Without any form of doubt, yes, but it is illegal – you are not legally allowed to climb the 4,500-year-old Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. Under new articles in the country’s antiquities protection law, climbing monuments and smuggling antiquities out of the country will result in high fines and jail sentences. In fact, there are reportedly strict rules against scaling pyramids, and you can even be sent to prison for three years.
One of history’s most ancient and unsolved puzzles is the construction of the pyramids. Again and again, over the course of history, many scholars and scientists asked and wondered the same question of ‘how the pyramids were built.’
The Great Pyramids of Giza and the other pyramids, over 100 Egyptian pyramids, are considered the greatest pieces of human engineering and architecture. These monuments still strongly standing after over 4,500 years and are still a mystery unsolved to this day. Some scriptures found from Ancient Egyptians can help us to understand a bit better how the construction of such monuments was made possible.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering present-day Giza in Greater Cairo, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. These huge structures of limestone or mudbrick are the oldest known man-made structures on our planet.
The pyramids are regarded as one of the most important historical landmarks in the world. It is a general belief that “People have different ambitions and passions when it comes to expressing their love for them.” The Egyptian government has outlawed climbing the pyramids to protect the ancient monuments, which are some of the last remaining wonders of the ancient world.
The pyramids are so iconic, so astonishingly ancient, that it is hard to imagine that 4,600 years ago the plateau where they stand was a desolate, dune-covered wilderness where a scattering of tombs lay under the burning Egyptian sun. Along with the enigmatic Sphinx, other smaller tombs and monuments, Giza has three principal pyramids: Khufu (originally 481 feet high, and sometimes called Cheops, or the Great Pyramid); Khafre (471 feet); and Menkaure (213 feet).
Emerging out of the complex dynastic needs of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, they are the triumphant product of one of the most daring and innovative engineering projects the world has ever known. Here, we will provide answers to some of the questions that have been asked over the years about the wonders of the pyramids.
Why Can’t You Climb The Pyramids?
With no serious fear of heights, it’s not too difficult for someone in reasonable shape to clamber up fairly quickly. Actually, climbing UP isn’t the problem. Climbing DOWN is.
On the descent, however, you basically have to jump down, rock by rock. Jump, jump, jump, hundreds of times. Remember, the pyramids were originally covered in polished limestone, they weren’t designed as stairs. These stones are the ragged remains after pillagers later stripped off the limestone coating to construct local buildings. They’re uneven, ranging from a few feet to 6+ feet tall. Your landing spots are smooth, slippery, covered in sand or loose rocks, often angled downward, and can be quite narrow or cracked. There are no trustworthy handholds to provide support.
To further discourage the act, climbing of the pyramids is also banned because it’s exceedingly dangerous, and typically anyone caught scaling the pyramids face up to three years in an Egyptian jail. The entire site is out of bounds after 5pm, with guards patrolling the area.
More so, you would be jeopardizing your life when you decide to engage in such action without putting in place proper safety measures.
Who Built The Pyramids?
Pharaoh Khufu began the first Giza pyramid project. His Great Pyramid is the largest in Giza and towers some 481 feet (147 meters) above the plateau. Its estimated 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons.
Khufu’s architects and engineers embarked on a project that transcends any other structure in the Bronze Age. Its completion utterly transformed the plateau. Khufu had selected it, in part, to distance himself from the magnificent pyramids built by his father, Snefru, in Dahshur, another necropolis near Memphis. Several other factors also made it an ideal site. The high plateau allowed greater visibility for the pyramid. It was near Heliopolis, basis of the cult of the sun god Re. Since there were already some tombs in Giza, the land had already been sanctified and so was fit for a pharaoh’s tomb of a stature never seen before, or surpassed since.
While the exterior of Khufu’s pyramid is what makes an impression on most visitors, its interior is no less awe-inspiring. A series of passages, including the Grand Gallery, links two main areas: the King’s Chamber, which held Khufu’s sarcophagus, and the so-called Queen’s Chamber, believed to have housed a sacred statue of the pharaoh.
Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid at Giza. His necropolis also included the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head. The Sphinx may stand sentinel for the pharaoh’s entire tomb complex.
The third of the Giza Pyramids is considerably smaller than the first two. Built by Pharaoh Menkaure. It featured a much more complex mortuary temple.
Why and how the Pyramids at Giza were built is one of Egypt’s most amazing mysteries. The Giza Pyramids, built to endure an eternity, have done just that. The monumental tombs are relics of Egypt’s Old Kingdom era and were constructed some 4,500 years ago.
Egypt’s pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. To prepare for the next world they erected temples to the gods and massive pyramid tombs for themselves—filled with all the things each ruler would need to guide and sustain himself in the next world.
Each pharaoh who built in Giza did so in accordance with some simple rules that harmoniously ordered the three funerary complexes on the plateau: the facade of Khafre’s high temple is aligned with the western face of Khufu’s pyramid. And the facade of Menkaure’s high temple is aligned with the western face of Khafre’s pyramid. At the same time, the imaginary line that roughly joins the southeast corners of the three pyramids points toward the temple of Re in Heliopolis.
How Were The Pyramids Built?
The techniques that were used in the process of constructing the Egyptian pyramids have baffled and puzzled many historians and scientists for countless years. Many controversial hypotheses were introduced regarding the construction of the pyramids. The general theory is based on the belief that the huge stones were carved from the quarries using copper chisels. Then, these blocks were dragged and lifted into position. However, the method regarding the movement and placement of these stones are under a great dispute.
The daunting challenges of building such a structure, and efficiently marshaling thousands of workers, required meticulous planning. Scribes set about calculating the number of blocks that would be required to build a pyramid with the selected gradient—in the case of Khufu, the angle of the sides with the ground is 52 degrees.
