samedi 2 juillet 2011

“Pour leur masse immense, ainsi que pour leur mystérieuse et fascinante antiquité, les pyramides sont les plus intéressants de tous les monuments de l’ancienne Égypte” (Clive Holland - XXe s.)

De toutes les “choses” qu’il a vues en Égypte, les pyramides sont les monuments qui ont sans doute le plus suscité l’admiration de Clive Holland.
Dans son ouvrage Things seen in Egypt, édité en 1908, cet auteur adopte tout d’abord un ton professoral, presque expéditif. Le principe qui régit la construction d’une pyramide est, selon lui, invariable. Les pyramides, ajoute-t-il, sont “de simples tumulus”, qui ne diffèrent de ceux érigés par les Anglo-Saxons pour honorer leurs morts que sur un point : elles sont construites en pierre, au lieu de la terre.
Puis les observations techniques se teintent progressivement d’étonnement et d’une réelle fascination, surtout lorsque le narrateur se retrouve confronté à des inconnues au cours de sa découverte du site de Guizeh : quelles sont les “nombreux systèmes ingénieux” que les Égyptiens utilisèrent pour empêcher que le sarcophage royal de la Grande Pyramide ne fût dérobé ? qu’en est-il des “nombreuses chambres” à l’intérieur de ce monument ? quel était la “raison d’être” (en français dans le texte) du Sphinx ?
Ainsi en va-t-il fréquemment des théories et tentatives d’explication que suscitent ces merveilles de simplicité et de complexité technique que sont les pyramides d’Égypte : on part d’une idée simple, d’un principe qui tient en quelques lignes. Ensuite, le regard s’affinant et devenant plus attentif aux détails, les “choses” deviennent plus complexes qu’elles ne semblaient au point de départ.
Qu’en pensent les “agitateurs d’idées” et acteurs actuels, toutes orientations confondues, de la “pyramidologie” ?

Tumulus de Sutton Hoo - Suffolk - UK (reconstitution) - Photo Goeff Dallimore
“The pyramids are simply barrows, such as were erected over the honoured dead in Saxon England, only of stone instead of earth. The blocks are laid regularly and the edges finished.
The governing principle of the pyramid is invariable. An excavation was usually made in some rocky eminence in the tract of desert lying between the Nile and the Libyan Hills, above reach of any inundation, and a sloping passage was cut from the rock-cavity to the surface. Over this was built a heap of stones, to prevent the desert sand encroaching. As a rule, this was done almost as soon as a King succeeded to the throne, and if he died early in his reign, he was buried in the rock-tomb, and a pyramidical cap was placed upon the top of the heap of stones, and triangular blocks were built at the side, and by these means a small pyramid was formed, by which the tomb was hermetically sealed.
If, on the other hand, the King continued to reign, he did not put on the cap, or side triangular blocks ; but after a time another cube upon the first heap of stones and blocks round the base, so as to form a second stage, and so on at various periods ; and thus, at the end of his reign (if it had been a long one), there were numerous stages, and the pyramid could be completed by the addition of the cap. The masonry is invariably rougher hewn and less accurately placed in the upper stages, as, no doubt, in the smaller pyramids the masons had more time at their disposal in which to execute the work. 

Illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de C. Holland
There are sometimes other chambers besides the tomb in pyramids, and these are probably
substitutes for the subterranean tomb in the later stages of the pyramid. The entrance to the
tomb itself is always found carefully concealed. It is usually a steep, long, and narrow passage, sloping gradually downwards, and many ingenious devices were employed to prevent the sarcophagus being carried away. Although some of the pyramids are built of bricks - of which almost incalculable numbers must have been used - stone from the neighbouring limestone quarries or brought from Tura and El-Ma'asarah was generally employed.
Nearly all the Egyptian pyramids are built together in one area, and they are all the tombs of kings
and officials of the early Memphite dynasties, who ruled over Egypt from about 4000 b.c. to 3000 b.c. Of the old royal city and capital at Memphis, nothing now remains save two huge figures of Ramses II., some blocks of masonry, and fragments of colossi. But of the necropolis of Memphis itself there still remains a large number of tombs. The greatest and most impressive of all the pyramids are the three of Gizeh, the so-called "false" pyramid of Meydum, and the step pyramid of Sakkarah. These can be easily visited by tourists who go to Cairo, and the former are reached along the fine road constructed by Ismail Pascha, the first Khedive, which takes one seven miles on the way beneath the shade of a handsome avenue of lebbek-trees. Sakkarah is nine miles south.
As one approaches the end of the road, the real grandeur of the Great Pyramid bursts upon one. Apparently one is beneath its shadow ; in reality it is still more than a mile away.
Across the intervening desert one toils on a donkey, camel, or Arab pony up the steeply inclined

