The Third Pyramid of Giza,
Menkaure's House of Eternity
The Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) would be a stupendous attraction were it located anywhere else but where it is - on the Giza Plateau overshadowed by the two greatest stone buildings in the world. Either a more humble nature or, more likely, diminished resources compelled Menkaure to build a smaller Pyramid than his predecessors.
Pharaoh Menkaure with Hathor and the local Nome goddess Bat.
Cairo Museum, photo: EgyptArchive.
It was early evening when I approached the Third Pyramid, lengthening shadows gave an eerie aspect to the ancient shrine. The area is less visited, strewn with the rubble of four and a half millennia. The solitary Arab guard rushed up to me, pressing a crude modern scarab into my hand.
"Welcome, Welcome to the Pyramid Menkaure," he said, the "of" somehow being lost in translation. "Do you want guide?"
"No, no guide."
I examined the entrance before me. Several courses of the original granite casing stones remained, and they were rounded - almost polygons, fitted together irregularly, a much more difficult work of stonemasonry than if they were laid in neat rows as they are in the larger Pyramids. Similar, even more irregular, stonework can be seen at Machu Picchu in Peru. The difficulty and precision of the work, along with the rounded shapes, has caused speculation that somehow the stone was softened before it was laid. While this is unlikely, it is a reflection of the obstacles encountered in explaining the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians.
The entrance and casing stones of Menkaure's Pyramid
by E.J. Andrews, 1842
(Left) Menkaure and his wife Khamerernebty II. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, photograph by Jen
The Pyramid was indefinable as it stood before me in the desert evening, nether temple nor tomb, hardly the work of human hands, it's entrance an opening to something deep and eternal. The structure was there with a solidity not shared by its larger brethren, or any other building in my experience - more the solidity of an ancient mountain, the entrance suggesting the permanence of a smooth stone cave into the roots of that mountain.
The Arab guard put his hand on my shoulder. "Would you like spend the night in the Pyramid, to pray?" he asked.
There are many stories of people spending the night in Pyramids, stories often filled with mysterious visions and extraordinary revelations. Napoleon spent some time alone in the Great Pyramid and emerged profoundly shaken. To the end of his life he refused to discuss what had happened there, explaining that he felt no-one would believe it.
The interior of the Pyramid of Menkaure
by E.J. Andrews, 1842
Sadly I had a far different suspicion of what would be in store for me. The guard's posture showed that he had no intention of leaving me in solitude in that hidden chamber, so I returned the scarab and bid Menkaure and him a good evening.
I avoided more than I had thought when I turned down a night in the pyramid, it is said the local people believe this pyramid is haunted by the ghost of a beautiful woman.
The Pyramid of Menkaure
by E.J. Andrews, 1842.
The gash in the North face is the result of a twelflth century ruler's
failed eight month effort to destroy the pyramid.
Like several other monuments on the Giza Plateau, the walls of Menkaure's mortuary temple, adjacent to his Pyramid, contain limestone blocks weighing over 200 tons, about four times the weight of a fully loaded semi truck with trailer. The use of these massive stones is haphazard, as if they were being re-used from earlier construction.
The Pyramid of Menkaure was opened in the 1830's by Colonel Howard-Vyse. Sadly, the only object of note found inside, the (empty) presumed sarcophagus of Menkaure, was placed on board the ship Beatrice in 1838. That ship sank in deep water off the coast of Spain. One wonders if modern diving techniques could recover the sarcophagus, and if the long exposure to salt water has ruined it. Records show it was made of basalt, a durable stone.
The burial chamber of of Menkaure as it was found.
Engraving by Strassberger.
Excerpted from: History Of Egypt
by W M Flinders Petrie, 1897.
The pyramid of Menkaura, at Gizeh, is far smaller
than those of his predecessors, and it is also far
inferior in accuracy. But the masonry is good, and
it is built in a more costly manner. The lower sixteen
courses were cased with red granite, most of which
still remains; the upper part was of limestone, of
which heaps of fragments now encumber the sides.
The granite casing was quarried and brought to Gizeh
with an excess of several inches' thickness on the face,
the building joint-line being marked by a smoothly worked
slanting strip down the side of the stone,
beyond which it rounds away. This excess has never
been removed from the faces, and the pyramid was
The interior differs from that of the
other pyramids. The present entrance is lower than the line of an earlier passage, which was
abandoned when the pyramid was partly built. The early
passage now opens on to the great chamber at a higher
level than the present door, and it runs northward in
the masonry until blocked by the outer part of the
The lower passage is lined with red granite
down to the rock, like the entrance of Khafra's pyramid.
In the horizontal part in the rock are several portcullises,
and a small chamber, or enlargement of the
passage, decorated with the early recessed pattern.
Beyond all this the large chamber is reached, entirely
cut in the rock.
The chamber has a recess in the floor, apparently intended
for a sarcophagus, but another short passage
descends in the midst of the chamber westward, and
opens into a lower chamber in which stood the basalt
sarcophagus, decorated with the recessed pattern of
The lower chamber is lined with granite,
built into a flat-topped chamber cut in the rock. The
floor and walls are of granite, and the roof is of sloping
granite beams, butting together, and cut out into a
barrel roof beneath, like the barrel roofs of some of
the early tombs at Gizeh. Some steps descend from
the side of the passage to a small chamber with loculi.
Excerpted from: A History Of Egypt,
From the Earliest Times to the XVIth Dynasty,
by William Mathew Flinders Petrie, London, 1897.
The Sarcophagus of Menkaure (re-created).
by Prisse d'Avennes
The Pyramid of Menkaure at Giza
Map of the Giza Pyramids by Prisse de l'Avennes, 1878.
Ancient Egypt's Era of Pyramids
Climbing the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
The Second Greatest Pyramid - Chephren
Valley Temple of 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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