mercredi 17 mai 2017

Selon Ahmed Fakhry (XXe s.), “de tous les problèmes concernant les pyramides, leur construction est le plus déconcertant”

Texte extrait de The Pyramids, Chicago, 1961
Son auteur : Ahmed Fakhry (1905-1973), égyptologue égyptien, inspecteur du service des Antiquités. Il est intervenu sur plusieurs sites : oasis du désert libyque, anciennes mines et carrières, Dahshour, Saqqarah, Guizeh...
photo de Frank Mason Good (1839-1928)
Of the problems concerning the pyramids, their construction is the most puzzling. Even the Roman writer Pliny, who condemned the pyramids as an "idle and foolish exhibition of royal wealth," found much to wonder at. "The most curious question," he wrote, "is how the stones were raised to so great a height." Probably every visitor since that time has stared up at these colossal monuments and wondered how they were built. In the Great Pyramid alone, there are over two and a quarter million stone blocks, some of them weighing seven and a half tons. The imagination is staggered by the amount of work involved, even if done with modern equipment. 

Des chefs-d’oeuvre construits avec les techniques les plus simples
And one must always bear in mind that the ancient Egyptians built these masterpieces with the simplest methods ; even the pulley was unknown in Egypt before the Roman period. Both in quarrying and building, workmen used copper chisels and possibly iron tools, as well as flint, quartz, and diorite pounders. The only additional aids were large wooden crowbars and, for transportation, wooden sledges and rollers. If any special skill has disappeared, it is that of the overseers who supervised the timing of the various operations.
However, moving blocks that weighed between eight and ten tons (and some as much as twenty-five) was not considered difficult by people who later transported the colossus of Rameses II to the Ramesseum at western Thebes. (...) Another such feat involved the granite obelisks which still stand in the temple of Karnak at Luxor, at Mataria near Cairo, at Tanis in the eastern Delta, and in many countries outside Egypt. Some of them weigh not less than 300 tons. They had to be brought from the quarries far to the south of Aswan, unloaded from barges, and set upright upon their bases in confined spaces among already existing buildings.
Indeed, the process of quarrying, transporting, and erecting these monuments was such an ordinary matter that the Egyptians did not always consider it worthy of record. Most of the information we have is based on the study of the monuments themselves, especially those left unfinished when their builders died.

Choix de la rive occidentale du Nil
In the early years of his reign, each new king was occupied with several important matters. First, there were lengthy and complex coronation ceremonies and the smoothing-out of administrative difficulties occasioned by a change in rulers. He may also have supervised construction required by his obligation to give his predecessor a good burial. Eventually, however, the king decided to build a tomb for himself and gave orders to his architects and overseers to carry out such a project. The choice of a place for a new pyramid depended on many circumstances.
The king might choose a site near the monuments of his ancestors, or he might prefer a new location. But it had to be on the western bank of the Nile overlooking the valley. This location was preferred for two reasons : the Egyptians believed that the realm of the dead lay in the west, where the sun sets ; the western plateau, especially near the ancient capital of Memphis, suits the purpose much better than other areas. It is near the cultivated land ; it rises precipitously to a height of about 200 feet ; and its surface is almost flat, with very few natural defects. Moreover, the plateau can be reached by valleys, which in ancient times were used by the laborers as ramps for moving materials. The site also had to be composed of a solid mass of rock to support the enormous weight of the projected monument. There had to be enough space around it for the various parts of the pyramid complex and for the tombs of the courtiers, whose ideal it was to be buried by special favor near the king they had served during life. Another necessity was a sufficient supply of good stone in easily accessible places.

Déroulement du chantier de construction ; choix et mise en place des matériaux
Preparations began on the day the site was chosen. The king's highest officials directly supervised the building of his pyramid, and the ruler himself came to see the progress of the work from time to time. The builders left nothing to chance. Architects worked from a plan, which usually included all the interior passages and chambers, although some were hewn out afterward from the solid mass of masonry. The overseers calculated exactly what they needed ; gangs of stonecutters (each with its own name) began to cut stone to measure. Most of the stone used in the pyramids was limestone from the immediate vicinity. Certain parts, such as the lining for the passages and chambers, required a better kind of limestone, also quarried near Memphis. The casing was almost invariably of fine white limestone from quarries at Tura, on the eastern bank of the Nile, a little south of modern Cairo. Expeditions also went to Aswan for granite, and to other specially selected quarries.
Meanwhile, architects fixed the exact position of the pyramid. A pyramid was generally built with the sides facing the four cardinal points, possibly so that the entrance, on the north, would be toward the North Star. This orientation would not have been difficult, because the Egyptians had enough knowledge of astronomy to evolve a workable calendar at an early stage of their civilization. Next came the task of leveling the site. It has been suggested that this could easily have been done by erecting dikes around the proposed area and filling it with water. However, all the elevated parts did not have to be removed, because some could be included in the building itself.
Workers would then begin cutting the substructure of the pyramid. The best example of this stage of the work is the unfinished monument of King Neb-ka at Zawiet el Aryan, between Giza and Abusir, where one can see the descending passage, the excavation for the burial chamber with its floor of granite blocks, and the granite sarcophagus. (It is significant that the sarcophagus was put in place at this early stage.) Meanwhile, workers had built ramps from the valley, where the quarries lay, to the plateau. Stones quarried across the river or in remote regions had been carried on barges along the Nile and deposited on the shore nearest the pyramid. Now the actual transportation could begin.
La construction des rampes était un chantier presque aussi grand que celui de la construction de la pyramide elle-même
Workmen smoothed the sides of the stone blocks very carefully and laid them in place with a thin layer of mortar. After the workmen had laid the first few courses of masonry, it would have been impossible to proceed on the work without a new arrangement - something to enable the builders to reach the higher courses. From the monuments which have been left unfinished, we are quite certain that ramps of earth and rubble served this purpose. Brick retaining walls held the rubble in place, and the whole structure was removed when the work was finished. The recent discoveries at Saqqara show that such ramps were built around the Unfinished Step Pyramid, and, because it was not completed, they are still there. We may presume that the Egyptians also used this method of construction in building the true pyramids. Building the ramps was almost as great a task as building the pyramid itself. Specialists have discussed the problem in great detail ; they offer various suggestions, but most agree that no pyramid was ever built without ramps. The pyramid may have been cased from the bottom upward as the work proceeded, or from the top downward, when the monument was completed and the ramps were being removed. Both methods are possible. Judging from the construction of some of the mastabas, it is more reasonable to suppose that workmen put the casing in place as they went along, and dressed the surfaces down when demolishing the ramps.
Such work could never be done in a few years. The only record of the time necessary to build a pyramid is that left by Herodotus. He mentions that it took thirty years to construct the pyramid of Khufu, of which ten were spent in building the causeway and cutting the substructures.
Herodotus gives the number of workmen as 100.000, and says that they were changed every three months. When we examine the pyramid, and if we accept his figure for laborers, we must conclude that the completion of such a monument by ancient methods can hardly have taken less time or effort.
The now silent ruins of the pyramids and their temples were thus once crowded with priests bringing offerings to the dead kings. Today we see nothing but stone, debris, and occasional walls. But once the pyramids, with their dazzling white casings, illuminated the whole neighborhood, the splendid temples were complete, and their halls resounded to the hymns and prayers of the venerable priests, grave and dignified in their white robes. The altars were heaped with offerings and covered with flowers, and the perfume of incense added to the sacred atmosphere. But, even though the prayers are no longer heard and the walls no longer echo to the chanting of the priests, paintings and inscriptions buried deep within the tombs and temples bear witness to the bustling activity silenced by the centuries.