The Pyramids And The Sphinx

Hugh was so very anxious to see the pyramids, that every one agreed to visit them from Cairo, instead of from the boat on the voyage up the Nile, which was to be as far as the second cataract; but neither the children nor their mother were to go. The latter was not strong, and she thought it best to keep the children with her. Lucy would very much have liked to see the pyramids as well as Hugh, but the ride from Cairo was too long for her.

Our donkeys were ordered early, and we set off in high spirits. As we drew nearer and nearer to the pyramids we realised more and more their immense size. Their grandeur impressed us very much, and we shall none of us forget the thrill of awe we felt when we first saw their base and their gigantic size.

They are the oldest monuments in the world. Jacob, Joseph, Moses looked upon them. They are the grandest work of man in lasting endurance. The workmen who laboured at them have been dead and forgotten for thousands of years. But their work lives, and will live for hundreds of years to come; probably till the Great Day when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the earth and everything on it shall be burned up and melt with fervent heat. No other work of man has been so enduring.

The pyramids are supposed to be the tombs of the Pharaohs, kings of Egypt.

We went first to the Great Pyramid, or Pyramid of Cheops. We were attended by Arab guides, who carried wax candles, and undertook to show us everything. We went down a sloping passage till we came to a large block of granite. A narrow way has been made round this block, and by it we reached the other side and came to an ascending passage. This was very low, so low that even Hugh could not stand upright in it. This brought us to the great passage, from which a gallery led to a room called the Queen’s Chamber. The ceiling is painted, and the masonry very beautiful.

Here we rested for a little while, and then went back to the great passage. We still had to ascend to reach the King’s Chamber. The passage being cased with polished granite, we found it very slippery. Indeed, Hugh and I were continually sliding backwards, and found a special difficulty in getting on.

At last we reached the King’s Chamber. This is the largest in the pyramid. It is more than thirty feet long and about half as wide. The roof is flat, made of seven immense blocks of red granite, with halves of two other blocks. The walls are of the same red granite. In this room we saw a large granite sarcophagus, but there was neither any inscription on it nor any of the hieroglyphics which the old Egyptians used in writing.

There are five other rooms above the King’s Chamber. But the guides told us that we could not get to them without ladders. As we could not find out that there was much worth seeing in them, we left them unvisited. Many travellers suppose that these rooms were only built to break the great weight of the large upper part of the pyramid, and to prevent it from pressing too heavily and crushing in the ceiling of the King’s Chamber.

Colonel Howard Vyse (who made a great many researches in Egypt, and has written a very interesting book about them) says that the Great Pyramid is now four hundred and fifty feet high, and that when it was entire it must have been four hundred and eighty feet high. The blocks of stone become smaller in size as they near the top. The lowest fifty rows measure one hundred and thirty-eight feet three inches; the highest row, only three feet six inches.

When we had come back again into the fresh air the guides asked if we wished to go up the outside of the pyramid. Hugh wished it very decidedly. I was advised not to attempt it, and told that the view would not repay me for the exertion. So I consented to stay below. The others went up, and returned in about twenty minutes. Hugh said that the steps were steep, and made of irregular broken stones. All agreed that the view was not so fine as might have been expected. Cairo; the Mokattan Hills; the Nile, with its fresh green banks; the Pyramids of Aboosir, Dashoor, and Sakkara, were the chief objects.

Hugh asked one of the guides in how short a time he could go to the top of the pyramid and down again. He said he would show us, if we would give him a present. We agreed. Within five minutes he was at the top, and in three more he was by our side again below, claiming his reward.

The Great Pyramid is seven hundred and forty-six feet square at its base.

“How many yards is that, Hugh?”

Hugh thought for a minute. “Two hundred and forty-nine yards all but a foot,” he answered.

“Right, so that if you were to build a straight piece of wall as long as the four sides of the pyramid, it would stretch more than half a mile.”

“How wonderful!” exclaimed Hugh, gazing in astonishment at the gigantic pyramid. “May I ride round it?”

