Thus an Egyptian tomb had two parts; the burial chamber down below, which contained the body and was never to be disturbed; and the chapel above, which has meant to be entered by the living, where the spirit of the deceased could meet with his relatives and the officiating priests at a funeral feast. Let us extend this principle to the greatest of the tombs, the pyramids.
They were made to be the graves of something more than mere men; the king was to be worshipped by all his people on earth and to be received among the gods above, so the kings had devised for themselves a building on a much grander scheme, but not departing from the invariable principle, that a tomb consisted of two parts, one for the living and one for the dead. The pyramid itself is the funeral vault.
Its dark recesses, once the king had been laid to rest within, were never to be violated by the foot of the living, but the funerary ritual in his honour was carried on in a temple outside. At the end of the temple, up against the west wall of the pyramid, there was a granite "stela" or false door, just as in a private grave, before which the offerings were placed.
The temple of the Great Pyramid has been entirely destroyed, except for a few square feet of its black basalt pavement, which we cross on the way to the Sphinx, but there are considerable remains of the temples of the Second and Third Pyramids.
A causeway led up to the temple from the desert and at the lower end of it there was another temple—a sort of magnificent gateway—where processions arriving on foot, on donkey, or by boat across the flooded fields in the inundation time, met, went through some preliminary ritual and passed along up the causeway to the temple itself.
The lines of these causeways can be traced from the desert edge both to the Second and Third Pyramids, and are very distinctly to be seen at Abusir, where the entire groups of temple, valley temple and causeway, are in much better preservation than at Giza. But at Giza there is the finest of all the "valley" or "gateway" temples. This is the granite temple near the Sphinx, which is often called the Temple of the Sphinx, but which really is the great entrance to the Second Pyramid.
No one should fail to go into this temple, which, in its massive simplicity, is one of the most remarkable things in Egypt. When we consider that the granite blocks of which it is built must have come from Aswan, nearly 600 miles up the Nile, we are filled with amazement at the mechanical skill that had already been arrived at 5000 years ago. The weight of some of the stones in the walls is estimated at 12 or 14 tons, while that of the large columns at the intersection of the aisles cannot be less than 18 tons. This is one of the grandest and simplest of all buildings; it has no ornament whatever on the walls, but originally the unpaved spaces which we see on the floor were occupied by statues of king Chephren.
Several of these statues are in Cairo Museum : the finest, which must have been placed at the end of the central aisle, is a superb piece of sculpture in black diorite, one of the toughest of stones and one of the most difficult to carve. This splendid royal portrait ought to be seen by everyone ; it stands in the first of the Old Empire Rooms, directly opposite to the door, in the Cairo Museum.
The Great Sphinx itself belongs to the Second Pyramid group, but it is an accidental adjunct, so to speak, and not an essential part of the pyramid plan. We can see that it is a spur of natural rock which must originally have had some resemblance to a couching lion. The Sphinx is a mythical animal, compounded of the head of a man with the body of a lion and signifying the union of strength and wisdom. King Chephren conceived the grand idea of carving this huge rock into a representation of himself in this symbolical form, which should stand, like a guardian god, watching over the entrance to his temple. This idea of his was forgotten in after ages and the later Egyptians worshipped the Sphinx as a form of the Sun god without reference to any king or to the neighbouring buildings, and it is only in very recent years that systematic research has discovered what was its original purpose.
The oldest of the pyramids is the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, then Medum, which is too far off to be seen, then the Dahshur Pyramids, the farthest we can see to the south, then the Giza Pyramids, far the finest of all, and later than these, numbers of smaller pyramids, most of which were built of rubble and, once their limestone casing was stripped off, soon wore down to look only like little mounds on the desert.
The pyramids were built so long ago, and are so much older than any description of them, that it is very difficult to answer the questions which are constantly being put as to the manner of their erection. The best account is given by Herodotus, the Greek traveller and historian, who visited Egypt in the 5th century before Christ.
The pyramids were then well over two thousand years old, but he managed to gather some legends which were still current among the people, and, although his description is not fully intelligible, it is of very considerable value, and some of the statements he makes as to the time required, the numbers of workmen employed, and the oppression of the people, are probably very near the truth.
He tells us that Cheops and Chephren were great oppressors of their people and afflicted the country sorely on purpose to obtain the money and labour needed to build their pyramids, and this may well be a reliable tradition handed down from antiquity, for the rest of his account, which relates to the construction and the time required for it, is extremely probable. Herodotus says that for the Pyramid of Cheops there were 100,000 workmen employed for three months at a time on quarrying the stones on the eastern or Arabian desert and in ferrying them over to the western side. Ten years were spent on building the causeway, in preparing the rock, and in making the subterranean chambers, and twenty years in building the pyramid itself.
Herodotus' statement that the workmen were employed for three months at a time doubtless refers to the three months of high Nile, during which there was no work to be done in the fields.
Supposing, then, that this army of 100,000 workmen worked three months every year for twenty years or more, and were divided up into gangs of eight or ten, which is as many as could conveniently work on one block of stone, each company would be able to quarry and convey to the site an average of ten blocks in the season, so the total of 2,300,000 could very well be arrived at. The average size of the blocks is estimated at about forty cubic feet, and their weight at two and a half tons.
The stone for the core of the pyramid was probably quarried not very far away, in a hollow to the south of the plateau, known as the Batnel Baqara ; but the whole of the limestone for the outside casing and the passages and galleries of the interior came from the quarries of the Moqattam Hills on the opposite bank, while the granite used in the doorway and in the king's chamber came from Aswan. There were large workmen's barracks, traces of which are still remaining near the Second Pyramid, which would have accommodated 4,000 or 5,000 men. These were no doubt skilled workmen, who were permanently employed in raising the stones to their places, in dressing the fine stones, and, lastly, in the building and decoration of the temple.
No representations of the building of the pyramids has come down to us, but certainly the ground w%s first levelled and prepared, the underground chambers were excavated and the causeway built. The stones were then drawn up the causeway by ropes and rollers and they were lastly raised into place by what Herodotus calls "machines made of short pieces of wood." There are in the Museum several specimens of a kind of cradle, made of rough wood, which are only models, for they are quite little things a few inches long, but were found with other model tools in the foundation deposits of large buildings and evidently were representations of the instruments used in building. It is suggested that Herodotus' "machines" were something of this kind, that the stone was rolled on to this wooden cradle, then rocked up by levers to its place. Some traces have been found that a wooden scaffolding was used for raising very large and heavy blocks such as those in the Granite Temple.
When the floor of the burial chamber was prepared, the sarcophagus was put in its place, the chamber completed, and roofed, and the building of the pyramid gone on with, the casing all finished, with only a small opening left by which, when the king came to die, his remains could be taken to the place so carefully made ready. The temple, too, was finished, for it was equally essential to his continued existence ; the causeway leading up to it was roofed over, and the gateway temple was decorated as a stately portal where processions of priests and lay worshippers would assemble and perhaps perform some initial part of the funerary rites.
So when the king died and came to occupy his vast dwelling, his mummified body, enclosed in a wooden coffin, was drawn up to the little door on the north side, and along the dark galleries inside, till it was finally laid in the great granite sarcophagus. Those in charge of these last ceremonies then withdrew, and as they went they let down behind them the heavy portcullises of granite, which had been suspended in the passages when the pyramid was being built. The outer opening needed only to have two or three of the casing stones added to close it completely and make it indistinguishable from the wall. And so the mighty king was left, all having been done that the wit of man could devise that he might be undisturbed for ever.