Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lecture Seven

The Old Kingdom established the grandeur and uniformity of the Egyptian canon in two major realms: architecture, with the pyramid; and figure sculpture. Later pyramids are rare, though sometimes impressive. Yet statues (that Egyptian invention) are everywhere: just visit Central Park. Momentously, the Egyptians placed figure sculpture at the center of the nonarchitectural arts. This is not inevitable, witness paleolithic cave painting and Turner, not to mention Chinese landscapes. Thus the ascription of centrality to the human body, usually idealized, is not a cultural universal. We tend to ascribe this innovation to the ancient Greeks, but it is the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom who deserve the credit.

Amid the uniformity, some EXCEPTIONS stand out. These bend the rules, but do not overtly flaunt their singularity.

The dwarf Seneb (Cairo) is a rare instance where, as an apparently realistic gesture, the common tendency to enlarge the scale of the male head of household was resisted.

Over against the idealized athletic body, whose fashion was set by royal statuary, some pieces demonstrate either obesity or emaciation. While obesity is permissible for members of the elite, outright emaciation is not. Bodies subjected to involuntary anorexia, as it were, include those of workmen, foreigners (especially desert dwellers), and prisoners.

Previously we saw instances of partial rendering in the so-called “reserve heads” and the bust of Prince Ankh-haf in Boston.

The so-called pseudo-groups represent another anomaly: paired representations of the same figure.

During the Predynastic era, small nude figures, male and female, have been plausibly ascribed to the fertility motive. Throughout Egyptian history small children have been conventionally shown naked, with one finger touching the lips and the hair treated as a braid on one side. With the generally delicate nudes that emerge in the Fifth dynasty another concept seems to be at work: the idea of rebirth (into the afterlife) as a second birth, when of course nakedness prevailed. Nudes occasionally refer in later Egyptian art. Comparative analysis shows that the nude does not have just one meaning (as Sir Kenneth Clark assumed in his monograph, “The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form”) but several: it is polysemous. Among the meanings are fertility and eroticism; humiliation; vulnerability; challenge and hostility; display of the ideal body; and primal innocence.

We now turn to the other side of the coin, that is, the factors making for uniformity. According to an old, perhaps excessively rigid scheme, Egyptian sculpture permitted only six normative types of sculpture in the round. These are standing, seated, scribe (or squatting), kneeling, asymmetrical, and the block figure (in which the lower body is enclosed in a kind of impenetrable cloak). The first five stem from the Old Kingdom. Only the last, the block figure, had to await the Middle Kingdom to appear.

The more varied figures of servants show that this sextet of typological norms was not absolute. Nonetheless, it constitutes a kind of set of default settings to which the Egyptian artists recurred again and again.

Comparable, though different norms that govern bas reliefs and paintings. Different as they are these media share a common root in what might be called “the homage to the square,” as seen in the grid schemes that are preparatory to the bas reliefs and paintings, as well as the block origin of sculpture in the round. Parenthetically, we noted the Old Kingdom invention of sunk relief, which seems to have had a protective function.

Returning to our chronological survey, we noted that towards the middle of Fifth Dynasty Old Kingdom culture seems to enter into a kind of autumnal period, with less ambitious undertakings.
Still reflective of the grandeur of the Fourth dynasty is the colossal head Userkaf, the first pharaoh of the new dynasty. The Brooklyn Museum possessed three exquisite pieces from the sixth dynasty: the figure of Pepi I with the Horus falcon, another of him kneeling, and the dual seated image in alabaster of Pepi II as a child on his mother’s lap. Pepi, who ascended the throne as a boy, was reputed to have lived to the age of 100.

The often scanty information about the lives of the ancient Egyptians has called forth many works of imagination to make up the slack. The first, some say, was Herodotus, who thought he was writing history, but in many cases was just relaying gossip. Nowadays, the palm seems to belong to Christian Jacq, who has published at least 23 novels on ancient Egypt. Most of these are about later periods, as the pharaoh’s of the Old Kingdom kept their secrets well. Not suprisingly, fantasies have clustered around Khufu, as seen in the preposterous story of his prostituting his own daughter, and the magician episode.

An unexpected, and highly personal aspect emerges from an authentic ancient Egyptian document, the Middle Kingdom story of Pepi II, who was alleged to have been conducting a homosexual affair with his general Sasinet.

