The Pyramids of Giza Were Originally White

Today I found out the pyramids of Giza were originally white.

When the pyramids were originally finished, they were plated in and outer layer of  white “casing stones”.  These casing stones were cut with astounding precision to give a smooth slope to the pyramids, unlike how they appear today with the outer stones more or less forming very large “steps”.

The original casing stones were made of highly polished Tura limestone, meant to reflect the sun’s rays, and were accurate within 1/100th of an inch.  All total, they were around five feet long, five feet high, and six feet deep and weighed around 15 metric tons each once the face angle was cut, being around 40 metric tons before that for the full block.

So what happened to these casing stones?  Many of them were cut loose and carried off to be used on various other structures, such as when Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan used the polished stones from the Great Pyramid in building mosques in Cairo, some of which are still standing with these stones still intact.

Most of the rest of the stones were worn away, being loosened by earthquakes and eventually creating piles of rubble around the pyramids, which have relatively recently been cleared away.  Although, a few of the stones are still there, such as around the base of the Great Pyramid.

Bonus Facts:

  • The Great Pyramid is made up of around 2.3 million limestone blocks.  There are also large granite stones in the pyramid, such as in the King’s chamber.  These granite stones can weigh upwards of 70 metric tons.  Astoundingly, these granite stones were transported from around 500 miles away, from Aswan.  All total, around 8,000 metric tons of granite, 6 million metric tons of limestone, and half a million metric tons of mortar were used to build the Great Pyramid alone.
  • The Great Pyramid was constructed in less than 20 years around 2500 BC.  For just under 4000 years, it remained the tallest man made structure in the world at around 500 feet tall (around 145 meters).  It was finally beat by the Lincoln Cathedral, which is 160 meters tall (520 feet) and completed in the year 1300.
  • Around 800 metric tons of stone were added to the Pyramid every day during its construction with around 200-300 of these mammoth blocks being put in place daily. It’s no surprise that archeological evidence suggests that spine and bone problems were prevalent among those who worked on the pyramids.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it is no longer thought that the pyramids of Giza were built by slaves.  Archeological evidence shows that the worker’s town comprised of whole families, not just men as would have been the case if they were slaves.  Further, the people were extremely well taken care of including the highest quality health care available at the time and they were also extremely well fed.  These and other such hints from the past, relatively recently discovered, seem to indicate that the laborers were there of their own volition.
  • One method the Ancient Egyptians used for cutting blocks of stone to eventually be shaped and polished and the like was to chisel holes in the stone and then pound large wooden wedges into the holes.  They’d then soak these wedges in water, which would cause them to expand and eventually form cracks in the rock.  These cracks could then be exploited to remove large blocks from the quarries, which would then be processed accordingly and eventually shipped off to the pyramid being built, generally by boat on the Nile River.
  • How accurate was the building of the Pyramids?  As an example, the stones of the Great Pyramid were cut so precisely that no one side differs in length from another side by more than 58 millimeters (around 2 inches).  Further, the four corners align within four minutes of the actual cardinal compass points, with north pointing to true north, not magnetic north.  In addition to that, the swivel door to the Great Pyramid weighed around 20 tons, yet was so well balanced that it could be opened from inside by one person with minimal force applied.  From the outside, the door was nearly undetectable due to the cut being so precise as to have nearly no crack between itself and the surrounding pyramid.  The crack was also sufficiently thin to make it impossible to be used for prying the door open from the outside.
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only more or less intact member of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”.  It is believed to have been built for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu.
  • The word “pyramid” comes from the Greek words “pyra” (fire/light) and “midos” (measures).
  • The word Pharaoh derives from the Hebrew version of “per-aa”, meaning “great house”.
  • It is believed the pyramids were meant to be mechanisms to allow the entombed to reach the heavens.  Towards this end, there is a shaft running through the entire body of the Great Pyramid that points to the darkest part of the night sky.  The Ancient Egyptians believed this dark region of the night sky was the gateway to the heavens.  The pyramid then serves as a sort of launching platform for the soul of the Pharaoh.  Further, the soul itself was thought to only be able to survive as long as the body was preserved.  As such, the Pyramids aided in preserving the body by sealing it away.
  • To date, there are around 140 pyramids that have been discovered in Egypt.
  • The earliest known pyramid to date is the Pyramid of Djoser, which was designed by the famed Ancient Egyptian architect, Imhotep (who the character on the Mummy movies was extremely loosely based off of and is considered the “father” of architecture, engineering, and medical practitioners).  His latter treatise on medicine was noted for being completely devoid of magical references.
  • Imhotep was officially the “Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief…” He was also a well thought of poet and philosopher of his day, all combined making him one of the most prolific polymaths in history.  All this earned Imhotep the privilege of becoming one of the very few commoners to be given divine status after he died.  He eventually became the god of medicine and healing.
  • Imhotep also designed his own tomb, which to date has still not been found as it was well hidden on construction.
  • Giza is currently the third largest city in Egypt with a population of around 2.7 million people within the city itself and a total of 6.3 million people including the surrounding suburbs.
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