J.G. Wilkinson (Source : Wikimedia commons)J'ai déjà présenté du même auteur son Manuel pour voyageurs en Égypte (1847).
Pour accompagner la lecture des extraits ci-dessous, je les ai scindés en quatorze parties répondant aux titres suivants :
1 - description globale de la Grande Pyramide
2 - le puits
3 - d'autres chambres et couloirs ?
4 - au-dessus de la Chambre du Roi
5 - ouverture de la Grande Pyramide par al-Ma'mûn
6 - absence de hiéroglyphes dans et sur les pyramides
7 - les tombes adjacentes et les inscriptions qu'elles contiennent
8 - fonction(s) des pyramides
9 - description de la pyramide de Khéphren : ressemblances et différences avec les caractéristiques de la Grande Pyramide
10 - la troisième pyramide
11 - les deux chaussées
12 - quelle technique employée par les Égyptiens pour élever les blocs de pierre ?
13 - nature des pierres utilisées
14 - date de construction des pyramides
Une remarque concernant le point n°3 : l'ouvrage de Wilkinson date de 1835, soit deux années avant les fouilles entreprises par le colonel Howard Vyse, opérations au cours desquelles la question posée trouvera, au moins partiellement sa réponse.
Extraits de Topography of Thebes and general view of Egypt, being a short account of the principal objects worthy of notice in the Valley of the Nile
Though last, not least, among the objects worthy of notice in the vicinity of the metropolis, are the pyramids of Geezeh. Pliny says they stand on the barren and rocky African hills between the Delta and Memphis, from which last they are distant about half as far again as the Nile.
1. That of Cheops, or rather of Suphis, covered an area of about 570,000 square feet ; but now stript of the exterior tier of stones, the total length of each face, without the casing, is reduced to 732 feet, and its actual height to 474.
The entrance is nearly in the centre, and a passage descending at an angle of 27° terminates in an unfinished chamber, below the level of the ground. About 100 feet from the entrance, this passage is joined by an upper one, which ascends at the same angle to the great gallery, when it runs horizontally into what is called the Queen's Chamber. But the gallery itself, continuing at an angle of 27°, leads to a larger room, called the King's Chamber, in which is a sarcophagus of red granite, 7 f. 4 in. by 3 f.; being only 3 in. less than the width of the door by which it was admitted.
2. At the bottom of the great gallery is the well ; and it was by this that the workmen descended, after they had closed the lower end of the upper passage, which was done with blocks of granite. And having gone down by the well, and reached the lower passage, they followed it upwards to the mouth, which they also closed in the same manner. But those who opened the pyramid, in order to avoid the granite blocks, at the junction of the two passages, forced a way through the side ; and it is by this that you now ascend, in going to the great gallery.
3. Several other chambers and passages, hitherto undiscovered, no doubt exist in the upper part of the pyramid ; and one seems to me to be connected with the summit of the great gallery. I suppose it first to run upwards in a contrary direction to the north, from that end which is above the well ; where a block, apparently of granite, projects at the complement of the usual angle of these passages. It probably turns afterwards, and extends in a southerly direction over the great gallery.
4. Above what is called the King's Chamber is a low room, I may say entresol, which should support another similar chamber ; and the stone at the south-west corner of it has probably been let in after the workmen had closed the above-mentioned passage ; so that this room served also as an outlet from the upper apartments, as the well from those about the great gallery. The names of Aibek (a), Baybers, and Soltan Mohammed occur at the entrance of the great gallery, but they were probably written by some one who wished to deceive future visiters.
5. This pyramid is said to have been opened by the caliph Mamoon, about the year 820 ; and the long forced passage, to the east and below the level of the present entrance, is supposed to have been made at that time. Great hopes were entertained, say the Arab historians, of finding a rich treasure ; but it was soon discovered that the pyramid had been previously opened and reclosed, and the caliph had nearly finished his vain search, when the people began to evince their discontent, and to censure his indiscretion. To check their murmurs, he had recourse to artifice. He secretly ordered a large sum of money to be conveyed to, and buried in, the innermost part of the excavated passage ; and the subsequent discovery of the supposed treasure, which was found to be about equal to what had been expended, satisfied the people, and the caliph thus gratified his own curiosity at the expense of their labor, their money, and their unsuspecting credulity.
6. It has always been a matter of surprise that no hieroglyphics are met with, either in the interior or on the exterior of the pyramids, and that, above all, the sarcophagus (b) should be destitute of those sacred characters, so generally found on Egyptian monuments. Herodotus says he saw an inscription on the front (c), and, by his account, it seems to have been in the Enchorial or in the Hieratic character ; but the Enchorial did not exist at the time of its erection, and the Hieratic, from not being monumental, could scarcely have been used for such a purpose.
