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Pyramid of Menkaure

The smallest of the three Great Pyramids at Giza was the tomb of Pharaoh Mikerin. It does not arouse much interest among tourists due to its modest size. Visitors to the Giza plateau believe that there is nothing to see and focus on the Pyramid of Cheops and the Pyramid of Khafre. But in vain, because this pyramid is unique, and several legends and interesting historical events are associated with it. Let’s start with a story about its builder – Pharaoh Mikerin.

Look outside, but they are not allowed inside now. There is no need to buy or book tickets to the pyramids in advance. Unfortunately, tickets have risen in price, details in this article.

About Pharaoh Mikerin himself

The main source of information about the Pharaoh Mikerin for us remains the ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Manetho. Unfortunately, we have no real written sources in the ancient Egyptian language. According to the descriptions of the Greeks, the fate of Mikerin was sad.

The real Egyptian name for this ruler is Menkaure. The name Mikerinus is a Greek interpretation. Let us recall the famous Cheops, who was actually called Khufu.

Menkaura was the son of Pharaoh Khafre and his heir. He ascended the throne after the death of his father, and probably at that moment was already of advanced age.

Menkaura canceled the policy of oppression and condemned his predecessors Cheops and Khafre, he tried to be a good ruler. He again opened temples for the people, allowed offerings to the gods. He tried less to force people to build temples and pyramids. Herodotus notes that he ruled the court fairly and paid compensation from public funds.

It is believed that the gods cursed Menkaur. He had only one son who died in infancy. Saddened by the death of the child, Pharaoh Menkaure ordered to make a gilded wooden statue of a cow and bury the child inside.

Somehow the priests gave him the will of the gods, they announced that Menkaura would live for another 6 years, and in the 7th year would die. Pharaoh asked: why the previous pharaohs lived and ruled for so long, although they were tyrants, and he is a good ruler, but should die so soon?

The priests answered: the gods punished Egypt, the people should suffer 150 years under the yoke of tyrants, and you violate the will of the gods with your pious rule. Menkaura was saddened. He began to spend days and nights in idleness, at night he demanded to light lamps so that it was as bright as day. He turned 6 years old into 12, but died after that time.

It is difficult to say to what extent these legends are historically accurate. There is no doubt about the problems with childbirth, and there is no “smell” of any curse here. Pharaoh was married to his own sister, and incest has never ended well.

All other facts sound in the spirit of the ancient Greeks: tyrants and a good ruler, the curse and injustice of the gods, revelry and drunkenness. If in this legend we change the name to Greek, then we will not distinguish it from the myths of ancient Greece.

Most Egyptologists agree that this legend was created based on historical facts interpreted by Herodotus and Manetho in terms of their ideology and culture.

What the pyramid of Mikerin looked like before

After the construction, the height of the pyramid was 66 meters, now the height of the structure is 62 meters. 4 meters is a small loss, compared with 10 and 7 meters, by which the neighboring pyramids of Cheops and Khafre decreased. The base is 109 meters long, and it has not changed over the past 4500 years. The base of the pyramid was covered with sand, which ensured the safety.

The pyramid of Mikerin is located at a distance of 200 meters from the other two pyramids, and visually the difference in size is not so strongly felt. From some angles (see photo on the right) it even seems that it is not much inferior in height to the Cheops pyramid.

Greek historians write that she was the most beautiful of the three. The cladding of the first 16 tiers of the pyramid was made of red granite from Aswan, the cladding of the middle of the structure was made of white limestone from Tura, and the top was also red from granite. In terms of the composition of colors, it resembled the modern flag of Austria.

This pyramid shone in different colors and made an indelible impression on the ancient people. It is a pity, but Menkaure himself did not see this sight. According to the results of archaeological excavations, it is already clear that he died before the end of construction.

This conclusion can be drawn by looking at the memorial temple of Pharaoh Menkaur, the ruins of which are located nearby. From below it is made of limestone slabs, and from above it is already completed from bricks. That is, at the second stage, it was built in the cheapest way. Such a decision could only be made by the heir of the pharaoh after his death.

There is an opinion of some historians that when the pyramid was finished after the death of Menkaur, the middle of it was lined not with Tours granite, but with brick, which was covered with white mortar on top.

This version is untenable. There are no traces of these bricks, but they should have remained intact. There is nothing of value in them, and the Arabs would not take them off and clear them of the pyramid.

Another feature of this pyramid was the use of larger blocks than for the pyramids of Cheops and Khafre, and the blocks are also worse polished. These facts testify to the haste with which it was erected. Herodotus and Manetho write that the pharaoh himself ordered to grind the blocks less carefully in order to make life easier for the workers.

What does it look like now, and what to see for tourists

The first important feature that you should pay attention to is that the pyramid of Mikerin has lining in several places. The largest intact cladding area is near the main entrance.

Only a couple of specimens of the facing stone remained on the Cheops pyramid. There are many claddings on the Khafre pyramid, but it is at the top, and tourists hardly see it.