Discovered in 1864, the Fifth dynasty tomb of the Two Manicurists at Saqqara of Nyankhkhnum and Khnumhotep offers interesting visual evidence. Greg Reeder is probably right in interpreting the two as “more than just friends.”

As noted, beginning about the middle of the Fifth dynasty, the Old Kingdom enters into an autumnal or post-classical period. What are the reasons for this change? In principle all autocracies rely upon ideology (in this case the myth of divine kingship) backed by brute force. In practice, though, these two things are not enough. Comparative study of European and Chinese monarchies shows that they maintained their power through a gradual dispersal of assets to their followers. These assets comprised real property (estates) and honors. As a rule this process of gradual alienation was accelerated by usurpation on the part of the gentry, who were constantly seeking to convert lifetime appointments into permanent ones. The result of this process was an erosion of the central power and an increase of provincial prerogatives--decentralization in short.
Some have thought that a series of shortfalls in the Nile inundation produced periodic famines. The inability of the kings to deal with this problem would have lessened their authority.


[To begin with there is a small chronological glitch. Most authorities start the First Intermediate Period with the Seventh dynasty, while Shaw and co. prolong the OK through the Seventh and Eighth dynasties, on the ground that they were centered in Memphis. I follow the traditional sequence.]

The Old Kingdom had lasted about 500 years, a record that has rarely, if ever been equaled since (by my calculation, the British Empire lasted only some 340 years, from 1607 to 1947). Prizing stability above all else, the ancient Egyptians assumed that the good times would role on forever. After the death of Pepi II (about 2180), who lived to be 100, it became increasingly clear that this was not so. Egyptian society had experienced a nervous breakdown. Or in their own terms, Maat had fled.

After the reestablishment of order in the New Kingdom, Egyptians looked back in horror at the experience they had gone through, even though it had only lasted, at most, 129 years. Middle Kingdom writings paint a dire picture of breakdown: compare the lament of Ipuwer and other commentators. Here is Ipuwer: “The land spins around as does a potter’s wheel. The robber is now the possessor of riches. ... All maid servants make free with their tongues .. . The ways are not guarded roads. Men sit in the bushes [waiting to rob and even kill the unwary traveler]. . . . Ah, would that it were the end of men, no conception, no birth! The the earth would cease from noise, without wrangling! [As it is] the children of nobles are dashed against the walls. The once-prayed for children are laid out on the high ground. ... Noble ladies are now gleaners, and nobles are in the workhouse. ... Behold, the owners of robes are now in rags. ... If three men go along a road, they are found to be two men; it is the greater number that kills the lesser.”

Another commentator, Nefer-rohu, adds his voice: “This land is helter-skelter and no one knows the result. ... I show you the land topsy turvy. That which never happened has happened. ... I show you the son as foe, the brother an an enemy, and every man killing his own father. Every mouth is full of ‘Love me!’, and everything good has disappeared.”

Recent scholarship has shown that perhaps things were not so bad in the First Intermediate Period as later generations thought. To be sure, there was a marked decline in artistic quality, as we shall see. However, the decentralization process allowed provincial centers to assert their individuality, laying the groundwork for the more varied art of later Egypt. Freed of the all-seeing pharaonic bureaucracy, there was probably more personal freedom, marred of course by licence and some violence.

Examination of wall paintings, as at el-Gebelein and Mo’alla, seems to bear out the idea of decline. On the other hand, some small sculpture seem not notably different from works of the Sixth dynasty.

At all events, the following lecture will portray the recovery, which opened the way to the Middle Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lecture Six

[The best source of up-to-date information on the material covered in this lecture is the Met Museum catalogue “Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids” (1999).]

The Great SPHINX of Giza (known in Arabic as "The Father of Fear") is a colossal reclining statue, half-human, half-lion, Thought to be the largest monolithic statue in the world, it ia 73.5 meters (241 ft) long, 6 m (20 ft) wide, and 20 m (65 ft) high. Most Egyptologists think that the foreparts of the Great Sphinx represent the likeness of King Khafre. (The ascription to his father Khufu is generally discounted). There may have been an additional association with the lion god Ruti, and in its turn to Atum, the creator god. In later times the sphinx was connected with the sun.

