The Great Pyramid of Giza
Few tourists these days see the Queen's chamber - tour operators have realized that their clients are more interested in the bragging rights that accrue from having been inside the Pyramid than a detailed examination of the cramped interior. A narrow tunnel leads from the base of the Grand Gallery to this nearly forgotten place.
There isn't really much to see in the Queen's chamber, an empty room of about 18 X 18 feet (5 X 5 meters), a couple 8 inch (20 cm) holes in the wall, a little alcove ---- and something like silence, or at least diminished noise. I spent half an hour there while a continuous stream of tourists poured up and down the passageway outside, my thoughts interrupted by only one man who stayed but a second. Truly a hidden chamber, though it be in plain sight.
Between the King's and Queen's chamber is the Grand Gallery: 28 feet high (9 meters), 157 ft long (48 meters), and 62 inches wide (less than 2 meters). A stunning sight after crawling through endless low tunnels! The walls are corbelled - each course of stone is set a few inches in from the course below - which enhances the effect of the place. Two views of the Grand Gallery may be seen at the sides of the Home Page
The King's chamber is larger than the Queen's: 34 feet (10 meters) long, 17 feet (5 m) wide, 19 feet (6 m) high. The blackened granite walls built thousands of years ago can cause one to pause, to reflect on how short one life is, be it ours or that of Cheops who is believed to have been laid to rest here in Pharaoic splendor.
Splendor? Perhaps, yet today the bare walls and empty, unornamented sarcophagus dispute the idea that these grand stone monuments were built solely for the gratification of Pharaohs' egos. A Pharaoh had great power, yes, but also great responsibility. Through his person was channeled the life force, source of the fertility of the land. In death he joined the god Osiris. Perhaps then his body served even more as a conduit, a bringer of life to the Nile Valley, amplified by the massive geometry of the Pyramid.
Two views of the King's chamber
of the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)
by E.J. Andrews, 1842
There are other hidden chambers and passages in the Great Pyramid, the way to them blocked not by ancient stone but by locked iron doors. One is the well, which we explored on the Home Page. The below excerpt describes a visit to deeper regions, a passage into the bedrock below the body of the Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
by E.J. Andrews, 1842
Excerpts from the Journal of
Lt-Colonel George A. F. Fitzclarence, 1819
Giovanni Belzoni, to see if it were possible, had entered the Great Pyramid without a light and felt his way through the passages to the sarcophagus in its center and back again, a feat quite impressive and an indicator of his nature. We explored the giant monument by candlelight, that being difficult enough.
After we visited the King's Chamber and that of the Queen, we retraced our steps to the descending passage, which continues downwards towards the base of the Pyramid.
In the year before my visit, an Italian gentleman by the name of Giovanni Caviglia, a captain of a merchant vessel sailing under British colors, arrived at Cairo. Captain Caviglia hired men to clear away the accumulated stones and rubbish to make this part of the Pyramid more easily accessible to visitors. A great quantity of stones, dirt, and sand had formed in this angle, as the declivity of the passage propels every thing towards it, and the north wind continually blows into the entrance of the Pyramid the sand from the desert which gradually finds its way to this spot. The workmen continued to remove the rubbish, and by degrees discovered that they had entered a passage continuing the descent, which they cleared for two hundred feet (60 meters) more.
They carried away vast quantities of stones and sand, and a vast heap accumulated on the outside of the Pyramid. After many days hard work the rubbish was discovered to be falling from above, and to Caviglia's astonishment and delight proved to be coming from the outlet and bottom of the mysterious well which had baffled all preceding explorers.
In the course of last year, Caviglia had attempted to dig to the bottom of this celebrated well, a rough irregular tunnel that descends from the foot of the grand gallery, which has drawn forth so many conjectures from antiquaries. However the want of air extinguished the candles and endangered the workmen which compelled him to give up the undertaking.
The debris had collected for many centuries from various causes, among others the custom of travelers throwing down stones, (some claim they heard them fall into water). Belzoni, Mr. Henry Salt and many Arabs and visitors had been both up and down the well, there being small holes cut for the feet and hands. Belzoni, who is not so stout as myself, had had great difficulty in squeezing himself through certain parts of it so I missed this part of the Pyramid.
