These are the graves of the nobles and courtiers in the time of the Pyramid-building kings and it is evident by the regularity and symmetry of their arrangement that large parts of the cemetery must have been planned out at one time, probably by the kings themselves. There would be nothing unusual about this in ancient Egypt, for kings, noblemen and everybody else who could afford it built their tombs and got ready their coffins in their lifetime. It seems to us, indeed, that their chief occupation in life must have been getting ready for death, but when we remember their belief that their well-being in the next world depended on their having a safe and solid tomb, it is not surprising that they should have taken a good deal of trouble about it.
Whether any future life at all was possible to the poor who could not afford to build themselves handsome tombs is very doubtful ; as, however, most people must have been directly dependent on some great lord, a certain number of them would be buried round about his large tomb and might perhaps slip into the next world under his protection.
The word M mastaba " is Arabic and means a kind of bench or platform ; it was first applied by Egyptian workmen to the flat-roofed type of tomb and is such a conveniently descriptive term that it has passed into general use. As excavations are still in progress, this part of the cemetery is not accessible to the public : it is hoped that before long it will be sufficiently cleared and surveyed for visitors to enter and pass along the streets and lanes of that City of the Dead and so gain a vivid notion of the elaborate preparations, the technical skill, and the huge amount of material expended on these "houses for eternity." But for the present it is not possible to allow anyone to go through it unaccompanied.
Dr Reisner of Harvard, who conducts these excavations is ready, when he is at Giza, to arrange for anyone specially interested in the subject, to be shown round the mastabas, if he gets notice of the visit not less than twenty four hours previously.
A general view of the cemetery is, of course to be obtained from the top of the Great Pyramid, but a closer sight of some of the tombs may be had from a point on the enclosure wall of the Second Pyramid. From here we can see very clearly the twofold nature of an Egyptian grave. Here are tomb shafts down which long ago a body was lowered to rest in its underground cell and before us are rows and rows of massive mastabas faced with solid stone, in many of which the two niches, or "false doors"—stelae—are still to be seen. Some of the Chapels are in the thickness of the rubble core, others were built on outside the southern niche, but always they were accessible from outside.
There were other little chambers, some of which can be seen too, which were completely closed ; they were intended to hold statutes of the dead man, for here again the help of magic was called in, and it was believed that the statues would serve as extra bodies for him in case anything should happen to the mummy in spite of all precautions, and in this way he would be able to have an additional chance of prolonging his existence. Cairo Museum has a very fine collection of these statues which in many cases were really good works of art. They were made as like the deceased as possible, then carefully walled up in these little cupboards—"serdabs" as they are called—out of sight until they were uncovered in modern times.
A century or two later, the Chapels became a much more important feature of the tomb, a corridor and other rooms were added and the whole thing became more like the interior of the house. This is the stage arrived at in the tombs at Sakkara, the walls of the room are decorated with pictures which give a splendid idea of the life of the time, for not only the food supply, but all sorts of occupations and amusements are provide for the dead owner. He could choose to spend his days either in hunting gazelle on the desert, hippo in the marshes, fishing, or catching birds with trap or boomerang, or he might go out on his farms and inspect his livestock and watch the sowing or the reaping of his fields; if he preferred to stay at home, he might look over his accounts, play a game of draughts or listen to music.
But at Giza, where the tombs are all|of very nearly the same period and that somewhat earlier, the interest is mainly in the construction of the tomb itself and the development of the house type from the old solid mass of stone and rubble; the few scenes in the chapels are almost entirely concerned with the food offerings.
For a single visit to the Pyramids, it is best to go to the Sphinx and the Granite Temple, noting that on the way we cross the remains of the black basalt flooring of the temple of the Pyramid of Cheops and pass three little pyramids which were said to be those of Cheop's daughters, then some larae " mastaba M tombs. After seeing the Sphinx and the temple, if time permits, follow up the causeway to the temple of the Second Pyramid and then across to the high enclosure wall from which a view of the cemetery of the nobles is obtained. Another visit will be well spent round about the Third Pyramid, from which there are fine outlooks over the desert and a good deal of interest both in the temple and inside the pyramid. As to going up or going inside the Great Pyramid, it is a question of energy more than anything else. Both are very well worth doing, both are decidedly fatiguing, and if time is very short neither is worth the sacrifice of a good round outside.