road until one is at last at the foot of the colossal monument of past ages. These three pyramids
of Gizeh are the tombs of three fourth-dynasty Kings : Cheops (also known as Khufu), Chephren (or Khafra), and Mycerinus (or Menkera). The first is the largest, and is so enormous that one
can only stand in silent wonder on first coming beneath its shadow.
Covering an area equal in extent to Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, originally of a height of 481 feet, though now some-what less, it has a cubic content of 3,277,000 yards, and it is estimated that at least 7,000,000 tons of masonry were used in its construction. Its base is square, and each side exactly faces one of the four cardinal points of the compass.
The sides were originally faced with highly polished slabs of limestone, but these, which bore many inscriptions, have been stripped off by builders in search of easily acquired material. The outer stones are from 2 feet to 5 feet in height, and each recedes from the edge of the next lowest about 15 inches to 1 foot. The sides rise at an angle of about 52 degrees, and at the top is a flat space about 30 feet square.
To climb the Great Pyramid is the ambition of most visitors, many of whom " ascend " it by being dragged to the top by the ever-ready Arabs, who have made these "ascents" their means of livelihood.
Originally the entrance was so cleverly concealed that it was indistinguishable, although its whereabouts was doubtless known to the priests. But nowadays there is no secret. It is plainly visible on the north side, about 50 feet from the ground, and is roofed in. In the Great Pyramid axe many chambers, reached, in the first instance, by a long, narrow passage, sloping downwards at an angle of about 27 degrees, and some 320 feet in length. The chief chambers are the King's, the so-called Queen's, the Great Gallery, 150 feet in length and 28 feet in height, and the Sepulchral Chamber.
The experience of visiting the interior of the pyramid is somewhat weird, even though generally accompanied by the disillusioning chatter of the "guides" in very much broken English and the jokes of Cockney tourists.
The other two pyramids of Gizeh do not differ very materially, as regards their general construction and material, from that of Cheops, but both are smaller. In front of each was once a temple dedicated to the deified King within the sepulchre, and remains of these are to be seen at the base of the two smaller pyramids.
The approach to the platform of the pyramid was guarded by the sphinx, a lion with a man's head hewn out of the projecting rock, and having a sanctuary between its forelegs. The mysterious figure, the raison d’être of which has never been satisfactorily settled, is partly buried, although its stupendous head and shoulders rise out of the environing sand. In spite of time and weather and mutilation of its face, the loss of the helmet (which originally crowned the head), and the nose and beard, it possesses for most who see it a strange and even weird fascination almost impossible to describe. Indeed, on its impassive face one seems to discover a suggestion of the many wonders it must have witnessed in those bygone ages when the world seemed young.
A few miles north of Gizeh lies the ruined pyramid of Abu-Ruweysh, and further south is the second great necropolis of Memphis, which - less visited than what are known as "the Pyramids" - is nevertheless of transcending interest. The plateau of Sakkarah, with its eleven pyramids and countless tombs of all ages decorated with magnificent wall-paintings, is of never failing fascination.
There, too, is the wonderful Apis mausoleum discovered by the indefatigable M. Mariette, in
which all the sacred bulls, who, when alive, were worshipped as gods at Memphis from the eighteenth dynasty down to the period of the Ptolemies, ultimately found resting-places in huge sarcophagi placed in long galleries. Outside was a temple for their worship, which the encroaching desert sand ultimately covered up. It is possible that one of the Sakkarah pyramids, that of six steps, is the oldest monument in the world, as it is thought to have bean built by Uenephes of the first dynasty.
The pyramids form not only the earliest phase of Egyptian art, but, from their immense bulk and mysterious and fascinating antiquity, remain the most interesting of all monuments of ancient Egypt.”

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