Excerpt from Encyclopedia Brittanica article: Pyramids, Giza © 1997

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Arabic AHRAMAT AL-JIZAH, three 4th-dynasty (c. 2575-c. 2465 BC) pyramids erected on a rocky plateau on the west bank of the Nile River near al-Jizah (Giza), Egypt; they are included among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The northernmost and the oldest pyramid of the group was built by Khufu (Greek: Cheops), the second king of the 4th dynasty. Called the Great Pyramid, it is the largest of the three, the length of each side at the base averaging 755 3/4 feet (230.4 m) and its original height being 481 2/5 feet (147 m). The middle pyramid was built by Khafre (Greek: Chephren), the fourth of the eight kings of the 4th dynasty; the structure measures 707 3/4 feet (216 m) on each side and was originally 471 feet (143 m) high. The southernmost and last pyramid to be built was that of Menkaure (Greek: Mycerinus), the sixth king of the 4th dynasty. Each side measures 356 1/2 feet (109 m), and the structure's completed height was 218 feet (66 m).

The question of how the pyramids were built has not received a wholly satisfactory answer. The most plausible one is that the Egyptians, who lacked tackle and pulleys for lifting heavy weights, employed a sloping embankment of brick, earth, and sand, which was increased in height and in length as the pyramid rose and up which the stone blocks were hauled by means of sledges, rollers, and levers. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the Great Pyramid took 20 years to construct and demanded the labour of 100,000 men. This figure is believable given the assumption that these men, who were agricultural labourers, worked on the pyramids only (or primarily) while the Nile River was in flood and hence when there was little work to be done in the fields.

A structure of peculiar shape called the Blunted, Bent, False, or Rhomboidal Pyramid, which stands at Dahshur a short distance south of Saqqarah, marks an advance in development toward the strictly pyramidal tomb. Built by Snefru, of the 4th dynasty, it is 188 m square at the base and approximately 98 m high. Peculiar in that it has a double slope, it changes inclination about halfway up, the lower portion being steeper than the upper. It comes nearer than Djoser's terraced tomb to being a true pyramid. A monumental structure at Maydum, also ascribed to Snefru, was a true pyramid, though not originally planned as such. The initial structure was gradually enlarged until it became a gigantic eight-terraced mass of masonry; then the steps were filled in with a packing of stone to form a continuous slope. The entire structure was eventually covered with a smooth facing of limestone; a geometrically true pyramid was the final result. In its ruined condition, however, it has the appearance of a three-stepped pyramid rising to a height of about 70 m. The earliest tomb known to have been designed and executed throughout as a true pyramid is the North Stone Pyramid at Dahshur, thought by some to have also been erected by Snefru. It is about 220 m wide at the base and 104 m high. The greatest of the Egyptian pyramids are those of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkure at Giza (see Giza, Pyramids of). (see also Index: Giza, Pyramids of)

Snefru built two large pyramids at Dahshur. The first pyramid, called the Bent Pyramid, was begun with steep sides. When structural faults became evident, the angle was sharply reduced, producing the bent appearance of the structure. This monument was the first attempt to build a true pyramid. Some years later Snefru built a true pyramid north of the first, which perhaps became the king's burial place. Both monuments stand today.

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