Much of the stonework in the Giza Pyramids came from a quarry barely half a mile to the south of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The white limestone that once formed the outer casing had a longer journey to Giza, moved by boat along the Nile from Tura, eight miles away. A scholar, Henri Chevrier discovered that a five-ton block can be dragged horizontally along a wet clay track by just six men. As pictures found in tombs have shown, blocks of that size were also sometimes pulled by oxen. The ramps by which they were raised onto the pyramid structure have also been depicted on the decoration of some tombs, and there is archaeological evidence for such ramps at Giza itself.
The geometry of a pyramid helped overcome the logistical problem of raising massive stones: As much as 40 percent of a pyramid’s volume is concentrated in its bottom third. The raising of stone blocks by means of a ramp beyond the lower third of the structure was, however, a major challenge, and it is still not fully known how the Egyptians solved the problem. One solution would have been to use the building’s inner step structure—visible today, since the outer casing stones have long disappeared—because then the blocks would only have had to be raised a little at a time, in the same way a heavy object can be eased up a staircase.
The rows making up Khufu’s pyramid are slightly more than two feet high on average. So it is highly likely that, given sufficient manpower, levers could be used to raise large blocks into position—and so on, until the construction reached completion in the form of the pinnacle, known as the pyramidion, which historians believe was put in place in the course of a solemn ceremony.
The pyramidion atop Khufu has long been toppled, but is thought to have been of white Tura stone. It capped a total of two and a half million stone blocks, making it one of the most massive buildings on the planet, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still standing.
Graffiti and inscriptions at the site have also enabled scholars to piece together telling facts about life on this colossal construction site. Blocks found with dates from all seasons in the Egyptian calendar suggest the pyramids were built year-round and not just when the Nile was in flood.
There are many types of pyramids and not all were built in the same way. The lowest stones in Egypt’s first ever pyramid—Djoser’s step pyramid in Saqqara, built the century before Khufu’s—are bricks. But as construction progressed, and engineers became more confident, they used larger blocks. The largest at Giza, weighing three tons, were those used to build Khafre’s pyramid.
How Did They Provide Workforce To Build The Pyramids?
The form of the workforce is also under a huge debate. It is believed that the pyramids were constructed using slave labor and another theory suggests that the pyramids were builds by tens of thousands of free skilled workers that worked for a salary.
What is certain is that the workforce was highly organized and managed to the highest level by following an organized and planned process to build an historical edifice that has outlived many generations.
How Did They Choose The Building Site Of The Pyramids?
The first step in building a pyramid was to choose a suitable site. This had to be on the west side of the Nile where the Sun would set, considering that Ancient Egyptians believed that wherever the sun sets that’s was the portal to the afterlife.
The pyramids also needed to be situated on the high ground, away from the danger of flooding at the time of the Nile’s inundation. However, it could not be too far away from the Nile bank because the river would be used to transport blocks of fine quality limestone for the outer casing from Tura on the other side of the Nile.
The site chosen would be at a point on the desert plateau that would be proved a firm rock base capable of supporting the great weigh of the pyramid without any risk of cracking considering that some of the greatest pyramids weigh around 2.5 tons.
The site chosen for the construction of each pyramid was considered also based on the distance of the pyramid to the respective king’s residence, as the King would need to regularly inspect the development of his burial chamber.
Was There Any Building Plan?
No plans for the construction of the pyramids were ever found, but the construction of pyramids was not a haphazard affair and the measurements used were accurate to a high degree.
The workers had first to prepare a firm foundation by removing the loose sand from the rock. Then, the rock base had to be made absolutely flat. The workers may have done this by building low mud walls all around the base and cutting channels in a grid pattern over the surface. Then, they would fill the channels with water and mark the level the water would reach. After the water had drained away, protruding rock would have been cut back to the level indicated, and any depressions filled with stones to make a perfectly level surface.
Each side of the pyramid had to face one of the cardinal points. The builders probably established true north first and worked out the other directions from that. They may have found true north by taking a sighting on a particular star in the northern sky. They would then observe the rising and setting of the star and mark its appearance and disappearance on an artificial horizon.
By bisecting the angle thus made, they would obtain a north-south line. They had instruments for drawing right angles so; they would then have been able to find east and west. Next, they had to make the base perfectly square. With all four sides exactly the same length and the corners in perfect right angles.
Why Did The Building Blocks Not Fall Off?
Sometimes rocky outcrop was used as the core of the pyramid to save the work. The inner chambers and passages would have been constructed independently and the actual pyramid built around them.
Some of the royal pyramid builders seem to have changed their minds about their preferred location of the burial chambers. The inner pyramid would then be built of limestone cut from the desert plateau. When the main structure was finished, the pyramid was completed by encasing it in blocks of finely cut and dressed limestone from Tura. Sometimes granite was used for the lower courses.
The stones used in the building of the pyramids were not little bricks. The bricks in the pyramid vary in size. However, the largest can be found in the King’s chamber. These particular stones differ from the regular limestone blocks and were instead made of granite.
The precise method of raising the pyramids is not known. Pulleys were not invented until Roman times. However, the Greek historian Herodotus tells of levers being used to raise the blocks from one level to the next. It has also been suggested that workers operating in teams used a ramp to haul the blocks into position. As the pyramid grew in size so the ramp would have been raised to enable the workers to reach the next level. The main problem with this is that the ramp would eventually have been huge as the pyramid itself and would have reached an immense distance into the desert.
No trace of such a structure has definitely been identified at any of the various pyramid sites. Another idea is that the ramp would have gone around the pyramid and was dismantled when the pyramid was completed.
Construction methods are still hotly debated and are still one of the greatest mysteries of Ancient human civilization.