Only by looking at these granite slabs, you can understand how the whole pyramid looked like before. This is “exclusive”, and most tourists lose a lot when they do not approach the pyramid of Mikerin, considering it uninteresting. The photo on the right shows the cladding blocks below.

The pyramids of Cheops and Khafren stand on the flat base of the Giza plateau, and at the place where the pyramid of Mikerin was built, the plateau is uneven at an angle. Of course, it was impossible to start construction on such a surface.

The builders prepared a special stone terrace in order to erect the monument already on it. The irregularities are clearly visible, they emphasize the complexity of the construction of this pyramid in comparison with its neighbors.

Many tourists ask an interesting question: what is this large furrow on the surface of the Mikerin pyramid on the northern slope? (see photo on the left).

This is a very interesting story. Probably, many readers know Sultan Saladin – one of the most famous Egyptians. He had several sons, and one of them ruled Egypt. This was in the 12th century. His name was Al-Melek Al-Aziz Otman bin Yusuf.

He decided to become famous in a very unusual way – to dismantle the Egyptian pyramids.

How did he come up with this idea? Why and who needed it? His contemporaries did not know the answers, and historians do not know now. The only reasonable guess is that he wanted to take apart the pyramids in search of treasure.

He decided to start with the Mikerin pyramid as the smallest one, so to speak, “to train on cats”. He hired workers who worked for 8 months. This large furrow is the result of their activity.

The stones were separated using levers and wedges, and then pulled with ropes to throw them down. After landing, the stone sank into the sand, and it was very difficult to extract it from there.

Eight months later, the foremen managed to convince the Sultan that destroying the pyramid was no easier than building it. The furrow remained as a grandiose monument to human stupidity.

Remember the expression “to break – not to build”? This folk wisdom is true in all cases, except for the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Sultan Al-Aziz ruled for only 5 years and died while hunting in 1198. He left no memory other than this furrow. We can say that the attempt to demolish the pyramids of Giza really glorified him, he achieved his goal. As far as we know, there are not even his portraits left, above we had to show you the portrait of his father – Sultan Saladin.

There are three small pyramids in front of the Mikerin pyramid. They have no names, only numbers: G3A, G3B and G3C. Presumably, G3A was intended for the wife and sister of Pharaoh Mikerin – Queen Hamerernebti II. The other two remained unfinished. During excavations at G3B, female bones were found inside, but dated to an earlier period. Apparently, someone decided to reuse the tomb.

In the tradition of the Old Kingdom, it was accepted that the burial complex consisted of a large and small pyramids, and a memorial temple. Every pharaoh of ancient Egypt after death was deified, and in his temple they prayed to him and offered sacrifices.

The memorial temple of Pharaoh Mikerin is very poorly preserved. As we have already noted, the foundation of the temple was made of limestone blocks, and then they finished building it from bricks. The brick part collapsed almost completely. But, blocks weighing up to 200 tons are still amazing today. How could the ancient Egyptians move them?

The temple was quickly covered with sand, like the base of the pyramid. And it turned out to be a huge success for archaeologists. In 1908, a joint expedition between Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts dug up the temple and found 7 large statues and a large fragment of the eighth. The sculptures are made of slate.

The four complete statues depicted Pharaoh Mikerin himself, accompanied by two goddesses. Such sculptural compositions began to be called “triads”. It was a tremendous discovery as the statues are beautifully preserved in the sand.

In the photo on the right you see the most famous of them – Mikerin with the goddess Hathor and the goddess Bat. Her and two more triads of Mikerin can now be viewed in the Cairo Museum. Another triad of Mikerin is now in the Boston Museum of Art.

In addition to these triads, a sculpture of a couple of Pharaoh Mikerin with his wife Hamerernebti II and a life-size statue of a seated pharaoh from alabaster were found. The discovery of these sculptures is one of the most striking events in the history of Egyptology. Only the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in Luxor in the Valley of the Kings or the opening of the Abu Simbel temple in upper Egypt can argue with her.

Legends and mysteries of the pyramid of Mikerin

One beautiful and somewhat romantic legend is associated with the pyramid. There is a hypothesis that the pyramid was originally built of a small size with a base of 60 by 60 meters. This hypothesis has indirect evidence. Legend has it that under Mikerin himself they did not have time to finish building it, and it stood for 400 years until Queen Nitokris, already from the 6th dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, decided to use it.

Nitocris was the wife and sister of Pharaoh Merenre II, who was killed in a conspiracy. She learned the names of the murderers, called them to a feast and locked them in a room where the waters of the Nile were allowed. They all stayed inside and drowned.

This is an almost complete copy of the legend about Princess Olga, only she did not drown anyone, but burned her husband’s killers in the bathhouse. This plot is found in different cultures, and quite independently. This is a classic – the wife takes the throne and avenges her husband and ruler.

According to legend, after the massacre, Nitokris committed suicide by throwing herself into a burning building. According to the same legend, she managed to finish the pyramid, and she was buried there.

