Excursion aux pyramides (dessin de l'auteur)Le description qu’a proposée Samuel Manning (1822-1881), dans son ouvrage The land of the Pharaohs. Egypt and Sinai, illustrated by pen and pencil, 1875, des pyramides de Guizeh vaut autant - voire plus - par ses illustrations que par son contenu narratif proprement dit.
On remarquera toutefois ce que l’auteur affirme, par mode de comparaison, de la qualité de la construction de chacune des trois pyramides majeures du plateau : c’est la troisième pyramide qui vient en tête, devant - dans l’ordre - la plus grande, puis la seconde.
La Chambre de la Reine de la Grande Pyramide se voit, quant à elle, investie d’une fonction honorifique peu couramment admise : celle d’accueillir - en tout cas, ce n’est “pas improbable” - la momie du pharaon, dans la mesure où celle-ci n’a pu être déposée dans la chambre qui lui était destinée, pour cause de vindicte post mortem de la part du peuple censé avoir été opprimé par le souverain.
“Vast and imposing as are the Pyramids even at the present day, it is important to remember that we do not see them in their original condition. It has been said that “All things dread Time ; but Time itself dreads the Pyramids.” The destructive agency of man, however, has effected what mere natural decay was powerless to accomplish. The huge masses of masonry are indeed proof against the assaults alike of man and of time. But as originally constructed, they offered not the rough and broken outline up which we now climb, but a smooth and polished surface, perhaps covered with hieroglyphics. For centuries they furnished quarries out of which modern Egyptians have built their cities. Though their beauty has been thus destroyed, their bulk is not perceptibly diminished.
Abd-el-Latif, an Arab physician, writing in the twelfth century, when the casing stones were yet in their places, says : “The most admirable particular of the whole is the extreme nicety with which these stones have been prepared and adjusted. Their adjustment is so precise that not even a needle or a hair can be inserted between any two of them. They are joined by a cement laid on to the thickness of a sheet of paper. These stones are covered with writing in that secret character whose import is at this day wholly unknown. These inscriptions are so multitudinous, that if only those which are seen on the surface of these two Pyramids were copied upon paper, more than ten thousand books would be filled with them.”
One of these inscriptions is said by Herodotus to have recorded that sixteen hundred talents of silver were expended in purchasing radishes, onions, and garlic for the workmen ; reminding us of the complaint of the Israelites : “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely ; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.”
If, as we stand upon the plateau of Gizeh, now covered with mounds of ruin and débris, we would picture to ourselves the scene which it presented in the time of the Pharaohs, we must conceive of the three pyramids as huge masses of highly-polished granite, the area around them covered with pyramids and temples, amongst which the Sphinx rose in solemn, awful grandeur to a height of a hundred feet. What is now a silent waste of desert sand would be thronged with multitudes of priests, and nobles, and soldiers, in all the pomp and splendour with which the monuments make us familiar, while just below us, stretching along the Nile, the palaces of Memphis glittered in the sun. (...)
Chambre de la Reine et Chambre du Roi
The pyramid itself [the Great Pyramid] contains two chambers, which have received the appellation of the King's and Queen's. The latter is lined with slabs of polished stone, very carefully finished, and artistically roofed with blocks leaning against each other to resist the pressure of the mass above. This apartment is reached by a sloping passage, which terminates in a gallery or hall twenty-eight feet high. From the entrance of the gallery a horizontal passage, one hundred and nine feet long, leads to the “queen's chamber”, which measures seventeen feet (north and south) by eighteen wide, and is twenty feet high to the top of the inclined blocks.The gallery continues to ascend till it reaches a sort of vestibule, which leads to the “king's chamber”. This chamber is finished with as much care as the other, and measures thirty-four feet by seventeen, and nineteen in height. The north and south walls are pierced by two shafts or tubes, about eight inches square, slanting up through the entire fabric to the exterior of the pyramid.
The “king's chamber” contained a red granite sarcophagus without a lid ; it was empty, and had neither sculpture nor inscription of any kind. The door was guarded by a succession of four heavy stone portcullises, intended to be let down after the body was deposited, and impenetrably
seal up the access.
