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The Origin and Architecture of Egyptian Pyramids Essay

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Introduction

One the most conspicuous structures that are wrapped with cultural mysticism in the ancient world that until today enthralls our modern age is the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt that dates back four and a half thousand years ago.  At the moment, there are approximately over a hundred pyramids known in Egypt, though most are already dilapidated.  The Step Pyramid is believed to be one of the earliest pyramids built at Saqqara as it featured the earliest forms of structure, the low mastaba tomb.  The Step Pyramid is actually the tomb of King Djoser’s. However, the first pyramid as we normally picture it is the “Red Pyramid” at Dashur, south of Cairo.  This was built as the tomb of King Sneferu and was refereed to as Red pyramid apparently because of its color.  The largest and perhaps the most popular of all pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was built for King Sneferu’s successor, Pharaoh Khufu.  As a popular tourist attraction, it is considered as the epitome of the pyramid age that features perfectly even sides covered with a limestone.  One of it compellingly stunning features is the huge sloping Grand Gallery that leads to the leads into the King’s Chamber with walls of genteel granite. Along Giza are other big pyramids like Chephren and Menkaura. These pyramids included other structures also incorporated other structures like temples, squares, enclosures and channels towards the Nile River. (Thompson. 2008)

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Origins of the Pyramid

The term pyramid is derived from the Greek words “pyamis” and “pyramidos”. The former means obscure while the latter means “Fire In The Middle”. (Mehler, 2005)  Ancient Egyptians refer to pyramid as ‘mr, ‘ or “mer”.  Ancient Khemitians refer to it as Per Neter which means “house of Nature”.  (Mehler, 2002) Thus, one theory proposed that ancient people believed that pyramids ‘The Houses of Eternity’. Whatever the real etymology of the word, what is scientifically certain is that pyramids served as funeral monuments and tombs for royalties. Hence, many Egyptologists, tried to relate the etymology of the word in relation to funeral and ascendancy to the afterlife.

Ancient Egyptians believed of an afterlife.  However, they also believed that it is important for them to keep their physical bodies intact as it is necessary for it to proceed toward the ethereal world.  Through the practice mummification, it is believed that the bodies of the kings are ensured protection from decomposition.  (David, 1997) The mummified bodies were then placed underneath or within the pyramids. Consequently, the pyramids provided the suitable eternal accommodation for their corporeal body.  Hence, the pyramids not only provided their death chamber, but they are also equipped with certain amenities like food, clothing and wealth i.e. jewelries and gold.  Incidentally, this is precisely why practically all pyramids have been plundered despite the warning that a promise of death and tragedy awaits anyone who tried to pillage them.   The ancient Egyptians believed that the afterlife promises a more superior life than that on earth.  Along with the burial of the dead body of the pharaoh are their wives, and closest relatives and friends, with whom they can continually live with in the afterlife.  Thus, the pyramids not only contained the tombs of the kings but it also served as the burial for the queens and their chosen companies.

According to pyramid texts that were inscribed in royal tombs, the king would live with his fellow gods (dead kings) forming an association that will act as the staff of their chief king, Rah, the sun god.  He along with the other dead kings would navigate the skies and the worlds for eternity. Thus, pyramids correspond to a gateway for royalties to rise to the heavens. (Quirke, and Spencer, 1992)

Pyramids as claimed were not successful in the very first shot. The first pyramid, Djoser did not possess the shape of a pyramid as there were steps at the sides with a truncated top. This was their first attempt to build a pyramid. There are cases were the pyramids were build and rebuild again which never got a shape enough to resemble a pyramid. The first one which was satisfactory enough to resemble a pyramid was the one constructed in the Meidum. Osirians were very conscious about the arrangement and the layout of the  the subterranean chambers for the pyramid to get an appropriate and estimated shape.

