Posts Tagged ‘Pyramids’

The Great Pyramid of Giza

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and is the only one still intact. As the burial chamber for the fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, it took an estimated 20,000-30,000 workers to build over a 20 year period.

Here are a few more facts about the iconic architectural marvel:

1. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure for over 3,800 years, until Lincoln Cathedral’s spire surpassed it around 1300AD in England.

2. It is estimated the Great Pyramid consists of more than 2.3 million limestone rocks, unless it was built on top of a substantial core of rock. While this is possible, scientists still aren’t certain.

3. Contrary to popular belief, the pyramids were not built by slaves. They were actually built by workers who lived in the surrounding villages. While no ancient artwork already discovered depicts female workers, archaeologists have found the skeletal remains of women which show evidence of heavy lifting of stone. Therefore, it has been concluded that women may have had a part in the building of these massive structures.

4. You can enter the tomb of the Great Pyramid, but you’ll have to the use Robbers’ Tunnel dug by workmen employed by Caliph al-Ma’mun around AD 820. Recently, the entrance to the Pyramid has been restricted to groups of 100 morning and afternoon. The reason for this involves the moisture in our breath. When we exhale, the moisture creates salt within pyramids and tombs resulting in damaging cracks.

5. Under the leadership of Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquties, photography inside the pyramid is now strictly forbidden.

Do you think the amount of visitors to the Pyramids in should be limited in order to preserve them?

Witness the sheer magnitude of the Great Pyramid with your own eyes on our Egyptian Odyssey tour.

Photo: Tikal, Guatemala

Monday, December 21st, 2009
The city of Tikal, Guatemala. Photo: Daniel Loncarevic

The city of Tikal, Guatemala. Photo: Daniel Loncarevic

In about 750 CE, the Mayan city of Tikal had a population of more than 60,000 souls. During its peak, archaeologists believe that the city center spanned almost six square miles, and further research tells us that Tikal’s population may have spread outwards from the center for at least 47 square miles.

The city remained a secret for more than a thousand years; Spanish conquistadores passed within a few miles of Tikal on their rapacious journey through the area, but never learned of its existence. In 1848, the Guatemalan government made the first official expedition and report on the city; it was declared a National Park in 1995. Today, modern Mayans celebrate their ancestors with pilgrimages to Tikal, which hosts more than 100,000 Guatemalan visitors each year.

Much of Tikal is still unexcavated, but you can see its Grand Plaza, Acropolis, pyramids, and temples on Smithsonian Journeys’ Guatemala: Land of Eternal Spring  tour in 2010.

Where else can you find pyramids? Share below.

Photo: What happened to the Sphinx’s nose?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
The mysterious Sphinx and the Great Pyramid

The mysterious Sphinx in front of the Pyramid of Khafre on the Giza Plateau, Egypt

Legends have passed over hundreds of years regarding the simple omission in this photograph of the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre, part of the Giza Pyramid (or Great Pyramid) complex in Egypt. Where is the Sphinx’s nose? Many of us have heard the tale that a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s soldiers hit the nose and caused it to break off. Sketches of the Sphinx by the Dane Frederic Louis Norden were created in 1737 and published in 1755, well before the era of Napoleon. However, these drawings illustrate the Sphinx without a nose and clearly contradicts the legend. So what really happened?

The Egyptian Arab historian al-Maqrīzī wrote in the 15th century that the nose was actually destroyed by a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr. In 1378 CE, Egyptian peasants made offerings to the Great Sphinx in the hope of controlling the flood cycle, which would result in a successful harvest. Outraged by this blatant show of devotion, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism. Whether this is absolute fact is still debatable.

Have you seen the Sphinx up close? Share your story below.

How big is the Sphinx? See it in person on our Ancient Civilizations of the Red Sea  tour, featuring free air for a limited time.

World Heritage: Egypt’s Necropolis

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

The Necropolis is one of the most frequently visited locations in Egypt, encompassing the enigmatic Giza Pyramids and the massive Great Sphinx. While long recognized as ancient masterpieces, today people remain intrigued by the mystery surrounding the engineering, construction, and intended purposes of these structures.The Necropolis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, but long before 1979, in Hellenistic times, Greek tourists listed its Great Pyramid of Giza as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Necropolis is the only one of these Seven Wonders still in existence.

One of the most unique aspects of the Great Pyramid of Giza is the precision of measurement involved in its construction. The base forms a nearly perfect square and is almost exactly level. When first completed, this pyramid stood nearly 50 stories high (481.4 ft.) and consisted of 2.3 million blocks with an average weight of 2.5 metric tons per block. Today, it still dominates the desert landscape despite the effects of age and erosion.

Similarly mysterious are the methods by which the ancient Egyptians built these colossal structures. Scholars consider two major theories that might describe how the Great Pyramids were constructed. One theory purports that the stone was taken from a quarry and transported to the pyramid site. Another theory suggests the blocks were manufactured on site from a type of “liquid limestone,”–more like concrete. Both theories agree on the necessity for a large workforce; it is believed that as many as 35,000 men and women were involved in the pyramids’ construction.

The pyramids’ significance is similarly unknown. The Great Pyramid has multiple inner passageways and chambers which might have been royal tombs. In addition, scholars believe the structures may have held astrological significance because the sides of all three of the Giza pyramids were astronomically oriented to north-south and east-west within a small fraction of a degree.

Memphis, its Necropolis, and the Pyramid fields from Giza to Dahshur have been attracting travelers since Hellenistic times. Because of the immense size and durability of these structures, tourists can visit today and draw their own conclusions about the construction, use, and decline of the ancient Egyptian pyramids.

How do you think the pyramids were used? Share below.

Click here for information on visiting Egypt with Smithsonian Journeys.