This is the fifteenth in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
So the Great Pyramid, I finally get a chance to have a good long look at the outside, it is big. Originally nearly 146 metres tall, it still stands (thanks to erosion, and man) at 138 metres today. Constructed in or around 2580 BC over a twenty year period ending at 2560 BC, it was the largest man-made object in the world for… 3,800 Years!
There are two other pyramids here at the site in Giza (which is just outside of Cairo) but neither of them match the majesty of the Great Pyramid. It is also in the best condition of any of the pyramids and some of the cladding that would have made the outside a smooth surface, rather than the pitted stone that greets us today, still survives around the apex.
For a project conducted so long ago, it was built with amazing accuracy without any of today’s high tech tools; the average difference between the sides at the base is less than 6cm! They are almost perfectly aligned with the compass points as well, not magnetic but true North provides the guide. It is interesting to note that this would have required understanding of the Greek concept of pi (can’t do the symbol sorry), almost 2,000 years before it was defined. They may have used the high school approximation for it of 22/7 instead of the precise number known today, but this resulted in errors of less than 0.5% in all aspects of the construction.
Officially it is absolutely forbidden to climb up on the pyramid without paying a large bribe, sorry permit fee, and with the company of an approved guide. Fortunately, this is the Middle East and no-one gives a damn so we scramble up the side and join the throng of other tourists already gathered there. I have some photographs taken of my colleague standing at the base, he looks tiny in them, it really is an amazing structure.
At least there’s not so much litter on here as there is on the ground. The stones are massive, really massive. The pyramid is made of nearly 2.3 million limestone blocks, the largest of which (near the base) weigh nearly 60 tons each. These would have been cut from the ground using a water swelling technique (soak the stone, let it expand, and the rock cracks, widen the cracks to extract) and transported to the site from Aswan nearly 500 miles away. An extraordinary feat today, but back then this is quite beyond belief.
Considering the age of the structure, and the African instinct to steal and recycle everything that is not nailed down, it is in amazingly good condition. And stood on the edge of the Great Pyramid in the desert sun, you can almost feel the intensity of effort and labour that went in to build it.