There are many other pyramids outside Egypt, but these are believed to serve an entirely different purpose. Few pyramids in Mexico and south of Mexico are equally famous, perhaps these pyramids are assumed to be temples. Pyramids were also believed to be divine places too close to God and with that in mind the diseased were treated there. Source: touregypt.net

Pyramids were also believed to be built to prove the superiority of Egyptian Kings as they were considered to be a representative of God. As per the ancient stories and the pictures depicted in the walls inside pyramid, we can arrive at a conclusion that the King worshiped sun as God. A major reason behind the construction of the pyramid could be to get the position of sun throughout the year. Few theories insist that the pyramids could have been constructed  with an idea of providing landmark to ancient travelers who pass through Giza. They were made to prove superiority of Egyptian  Kings over others , it is important to be kept in mind that kings of Egypt were treated as representatives of God on the earth. Huge structures of pyramids proved their superiority over  people & other kings. The tapering end from the base to the apex is assumed to forge a close relationship with God, there was a superstitious belief that ones after death they directly reach God.

There seems to be a notion that the pyramid was built by Jewish slaves. Perhaps the reality is most of the pyramids existed even before the emergence of Jews. Greek historian Herodotus was informed that the pyramid Khufu consumed around 100,000 laborers in the process for a period of twenty years. Khufu is a result of enormous support rendered which included facilitation of food, building materials and other essentials required. Priests and their families were entirely responsible to attend the workers when they were in need of anything. Source: guardians.net

Cosmic energy

Pyramids have had a History of enhancing romance and a healthy relationship. Dumped in its geometry is one of the supreme energy which is found to be revolving around inside the pyramids. Engineers and scientists were amazed when a blunt blade was sharpened when kept inside the pyramid. Vegetables and meat remained fresh for a long period of time than normal. They arrive at a notion that the isoteric geometry of the pyramid has some relation to this miracle.

Scientists have proved that pyramids are good to preserve edibles or any object to prevent the loss of the product’s originality. This was the idea behind mummifying Kings and Queens, in addition to the chemicals this power of the pyramid was exploited to preserve the bodies. A major share of preservation is attributed to the scientific value behind its geometry. These electromagnetic waves are used as treatments now for curing various ailments as it is observed to possess a vital rejuvenation power.

Architecture of Pyramids

The architectural complexity of Pyramids continues to mesmerize modern engineers on how the ancient Egyptians managed the construction of the structure and the organization of labor with crude tools and equipment such as ropes and sledges. However, it must be noted that the construction of pyramids advancement with the architectural design and engineering capacity.  Pyramids actually evolved from single tier burial tombs called Mastabas made of mud bricks.  (Roth, 2007) Large Mastabas featured several chambers, with ornamental interiors. From the single tier to a six tiers, the first pyramid was made, which is the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, designed by the architect, Imhotep, who later was renowned The Egyptian Father of Architecture. (White, 2003)   The step pyramid structure practically laid the basic structural features of a pyramid.  With the advanced knowledge of geometry and math, the great known true pyramids were then built.  The ‘Royal Cubit’ was the standard unit of measurement used which is equal to approximately 52.3 centimeters. (Herz-Fischler, 2000) However, a documentation showing how pyramids were actually built remains debatable.   One of the obvious concerns of the modern architect is how the blocks of stones were lifted.  A block of stone is estimated to weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons each taken to a height as high as 146 meters.  (Langmead and Garnaut, 2001) While many engineers believed that ramps were used in order to bring stone blocks to the top, arrangement of the ramps remains unclear and disputed. Until now, architects and engineers are still unable to replicate how the great pyramids were constructed.

Now turning our attention to the internal construction of the pyramids, most of the true pyramids constitutes a sequence of buttress walls enveloping a central core. The core of the pyramid is nothing but the step pyramid, which is constructed followed by the true pyramid surmounting it in the exterior. This point provides us with an assuming justification about the construction of the pyramid. According to the researchers the step  pyramid would have been laid to support the construction of the true pyramid outside the core pyramid(the step pyramid). For the consignment of the material from one level to the other a ramp must have been built outside before the construction of the outer layer could start. This idea would have enabled a smooth construction of the true pyramid with the    practice of submerging the ramp in the process of the construction of the outer pyramid. Though there are immense assumptions as to how the constructions would have carried out, there are so many disputes to fail these assumptions. Source: touregypt.net

