The Giza Plateau is the northern extension of the necropolis of Memphis, situated on the west bank of the Nile and is today part of the suburbs of modern Giza. The Giza Plateau includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of King Khafre, and the Pyramid of King Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza. All were built during the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, between 2600 and 2500 BC. The site also includes several cemeteries and the remains of a workers village.
The 4th dynasty is considered to be the “golden age” of Old Kingdom Egypt. Due to the relative peace of the 3rd dynasty, the next ruling era was a time of social and political prosperity that allowed for the pursuit of more artistic and cultural leisures, including massive construction projects. Sneferu, the founder of the 4th dynasty, commissioned a series of building experiments that led to the evolution from Djoser’s step pyramid to the smooth-sided ‘true’ pyramids that have come to sympolize Egyptian architecture in modern memory.
King Khufu ‘Cheops’ was the first to construct his pyramid at Giza Plateau – the monument we now call the Great Pyramid “Per-Neter” one of the most ancient monuments of the ancient world. The Pyramid was built over a twenty-year period during the reign of the king Khufu “Cheops” 2589-2566 BCE, of the 4th Dynasty.
Following King Khufu’s death, his son Khafre (r. 2558-2532 BCE) took the throne and began building his own pyramid next to his father’s. The king Menkaure (r. 2532-2503 BCE) came after Khafre and followed the same paradigm of building his eternal home at Giza. Khafre and Menkaure added their own temple complexes and monuments, such as the Great Sphinx of Giza under Khafre’s reign, but these were on a smaller scale than that of Khufu’s work.
The Great Pyramid “Per-Neter” the first modern-day excavation of the Great Pyramid was conducted by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1880. The Great Pyramid is argued to have been built as a tomb, Scholars and historians generally agree the Great Pyramid of Giza was built as a tomb for king Khufu, second king of the 4th dynasty of Egypt. Khufu’s vizier Hemiunu, his nephew and the second-most powerful man in Egypt, was credited with the design and building of the Great Pyramid. Hemiunu’s father, Nefermaat (Khufu’s brother) had been Sneferu’s vizier in his pyramid-building projects.
The Great Pyramid was the tallest building in the world until the early part of the 20th century AD. But the construction remains unique on the ground and in its shape to our time. It is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids standing today at the Giza plateau in Egypt. The pyramid rises to a height of 146 metres with a base of 230 metres and comprises over two million blocks of stone. Some of these stones are of such massive size and weight such as the granite slabs in the King’s Chamber that the logistics of raising and positioning them so precisely seems an impossibility by modern standards. The construction was almost faultless in design. The sides were oriented exactly toward the cardinal points of the compass and were at precise 90-degree angles.
The reasons for its construction are still mysterious to us. We know that this is a tomb intended to receive the mummified body of the king for eternity and help his soul to continue his journey in the other world, in accordance with the beliefs of ancient Egyptian spirituality. The pyramid shape is also a help to the rising of the soul “Ka”, towards the Heavens. If the first pyramid was a kind of stairway to Heaven (Djoser’s Step Pyramid), the shape quickly turned into a stone smooth-faced pyramid, more aesthetic but also more difficult to achieve.
But the shrine of King Khufu is not just a pyramid. It is above all a funerary complex of great importance, including various elements whose pyramid is the most impressive. But it is accompanied by a high temple, located just next to the pyramid, a low temple, lower down the valley, a roadway that connects the three buildings, two cemeteries containing the tombs of personalities close to the king and four additional pyramids (one for each of his wives and a fourth for worship).
The pyramids of Giza have always fascinated mankind and a great many mysteries have been built around them. For ancient Egyptians the three Great Pyramids of Giza are much more than three massive buildings, they are a place of spiritual meanings, they have an extraordinary effect upon the soul.
King Rameses II had a small temple built at Giza in front of the Sphinx as a token of honour and it was Rameses II’s fourth son, Khaemweset, who devoted himself to preserving the site. Khaemweset never ruled Egypt but was a crown prince whose efforts to restore the monuments of the past are well documented. He is, in fact, considered the world’s “first Egyptologist” for his work in restoration, preservation, and recording of ancient monuments and especially for his work at Giza.
