose side is 716 French or 768 English feet, and gives a height as 421 French and 452 English feet.

The dimensions of the pyramid in its original state, as given by Colonel Vyse, are 764 length of base, 720 feet slant side, and 480 feet high. According to Sir Henry James (Notes on the Great Pyramids, 1869), the side of the base is 760 feet; while Professor Piazzi Smyth gives this as 763.81, and the height as 468.2567.

The pyramid thus covers upwards of 13 acres, and is about 150 feet higher than St Paul’s of 13 acres, and is about 150 feet higher than St Paul's cathedral. As compared with the largest building in the world, St Peter’s, Rome, the Great Pyramid covers an area which is as 58 to 22, or nearly three times as much, and is 50 feet higher.

Like almost all the other pyramids, its side face the cardinal points, and it is entered from the north by a descending passage, which leads to a few small chambers or cells, the largest of which is but 17.7 feet wide. In one of these a solitary sarcophagus was found. The pyramid appears to be a solid mass of stone, an is built in regular courses or layers, which vary in thickness from 2 to 5 feet, each receding from the one below it to the number of 202; through even this is variously stated from that number to 260, as indeed the height is given by various modern travelers at from 444 to 625 feet. And the ancient writers differ as widely both among themselves and from the moderns.

On the top course the area is about 10 English feet square, through it is believed to have been originally two courses higher. This would bring it to the smallest that in regular gradations it could be.

This vast erection, on which the labor of 100,000 men were bestowed for twenty years, and which contains 85 millions of cubic feet of stone, must have cost (reckoning quarrying, transport -- twice by land and once by river -- squaring, hoisting, and setting at 2s. per foot) something like 8 1/2 millions of English money.

A second pyramid, close to the first, was built by the successor of Cheops, whom Herodotus calls Chephren; the inscription on the stones, however, gives the name Shafra. The side of its base is about 60 feet less than that of the former. About forty years later, Mycerinus, or Mencheres, built a third; but the side of the base is only Pyramid. It was, however, entirely faced with polished granite, while the others were of limestone. A statue of King Cherphren has recently been found in temple close adjacent to the pyramids, and now forms one of the most remarkable objects in the museum at Cairo. Canina (Architectura Antica, part i.) has described altogether twenty large and twenty- seven small pyramids, some not more than 30 feet square. But the researchers of Lepsius and other prove that the number is much greater than this, and on the range of cliffs overlooking the Nile, from Abooroash in the north to Illahoon in the south, the number is probably not under 100.






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