Ancient Egypt

The Great Pyramid of Giza

The oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the only one that remains mostly intact, the Great Pyramid of Giza pays homage to the skill of its Egyptian builders. Even with current technology, it would be impossible to duplicate the precise construction of this monument or the mortar that holds it together.

Although the chemical composition of the mortar is known, modern scientists are unable to duplicate it; the mortar is stronger than the stones it binds and still firmly holds them in place. In ancient Egypt, this pyramid was known as Khufu's Horizon.

Design, Dimensions, and Specifications

Constructed between 2589 and 2504 BC, although estimated dates vary somewhat, the Great Pyramid of Giza is believed to have been designed as a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops. Its designer is thought to have been his vizier Hemon; a vizier was the highest official in the land and would have been responsible for ensuring proper construction of the monument. Until the spire of the Lincoln Cathedral was completed, the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

© Never House - The Great Pyramid of Giza

Over time, the size of this monumental structure has diminished somewhat due to the lack of its protective casing stones as well as from environmental factors such as earthquakes. At the time of construction, the Great Pyramid is estimated to have had the following dimensions and specifications:

  • Height: 146.5 meters, or 480.6 feet
  • Each side: 230.4 meters, or 755.9 feet
  • Footprint: 55,000 square meters, or 592,000 square feet
  • Weight: 5.9 million tons, estimated
  • Blocks: 2.3 million, estimated
  • Joint gaps: 0.5 millimeters, or 1/50 inch
  • Granite: 7300 mega grams, or 8,000 tons
  • Limestone: 4.9 million mega grams, or 5.5 million tons
  • Mortar: 454,000 mega grams, or 500,000 tons

Even using current technology, the precision construction of a structure of this size is impossible. The base is level to within 15 millimeters, or .6 inch and the sides of the base are exact to within 58 millimeters of each other. It is aligned to true north with a 3/60 degree error margin.

Estimates for construction time vary from as little as 10 years to as many as 20. Assuming the optimal time of 20 years, the Great Pyramid of Giza would have required placing about 800 tons of blocks each day, which is approximately 12 blocks per hour on a 24/7 basis. The 2.3 million blocks comprising the pyramid weigh from 2 to 30 tons each. An incredibly strong foundation would be required for a structure of such immense size and weight. The underlying ground for the Great Pyramid is a plateau on a mountain of solid granite, therefore it was a perfect site on which to build.

Base of the Great Pyramid

© Ian Southwell - Base of the Great Pyramid

Since the foundations of the cornerstones have a ball-and-socket construction, the pyramid at Giza can withstand substantial temperature fluctuation as well as acts of nature, such as earthquakes, and still maintain its structural integrity. The Great Pyramid is the only pyramid to have this type of construction.

Although the general consensus has been that the pyramids were built by slave labor, recent discoveries made nearby suggest that the pyramids were actually built by many thousands of skilled workers who were divided into groups according to their skills. Current estimates are that as many as 200,000 skilled laborers were used to construct the pyramid at Giza.

From the air, the Great Pyramid of Giza appears to have eight sides. This is due to a precise and substantial indentation in each side of the pyramid; no other pyramid was built in this manner. The four sides of the Giza pyramid are concave and match the curvature of the earth; again, no other pyramid was constructed in this manner. The overall weight of the Giza pyramid, when multiplied by 10^8 yields the approximate mass of the earth.

The Great Pyramid at Giza is situated at the center of the earth's land mass. The crossing of the east/west and north/south parallels occur in two places on earth, one of which is at the Great Pyramid.


The Great Pyramid

© Benjamin - The Great Pyramid


The Great Pyramid is one of only three pyramids to have had a swivel door. Although the door weighed approximately 20 tons, it was easily opened from the inside. Due to the precise fit of the door, it was difficult to locate when outside the pyramid and even when located, it lacked a place to latch onto; variations in the stone on the exterior are the only indications of a nearby opening. The other two pyramids that contain doors belonged to Khufu's father and his grandfather.

Entrance to the Great Pyramid

© Olaf Tausch - Entrance to the Great Pyramid

Originally, the Great Pyramid of Giza was covered with 144,000 casing stones that were highly reflective as well as protective. Made of polished white Tura limestone, they reflected the sun's light and it is thought that they made the pyramid visible from space, thus the Egyptians' name for it, “Ikhet”, or glorious light. The casing stones were laid in an interlocking pattern and held together with bond stones. The construction is so tight on the casing stones that a knife blade would not fit between them. In order to assure the longevity of appearance, the bond stones were laid with the same precision.