As far as we know, the sphinx form was the creation of the Fourth Dynasty, specifically of Khafre’s predecessor Djedefre.

The Great Sphinx resides within part of the greater funerary complex credited to Khafre which includes the Sphinx and Valley Temples, a causeway, and the second major Giza pyramid. It is generally accepted that the temples, along with the Sphinx, were all part of the same quarry and construction process.

Hewn from the living rock, the sphinx consists of three major horizontal layers (called “members” in the technical literature). These have weathered at different rates, opening the way for some speculation, since discounted, that the sphinx is the survivor of an earlier civilization. At least once the Sphinx had to be rescued in antiquity, when Thutmosis IV had it partly excavated, following a dream.

The one-meter-wide nose on the face is missing. A kind of urban legend holds that the nose was broken off by a cannon ball fired by Napoleon’s soldiers and that it still survives. However, sketches of the Sphinx by Dane F. L. Norden made in 1737 and published in 1755 illustrate the Sphinx without a nose. Writing in the fifteenth century, the Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi attributes the vandalism to Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a Sufi. In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose, and was hanged for vandalism.

In addition to the lost nose, a ceremonial pharaonic beard is thought to have been attached, although this may have been added in later periods after the original construction.


The fine quartzite head of Djedefre (aka Radjedef) is probably the forepart of a sphinx. Another sphinx was found in the ruins of Djedefre’s pyramid at Abu Roash.

Most likenesses of Khufu are lost to history. Only one miniature statuette has been fully attributed to this pharaoh. Since he is credited with building the single largest building of ancient times, it is ironic that the only positively identified royal sculpture of his is also the smallest that has ever been found: a 7.6cm (3 inch) ivory statue that bears his name. In 1903 Flinders Petrie discovered it not at Giza, but in a temple at Abydos. Originally this piece was found without its head, but bearing the pharaoh's name. Realizing the importance of this discovery, Petrie halted all further excavation on the site until the head was recovered three weeks later after an intensive sieving of the sand. Zahi Hawass thinks that this unusual miniature is in fact a copy of the 26th dynasty, when there was a renewed cult of the king; in this case it would be the replica of a lost monumental statue.

The great Khafre in the Egyptian Museum is one of the most impressive of all Egyptian statues. It is carved of hard stone, now identified as anorthosite gneiss. Apart from the imperious majesty of the monarch, the statue is notable for the remarkable connection, fused yet separate, of the Horus falcon with the human figure. To judge by the surviving bases, it was originally one of twenty-three such figures in the Valley Temple of the king at Giza.

The relatively small pyramid of Menkaure finds its compensation, so to speak, in the wonderful sculptures of the king. The dual portrait of Menkaure and his wife (Khamerernebty?) is in Boston. The two figures connect, but do not interact emotionally. Close-ups show that both share the high cheekbones, bulbous nose, gentle furrows from the eyes, and slightly pouting lower lip.

These family resemblances suggest that the two were related, perhaps half siblings. (There seems no justification for the suggestion that the woman is the king’s mother.) This pair provided the template for many private dyads showing a husband and wife interacting in this way.

There are five surviving triads, all showing Menkaure with Hathor and nome gods for districts in which the goddess was particularly revered (there may have been eight originally). One is in Boston, the others in Cairo. The presentation of the figures shows a remarkable interplay: all are similar, but different. The Boston piece is unusual for the central position of Hathor.
Boston has two other likeness of Menkaure, a colossal statue (restored) and a head.


The pair of Prince Rahotep and Nofret is remarkable for retaining its pigmentation (the dark-light gender contrast, is conventional, not somatic). Rahotep, who held several offices, is characterized as “of the body of the king,” so that he was presumably a younger son of Sneferu. The group therefor belongs to the earlier part of the fourth dynasty.

The bust of Prince Ankh-haf in Boston is special in several ways. The figure displays a light coating in gesso, facilitating the realistic detail. It has been speculated that it originally had arms, but maybe not. Busts are occasionally found in later times (a Tut example was shown).

The 31 surviving reserve heads are also an example of pars-pro-toto. Their significance remains mysterious. Stylistically, they represent an extreme point of the idealization process.

