12 Interesting Facts About the Egyptian Pyramids
The Great Pyramid at Giza is one of the truly marvelous creations in history. Of the Seven Ancient Wonders, it is the only one to remain somewhat intact.
The Great Pyramid was designed to be a tomb for the Pharaoh, Khufu, and his sarcophagus can be found in the King’s Chamber.
Millions of people have visited the Great Pyramid throughout history and wondered: What are its secrets? How many of the stories that surround it are true?
Gathered together here are twelve of the most interesting facts about the Great Pyramid and its creation.
1. The Great Pyramid Is Surrounded by a City of Tombs
What is now known as the Giza Plateau contains three large pyramids, the other two being for Khufu’s son and grandson.
As well as the other pyramids, the surrounding area includes multiple cemeteries, dozens of “Mastabas” (rectangular tombs), temples, underground tombs, and the mighty Sphinx. Near each of the large pyramids are also found several smaller “queen’s pyramids”.
The Great Pyramid still stands out above all others. At 481 ft tall, the pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world until 1311 AD, with the building of the Lincoln Cathedral.
2. The Egyptian Pyramids Are Not the Only Ones in the World
When someone says the word “pyramids”, we naturally think of the Great Pyramid and its neighbors.
However, pyramids have been built all around the world, with some of them still around. There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt alone, with another 200 in neighboring Sudan.
In Europe, pyramids have been discovered or written about in Greece, Spain, and Rome. The Pyramid of Cestius in Rome was built around 15 BC and still stands today. In Asia, there are Indian temples and Chinese tombs with similar pyramidal shapes.
The most famous pyramids outside of Egypt would be those in Central America. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, in Puebla, Mexico, is considered by some to be the largest man-made monument in the world.
It took over a thousand years to build and includes burial grounds, murals, and an open courtyard of altars with intricate painted carvings still intact.
3. There Are Many Myths About Why the Pyramid Was Built
While even ancient historians like Herodotus referenced the Great Pyramid as “the burial place of Cheops” (the Greek name for Khufu), there was a period during late antiquity and the middle ages when many myths rose about possible other uses for the giant structure.
One story still repeated in some churches today is that the Great Pyramid was used as grain storage by the Jewish prophet Joseph during the time he advised the Egyptian Pharoah.
During the Rashidun Caliphate in the eighth century, people believed it was built by an ancient king before the Great Flood, to protect his libraries of books and documents.
Modern egyptologists and conspiracy theorists believe the pyramid may be an ancient astrological device, or even a radio to contact intelligent life in the stars.
4. The Pyramid Has Been Visited by Many Famous People Through History
Everyone from Ancient Historians to modern pop singers has visited the Great Pyramid. The ancient historian Herodotus, Arab scientist Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi and English astronomer John Greaves were all fascinated with the building, and Antony and Cleopatra are said to have been buried nearby.
Napoleon famously visited the Great Pyramid and had his soldiers explore inside. According to his private secretary, they found that thieves had stolen anything of interest many years before. Napoleon won a great battle under the gaze of the enormous structure, encouraging his troops with the words, “Soldiers, forty centuries look down upon you.”
Among the other famous people to have visited over the pyramid’s millennia of existence are Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Agatha Christie, Jean Cocteau, Florence Nightingale, Lady Diana, and Barack Obama.
In 1978, rock band The Grateful Dead played at the pyramids and in 2007, Shakira played to one hundred thousand people in a nearby clearing.
5. William Petrie Was the First Archeologist to Study the Pyramid
While the Great Pyramid has had many visitors in its long life, most of them were tourists or thieves. Until the late 1800s, no one was interested in learning about all the secrets that it had to hold.
That was until William Matthew Flinders Petrie came along in 1880 and got to work doing a full survey. A man some refer to as “The Father of Archeology”, Petrie was a professor at University College London and spent his whole life digging for ruins.
His book, “The Pyramids and Temples at Giza” was considered the first truly scientific work that explored the area.
6. The Difference Between the Sides of the Pyramid Is Only Two Centimeters
The design of the pyramid was so exact that many academics have spent years trying to explain just how the creators did it.