Superstitious locals believe that the soul of Nitokris remained in the pyramid. The gods did not accept her, since she had no right to be buried there. At night, her spirit sometimes appears near the pyramid in the form of a beautiful naked girl. She bewitches men, makes them fall in love with herself. The man goes mad and searches for her until the end of his unhappy life.

Most likely, this legend was invented by tourist guides in order to entertain tourists. In any case, it is better not to walk in the Mikerin pyramid at night. Not only can Nitocris drive you crazy, but locals can also rob you.

This is a very interesting legend, but, unfortunately, there is not an ounce of truth in it. Herodotus and Manetho talk about the queen, but her name is not in the Egyptian texts. She is not mentioned in any of the list of pharaohs that are now available to us.

Her husband, Pharaoh Merenre II, came to the throne after his father Pepi II, who ruled for 64 years! Think how old he was at the time of accession? Most likely, he died for completely natural reasons, and not as a result of conspiracy and murder.

Recall that Merenre II was the last ruler of the 6th dynasty. After him, the 7th dynasty ruled, consisting of only one pharaoh Necherikar, and then began a troubled time in the history of Egypt, which modern Egyptology calls the “first transitional period”.

Ancient people have always associated “black times” with the sins of their rulers. And not only the ancients, remember Boris Godunov, who ruled just over 500 years ago. Naturally, all such legends are replenished with impartial details over time. This legend should not be taken seriously, most Egyptologists now consider Queen Nitocris a fictional character. Treat it like a tourist attraction.

Some sources on the Internet write that the blue fragments of the sarcophagus of Nitokris were found in the room under the burial room of Pharaoh Mikerin. To understand how true this is, you need to look what is inside the pyramid.

By the way, what’s inside?

The only entrance to the Pyramid of Mikerin is located at a height of only 4 meters from the north side. Behind the entrance is a 32 meters long passage leading downward at an angle (descending passage). The passage ends in a small room measuring 3.63 x 3.16 meters. This room is called the “panel chamber”. She clearly had a protective purpose, there are several false doors here.

A horizontal tunnel emerges from the cell, which leads to a large room called the “lobby”. From the vestibule, a passage leads down to the burial chamber of the pharaoh, where the sarcophagus with the mummy of the ruler was located.

It would seem that everything is simple, quite a logical configuration of the interior. But it contains several additional elements that present a mystery to historians and archaeologists.

Another descending passage leads up from the lobby, which ends in a dead end. It was clearly being prepared as the main path to the burial chamber, but was abandoned during the construction process. This passage is the basis of the evidence base for the hypothesis that initially the pyramid was smaller (with a base of 60×60 meters), and then it was already completed to its current size. However, this is circumstantial evidence.

Next to the burial chamber there is another room called the “side chamber”. It has six niches measuring 2.5×0.6×1.4 meters. This room is the biggest mystery. There is not a single intelligible hypothesis about the purpose of this chamber.

The burial chamber of Pharaoh Mikerin has a modest size – 6.5 meters in length, 2.3 meters in width and 3.5 meters in height. It is noteworthy that the burial chamber could not be found for a long time. The tunnels leading out of the lobby were camouflaged.

It is worth saying that in terms of the level of ensuring the safety of the mummy, the pyramid of Mikerin is in first place among the three Great Pyramids of Giza.

The evolution of the Egyptians’ ideas about the intelligent construction of tombs is clearly traced. They come up with three important ideas: first, to bury the burial chamber deeper, secondly, to shield it with stronger doors, and thirdly, to disguise it all better.

It is noteworthy that similar conclusions were reached at the other end of the world – in China. If you enter the Ming Dynasty Tombs Valley near Beijing and descend into the only open tomb of Dingling, you will see the brilliant realization of these three concepts. It is a pity that the builders of ancient Egypt did not achieve such skill in the field of protecting burials.

Colonel Howard Weiss was the first of the Europeans to enter the burial chamber. Naturally, he did not find any treasures here. All the pyramids were robbed 4000 years ago during the “first transition period.”

He found two sarcophagi here. The first is wooden with the remains of bones. These bones were later able to date, and it turned out that they belong to the era of the Roman Empire. That is, someone was put into the pyramid. This sarcophagus can now be viewed in the British Museum.

The second sarcophagus was made of basalt, and it was probably the sarcophagus of the pharaoh. Now we do not know this anymore, since the sarcophagus went to the bottom of the sea somewhere in the Strait of Gibraltar together with the ship “Biatris”, which transported it to England.

Now the inside of the pyramid of Mikerin is completely empty. For a long time, the interior was undergoing restoration, and since March 2015 tourists have been allowed inside.

The entrance price to the inside of the pyramid is 100 Egyptian pounds. The ticket price for the Giza plateau is 200 Egyptian pounds. Now (December 2021) the Mikerin pyramid is closed for planned reconstruction. When will it open? Nobody knows.

Pyramid of Menkaure
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