Gizeh Pyramids Sphinx

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The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.

Based on a mark in an interior chamber naming the work gang and a reference to fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially at 146.5 metres (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface; what is seen today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. There have been varying scientific and alternative theories about the Great Pyramid’s construction techniques. Most accepted construction hypotheses are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.

There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called Queen’s Chamber and King’s Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The main part of the Giza complex is a setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honour of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s wives, an even smaller “satellite” pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles.

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The largest and most famous sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza, situated on the Giza Plateau adjacent to the Great Pyramids of Giza on the west bank of the Nile River and facing east (29°58′31″N 31°08′15″E). The sphinx is located southeast of the pyramids. Although the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.

What names their builders gave to these statues is not known. At the Great Sphinx site, the inscription on a stele by Thutmose IV in 1400 BCE, lists the names of three aspects of the local sun deity of that period, Khepera–Rê–Atum. The inclusion of these figures in tomb and temple complexes quickly became traditional and many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the powerful solar deity, Sekhmet, a lioness. Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include one bearing the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her likeness carved in granite, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis, Memphis, Egypt, currently located within the open-air museum at that site. The theme was expanded to form great avenues of guardian sphinxes lining the approaches to tombs and temples as well as serving as details atop the posts of flights of stairs to very grand complexes. Nine hundred with ram heads, representing Amon, were built in Thebes, where his cult was strongest.

Perhaps the first sphinx in Egypt was one depicting Queen Hetepheres II, of the fourth dynasty that lasted from 2723 BCE to 2563. She was one of the longest-lived members of the royal family of that dynasty.

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David Roberts

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