The Horizon of Khufu

One of the more interesting aspects of the pyramids of Giza is the idea of their placement.  We must consider that the area was not the most ideal spot for a building project on this scale.  Even in 2500 B.C.E., the plateau would have been a difficult spot to reach.  Numerous logistical problems would have presented themselves that would have posed a negative to the readily available supply of stone in the area.  The plateau would have required leveling; the stone would have to be brought up to the plateau level and the fine casing stone had to be transported some distance.  Additionally, a canal would have to be dug to allow boats the necessary access to the spot.

If we discount the possibility of any mental problems on the part of Khufu, this leaves us only one conclusion; that this particular location was somehow felt to be special.  Even prior to the building of the pyramids at Giza, the area had been used as a cemetery and so there was an already established tradition of burial in this area.  The pyramid structures themselves, when taken as a grouping, may shed some light on our inquiry.

The position is specific and if we are to look at a diagram of the area we soon notice that the southeastern corners of all three pyramids are in line.  This is the only axis that all three have in common.  This does have certain architectural significance, but beyond this there may be a religious factor at work. 

It has

Pyramid of Khufu

been observed that the diagonal line formed by the southeastern corners, known by some as the “great Giza diagonal,” points northeast to Heliopolis and southwest into the desert.  The northeast direction points to the ben-ben in Heliopolis  (obelisk) where the sun was said to rise on the morning of the winter solstice at the time of the Birth of Re festival.  The southwest direction of the line may point in the direction of the Netherworld entrance at Abydos, the site of the first royal cemeteries and the traditional burial spot of the god Osiris, the lord of the Underworld.  Surely the Egyptians would have viewed this as a sacred place based upon the above, but there is even more evidence that this was indeed the case.

In general, little consideration is paid by travelers to the so-called Sphinx Temple which is immediately adjacent to the Valley Temple of Khafre.  This is undoubtedly due to the rather poor condition of the structure when compared to the Khafre temple and in fact it is usually closed to travelers.  Recent speculation has examined the notion that this temple is older than the Sphinx and was in fact there before the building of the Sphinx.  This is based on the idea that there is no direct connection between the Sphinx and the temple itself except that the temple is just in front of the Sphinx.  The temple exhibits no direct alignment with the great beast, and this is unusual in Egyptian architecture when one considers the Egyptian obsession with symmetry in all their building projects. 

Let us consider for a moment the line of sunset at the time of the equinoxes and their relationship to the axis of this Sphinx temple.  It becomes apparent that the sun sets in direct line with the temple and the sun itself appears to be just over the left shoulder of the Sphinx (when viewed from the front).  This is  not in a direct line as we would expect.  The temple may indeed have a connection with the idea of the entering of the god Re into the body of the sky goddess Nut at the spring equinox (please see the section “Under the Stars of Egypt”).

However, what is of equal interest is the position of the sunset at the summer solstice.  At this time the sun is observed to set between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre and the combination of the three, sun and both pyramids, forms the akh or the hieroglyph for “horizon.” Going farther, there is an observable alignment with the later sun temples at Abusir and Abu Gurob, both of 5th Dynasty date, with the pyramid   of Khufu.

Remains of the Sphinx Temple

This line of reasoning then leads us to the conclusion that the Egyptians, having marked a location for the sun rise, felt it necessary to bring the solar circuit into balance by marking the point where the sun would seem to set and enter the Underworld.  It certainly seems no accident then regarding the name that Khufu gave to designate his pyramid; “The Horizon of Khufu” or Akht-Khufu.  It is here that the sun completes its journey either by day or year within the great cycle of life, death, and rebirth.