The obese Hemiunu, now in Hildesheim, was a vizier to king Khufu. As superintendent of the king’s construction works, he may have been the architect of the Great Pyramid.

Ka-aper, the “village headman,” was another high official. Again corpulence is permitted to the high aristocracy, while reigning monarchs are never, to my knowledge presented this way.

The Seated Scribe in Paris is a superb example of the squatting type. In addition to being a scribe, Kay (apparently his name) was the governor of a province.

Ranufer, was supervisor of sculpture and painting. Accordingly, his two statues are very carefully executed--but in my opinion a bit dull.


These are found in tombs. Private tombs, even for the most prominent, were mastabas, generally in brick, with offering shrines above and the burial chamber below ground. The Perneb tomb at the Met gives a good idea of the above-ground offering areas and decoration. (Only a portion of this mastaba, which with its ashlar masonry is particularly luxurious, has been transferred to New York. One doesn’t see the air shaft or the underground burial chamber itself.)

The Ti reliefs come from one of the most luxurious tombs at Saqqara, located about 500 yards north of the Djoser complex. Ti was a palace administrator in the early 5th dynasty. One scene shows hippopotamus hunting, another cattle fording a stream. The purpose of the scenes is to recall episodes of the life of a prosperous member of the rural gentry, anticipating the continuation of such pursuits in the life to come.

The geese of Meidum, very carefully executed, are an example of pure painting, using local color within contours (no chiaroscuro).

The small figures of WORKERS reveal a more intimate picture of Egyptian life. Significantly, the sculptors felt free to depart from the strict canons of Egyptian representation.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lecture Five

A glance backwards shows a stark contrast between the still murky, though intriguing evidence from the Predynastic era and the much clearer foreshadowing of later Egyptian culture in the Early Dynastic. From the often small, often almost insignificant objects of the period, we get important information. But we must not exaggerate the importance of what we find, and skepticism is required with regard to some claims.

Let us take the institution of kingship. For a long time Henri Frankfort’s 1948 book “Kingship and the Gods” seemed to be the last word. In essence Frankfort took the royal propaganda at face value: the reigning king was simply a god, like all the other gods--maybe even superior in some respects. Further reflection suggests a need for nuance.

What do we really know of Early Dynastic kingship? The Narmer Palette shows the king as a killer, though ostensibly in a good cause: the unity of the land. He also promotes public works (the macehead). He enjoys a special relationship with Horus (and sometimes with Seth). He can renew himself by performing the Heb-Sed ritual.

Yet here some questions intrude. What god needs the tonic of a Heb-Sed to keep going? Moreover, if the pharaohs were gods, why couldn’t they keep their tombs from being pillaged? Clearly, we must separate hype from reality.

Later European regalia imagery suggests a fundamental distinction between head and hand items. Crowns seem to stem from helmets, and are protective, not aggressive. As a rule hand items--in Egypt the mace, crook, and flail--are assertive tokens, suggesting the ruler’s capacity to correct and quell by violence.

Our term “pharaoh” stems from the ancient Egyptian per-aa, meaning “Great House.” Compare our own synecdoche: the White House (when the president is meant).

Another light is cast on the matter by the Egyptian formulas for the ROYAL TITULARY. This sequence did not achieve full standardization until the Middle Kingdom, but the process of accretion can already be witnessed in the Early Dynastic era.

In the early reigns of the first dynasty, royal nomenclature was restricted to the Horus name, shown in a serekh surmounted by the falcon (occasionally the Seth animal appeared instead). Den was the first to add “he of the sedge and the bee” (nesw-bit, which later became a standard feature). Later Huni (end of third dynasty) introduced the cartouche to frame his nesw-bit name, while Djedefre (fourth dynasty) was the first to use the “son of Ra” title, introducing the birth name.

Here is the standard sequence:

1) The Horus name was originally written in a serekh (cf. the beautiful Wadji stele). At least one Egyptian ruler, Peribsen (second dynasty), substituted an image of the god Seth for Horus, perhaps signifying an internal religious division within the country. He was succeeded by Khasekhemwy, who placed the symbols of both Seth and Horus above his name. This variation proved transitory, and the Horus form became standard.

2) The Nebty, or Two Ladies name, was associated with the so-called “heraldic” goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt: Nekhbet, a vulture deity, and Wadjet, a cobra deity.