The roof of the chamber is flat ; and, in order to take off the weight above, five spaces, or entresols, have been left in the structure. On the wall of one of these garrets, never intended to be entered, General Vyse discovered, in 1836, what had been searched for in every other part of the pyramid in vain. Drawn in red ochre, apparently as quarry marks on the stones previously to their insertion, are several hieroglyphic characters, among which is seen the oval ring which encircles the royal titles, and within it a name which had already been noticed on an adjoining tomb. On the latter it was read Shufu or Chufu, a word sufficiently near, in the Egyptian pronunciation, to Cheops, whom Herodotus gives as the founder of the largest pyramid.
One of the most singular features in this pyramid is a perpendicular shaft descending from the gallery in front of the “queen's chamber” down to the entrance passage underground, a depth of 155 feet. The workmanship shows that this well was sunk through the masonry after the completion of the pyramid, in all probability as an outlet for the masons, after barring the sloping ascent with a mass of granite on the inside, which long concealed its existence. The lower opening of the well was closed with a similar stone ; the builders then withdrawing by the northern entrance, which was both barricaded and concealed under, the casing, left the interior, as they supposed, inaccessible to man.
Où fut déposée la momie de Khéops ? Probablement dans la Chambre de la Reine.
These extraordinary precautions go to confirm the tradition related by Herodotus, that Cheops was not buried in the vault he had prepared, but secretly in some safer retreat, on account of violence apprehended from the people. As no other pyramid is known to contain an upper room, it seems not improbable that the “queen's chamber” was the refuge where his mummy lay concealed while the vault was broken open and searched in vain.
Construction par accrétion
Lepsius has shown that the Pyramids were constructed by degrees. The vault was excavated, and a course of masonry laid over it, in the first year of the king's reign. If he died before a second was constructed, the corpse was interred, and the pyramid built up solid above. With every year of the king's life an addition was made to the base as well as to the superstructure, so that the years of the reign might have been numbered by the accretions, as the age of a tree by its annual rings. When the last year came, the steps were filled out to a plain surface, the casing put on, and the royal corpse conveyed through the slanting passage to its resting-place.
The Second Pyramid stands about 500 feet to the south-west of the First, and is so placed that the diagonals of both are in a right line. It is somewhat smaller, but stands on higher ground. The construction is similar to the other, save that no chamber has been discovered above ground. It
was surrounded by a pavement, through which a second entrance, in front of the northern face, descends deep into the rock, and then rises again to meet the usual passage from the regular opening in the face of the pyramid.
From the point of junction a horizontal passage leads to a vault, now called by the name of Belzoni ; it measures forty-six feet by sixteen, and is twenty-two feet in height. It is entirely hewn in the rock, with the exception of the roof, which is formed of vast limestone blocks, leaning against each other and painted inside. When discovered, this vault contained a plain granite sarcophagus, without inscription, sunk into the floor. The lid was half destroyed, and it was full of rubbish. Some bones found in the interior turned out to be the remains of oxen ; but the sarcophagus was not large enough to admit more than a human mummy. Besides the large vault, Belzoni found a smaller one, eleven feet long, and a third, measuring thirty-four feet by ten, and eight feet five in height, but neither contained any sepulchral remains.
The general workmanship of this pyramid is inferior to that of the larger one. It retains its outer casing for about 150 feet from the top, and is, consequently, more difficult of ascent. (...)
The Third or Red Pyramid - so called from the colour of the granite casing which covered the lower half, and has protected its base from diminution - is described by the classical writers as the most sumptuous and magnificent of all. It certainly surpasses the other two in beauty and regularity of construction. It covers a suite of three subterranean chambers, reached as usual by a sloping passage from the northern face. The first is an anteroom twelve feet long, the walls panelled in white stucco. Its door was blocked by huge stones, and when these had been removed, three granite portcullises, in close succession, guarded the vault beyond. In this apartment, which measures forty-six feet by twelve, and is nearly under the apex of the pyramid, a sarcophagus had apparently been sunk, but none remained. The floor was covered with its fragments (as Perring supposed) in red granite ; and Bunsen ascribes the fracture to Egyptian violence. Others, however, imagine these fragments to be only the chippings made by the masons in fitting the portcullises. (...)
At the eastern edge of the platform of Gizeh stands the Great Sphinx, a fabulous monster, compounded of the bust of a man with the body and legs of a lion. This combination is supposed to symbolise the union of intellect and power required in a king. The conception originated apparently in Thebes, and seems as intimately connected with that city as the pyramid is with Memphis.
This gigantic monster is consequently some centuries later than the neighbouring Pyramids.”