Pyramid of Cheops

Khufu Pyramid

It represents the pinnacle in the field of monumental Egyptian architecture. Its construction required skills in this area which have accumulated since the construction of the very first pyramid, that of Djoser , a few decades earlier. Moreover, the pyramid of Cheops is part of the list of the seven wonders of the world , and it is the only one of the seven to be still standing today. The fact that it has crossed not centuries but millennia speaks volumes about the know-how that the ancient Egyptians had accumulated in architecture.

The reasons for its construction are obscure to us. We know that it is a tomb intended to accommodate the mummified body of the pharaoh for eternity and to help his soul to continue his journey in the other world, in accordance with the beliefs of ancient Egyptian spirituality. The pyramid shape is also an aid to the rise of the soul, the famous “Ka”, towards the heavens. If the first pyramid was a kind of stairway to Heaven (the Djéser step pyramid), the shape was quickly transformed into a smooth-faced pyramid, more aesthetic but also more difficult to implement.

But the mausoleum of Cheops is not just a simple pyramid. It is above all a funerary complex of great importance, comprising various elements of which the pyramid is the most impressive. But it is accompanied by a high temple, located just next to the pyramid, a low temple, lower in the valley, a causeway which connects the three buildings, two cemeteries containing the tombs of personalities close to the pharaoh and four annexed pyramids (one for each of his wives and a fourth for religious purposes).

Historical context

The pyramid of Cheops was built in 2589 and 2566, these dates being subject to caution, of course. At this time we are in the old Egyptian empire, a long period which begins in the Third Dynasty, around 2650 BC and which goes until the first intermediate period, around -2200 BC. This period is considered to be the golden age of Egyptian civilization. It was during these years that the Egyptian people united around a strong and respected leader on a perfectly defined territory. The administration developed, which allowed the population to always have close to them people who could decide on collective actions to take for the good of all Egypt, the people then no longer lived in autarky as it had been the case previously.

The Third Dynasty began with the pharaoh Djoser who had a funeral complex built on the plateau of Saqqara . It was initially a simple mastaba of which the architect, Imhotep , made superimpose another, smaller mastaba. Then, construction techniques allowing it, he had a real 6-degree pyramid 62m high built, a feat for the time but also a record of height for an artificial construction. The next two rulers, Sekhemkhet and Khaba, also built step pyramids, but they remained unfinished. Several provincial pyramids followed., a special designation to designate smaller pyramids (between 12 and 18m high) built in the provinces of the kingdom. Then came the first pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, Snefrou.

Snéfrou built several pyramids. We do not know if they were in parallel or if they followed each other, in an order of construction, but the fact remains that four pyramids were erected during his reign:

The last provincial pyramid, more imposing than the others (25m high),
A smooth-faced pyramid, but whose construction was failed (in Meïdoum)
The rhomboid pyramid, which is a smooth-faced pyramid but with a change in slope (at Dahchour),
The red pyramid, the first successful smooth-faced pyramid.
Snéfrou’s son, a certain Cheops , took full advantage of the construction techniques of his predecessors.

Geographic Location of the pyramids of Cheops

Geographically, the pyramid of Cheops is on the Giza plateau , a few kilometers west of the Nile and about twenty from the center of Cairo. This plateau overlooks the Nile Valley and today the city of Cairo whose last buildings adjoin the archaeological site of Giza. We are at the foot of the Nile Delta, in an arid region.

Who was Khufu?

Cheops is the name of the second pharaoh of the 4th dynasty in ancient Egypt, he lived in the 26th century BC. His reign was characterized essentially by an economic development based on the increase in the extraction of copper and turquoise mines (Sinai, Nubia) and diorite mines (Abu Simbel). If it is difficult to go back precisely in history, the imposing constructions left to us by Cheops seems to indicate a certain stability in the kingdom, which is confirmed by the discovery, almost everywhere around the Mediterranean, of hieroglyphs in the name of Cheops . These discoveries prove the presence of representatives, probably traders, in strong places far from Egypt, proving the ability of the Egyptians of the time to move.

Who was the architect?

Of course, it was not the pharaoh himself who followed the works of his funeral complex. He chooses a trusted man, a loved one (he was a cousin), the architect Hémiounou

Hémiounou was also a confidant for the pharaoh, he had a role of adviser. To prove the importance it had at the time, it suffices to know that his tomb was in the West cemetery of the funeral complex, and that it was particularly imposing. The size of the tomb and its location were directly proportional to the interest of the pharaoh in the person.

The funeral complex of Khufu
The funeral complex of Khufu is made up of several elements including the pyramid which is the center.

The pyramid itself
The high temple
The low temple
The annex pyramids
East and West cemeteries
The solar boat
All these elements are to be completed with the buildings common to the three pyramids of the necropolis of Giza , namely the two pyramids of Khéphren and Mykérinos : The workers’ village , which is an archaeological site which allowed the release of the city where the builders of the pyramids.

What will you see inside Cheops Pyramids?

You will first take a corridor dug in the solid mass of the pyramid and which arrives at the gut leading to the real entrance, nowadays blocked. This gut is in fact a veritable gallery which rises slowly towards the “large gallery”, a marvel of ancient Egyptian architecture. From the top of this gallery you will access the king’s chamber containing the sarcophagus – empty, of course – via a small anteroom. The visit is striking, but it also gives the impression of claustrophobia. The entrance gallery is narrow and above all low, you have to enter to bend, and be able to do the rest along the length of the gallery. It is done without problem, but you will not have too much the possibility to turn around easily, so be sure of your capacity to arrive at the end of the visit before enter it. Claustrophobic refrain.