3) The Golden Horus name typically featured the image of a Horus falcon perched above or beside the hieroglyph for gold. The meaning of this particular title remains unclear. One suggestion is that it alludes to the triumph of Horus over his uncle Seth, as the symbol for gold can be taken to mean that Horus was "superior to his foes." Gold also was strongly associated in the ancient Egyptian mind with eternity, so this may have been intended to convey the pharaoh's eternal Horus name.

4) The Praenomen is the throne name. It usually has the title nesw-bit, “he of the sedge and the bee.”

5 The personal name, or Nomen was the name given at birth. The name itself was preceded by the title "Son of Ra," written with the hieroglyph of a duck (za), a homonym for the word meaning "son" (za), adjacent to an image of the sun, a hieroglyph for the chief solar deity Ra. It was first introduced to the set of royal titles during the fourth dynasty and emphasizes the king's role as a representative of the solar god Ra.

What can we glean from this quintet? Four deities are mentioned, Horus (twice), Nekhbet, Wadjet, and Ra. Items 2 and 4 incorporate the Egyptian idea of complementary duality.

We then turned to the select roster of early royal STATUES. The little ivory figure in the British Museum (apparently first dynasty), shows the stooped figure of the aging monarch bearing the white crown and apparently wearing the Heb-sed robe.

At the end of the second dynasty, with the two Khasekhem images (we looked at the better preserved one in Cairo), we see the emergence of the paradigm of the seated monarch--a formula that is to last throughout Egyptian history. At 22 inches high, the Cairo figure does not reach the realm of life-size images. However, at 55 in. the awesome Djoser image (from his serdab) does. So this sequence of three royal figures seems to display a decisive developmental trajectory.

The third dynasty has provided some other important figures. The standing figures of Sepa and Noset (Louvre) suggest that private sculture in the round had not yet achieved the authority displayed by the royal figures. The Hesyre reliefs in wood show an impressive mastery of the bas relief form. The standing figure of the scribe is in proper fractional representation. (Whether it was laid out using the grid remains uncertain). The splendid figure of Radyzen, the “king’s daughter,” seems to be from the same workshop as the Djoser (though her relation to him is uncertain).

We turn to the question of the origin of the PYRAMID. Is the step pyramid the immediate ancestor? That is, does it constitute a protopyramid? We returned to the mysterious landmark of Saqqara 3038; why was the nine-step pyramid encased in a palace facade enclosure? Compare the Merneith example. The Djoser enclosure and step pyramid could be regarded as an enormous enlargement of the 3038 paradigm: a step pyramid surrounded by a palace-facade perimeter.

We returned to the Djoser precinct at Saqqara, noting the basic outline of stages of erection: first a square mastaba, which was then enlarged; then a four-stage step pyramid; then the final enlargement (some have discerned some other manipulations along the way, but these are the main stages of construction). It is oriented, but is three degrees off true N-S. Egyptian geometry was, as far as we know, ad hoc without the benefit of a “Euclidian” treatise, but it worked well enough.

The monument shows two main types of masonry: one in pyramid itself, and more refined type in walls, especially in the Heb-Sed court. The North Palace facade with its wonderful courses of ashlar masonry shows an application of the principle of modularity aka deployment of standard parts. (Contrast Mycenae’s Lion Gate.). The principle of skeuomorphism, transfer from one medium to another, finds various applications, including the papyrus columns, imitation of brick courses in ashlar masonry, and mimicry of the blue tiles in the vault containing the running Djoser.

The following is an excursus on STONES. Egypt offers abundant stone of various types so that there was no need to import. Generally speaking, one can distinguish between soft (sandstone, limestone) and hard (siltstone aka slate, diorite) stones. Although copper tools were available, in general the Egyptians preferred stone tools--stone cutting stone. Unlike the pyramids themselves, the quarries were staffed by criminals and prisoners of war. The roughly shaped stones were brought to the site by water, using sledges and human labor for shorter distances. They were then carefully dressed. (On this subject, see the monograph of Dieter Arnold, “Building in Egypt.”)

We then turned to the stages of the emergence of the true PYRAMID.

This accomplishment is due to the extraordinary exertions orchestrated by Sneferu, founder of the fourth dynasty. (Apparently the son of Huni, Sneferu was married to Hetepheres I who is thought to have been the daughter of his father Huni, and therefore, his father-in-law may also have been his father.)

