The World's Greatest Architecture: Past & Present
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Although Egyptian architecture remained remarkably constant for nearly 3,000 years, there were changes. Pyramids, built chiefly to contain the bodies of pharaohs, were restricted to the Old Kingdom. They developed from the earlier, low, flat-topped mastaba but, due partly to the menace of thieves, were replaced in about the 18th Century BC by tombs cut deep in the rocks, which were unfortunately not thief-proof either.
About 100 pyramids are known today, but the great majority are no more than piles of rubble. The earliest is the Step Pyramid, or Ziggurat, of Zoser, a king of the 3rd Dynasty of about 2800 BC, which was originally about 200 ft high. The true pyramid, with four smooth sides on the plan of a square sloping inwards to a point, developed in the 4th Dynasty. there is reason to think, however, that the most notable survivals, the three pyramids at Giza on the outskirts of modern Cairo, are the finest. They were regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world, and are the only survivor of the seven.
The largest and oldest of the three is the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Measuring 756 ft along each side at the base, it rose originally to a height of 482ft. It covers an area of about 13 acres, more than the five largest European cathedrals put together, and is said to contain about 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tonnes. Buried deep within were three separate chambers, reached by intimidating, angled passages and heavily buttressed against the oppressive weight of stone.
Though still in awe-inspiring sight, it is not untouched by time, and the encroachment of the city is a growing threat to its integrity. Today, it has lost about 39ft of its original height, and it lacks its outer layer of smooth and dazzling limestone, appropriated by the builders of Cairo. Though about 4,500 years old, the Great Pyramid remains one of the largest and most splendid of human works.