Let us start amazing at another kind of pyramid which is the Bent pyramid, which was considered as a temple. The Bent pyramid was a product which was created in the  period between 2680-2565 B.C. This 105m-tall pyramid was attributed by Khufu(who is supposed to be the mastermind for the Great Pyramid of Giza) to his father Pharoah Sneferu for his governance and the most trusted spiritual reasons. There is neighboring pyramid which is nothing but the red pyramid as discussed earlier in the introduction of  the paper. Source: wanderlust.co.uk

It is a cuboid constituting 3 equilateral triangle contributing 360 degrees and 180 degrees of each corner from the lower body and upper body respectively. There seems to be nine extremities in this pyramid with 4 running from the base to the midway, with 4 running from the midway to the apex and one in the apex itself.

The pyramid was built over a surface which was uneven and it had a significant inclination. It was not set right before the construction began. This uneven surface became a problem when the architects came to observe the stresses on the structure after the construction up to 50m from the ground. Then the upper part of the pyramid was adjusted accordingly by completing it at a shallower angle, significantly shallow enough to give an obvious bent on the triangular sides of the pyramid. This is why it is given a name the bent pyramid.

Though the explanation above gives us a crystal clear picture of why the building is bent, there are three other assumptions which are also equally convincing. Few Egyptologists suggest the reason for the bent could have been an idea to curtail the volume of the building to finish it as soon as possible. The reason behind this could have been Pharaoh Khufu’s  idea to intentionally cut short the height of the building as there was another pyramid which collapsed down to ground. Few theories show an evidence of the collapse of pyramid in Maidoun during the construction of the bent pyramid. It seems the pyramid at Maidoun had an inclination of 54 degree, 31 minutes in the base as was with the bent pyramid perhaps the difference was the continuation of the same angle till the apex. This turned out the height of the building to be 104.71m, with the lower part contributing 47.04m and the upper part contributing 57.67m with base of 189.43m. After having witnessed the collapse, the inclination was reduced to 43 degrees, 21 minutes as it tapered towards the apex.

The other reason why the pyramid is bent is because of the size and weight of the staircase. One of the staircases was located in the middle of the northern side of the pyramid, which is approximately 12m above the ground level and the other was on the western side leading to upper chamber and lower chamber respectively. These entrances are made up of  small stone blocks with each entrance built 4m deep. As the weight of the entrance was exceedingly high the shape of the building was altered all by itself accordingly. There are records of abandoning the pyramid for 20 years as it was considered to be unsafe. Apart from the entrances, there is a steep ladder like staircase leading to a burial chamber. There is a short passage which leads to the southwest corner of a shaft. This shaft is intentionally aligned with the vertical axis of the pyramid and it is referred by the archaeologists as chimney. These two entrances were aligned with all the oriented north- south reveal, it was an attempt by the builder to follow the worship of sun throughout the year, as the emerging sun was seen from east-west of the pyramid.

The pyramid was built on a plateau at Dashur which remained unused for years together. Dashur plateau is a flat area with a good amount of quality rocks which was assumed to be strong basement. However his judgment went wrong when the basement was unable to withstand the weight of the building. The underlying sands and shales started moving from its original place and the building began to roll down from the top. This was observed during the course of the construction. Crack fillings, plaster patches and sand fillings were done as a remedy to stabilize the ground, perhaps it was in vain. The original plan of bringing out a true pyramid was proved to be failed.

The pyramid underwent three alterations when discovered that the soil was weak. The planned angle was 60 degrees from the base to the apex which was reduced to 54 in the initial stages of construction. This was carried out by enlarging the base and these alterations are clearly visible in the north access corridor, 12 meters away from the first entrance which lead to the lower chamber. While the second alteration was carried out when the building was constructed up to a height of 45m. There was a reduction in inclination from 54 degrees to 43 degrees( it is recorded to be somewhere in between of 42.5 to 43.5 degrees). The builders started to realize the actual increase in stress was due  to the instability of the ground.

It is located north-south oriented and is originally built up of fine white limestone. The temple has three sections inside it and all the three sections sized equally. The temple has a portico inside which there are ten pillars in red, coated with limestone. The walls of this pyramid are decorated with portraits and depictions giving us a clue of the spiritual activities that was carried then.

