The Giza Pyramids virtual challenge - Postcard 3

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Postcard 3

20210407 0 Derde ansichtkaart

At the edge of the Western Desert, before the sprawling city of Giza stands the magnificent Necropolis of Giza. Within its boundaries the Necropolis is home to the Great Pyramids and their funerary temples, subsidiary pyramids, the Great Sphinx, mastabas and tombs. Built during the 4th Dynasty between circa 2575 and 2465 BC, the Necropolis' most fascinating history sits with the three largest pyramids and its sphinx.

UNESCO listed in 1979, the pyramids are the final resting place for one family. Beginning with Pharaoh Khufu, his pyramid was known as the Great Pyramid because it was the tallest at 479ft (146m) with each side 754ft (230m) long. The Great Pyramid is also the only surviving architectural site on the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World list. It took 20 years to build and a total of 2.5 million blocks. Each block weighed an average of 2.5 tonnes. The pyramid was topped with a triangular capstone covered in gilt but it is no longer on it. To the east of his pyramid are three small subsidiary pyramids used as burial grounds for family members. To the south are two boat pits. One of them was excavated and within the pit was a jumble of 1224 pieces of wood. After several years it was pieced together into a 142ft (43m) long funerary boat. It remains on site inside a custom-built museum.

As usual it is debated how long he reigned. According to Manetho an ancient historian, Khufu reigned for 63 years, however, modern historians believe it to be more like 26-46 years. Not much is known about him, besides having two wives and several off-springs. He was succeeded by his son, Djedefre, who was then succeeded by his brother, Khafre, who built the second pyramid.

Khafre was considered a cruel and heretical ruler who wanted his pyramid to be bigger than his father's. The pyramid is set in the middle of the three and although it seems taller because it was built on higher ground, the pyramid is actually 19.6ft (6m) shorter than Khufu's. To the east of his pyramid is his funerary temple and linked via a causeway is the Great Sphinx. To the south is a subsidiary pyramid but not known as to who it belongs to. Khafre's pyramid is the only one that still has the capstone on it.

The smallest pyramid belonged to Menkaure, the son of Khafre and grandson of Khufu. His pyramid stands at 213ft (65m) less than half the height of the other two. What is also noticeable is that the building materials used are different. Both Khufu and Khafre's pyramids' outer core was covered in expensive white limestone slabs. Menkaure's pyramid had limestone on the top two-thirds, however, the bottom third which is still in place today, was covered in cheaper blocks of granite.

Menkaure was regarded as a kind and wise ruler. Disputes brought before him were fairly judged and he seemed to be much more considerate of his people by not having them work as hard on his pyramid as his predecessors. To the south of his pyramid are three small subsidiary pyramids possibly for his two wives and a daughter. He had two sons of which the eldest predeceased him leaving the younger son to succeed Menkaure. The younger son was the last pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty.

Interestingly at the end of the 12th century, Saladin's son and heir who was Kurdish, attempted to demolish the pyramids in order to remove any signs of Egypt's power. He started with Menkaure's pyramid but after eight months with little progress – they were unable to remove more than one or two stones per day – he abandoned the effort, but not without leaving a large vertical gash on the northern face.

Standing guard on the east side of the Necropolis is the biggest statue in the world, the Great Sphinx. Measuring 240ft long x 66ft high x 62ft wide (73m x 20m x 19m), the sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human thought to be of Pharaoh Khafre. Carved from a small hill of solid limestone, the sphinx used to be painted red and yellow which has over time worn away. Drifting sand eventually buried the sphinx to its shoulders and although evidence suggests attempted restorations during the New Kingdom era by Pharaoh Thutmose IV it wasn't until the early 19th century that the Sphinx was finally "dug out". Archaeological studies also concluded that the sphinx's nose was intentionally removed sometime between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD possibly a result of iconoclasm.

Somewhere between 2181-2040BC, Giza was abandoned and so was building pyramids. Low yields of crop in the 5th and 6th Dynasties cause widespread famine and a greatly reduced workforce. As such the Necropolis fell into decay, tomb robbers broke in and stole the buried treasures and many succeeding pharaohs during the Middle Kingdom broke up temples and walkways in order to reuse the materials on their own projects. By the New Kingdom (1570-1069BC) the reigning pharaohs reversed this approach and dedicated themselves to preserving the area.

Khaemweset, was the 4th son of Rameses II, and considered the "first Egyptologist", due to his commitment to restoring and preserving Giza. His efforts are well documented.

At the turn of the 19th century and as part of his Egyptian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte brought with him a team of experts to record their discoveries about Giza. But the most widely recognised archaeologist is Sir William Flinders Petrie due to his vast contribution to Egyptology. One of his greatest discoveries happened when a worker found a small headless statue with a pharaoh's name at the bottom. Through careful digging, the head was found turning out to be the only known image of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid.