One Entrance, Two Paths: The Noble and Service Routes in the Great Pyramid

Follow Pharaoh Khufu’s funeral procession into the Great Pyramid where we learn the layout of the two very different routes to the King’s Chamber—one used by the workers in the construction of the vast monument, and one created for the sole purpose of the king’s last journey from his Valley Temple to the burial room.

This is the seventh article in a series based on Marc Chartier’s discussions with Jean-Pierre Houdin following the premier of Khufu Reborn, the long awaited revelation of the second chapter of Project Khufu.  These articles are provided in English to Em Hotep via special arrangement with Marc Chartier/Pyramidales, Jean-Pierre Houdin and the Project Khufu team at Dassault Systèmes.

 

  • March 30, 2007: Khufu Revealed.
  • January 27, 2011: Khufu Reborn (aka Khufu Renaissance).

Two dates that, for the architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, punctuate some twelve years of research into the “why” and particularly the “how” of Egypt’s pyramids. Two highlights punctuating the development of a “theory”, the foundations of which date back to 1999, when Jean-Pierre’s father, Henri Houdin, an engineer, had an intuition that something was wrong with the “standardized” presentation of the Great Pyramid’s construction. Hence the idea of the internal ramp, which subsequently fit the developments we know about.

In an exclusive interview given to Pyramidales, Jean-Pierre Houdin presented the main themes of Khufu Reborn, which is his new interpretation of the internal structures and the environment of the Pyramid of Khufu.

Various articles in this blog have already been devoted to this subject: the antechambers, the King’s Chamber, the “Noble Circuit”, the layout of the Giza Plateau, etc.

The entrance to the pyramid has also been re-interpreted by Jean Pierre Houdin, who offers the following details to Pyramidales’ readers.

The scaffold leading to the entrance of the pyramid

The scaffold leading to the entrance of the pyramid

We are (approximately) in the year 2550 BC. King Khufu, Pharaoh and sovereign ruler of Egypt, is dead. Long live the King!

 

His body is transported in his Solar Boat as far as the Lower Temple at Giza, where priests must undertake the mummification, a ritual lasting seventy days.

The Pharaoh is then ready for his great voyage to the Eternal Stars, traveling along his pyramid’s the Royal Way, built for this one occasion of the solemn funeral.

The funeral procession begins by going up the Royal Causeway that connects the Valley Temple to the High Temple, at the foot of the pyramid’s east face. “There,” comments Jean-Pierre Houdin, “the priests perform the mouth-opening ceremony to give the King the use of his senses. He thus recovers his speech and can appear before Osiris for the weighing of the souls. Nothing reproachable coming to light during his confession, he is ready for eternity in the hereafter.”

As the sun sets, the procession reaches the entrance to the Pharaoh’s last resting place – “his” pyramid – more than seventeen meters above the ground on the north facade. To do this, the procession uses wooden scaffolding, built many years before, giving access to the monument’s interior. It then gets ready to enter the bowels of the monument to reach the King’s Chamber, where the bulky granite sarcophagus was put in place, as a result of its size, at the time this chamber was constructed.

 

The “Service Circuit” and the “Noble Circuit”

According to Jean-Pierre Houdin, the funeral procession will indeed enter through the mouth of the descending corridor in the north face but, contrary to common belief, will leave this passage a few meters further on, ignoring the entire route following on from it – the ascending corridor (to which we now add the detail “No. 1”), the Grand Gallery, the portcullis chamber and the access corridor (to which we also add the detail “No. 1”) to the King’s Chamber – a route that visitors from all over the world have followed since tourism and curiosity have existed, to take the tunnel dug in the north-south axis when caliph Al-Ma’mun broke into the pyramid in AD 820.

The tourist route will not be followed for good reason: it was blocked in several places. It was used as a “service circuit” throughout the period of constructing the King’s Chamber and the strange structure above it. At the end of this construction phase, having no further use, it was abandoned to the silence of the stones until rediscovered by “visitors”, well intentioned or otherwise, who would never have imagined that this was not the real route for the royal funeral.

According to Jean-Pierre Houdin’s proposals, the procession will follow what we will call an “alternative route”, but which in reality, to use the architect’s phrase, is the “Noble Circuit”, as designed and constructed just for the day of the solemn royal funeral ceremony.

A consequence of this configuration, unknown to this day: to give access not only to the “service circuit” but also and especially to the “Noble Circuit”, the original entrance to the Great Pyramid has to incorporate this dual function, supposed to remain secret so as to give no clue to those who might desecrate the royal sepulcher, into its very structure. Proof of this is that caliph Al-Ma’mun and his soldier-sappers did not succeed in detecting the real entrance to the monument, but undertook digging to a lower level to end up on… the “service circuit”!

 

Clues present

With the exception of Al-Ma’mun’s breach, which is like a wart on the north face of the pyramid, even if very useful today for tourist access, and given the fact that this pyramid has been deprived of its Tura limestone facing blocks for several centuries, what clues reveal the real entrance to the “Noble Circuit”?

Jean-Pierre Houdin lists them as follows:

  • The Tura limestone rafters above the original entrance are too large for the roof of the descending corridor (two cubits, or 1.05 m, wide) and, in addition, much too high in relation to it.
  • By measuring the existing oblique abutments, we can see on site that there are six pairs of rafters missing from the lower part and three missing from the upper part: the lower series having covered a void, while the upper series constituted an overlapping roof, extending a second void “that the Egyptian builders,” says Jean-Pierre Houdin, “thrifty in time and materials, had to have had a very good reason to build. The present large hole did not exist at the time. Everything visible today was immersed in the mass of stonework and recessed about ten meters behind the original north face. Much closer to the facade, a first room (where the current hole is) was located just above the descending corridor, and a vertical access shaft, centered on the room, linked these two structures directly. The rest of the descending corridor is taken to have been used by the funeral procession, but in reality it was only used by workers during the construction of the pyramid.”

  • Arrow : higher density area

    Arrow : higher density area

    Jean-Pierre Houdin continues: “Micro-gravimetric measurements made 25 years ago detected an anomaly, namely the presence of a zone of very high density beneath the north face of the pyramid, in a precise continuation of the entrance rafters. This is located to the east of the north-south axis, so aligned with the known corridors in the pyramid. Furthermore, this high-density zone ended directly in line with the second section of the hypothetical internal ramp.1
  • The grooved block inserted beneath the first row of rafters, and previously stored at the back of the second room, has visibly been pushed from inside, traces of mortar protruding under the right rafter. In front of this block, we can see that the limestone floor has been pointed with plaster and given a surfaced and perfectly flat finish;
  • the grooved block does not go as far as the point of the opening; a triangle 40 centimeters high has been filled with stonework centered on the ridge of the rafters.

The Greek geographer Strabo (first century BC) wrote of this stone: “At a certain height on one of its sides there is a stone that can be removed, which, once removed, allows us to see the entrance to a tortuous gallery or hypogeum, leading to the tomb.”2 Hence its current name of “Strabo’s stone”.

 

A single entrance opening onto two rooms

“Faced with these observations, I had the proof,” Jean-Pierre Houdin goes on, “that other rafters had been installed to a much reduced distance from the face, in front of the currently visible rafters. From then on it was obvious that in the area of the present gaping hole, there had been two rooms, one in front of Strabo’s stone, the other behind this stone, slightly higher up.

“Then I understood that the Egyptians, being the very great architects they were, had designed a single entrance to serve several corridors at once. This entrance could lead to any chamber in the monument, so being used for Khufu’s funeral and, at quite another moment, for access to the site during the pyramid’s construction.

“The two rooms under the rafters enabled a direct connection to be made to the descending corridor, connecting it to a second series of corridors that led to the Queen’s Chamber and the King’s Chamber without passing through the Grand Gallery.”

Due to the complexity of its configuration, the original entrance to the pyramid is therefore characterized by a clever multiplication of uses: it gives access, via the descending corridor, to the “service circuit” (of no further use at the end of the construction phase), and it opens onto the “Noble Circuit”, which immediately includes two separate routes: one, horizontal, towards the Queen’s Chamber (we should not forget that this chamber was intended to receive the king’s sepulcher in the event of his untimely demise); the other, ascending, as the first part of the journey leading to the King’s Chamber.

The function of the two successive rooms was to begin the “Noble Circuit” (the “Royal Way”) deep within the mass of the pyramid (the back of the second room is about 16 meters from the facade). In contrast to those in all previous pyramids, the King’s Chamber is very high within the mass of the pyramid. Consequently there is no longer any question of providing access to it by means of a descending passage emerging practically perpendicular to the façade. Rather, an initial ascending passage (more or less parallel to this facade, arriving tangentially and not at right-angles: a “whistle” configuration, hard to implement), then a horizontal corridor (no. 2) leading to the two antechambers. Moreover, the passage of the internal ramp in this zone would have resulted in the intersecting the ascending corridor no. 2 that serves as point of departure for the funereal “Noble Circuit” to the King’s Chamber. The simplest and most economical solution was to push the beginning of this corridor further back into the mass, the two horizontal entrance rooms serving as connecting and displacing modules.

At the same starting point, a shaft is connected to the neighboring internal ramp, for the evacuation of the last workers: “At the end of Khufu’s funeral,” says Jean-Pierre Houdin,

…and after having sealed the pyramid at several “sensitive” points (chamber, antechambers, access corridor, entrance room), the workers are thought to have left the funeral circuit via the internal ramp, getting back to it through a connecting shaft dug just behind the second entrance room, at the starting point for the second ascending corridor. The designers had previously simulated this set up in the mock-up of the construction site dug out of the bedrock about 50 meters east of the pyramid.

The priests and other officials for the funeral ceremony had previously left the pyramid as they had entered, taking exactly the same route, as befit their positions.

 

Footnotes

1 The internal ramp represented one of the major elements of Khufu Revealed. Obviously it is still present in Khufu Renaissance, but with variants that will be covered in a future article in Pyramidales.

2 the precise translation of the Greek text, as confirmed by Ian Lawton, for example, the author of Giza, the Truth, in a letter sent to Jean-Pierre Houdin, is indeed “leading to the tomb” (and not “leading to the foundations”). Which is what was suggested by Amédée Tardieu: “At a certain height on one of its sides there is a stone that can be removed, which, once removed, allows us to see the entrance to a tortuous gallery or hypogeum, leading to the tomb.”

 

Copyright by Marc Chartier, 2011.  All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 23rd, 2011 at 12:06 am and is filed under Old Kingdom, Pyramids, The Giza Plateau. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 comments so far

Micah
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 1 

Perfect. This article goes a long way toward providing a clearer picture to the theory.

Question: Was the odd shape in the face of the ‘strabo’ stone done post mortem or does it reflect ancient workers just completing the stone facing work to the point that it fit?

Is it possible to get a figure that highlights the stones that are still in situ?

I’ve always thought that something more was going on here (what exactly, I was not sure) as it seemed strange to have a double gable over the entrance of the descending corridor. A room just behind the ‘stabo’ stone seems highly likely.

May 23rd, 2011 at 3:19 pm
Richard O'Neill
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 2 

The more i read, the more i want to know, Jean-Pierre Houdin is brilliant!

November 5th, 2012 at 9:40 pm
George
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 3 

So when you just enter the pyramid now, is there anything in the ceiling? Or is it completely hidden (the secret entrance to the “Noble Circuit”)? I couldn’t find any pictures.

Maybe it’s true – “Service Curcuit” was also there to fool the robbers, and the second, main, passage is hidden.

December 8th, 2012 at 7:39 pm
Susan Leogrande Alt
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 4 

Perhaps older photos showing these stones as they used to be will better allow us to “see” all this. It seems that this is one of the most complex part of the pyramid. Even the Grand Gallery seems simple and straightforward, now, thanks to Jean Pierre Houdin, we see how it was used. Perhaps other who read this will be able to share their views from modern vacations and/or older photos from collections. Great post!

March 12th, 2013 at 2:21 am
Susan Leogrande Alt
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 5 

I was reading through the newest piece and was immediately “bonked” with a new question about this aspect – the routes in and out of the pyramids.

Are there always two routes, one noble and one for the “workers” in these large monuments?

If so, what are the examples from this same time pyramid of two different routes in other monuments?

Much thanks for all this work and this site is just simply put – the BEST!

July 17th, 2013 at 11:04 pm
David Doherty
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 6 

great subject Jean Pierre rocks!

March 8th, 2014 at 5:39 am

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