Each side is 230 meters long and was so well-measured that the errors had to be measured in millimeters. The sides of the Pyramid face North, East, West, and South even though compasses did not exist at the time.
Because of how exactly the design and measurements of the pyramid were, popular conspiracy theories suggest that the ancient Egyptians may have had help – from aliens, or possibly from secret books which were written thousands of years earlier by super-intelligent humans that later died.
The reality is that ancient engineers had already discovered many clever ways to construct complex structures, including using water tools, astronomy, and the position of the sun.
7. The Great Pyramid Was Built to Shine in the Sun
Over 2.3 Million blocks were carved and transported to create the Great Pyramid.
The large granite blocks that remain today came from over 500 miles away, but the outer layer of the pyramid was made using white limestone from a quarry in nearby Tura.
This white limestone was carefully cut and polished, making the final structure glow in the sunlight.
Unfortunately, limestone erodes quite easily and thousands of years of rain and wind eventually destroyed this outer layer. Today’s pyramid may still look impressive, but it has forever lost its shine.
8. The Pyramidion Has Been Missing for Millenia
The capstone or “Pyramidion” is the very peak of a pyramid.
It is often made of a single stone, which could be diorite, granite, or limestone. The stone would then be coated in precious metals and inscribed with prayers or religious symbols.
Many museums around the world have examples of ancient pyramidions in their collections.
No one knows where the Pyramidion of the Great Pyramid is. Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian from the first century AD, describes the Great Pyramid as having a platform at its peak, so it must have been removed before this time.
Some scholars believe that the Pyramidion may have been made of the same white limestone as the rest of the outside of the pyramid. If this was the case, the pyramidion may have simply eroded away.
9. The Great Pyramid Is Covered in Graffiti, Inside and Out
While the Great Pyramid has been looted many times, it has also been defaced in other ways. During the “Egyptomania” of the nineteenth century, tourists were able to climb the pyramid, break off parts of the stones, and even carve their names into the great structure.
While authorities today have put a stop to the practice, these carvings still exist and tell their own story about what tourists were like over a hundred years ago.
Of course, these people were not the only ones to graffiti the pyramid.
Among the many chambers within are some small spaces called “relieving chambers”. Here, the original workers who built the Great Pyramid carved their names, the names of their guilds, and prayers to Khufu.
This graffiti, along with tombs and houses discovered nearby, proves that well-educated craftsmen, and not slaves, built the pyramid.
10. The Pyramid Builders Used Sand From the Nile River as Cement
While no one has yet been able to copy the cement used by the ancient Egyptians, fragments of mortar have been found to contain shells, quartz, and clay; the things you find at the bottom of the Nile.
The stones that made the pyramid were carefully cut to fit together but sometimes mortar and small stones were used to fill the gaps.
The mortar the ancient Egyptians used is harder than modern cement and dries quickly, so the workers had to be skilled to use it.
11. There Were Boats Buried Near the Pyramid
Despite the nearest tributary of the Nile being six miles away, several massive wooden boats were buried within the pyramid complex. Over 140ft in length, these boats were buried under large slabs of rock.
Modern historians suspect that the boats were never made for sailors. They look quite similar to Egyptian paintings of the “Solar Barques” of the sun-god Ra.
It could be that these boats were buried so that the kings and their wives could sail through the underworld in safety.
12. We Don’t Know Everything About What Is Inside the Pyramid
Despite thousands of years of exploration, looting, and scientific study, there are still things we do not know about the Great Pyramid. Among these is a mysterious cavern dubbed “the Big Void.”
In 2017, this large space was discovered above the “Grand Gallery” within the pyramid, using a form of scanning technology called “muon radiography”.
This technology, much more powerful than x-rays, was able to find a space almost 100 ft in length. It will require careful excavation to reach the space without damaging the tunnels within the structure.
No one knows what might be in “the Big Void” and unfortunately research has been paused due to the global pandemic.
People have been fascinated by the Great Pyramid of Giza for thousands of years. With so many myths surrounding this ancient wonder, it can be difficult to find out what is true.
Thanks to modern science, we have discovered a lot about the pyramid; why it was created, and what it once held.
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