A significant volume of mudbrick engulf the Bent Pyramid. To the north of the pyramid is the north chapel and to the south of the pyramid is a small cult like as is found with most of the pyramids in Egypt. The cult pyramid is nothing but the mortuary of the priests who belonged to this temple. They are called the priests of Snefru. This cult in the south is believed to be a model of the Gallery in the Great Pyramid of Giza. To the east of the cult pyramid lies another chapel which bears the King’s name and the name of the Dynasty on either side embossed in limestone. Egyptologists say that the bent pyramid is much more impressive than others as it still has the limestone casing fresher than the other pyramids. It is enclosed by fields and deserts. This pyramid is about be opened  for public viewing in a short while to come. This project has grabbed attention recently and Archaeologists have decided to invest $3 million for renovation and facilitation of  public viewing. Source: touregypt.net

Conclusion

Pyramids are highly complex structures which were considered to be astounding creations. The construction of a pyramid requires a holistic approach requiring an appropriate or at least an approximate  estimation on the quantity of laborers, quantity of material, the quality of the same, the stability of the ground, the time  consumed, the selection of the spot and so on. The stunning geometry and the cosmic energy revolution within the pyramid which is a result of the geometry is absolutely attributed to the astuteness and the judgment of the architect. Above all many architects were very conscious about the foundation, as there were so many pyramids which are found ruined and is discovered to be extremely because of the poor foundation laid. The story of bent pyramid is a clear evidence to prove that the true pyramids and the step pyramids involved immense mathematics, calculation, judgment and accuracy, as otherwise none of the pyramids would have stood on the ground. As mentioned above there is a clear History of extreme failure of pyramids when it all started. In the due course of time, the mistakes were rectified and as a result they were able to accomplish the construction of geometrically accurate pyramids which ran with the a fixed degree from the base to the apex, with all the triangular portions placed identical, with a well planned entrance and the path to the apex.

The historical account of the pyramid reflects the highly elitist culture that permeates the ancient world.  The pyramids which took years to build and lives to loose were ultimately created for the glorious atonement of the Egyptian pharaohs. The pyramids served as their monuments which ultimately functions for their spiritual ascendancy.  Considering its religious function, it was one of the hopeless attempts of the kings to attain immortality.   However, the architectural ingenuity and wonder how these pyramids are built remains unsurpassed.  That no accurate and authoritative model had depicted how pyramids were made adds to the mystery that these structures have been known for.  On the other hand, considering the sufferings, anguish and death of the slaves who constructed the pyramids, the compensation that these structures have provided them is the historical implication of the enslavement.  That there are leaders who willfully deprive generations of peoples of freedom and instigated continued persecution for their own personal fascination and benefit is even more baffling.   Today, the pyramids not only remain as one of the wonders of the world but more so as a mystery to the modern world.

These pyramids became the target for tomb robbers, they came from off the beaten track to steal the valuables, which shoes the worth of the ornaments and the tombs. Many bodies which were entombed were reported to be stolen because of it’s historic values. It was believed that many fishy tales were fabricated to preserve the mummies from robbers. Archaeologists have taken special interest on these pyramid and as a result the pyramids are being preserved by paying them required attention. The interests on the pyramids is highly due to many unfolded mysteries of them. There is a lot more to explore in pyramids just like the revolution of cosmic energy within the pyramid.

References

David, A.R. (1997). The Ancient Egyptians: Beliefs and Practices. 2nd edition. Sussex Academic Press

Herz-Fischler, R. (2000). The Shape of the Great Pyramid. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press

Langmead, D.  and Garnaut, C. (2001). Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats. ABC-CLIO

Mehler, S. (2002). T he Land of Osiris: An Introduction to Khemitology. Adventures Unlimited Press

Mehler, S. (2005). From Light Into Darkness: The Evolution of Religion in Ancient Egypt. Adventures Unlimited Press

Quirke, S. and Spencer, A.J (1992). The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt. British Museum Press.

Roth, L.M. (2007). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, and Meaning. 2nd edition. Westview Press

Thompson, J. (2008).A History of Egypt: From Earliest Times to the Present. American University in Cairo Press

White, J. (2003). Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt. Courier Dover Publications

 

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