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Wednesday, 10 August 2022

What is inside the Great Pyramid?

What is inside the Great Pyramid?

According to Napoleonic legend, the future emperor of France, pale and shaken from the Great Pyramid of Egypt, spent hours alone in the king's chamber. He never revealed what had set him off, but the episode is believed to have changed his life. Whether the story is true or not, it certainly attests to the power of the great pyramid to stimulate the imagination of a great leader as well as our own: what would Napoleon have seen to provoke such a reaction? What exactly is inside the Great Pyramid? The simple answer is, well, not much, really.

The Great Pyramid, or Pyramid of Khufu, is the oldest and tallest of the three pyramids at Giza. Built c. 2551–2528 BCE, it originally stood at 481.4 feet (147 m) or about 45 stories. Its sheer size makes it a marvel to behold, but the Great Pyramid and its neighbors, the Pyramids of Khafre and Mankaure, are mostly just solid masses of stone—an estimated 2.3 million blocks of limestone, to be more precise. Builds the Great Pyramid. All three pyramids originally had an outer shell of light limestone, as seen on the cap of Khafre's pyramid. We can only imagine how the glistening white limestone would have made the pyramids even more dazzlingly magnificent than they are now.

The Pyramids of Giza, like the Egyptian pyramids before and after them, were royal tombs, the final resting place for their kings or kings. They were often part of an extensive funerary complex that included burial sites for queens and mortuary temples for daily offerings. The pharaoh's final resting place was usually in an underground burial chamber beneath the pyramids. Although the Great Pyramid had underground chambers, they were never completed, and Khufu's sarcophagus remains in the King's Chamber, where Napoleon is said to have lived deep inside the Great Pyramid.

Like its neighbors, the Great Pyramid has very little open space within its hulking mass. Napoleon would have reached the King's Chamber by a very tight climbing passage, passing the Queen's Chamber (a misnomer), and then through a high corbelled passageway known as the Grand Gallery. Once inside the King's Chamber, Napoleon would have noticed that it was small and lined with thick granite blocks, like the chambers of other kings. The space would have been very austere, as the Egyptians only began to decorate burial chambers with hieroglyphic texts in the later pyramids. Moreover, by the time of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt in the late 18th century, the pyramids would have long been looted. He would have found no rumored treasure in the chamber, only the colossal granite sarcophagus, which had once contained the king's mummy, set firmly in the floor.

While there isn't much to see in the Great Pyramid or any of the other pyramids near Giza, we can only imagine what must have upset the proud Napoleon—as we can only imagine the other secrets of the pyramids: the royal treasures they may have held. The hidden, brilliant vision they must have had when they were first completed, and the disciplined effort it took to build them.

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