We rode round it, and then went on to the second pyramid. This is sometimes called the Pyramid of Cephren. He was brother to Cheops. The casing-stones are still left on the highest part of this pyramid. They are of a delicately-grained white stone which comes from the Mokattan Hills, and are highly polished. We saw great quantities of granite lying scattered about.

This pyramid was opened by the celebrated traveller Belzoni, in the year 1816. Passages were found in it like those in the Great Pyramid. In a granite room, with a pent roof, we saw a sarcophagus half-buried in the floor.

The third pyramid, called the Pyramid of Mycerinus, was opened by Colonel Howard Vyse. Mycerinus was the son of Cheops. He was a just king, and treated his people with kindness. This pyramid now measures three hundred and thirty-three feet at its base, and is two hundred and three feet high. It was originally cased with granite, and some of the casing is still left.

In it is a room with a painted roof; a space is left over it to prevent its being crushed in by the weight above. A sarcophagus was found in this room, in which was the coffin of King Mycerinus, and his name on it. The coffin and the king’s body were sent to England, and are now in the British Museum. This pyramid is thought to have been the most beautiful of the three.

As we stood in these solemn chambers of the dead, we thanked God, who has given us a better hope than these mighty kings of old had. Death must have had many terrors for them. But our blessed Saviour came to make it the gate to eternal life for all who love him and serve him truly.

We next went to look at the tombs around the pyramids. Some are very much injured, others are in better preservation. One of the most curious of these was opened by Colonel Vyse. We looked down into a deep well or pit, about fifty feet deep, and there we saw a large black sarcophagus. There were many other tombs on all sides, but we had not time to examine them.

Time was passing quickly, and we had not yet seen the wonderful Sphinx.

The excavations which have been made show the Sphinx to have been a gigantic figure of a crouching lion, with the head of a man, and wearing a royal crown. It is cut out of the natural rock. Its length, according to Pliny, was one hundred and forty-three feet, and its height sixty-three feet.

The Sphinx is now much injured: and the sand drifts so fast from the desert that the space where excavations have been made is soon filled again. Yet, defaced and half-buried as it is, it is grand beyond description. The “Father of Terrors,” as the Arabs call him, is majestic in his mighty repose. There he crouches, guardian of the solitary desert and its solemn tombs. Thousands of years have rolled over his head, yet there he still sits on his lonely throne amid his silent court. There as long as the world lasts he will abide; grand, silent monarch of the desert!

It was long before we could tear ourselves away from the majestic Sphinx. But at last Mohammed warned us that if we wished to reach Cairo before nightfall, we must no longer delay. We remounted our donkeys. But though we rode at a quick pace, the sun was already setting before we reached our hotel.

Our first thought the next day was to find out all we could about the Sphinx. We searched our books of Eastern travel, and from them we found that the Sphinx originally supported a small temple between its paws. The walls consisted of three tablets, the top of one of which yet remains. The middle one was of granite, and represented Thothmes the Fourth making an offering to the Sphinx. He lived about fourteen hundred and ten years before the birth of Christ.

The side walls were of limestone. They, too, were sculptured, and represented offerings made by Rameses the Great, He lived in the year thirteen hundred and eleven before the birth of our Lord.

There was an inclosure in front of this temple, bounded by a low wall, which stretched from one paw of the Sphinx to the other. The space inclosed between it and the temple was about fifty feet. There was an altar for sacrifice in front of the steps leading to the temple.

In front of the wall was a wide paved space, from which two large flights of steps went up to a paved road. This road led to the plain, and had a brick wall on each side to protect it from the sand.

The approach must have been very grand. A man coming by it would first be on a level with the breast of the Sphinx, and would have a full view of the altar and temple below. Then, as he went down the roadway, the Sphinx would seem to rise higher and higher, till he must have felt himself quite a pigmy, looking up at the vast figure.

The children were, like ourselves, very much interested in these accounts of the Sphinx, which their father had collected for us.

“Has any one besides Colonel Howard Vyse tried to clear away the sand?” Hugh asked. “Yes, Mr. Salt and Signor Caviglia excavated the upper portion and all the front of the figure. Colonel Howard Vyse continued what they had begun.”


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