As a builder, Sneferu was actually more prolific than his more famous son Khufu, being responsible for constructing three pyramids. During the first fifteen years of his reign he completed a step pyramid at Meidum, following the example of his predecessors in the third dynasty. So far so good. But then he moved his residence to the Dahshur area, about 25 miles north, and resolved to create the first true pyramid. In the execution of the structure subsidence developed and the angle of the incline had to be changed: hence the term Bent Pyramid. He finally got it right, so the reasoning goes, by constructing the North or Red Pyramid, also at Dahshur.

Near the end of his life, it seems that Sneferu pushed his luck by seeking to encasing the old-fashioned step pyramid at Meidum so that it too would become a true pyramid. The casing collapsed, and today one only sees a melancholy three-stepped tower rising among a sloping mound of debris.

Sneferu may be said to have practiced “experimental” pyramid building, with all the risks that such an endeavor implies. His successors profited from his mistakes. While the pyramids built under Sneferu are individually smaller than the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the total volume of stone used in Sneferu's monuments surpasses that of any other pharaoh.

The GREAT PYRAMID is the oldest and largest of the Giza trio. Thanks to a discovery of payment graffiti at the Red Pyramid of Sneferu, it has been possible to calculate by analogy the rate of construction as about 11 and 1/2 years. The heaviest work crews were required for the first 2-3 years, when the foundations and lowest courses were laid. Then the work could proceed at a comparatively leisurely pace. Most scholars agree that the stones were hauled up huge earthen ramps, later dismantled.

The masonry was not uniform, for originally the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones in fine Turah limestone that formed a smooth outer surface. What we see today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure are scattered around the base.

There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called “Queen's Chamber” and King's Chamber are higher up, being embedded within the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the main part of a complex setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honor of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastabas surrounding the pyramid for nobles.

Some have speculated that Hemiunu, the king’s vizier, was the architect of the Great Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid commands superlatives. It is thought that, when complete, the monument was 280 Egyptian royal cubits high, 480.97 feet, but with erosion and pillaging of the casing, its current height is considerably less. Each base side was 440 royal cubits. The Great Pyramid contains about 2,300,00 blocks of stone. The size of the courses diminishes towards the top. Many of the casing stones and interior chamber blocks of the great pyramid were fit together with extremely high precision. Based on measurements taken on the northeastern casing stones, the mean opening of the joints are only 1/50th of an inch wide. The accuracy of the pyramid's workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 millimeters in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points.

As noted above, there has been much speculation as to whether the Egyptians knew such principles as pi and the Pythagorean triangle. It seems likely that they proceeded empirically, by trial and error, incorporating basic geometrical principles without formulating them theoretically.

The base of the Great Pyramid of Giza is not a perfect square. The base is a four-pointed star, each side of the pyramid being slightly concave, i.e. each face of the pyramid is indented from the corner to the midpoint of the base. This design feature can only be seen from the air, at certain times of the day. It was first photographed in 1940.

This concavity divides each of the apparent four sides in half, creating a very special and unusual eight-sided pyramid; and it is executed to such an extraordinary degree of precision as to enter the realm of the uncanny. For, viewed from any ground position or distance, this concavity is invisible to the naked eye. This subtlety foreshadows the “optical corrections” of later Greek architecture.

In AD 1301 a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones, which were then carted away by the Mamluke Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 in order to build mosques and fortifications in Cairo.

One of the mysteries of the pyramid's construction is how they planned its construction. John Romer (author of a recent major monograph on the Great Pyramid) suggests that they used the same method that had been used for earlier and later constructions, laying out parts of the plan on the ground at a 1 to 1 scale. He writes that "such a working diagram would also serve to generate the architecture of the pyramid with a precision unmatched by any other means."

The Great Pyramid is remarkable for containing both ascending and descending passages. As noted above, there are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. These are arranged centrally, on the vertical axis of the pyramid. From the entrance, an 18-meter corridor leads down and splits in two directions. One way leads to the lowest and unfinished chamber. This chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built. It is the largest of the three, but totally unfinished, only rough-cut into the rock. The other passage leads to the Grand Gallery (49 m x 3 m x 11 m), where it splits again. One tunnel leads to the Queen's Chamber, a misnomer, while the other winds to intersect with the descending corridor. The Grand Gallery itself features a corbel haloed design. An antechamber leads from the Grand Gallery to the King's Chamber.

