The Great Pyramid of Giza is a defining symbol of Egypt and the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. It is located on the Giza plateau near the modern city of Cairo and was built over a twenty-year period during the reign of the king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE, also known as Cheops) of the 4th Dynasty. Until the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France in 1889 CE, the Great Pyramid was the tallest structure made by human hands in the world; a record it held for over 3,000 years and one unlikely to be broken. Other scholars have pointed to the Lincoln Cathedral spire in England, built in 1300 CE, as the structure which finally surpassed the Great Pyramid in height but, still, the Egyptian monument held the title for an impressive span of time. The pyramid rises to a height of 479 feet (146 metres) with a base of 754 feet (230 metres) and is comprised of over two million blocks of stone. Some of these stones are of such immense size and weight (such as the granite slabs in the King’s Chamber) that the logistics of raising and positioning them so precisely seems an impossibility by modern standards.
In terms of design and planning, some theories suggest that parts of the plan were laid out on the ground at a 1:1 scale. This might account for the accuracy of the workmanship, such that the four sides of the base have an average error of only 58 mm in length. The sides of the pyramid rise at the angle of 51°52′, accurately oriented to the compass’ four cardinal points.
The entrance is around 18 m (59 ft) above the ground on the north side. The Queen’s Chamber and the King’s Chamber are contained inside, connected via a corridor and a slanting gallery 46 m (151 ft) long. The King’s Chamber is shielded from the thrust exerted by the masses of masonry piled on top of it, by five compartments separated by massive horizontal slabs of granite, weighing 25-80 tonnes.
Most hypotheses are based on the idea that the huge stones were moved from a quarry, and then either dragged, lifted or rolled into place. The most widely accepted theory is that a ramp-like embankment of brick, earth and sand was increased along with the pyramid. Using this embankment, the Egyptians would have hauled the stone blocks using sledges, rollers and levers.
There is also disagreement about the size and nature of the workforce required. The Ancient Greeks thought that slave labour was used, with the historian Herodotus theorising that it took 20 years and 100,000 slaves to build. However, Egyptologists in the 20th century discovered archaeological remains of workers’ camps, which gave rise to the belief that a more limited workforce of as few as 20,000 could have been sufficient, with the workers being skilled rather than slaves.
The core of the pyramid was formed from 2.3 million limestone blocks. The outer casing was made using white Tura limestone, crafted to form a smooth surface with intricate joints unrivalled by any other Egyptian masonry. However, this casing was gradually plundered during ancient and medieval times, although some of the stones can still be seen around the base today.
Shine Bright Like a Diamond:
Today, the Giza pyramids wear the tawny tones of their surrounding Libyan Desert. But back in their heyday, they sparkled. Originally, the pyramids were encased in slabs of highly polished white limestone. When the sun struck them, they lit up and shimmered. Some researchers believe that the pyramids’ capstones were plated in gold as well.
Those dazzling façades have long been stripped—some sources report that those blocks of stone were repurposed and used to build mosques—but you can still see remnants of a once-snowy cap atop the middle pyramid.