The village of workers
In the late 1980s and ’90s, excavations in the surroundings of the pyramids revealed labourers’ districts that included bakeries, storage areas, workshops, and the small tombs of workers and artisans. The tombs range from simple mud-brick domes to more-elaborate stone monuments. Statuettes were found within some of the structures; hieroglyphic inscriptions on tomb walls occasionally identify the deceased. Also, despite popular imagination, these pyramids were not in fact built by slaves but by skilled Egyptian craftsmen and hired labourers. They were even paid with common wages of bread and beer.
The pyramids of Giza and all other temples and monuments in the country were constructed by Egyptians who were hired for their skills and compensated for their efforts. No evidence of any kind whatsoever – from any era of Egypt’s history-supports the narrative events described in the biblical Book of Exodus, that says that monuments’s construction was built on the backs of slaves.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
is the most instantly recognizable statue associated with ancient Egypt and among the most famous in the world. The sculpture, of a recumbent lion with the head of an Egyptian king, was carved out of limestone on the Giza plateau probably in the reign of the king Khafre (2558-2532 BCE) during the period of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE), although some scholars (notably Dobrev in 2004 CE) claim it was created by Djedefre (2566-2558 BCE), Khafre’s brother who tried to usurp the throne after the death of the king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE), the creator of the Great Pyramid.
Other Egyptologists, and scholars, professors, and historians from outside the field, have claimed the Sphinx is much older than the 4th-Dynasty date mainstream Egyptology continually insists on. The claims of some of these writers, such as Zechariah Sitchin and Erich von Daniken, have long been discredited by scholarship in the field, and those of more recent writers on the subject are routinely ignored or claimed to be irrelevant or incorrect.
The Sphinx measures 240 feet long (73 m) and stands 66 feet high (20 m), oriented on a straight west-to-east axis.
It is commonly accepted among Egyptologists, however, that the Sphinx was built under the reign of Khafre during the Old Kingdom’s 4th Dynasty when masons who were constructing his pyramid complex came upon a large piece of limestone and decided – or were directed – to carve the Sphinx from it. Why this was done and what purpose the Sphinx originally served is continually debated.
The Sphinx is directly in line with Khafre’s pyramid complex and this also supports the claim that he was its creator. The location of the statue, however, and how it lines up with Khafre’s complex, has led some scholars (such as Stadelmann of the German Archaeological Institute of Cairo) to believe that the Sphinx already existed when Khafre came to the throne and his complex was purposefully designed to line up with the sculpture.
The statue was never known as ‘the sphinx’ by the ancient Egyptians. The word ‘sphinx’ is Greek and came to be applied to the Egyptian sculpture at Giza, according to Verner (and others) through a translation of the Egyptian name shesep–ankh (“living image”) by which the Egyptians referred to the piece. During the time of the New Kingdom of Egypt(1570-1069 BCE), the Sphinx was known by the Egyptians as Horemakhet (Horus of the Horizon) and a cult grew up around the statue associating it with the god Horus.
The 4th-century CE Coptic Christians called the statue Bel-hit (The Guardian), and this name is still used today. Egyptians of the present day do not refer to the statue as ‘the Sphinx’ unless they are discussing it with foreign tourists. The piece is known in Egyptian Arabic as Abu al-Hawl, ‘The Father of Terror,’ and has been claimed to be an idolatrous abomination by some extreme factions of Islam. In 2012 CE, in fact, clerics associated with the Taliban called for the destruction of the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza for this reason.
The famous English Egyptologist E. Wallis Budge (1857-1934 CE) claimed that the Sphinx was much older than Khafre’s time and could have been created in the Early Dynastic Period or even earlier. A more significant argument for the earlier construction of the monument is that, although archaeologists have found inscriptions and evidence relating to the construction of the pyramids of Giza in the 4th Dynasty, how the workers were housed, what they ate, how they were paid, there is never any mention of the Sphinx. This fact is especially significant when one considers how carefully the Egyptians documented building projects. Even if one were to claim – as some have – that such evidence simply has not yet come to light, it still seems odd that such a large and obviously significant structure would not be mentioned anywhere by anyone at the time it was supposedly built.
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