His "figures of animals" on the causeway appear to allude more particularly to hieroglyphics ; but as the exteriors, both of the causeway and the pyramids, are lost, we cannot now decide this question.
7. At all events, we may be certain that the stones, mentioned by some writers, in the walls of the adjacent tombs, were not taken from the pyramids ; nor is any one of them anterior in date to the great pyramid, since their position is evidently regulated by the direction of that monument. In the hieroglyphic inscriptions of the tombs, the names of the kings are of very great antiquity, long before the accession of the sixteenth dynasty ; and we may trace, in one instance, a name very much resembling that of Suphis, the supposed founder of the Great Pyramid.
Some of the royal ovals are preceded by the title of priest instead of king, which occurs again in some of the oldest tombs in Upper Egypt; and this fact alone would suffice to prove their great antiquity, and consequently a fortiori that of the pyramids themselves. (d)
8. I do not pretend to explain or decide the real object for which these stupendous monuments were constructed, but feel persuaded that they may have served for tombs, and also have been intended for astronomical purposes. For though it is in vain to look for the pole-star at the bottom of a passage descending at an angle of 27°, or to imagine that a closed (e) passage, or a pyramid covered with a smooth and inaccessible casing, were intended for an observatory, yet the form of the exterior might lead to many useful calculations. They stand exactly due north and south ; and while the direction of the faces to the east and west might serve to fix the return of a certain period of the year, the shadow cast by the sun, or the time of its coinciding with their slope, might be observed for a similar purpose.
9. The style of building in the second pyramid is inferior to that of the first, and the stones used in its construction were less carefully selected, though united with nearly the same kind of cement. Nor was all the stone of either pyramid brought from the quarries of the Arabian mountains, but the outer tier or casing was composed of blocks hewn from their compact strata. This casing, part of which still remains on the second pyramid of Cephren or Sensuphis, is in fact merely formed by levelling or planing down the upper angle of the projecting steps (f), and was consequently, as Herodotus very justly observes, commenced from the summit.
The passages in the second pyramid are very similar to those of the first ; but there is no gallery, and they lead only to one main chamber, in which is a sarcophagus, sunk in the floor. It is remarkable that this pyramid appears to have had two entrances ; an upper one, by which you now enter, and another about sixty feet below it, which is still unopened. One hundred and thirty feet from the mouth of the upper one was a granite portcullis, and the other was closed in the same manner about one hundred feet from its entrance. A little beyond the latter portcullis, is a long narrow chamber ; and the passage is afterwards united with the upper one by an ascending talus.
The actual height of the second pyramid is about four hundred and thirty-nine feet, and the length of its base six hundred and ninety ; but if entire, its height would be increased to about four hundred and sixty-six feet.
10. The third pyramid of Mycerinus, Moscheris, or Mecherinus, has not yet been opened. It differs from the other two, being built in almost perpendicular degrees, to which a sloping face has been afterwards added. The outer layers were of red granite, and many of them still remain ; nor can we doubt the justness of Pliny's remark, when he says :"The third, though much smaller than the other two" was "much more elegant" from the "Ethiopian stone" (granite of E'Souan) that clothed it.
The exterior of the lowest row of the second was also of the same stone, which is testified by the blocks and fragments that lie scattered about its base, and by the evidence of Herodotus.
11. Two stone causeways still remain, one to the north and another to the south, by which the blocks were carried on sledges to the pyramids. The former was, according to Herodotus, five stades long, ten orgyies (fathoms) in breadth and eight in height, and was adorned with the figures of animals or hieroglyphics ; nor was it completed in less than ten years.
Though the size of a stade is uncertain, we may take an average of six hundred feet, which will require this causeway to have been three thousand feet in length ; a measurement according precisely with the thousand yards of Pococke, though we can now no longer trace its extent for more than 1424 feet. Its breadth is only thirty-two feet, the outer faces having fallen, but the height of eighty-five exceeds that given by Herodotus ; though it is evident, from the actual height of the hill, to whose surface the causeway (g) necessarily reached, and from his allowing a hundred feet from the plain to the top of this hill, that the expression eight orgyies is an oversight either of the historian or of his copyists.
It was repaired by the caliphs and Memlook kings, who made use of this same causeway to carry back to the Arabian shore those blocks that had before cost so much time and labor to transport from its mountains ; and several of the finest mosks of the capital were constructed with the stones of the quarried pyramids.