Not only did the casing stones provide a protective and beautiful mantle for the Great Pyramid, they provided structural integrity as well. In order to achieve the maximum structural integrity, the casing stones were not laid as decoration or as a mantle, but they were engineered to be an integral part of the structure of the pyramid.

A massive earthquake in 1303 AD loosened the casing stones and many were subsequently dislodged and stolen to be used for mosques and temples. The result has been that the Great Pyramid now has a rough exterior that has been eroded by the elements rather than the sleek and shimmering appearance it once had.

The Great Pyramid

© bobthemagicdragon - The Great Pyramid, rough exterior we are familiar with

Interior Design, Symbolism, and Furnishings

The interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza is more elaborate than most other pyramids and has three main chambers: a lower chamber which remains unfinished, a middle chamber called the Queen's chamber, and an upper chamber called the King's chamber. Above the King's chamber are five smaller units called relieving chambers. Speculation is that these chambers were designed to protect the King's chamber in case the roof collapsed, particularly since one wall in the King's chamber is of limestone, which is a relatively soft rock. The relieving chambers are unfinished and apparently were intended to remain unseen.

Access to the pyramid is through an entrance 17 meters, or 56 feet, above the ground. Long, sloping corridors link the chambers and are separated at intervals by decorative doors and small anterooms. The interior remains a constant 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees Fahrenheit, despite the sometimes blistering temperatures of the surrounding desert.

Shafts inside the pyramid were initially assumed to be for ventilation. However, modern research indicates that they were aligned properly for star-gazing at specific stars in the constellation of Orion. An Egyptian engineer named Robert Bauval discovered that the alignment of the three pyramids at Giza matched the alignment of stars in Orion's Belt; other pyramids represented other stars in Orion's Belt. According to research conducted by American astronomer Virginia Trimble, because of the direction of the shafts, they were intended to allow the Pharaoh's soul to reunite with the stars when he died, which would enable his transition to a god.

Although there is a coffer in the King's chamber and the pyramid was thought to have been intended as Khufu's tomb, there is no evidence that anyone was ever buried in it. The coffer is too large to have been placed inside after construction was completed, therefore the coffer must have been placed inside beforehand and the structure erected around it.

Made of solid rose granite, modern-day analysis indicated that the tools needed for construction of the coffer were bronze saws between 8 and 9 feet long with sapphire teeth, as well as a fixed-point drill that used hard-jewel bits; at least 2 tons of drilling force would have been necessary. Another unusual correlation is that twice the perimeter of the coffer's base multiplied by 10^8 yields the radius of the sun, or approximately 427,316 miles.

Originally, there did not appear to be any hieroglyphics inside the tomb, only a mark that indicated the work crew, and rolls of papyrus, which were discovered in 2013, that detailed the last few years of construction. However, research by the Djedi Project in 2011 revealed red-painted hieroglyphs in a chamber leading from a shaft in the Queen's chamber upwards in the direction of the King's chamber. At the end of one of these shafts, a British engineer named Waynman Dixon discovered a bronze tool and a black diorite ball.

Although the purpose of either remains a mystery, they may have been connected to a ceremonial rite called “the opening of the mouth” which a pharaoh's son performed at his father's death. The son had to open the mouth in order to restore life to his dead father and to ensure that the father could eat and drink in the afterlife. This rite was performed using the sacred adze, a tool made of meteoric iron, a rare metal in ancient Egypt.

Although many naysayers allege that the ancient Egyptians possessed little technological expertise, the sophisticated mathematics of Pi and Phi are evidenced in the construction of all the pyramids, particularly the Great Pyramid at Giza. Some scholars believe that the circular ratios are so mathematically accurate that the ancient Egyptians must have understood the concept of pi and phi; there is no other explanation for the accuracy of the construction.

Purpose of the Great Pyramid at Giza

Although some pyramids are indeed tombs, and some scholars think that was the purpose of the Great Pyramid, opinions now differ. The position of the shafts, the alignment of the Great Pyramid with its surrounding lesser pyramids, and the lack of evidence that anyone was buried in the pyramid, suggest that it may have had another purpose. It may have been intended as the site for a religious ceremonial ritual.