(Photos @: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunilshinde)
Pyramids were built in Egypt primarily during the III, IV, V and VI dynasties. In those 500 years, over 120 pyramids have been built. We started our day off with the Giza plateau. Khufu (aka Great Pyramid) and Khafre’s resting places were, unpretentiously, visible from the courtyard of our hotel. So there was hardly a circumstantial drama behind “the first time I laid my eyes on the pyramid”. It sucked my breath away anyways. You cannot be prepared for the sight of the pyramid. No matter how well you have researched, all numbers (755 feet average base length, 481 feet tall with the slides sloping at 51 degrees 50 minutes 40 second) do not tell the story.
While the sheer magnitude of the structure had the impact of suppressing all vocal utterances for a few moments, the mental machinery reminded me that this is nothing more than a kings empty alter ego, as empty as the sarcophagus in the Kings’s chamber in the heart of the pyramid.
We had reached the plateau a little too late for us to enter Khufus pyramid as they sell only 150 tickets at 8:00 AM and 100 more at noon. Though we corrected this mistake on the last day of our trip, today, we paid the extra LE25 to enter Khafre’s pyramid. Inside I saw Belzoni’s graffiti dating back to 1820 (Belzoni, after all his Indiana Jones like adventures, dies of.. ahem... dysentery).
While the Great Pyramid is the ideogram of choice for Egypt, it is definitely not the most beautiful, as I realized during the due course of the trip. As dynasties went by, the kings concentrated on making their tombs prettier.
We moved on to Saqquara, 20 KMs to the south of Giza to the lesser known but an equally important pyramid called the Stepped pyramid.
This pyramid, designed by Imhotep in the 27th century was the first pyramid ever and was a circumstantial improvisation to camouflage a design flaw. Imhotep realized that the mastaba he had designed and constructed for King Djoser was barely visible over the enclosure wall, so he decided to raise it by adding a step. He liked it so much that he added four more. He then broadened the base of these steps to add the final two steps. I have marked the original structure in the photo below. The extention is clearly visible.
Imhotep is the first named architect and physician in written history of the world. He went on to become a major father figure of pyramidial architecture in Egypt to an extent that he was upgraded to the status of God. Imhotep was also considered to be surgeon par excellence. In the temple complex of Kom Ombo , there is a relief of surgical instruments being offered to Imhotep.
In the meantime, Seferu, King Djoser’s son, liked the pyramid so much that he had three more built. The Bent pyramid (the structure on the left in the photo below) at Dahsur which was the first attempt to built a smooth (non stepped) pyramid, was again a design disaster.
The architect, started out by building at 55 degrees for the first 154 and realized that the pyramid would be too steep and changed the angle to 43 degrees for the rest of the 200 odd feet .
The north pyramid (right most in the photo above) is the first accurate pyramid and was used as a scale for subsequent pyramids. Interestingly, it took the egyptians just 60 years (Stepped pyramid complete to Khufu pyramid construction started) to perfect the art of building pyramids.
While the great pyramid has a lot of interesting statistics about accuracy (base levelled to within 1 inch, less than 3 minutes deviation from true north), subsequent endeavors including Khafre and Mankaure pyramids degraded ending up with what is now, sadly, known as a scrambled pyramid which is nothing more than a pile of dirt and stone. The scrambled pyramid is less than a stone’s throw from the stepped pyramid bringing the story of the pyramids a full circle.