Extraits de Modern Egypt and Thebes, being a description of Egypt
12. It would be curious to know the means employed by the Egyptians for raising the stones, and the exact form of the machines mentioned by Herodotus : the admirable skill with which the passages and chambers are constructed show the advancement of that people in architectural knowledge, at the time of their erection, and we are not a little surprised to find Diodorus assert that machinery had not yet been invented.
13. The style of building in the second pyramid is inferior to that of the first, and the stones used in its construction were less carefully selected, though united with nearly the same kind of cement. The lowest tier of stones was of granite, but probably only the casing, as the expression of Herodotus, like that applied by Pliny to the third pyramid, does not require the granite to extend beyond the surface. That granite was employed for some portion at least of the outer part or casing of this pyramid, is sufficiently proved by the blocks that lie scattered about its base, among which I observed the corner stone. The stones used in the body of this, as well as all the other pyramids, have been brought partly from the nummulite rocks of the neighbouring hills, partly from the quarries of the "Arabian mountain", on the opposite side of the river; and the casing stones or outer layers were composed of blocks hewn from its compact strata.
14. Respecting the date of the pyramids, it is very evident that Herodotus is far from right, when he places Cheops (or Suphis) after Moeris and Sesostris ; who were kings of the 18th dynasty. It may, however, be observed, that though Remeses the Great corresponds to Sesostris, there was an older Pharaoh of this name, mentioned by Manetho in the 12th dynasty ; and I have already had occasion to explain the probable origin of the mistakes made by Greek writers respecting this king. It is probable that the pyramids are the oldest monuments in Egypt, or, indeed, in the world, and that the kings who built them reigned some time before the age of the Osirtasens and the 16th dynasty. But whether they governed the whole, or part only, of Egypt, it is not easy to determine, from the absence of monuments in the Thebaid of that remote period. I have supposed the date of the great pyramid, or the reign of Suphis, to be about 2120 B.c., but this is a conjecture, which remains to be confirmed or refuted by future discoveries. At all events, the opinion of those who conclude, from the pyramids not being mentioned in the Bible, nor in Homer, that they did not exist before the Exodus, nor at the time of the poet, is totally inadmissible; and we may, with equal readiness, reject the assertion of those who pretend that the Jews aided in their construction.
b-It is remarkable that the door of the chamber is only just large enough to admit it. Was it introduced by means of the screw, or before the roof and upper part of the pyramid were built ? I think it was put in afterwards. It emits a fine sonorous sound on being struck. It is 3 ft. 1 in height. The door is 3 ft. 3 broad.
c-Abd-el-Azees also mentions hieroglyphics on the great pyramid. He is generally very accurate, but the authority of Arab writers can seldom be relied upon.
d-Contrary to the opinion of some, who suppose from the pyramids not being mentioned in the Bible, or in Homer, that they did not exist before the Exodus, or in the time of the poet. The presence of the name of Remeses the Great (who preceded the Trojan war) in a very secondary position, sufficiently answers the latter objection.
e-The second was opened by Belzoni in 1816, but he found, from an inscription in the chamber, that it had been entered before and reclosed by the Soltan Alee Mohammed. Strabo says the great pyramid was closed by a stone fitted into the mouth of the passage ; and a further proof of its having been opened before the time of the caliph Mamoon is drawn from Pliny, who speaks of a well of eighty-six cubits in depth, by which it was supposed that the Nile water was admitted. Eighty-six cubits, or one hundred and twenty-nine feet, do not, however, agree with the depth of what is now called the well, which is nearly two hundred ; and it is possible that he is speaking of the lower passage, which, in his time, may have been cleared only to that distance. At all events, we must conclude that the pyramid had been purposely or accidentally closed before the time of the caliph. With regard to the admission of the water of the Nile, mentioned by Herodotus, the much lower level of the river at once prevents the possibility of its being introduced into the pyramid, the base of which is even now upwards of one hundred feet above the surface of the water during the inundation, and must have been more in the time of Herodotus, and still more again at the period of its erection. Pliny, who was not led away by credulity and want of judgment, justly questions the story, and observes that the Nile is much lower.
f-Being misled by the usual notion of an actual casing, finished from the summit, I ascended the second pyramid, in the vain hope of discovering some clue to the position of the stones, which might decide this point ; but the subsequent examination of other Egyptian buildings, without a similar risk, fully explained its fallacy (…).
g-The observations of Diodorus on this causeway, which, he says, owing to the sandy base on which it was built, has totally disappeared, are as ill-judged as his idea of machinery not having yet been invented. Lib. i. s. 63. His mentioning the "polished stones" shows he alludes to the causeway.