After Captain Caviglia had found the lower extent of the well, he continued to clear the passage, and further ascertained that it continued sloping downwards another thirty feet, became horizontally directed towards the center of the Pyramid, and led at last into a chamber cut into the rock.
The lower passages and the Pit
by E.J. Andrews, 1842
This chamber, called generally the "Pit", is sixty six feet long, twenty seven feet wide, and eight feet high (20 X 6 X 2 1/2 meters) (sources vary on these numbers). It is only half finished, if indeed any judgment can be formed of the intended design. On the western end the rock has not been cut as deeply as on the eastern, leaving a sort of platform, with two coarse hewn pillars supporting the roof. Two or three rough steps lead between these pillars by a narrow passage to the farthest end, amidst a mass of uncleared rock.
Perhaps, when the work was broken off by the death of the Pharaoh, or on the closing of the Pyramid, the designers were in search of the level of the Nile. Herodotus, in speaking of them, mentions that a period of time was employed in forming "the vaults of the hill upon which the Pyramids are erected.", it is possible he may here have alluded to these chambers and passages.
We now returned along the horizontal passage with similar difficulty to that we had encountered on entering, but in the ascending passage our difficulties increased. The Arabs in front of us loosened large stones as they climbed. In our descent these had only bruised our back and legs, but now our faces and heads were exposed to them. I avoided some awkward blows reserved for Belzoni, who was behind me and liable every instant to some severe hurt.
The little glimmering of light which appeared through the entrance into the Pyramid, by the distance contracted into a very small hole, made me almost despair of reaching it, and I was so exhausted that I threw the candle away, requiring both hands to assist me in my advance. We rested for some minutes at the angle of the two passages, and were much refreshed by some water brought to us by the Arabs. After recovering a little from our fatigue, we ascended the remainder of the passage, and reached the outside of the Pyramid, more completely worn out than can be described.
At last we mounted our donkeys, distributed some piastre coins amongst the Arabs who had assisted us, and turned towards Cairo, my mind being as much delighted as my body was fatigued with the excursion.
Excerpt from the Journal of Lt-Col George Fitzclarence, published in 1819.
Greatly edited and adapted for PYMD.com, 2006
Geologist Robert M. Schoch has proposed the interesting theory that the rough-cut chamber below the Great Pyramid (the "Pit") is an earlier sacred site, and that the Pyramid was deliberately built above it. This would explain the chamber's apparently unfinished state. Yet the (only known) passageway connecting to it from the superstructure of the Pyramid, 200 feet (60 meters) of angled tunnel cut into natural rock, deviates only 1/4 inch (.4 cm) from perfectly straight. (Petrie) This extreme precision is similar to that found in numerous instances in the Great Pyramid, and would argue that the Pit, or at least the entrance to it, was built at the same time and was intentionally left unfinished for symbolic reasons. It is most curious, considering the near perfection of the remainder of the building.
Of course, the question most exciting visitors for the last four thousand years is "Where is Cheops' stuff?" Pharaohs liked to take it with them and 13 acres of solid stone has many places to hide. Perhaps Herodotus' "vaults of the hill upon which the Pyramids are erected." will soon yield their treasures to ground penetrating radar.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
Interior of the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
(A.) The Ascending Passage. (B.) The Grand Gallery. (C.) The Queen's Chamber.
(D.) The King's Chamber. (The relieving chambers are above it) (E.) The Descending Passage.
(F.) The Well, a tunnel dug between the ascending and descending passages.
It is of unknown, perhaps post-construction origin. (G.) The Pit.
Engraving by Prisse d'Avennes, 1878.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza
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The Giza region
by Prisse de l'Avennes, 1878.
Ancient Egypt's Age of the Pyramids
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Climbing the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
The Second Greatest Pyramid - Chephren
The Pyramid of Menkaure
The Great Sphinx
More About Giza
The Pyramids at Saqqara
The Pyramids of Sneferu
The Greatest Mystery of All.
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