The sarcophagus of the King's Chamber was hewn out of a single piece of Red Aswan granite and has been found to be too large to fit through the passageway leading to the chamber. Whether the sarcophagus was ever intended to house a body is unknown. It is too short to accommodate a medium height individual without the bending of the knees, a technique not practiced in Egyptian burial, and no lid was ever found. The King's Chamber contains two small shafts that ascend out of the pyramid. These shafts were once thought to have been used for ventilation, but this idea was eventually abandoned, which left Egyptologists to conclude they were instead used for ceremonial purposes. Some now think that they were to allow the Pharaoh's spirit to rise up and out to the heavens.

The so-called “Queen's Chamber” is the middle and the smallest, measuring approximately 5.74 by 5.23 meters, and 4.57 meters in height. Its eastern wall has a large angular doorway or niche. Mark Lehner believes that the Queen's chamber was intended as a serdab, a structure found in several other Egyptian pyramids, and that the niche would have contained a statue of the interred.

The Queens Chamber has a pair of shafts similar to those in the King's Chamber, which were explored using a robot, Upuaut 2, created by the German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink. In 1992, Upuaut 2 discovered that these shafts were blocked by limestone "doors" with two eroded copper handles. In a film often seen on TV, the National Geographic Society recorded the drilling of a small hole in the southern door, only to find another larger door behind it. The northern passage, which was harder to navigate due to twists and turns, was also found to be blocked by a door.

The "unfinished chamber" lies 27.5 meters below ground level and is rough-hewn, lacking the precision of the other chambers. Egyptologists suggest that the chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but that King Khufu later changed his mind and wanted to be interred higher up in the pyramid.

KHAFRE’s pyramid is the second largest of the Giza group. The pyramid has a base length of 215.25 m (707 ft) and originally rose to a height of 143.5 m (471 ft). The slope of the pyramid rises at an 53° 10' angle, steeper than its neighbor, Khufu’s pyramid, which has an angle of 51°50'40". The pyramid sits on bedrock 10 m (33 ft) higher than Khufu’s pyramid, a situation that makes it appear to be taller

The pyramid is built of horizontal courses. The stones used at the bottom are very large, but as the pyramid rises, the stones become smaller, becoming only 50 cm (20 in) thick at the apex. The courses are rough and irregular for the first half of its height but a narrow band of regular masonry is clear in the midsection of the pyramid. Casing stones cover the top third of the pyramid, but the little pyramidion is missing.

Two entrances lead to the burial chamber, one that opens 11.54 m (38 ft) up the face of the pyramid and one that opens at the base of the pyramid.

One theory as to why there are two entrances is that the pyramid was intended to be much larger with the northern base shifted 30 m (98 ft) further to the north which would make the Khafre’s pyramid much larger than his father’s pyramid. This would place the entrance to lower descending passage within the masonry of the pyramid. While the bedrock is cut away farther from the pyramid on the north side than on the west side, it is not clear that there is enough room on the plateau for the enclosure wall and pyramid terrace. An alternative theory is that, as with many earlier pyramids, plans were changed and the entrance was moved midway through construction.
The pyramid was surrounded by a terrace 10 m (33 ft) wide paved with irregular limestone slabs behind a large perimeter wall.

To the east of the Pyramid sat the mortuary temple. It is larger than previous temples and is the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, five niches for statues of the pharaoh, five storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary. There were over 52 life-size statues of Khafre, but these were removed and recycled, possibly by Ramesses II. The temple was built of megalithic blocks (the largest is an estimated 400 tonnes, but it is now largely in ruins.

A causeway runs 494.6 meters to the valley temple. The valley temple is similar to the mortuary temple, but much better preserved. The valley temple is built of megalithic blocks sheathed in red granite. The square pillars of the T -haped hallway were made of solid granite and the floor was paved in alabaster. The exterior was built of huge blocks some weighing over 100 tonnes. There are sockets in the floor that would have fixed 23 statues of Khafre, but except for one magnificent specimen these have since been plundered.