Atop The Great Pyramid of Giza

Edited excerpts from:
The Journal of Lt-Colonel George A. F. Fitzclarence,
Published in 1819, AD
adapted for, 2006.

On landing on the opposite side of the Nile at Giza, we mounted our donkeys, which were excellent, and approached the Pyramids, passing between the green fields. These Pyramids of solid stone are, I am told, called by the Egyptians Gebel Pharoun, or the Mountains of Pharaoh, and also, Ui Haram, or the Forbidden. Every large ruin in Egypt, the era of which is unknown, is stated by them to have been built in the time of Pharaoh, with whom they are acquainted from the Old Testament.

As we neared the Pyramids gradually showed their ranges of steps and so lost their exact pyramidal shape, and their apex began to appear flattened. The Second Pyramid looks from a distance to be higher than the First due to its' base being higher, though in reality it is slightly shorter than the Great Pyramid. The Third Pyramid is considerably smaller, only appearing to stand as equal to its' brothers at a certain angle of perspective.

The Pyramids stand upon calcareous (limestone) rock, about 40 or 50 feet above the level of the cultivation, and the three greatest are placed with respect to each other, to use a military term, in echelon (diagonal), the largest being to the north and east. It has often been remarked that the four faces exactly correspond with the cardinal points of the compass to an extraordinary level of precision. The immediate vicinity of the Pyramids appears to have been a favorite spot for burial, and there are several minor pyramids of 40 or 50 feet (13 - 15 meters) in height at the foot of the eastern side of the Great Pyramid, and to the south of the Third Pyramid.

Egyptians stand on the rising courses, each stone half as tall as they are
Climbing the Great Pyramid,
Photograph by J. Pascal Sébah, about 1880.

I now intended to ascend the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), and so, leaving Mr. Salt and Mr. Belzoni, I started together with several Arabs to undertake the difficult task.

It was by the north-east angle that I climbed, the stones which form the steps are from three to four feet high (about one meter). After mounting a considerable way, I was completely fatigued, and, added to this, a violent north wind blew the sand from the desert continually upon me. If I looked down, I was affected with sickness, and I had no companion to stimulate me by emulation and conversation.

My perseverance, which was about to take its flight, rallied upon my remembering the regret I should feel if I did not attain the summit. About two thirds of the way up the north-east angle of the Pyramid I found a small cave or hole about twelve feet deep and the same high, which appears to have been formed by removing several large stones. After many halts to rest, and a goodly amount of assistance from the Arabs whom I asked to take hold of each arm, I at last gained the summit.

This Pyramid is 479 feet (146 meters) in height, from its base to its summit. The area on which it stands is about 13 acres. From a distance this building appears to end at a point, yet there is a flattened space at the top of about 20 feet (6 meters) square. It looks, indeed, as if it had never been finished or that an extensive capstone had been placed there and subsequently removed.

The view from the top is extraordinary. I observed the Pyramids of Saqqara towards the south-east, and think there must be more than a dozen of them, of which I understand the greater number have not been opened. The causeways spoken of by Herodotus depart from the Pyramids, one to the north-east, and the other considerably to the eastward of south-east, and are astonishing works. I followed them with my eye until they were lost in the distance. These connect the valley temples with the mortuary temples of each of the Pyramids.

The Great Pyramid, seen from the Second Pyramid,
By Johann Frey.

The line which bounds the cultivation and the desert is seen most perceptibly from this vantage, and the crops are not two yards from the burning sand, thus marking the utmost extent of the yearly inundation. The desert extends to the westward until, at the horizon, it is blended with the sky.

As it has been customary for travelers to inscribe their names on the summit, I choose a place for mine on the same stone on which Lord Belmore had inscribed his, that of his lady, and that of his lordship's brother, Captain Corry. There was also the name of Rosa on the stone, which I concluded was that of some enterprising damsel, and gave her all due credit for her successful attempt; but I have since learned that it was the name of her ladyship's lap-dog.

Imagined scene atop the Pyramid.

The limestone is very soft, and I found great ease in carving my name, although it is a very long one. I looked for the names of the various persons who had previously attained this height. I found that of Lord Hutchinson, with the date, 1801. Several French names boasted the date An. 9 of the Republic. I also saw that of Chateaubriand, and somebody has taken the pains to engrave under it "il n'toit pas ici," (FR: He was never here) which I have been assured is really the fact. It was my wish to have dated some letters I intended for India from the top of the Great Pyramid, but I found the Arabs had only brought up my memorandum book and pencil.

Descending, which I much feared, being often affected with giddiness in looking down from a height, I was surprised to find relatively easy. The reason I know not, except my being aware that the alternative was to remain the rest of my days upon the top of that Pyramid, or of continually looking down during my descent. I found my companions at the entrance, and after resting a short time, was accompanied by Belzoni through the interior.

Edited excerpt from "Journal of a Route across India and through Egypt to England in 1817-18", written by Lieutenant-Colonel George Augustus Federick Fitzclarence, later Major-General and Earl of Munster. Mr. Fitzclarence was the first son of British King William IV by his mistress Mrs. Dorothea Jordan. Only one edition of this very rare book was published, in 1819.

The Pyramid of Menkaure, seen from atop the Second Pyramid.
The mortuary temple and the causeway can be seen left of the Pyramid.
By Johann Frey, 1850.

Each of the three large Giza Pyramids has two temples associated with it, both of Chephren's are marked "temple" on the map below. The valley temples were located approximately a quarter mile (400 meters) East of their Pyramids near the extreme edge of the yearly Nile flood and therefore the edge of cultivated land.

Covered stone causeways lead from the valley temples to their respective mortuary temples (sometimes called pyramid temples) located at the East side of the Pyramids. These mortuary temples were the eternal palaces of the kings, replicating their earthly palaces in Memphis. Here the daily offerings and ritual of the cult of the dead Pharaoh were performed. A similar arrangement was provided for the Pyramids of later Pharaohs.

(Left) Looking down from atop the Great Pyramid.
There is a small plateau on which a man stands.
(Right) The Second Pyramid, from atop the Great Pyramid.
Both photographs are by Underwood, 1904.

Climbing the Great Pyramid is somewhat dangerous and quite illegal these days.
In earlier times a suitable sum could be paid to the guard not to notice your efforts,
and perhaps additional payments would be required by the other guards
that might appear upon your descent.

The Giza pyramids are located upon a relatively flat plateau.
Map of the Giza necropolis by Prisse de l'Avennes, 1878.

wings of the Sun.

Ancient Egypt's Age of the Pyramids

Home Page
Climbing the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
The Second Greatest Pyramid - Chephren
Valley Temple of Chephren (Khafre)
The Pyramid of Menkaure
The Great Sphinx
More About Giza
Before Giza:
The Pyramids at Saqqara
The Pyramids of Sneferu
The Greatest Mystery of All.

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