The pyramids of Egypt, especially the two largest of the group of Jizeh or Gize, are the most stupendous masses of buildings in stone that human labor has ever been known to accomplish, and have been the wonder of ancient and modern times.—The number of the Egyptian pyramids, large and small, is very considerable; they are situated on the west bank of the Nile, and extend in an irregular line, and in groups at some distance from each other, from the neighborhood of Jizeh, in 30° N. Latitude, as far as sixty or seventy miles south of that place. The pyramids of Jizeh are nearly opposite Cairo. They stand on a plateau or terrace of limestone, which is a projection of the Lybian mountain-chain. The surface of the terrace is barren and irregular, and is covered with sand and small fragments of rock; its height, at the base of the great pyramid, is one hundred and sixty four feet above the ordinary level of the Nile, from which it is distant about five miles. There are in this group three large pyramids, and several small ones. Herodotus, who was born B.C. 484, visited these pyramids. He was informed by the priests of Memphis, that the great pyramid was built by Cheops, king of Egypt, about B.C. 900, and that one hundred thousand workmen were employed twenty years in building it, and that the body of Cheops was placed in a room beneath the bottom, surrounded by a vault, to which the waters of the Nile were conveyed through a subterranean tunnel. A chamber has been discovered under the centre of the pyramid, but it is about fifty-six feet above the low-water mark of the Nile. The second pyramid, Herodotus says, was built by Cephren or Cephrenes, the brother and successor of Cheops, and the third by Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. Herodotus also says that the two largest pyramids are wholly covered with white marble; Diodorus and Pliny, that they are built of this costly material. The account of Herodotus is confirmed by present appearances. Denon, who accompanied the French expedition to Egypt, was commissioned by Buonaparte to examine the great pyramid of Jizeh; three hundred persons were appointed to this duty. They approached the borders of the desert in boats, to within half a league of the pyramid, by means of the canals from the Nile. Denon says, "the first impression made on me by the sight of the pyramids, did not equal my expectations, for I had no object with which to compare them; but on approaching them, and seeing men at their base, their gigantic size became evident." When Savary first visited these pyramids, he left Jizeh at one o'clock in the morning, and soon reached them. The full moon illuminated their summits, and they appeared to him "like rough, craggy peaks piercing the clouds." Herodotus gives 800 feet as the height of the great pyramid, and says this is likewise the length of its base, on each side; Strabo makes it 625, and Diodorus 600. Modern measurements agree most nearly with the latter.

The pyramid of Cheops consists of a series of platforms, each of which is smaller than the one on which it rests, and consequently presents the appearance of steps which diminish in length from the bottom to the top. There are 203 of these steps, and the height of them decreases, but not regularly, the greatest height being about four feet eight inches, and the least about one foot eight inches. The horizontal lines of the platforms are perfectly straight, the stones are cut and fitted to each other with the greatest accuracy, and joined with a cement of lime, with little or no sand in it. It has been ascertained that a bed has been cut in the solid rock, eight inches deep, to receive the lowest external course of stones. The vertical height, measured from this base in the rock to the top of the highest platform now remaining, is 456 feet. This last platform is thirty two feet eight inches square, and if to this were added what is necessary to complete the pyramid, the total height would be 479 feet. Each side of the base, measured round the stones let into the rock, is 763 feet 5 inches, and the perimeter of the base is about 3,053 feet. The measurements of travelers differ somewhat, but the above are very nearly correct. The area of the base is 64,753 square yards, or about 13⅓ acres. The surface of each face, not including the base, is 25,493 square yards; and that of the four faces is consequently 101,972 square yards, or more than 21 acres. The solid contents of the pyramid, without making deductions for the small interior chambers, is 3,394,307 cubic yards. Reckoning the total height at 479 feet, the pyramid would be 15 feet higher than St. Peter's at Rome, and 119 higher than St. Paul's, London. The entrance to the great pyramid is on the north face, 47½ feet above the base, and on the level of the fifteenth step from the foundation. The entrance is easily reached by the mass of rubbish which has fallen or been thrown down from the top. The passage to which this opening leads is 3 feet 7½ inches square, with a downward inclination of about 26°. It is lined with slabs of limestone, accurately joined together. This passage leads to another, which has an ascending inclination of 27°. The descending passage is 73 feet long, to the place where it meets the ascending one, which is 109 feet long; at the top of this is a platform, where is the opening of a well or shaft, which goes down into the body of the pyramid, and the commencement of a horizontal gallery 127 feet long which leads to the Queen's chamber, an apartment 17 feet long, 14 wide, and 12 high. Another gallery, 132 feet long, 26½ high, and 7 wide, commences also at this platform, and is continued in the same line as the former ascending passage, till it reaches a landing place, from which a short passage leads to a small chamber or vestibule, whence another short passage leads to the King's chamber, which as well as the vestibule and intermediate passage, is lined with large blocks of granite, well worked. The king's chamber is 34½ feet long, 17 wide, and 19¾ high. The roof is formed of nine slabs of granite, reaching from side to side; the slabs are therefore more than 17 feet long by 3 feet 9½ inches wide. This chamber contains a sarcophagus of red granite; the cover is gone, having probably been broken and carried away. The sarcophagus is 7 feet 6½ inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide, 3 feet 8½ inches high on the outside, the bottom being 7½ inches thick. There are no hieroglyphics upon it. Several other chambers have been discovered above the king's chamber, but as they are not more than three or four feet high, they were probably intended to lessen and break the weight of the mass above, which would otherwise fall on the King's chamber.

In 1816, Captain Caviglia discovered that the entrance passage did not terminate at the bottom of the ascending passage, but was continued downwards in the same inclined plane of 26°, 200 feet further, and by a short horizontal passage, opened on what appeared to be the bottom of the well. The passage, however, continued in the same direction 23 feet farther; then became narrower, and was continued horizontally 28 feet more, where it opened into a large chamber cut out of the rock below and under the centre of the pyramid. This chamber is about 26 by 27 feet. Another passage leads from this chamber 55 feet, where it appears to terminate abruptly.

The well, which appeared to Mr. Davidson and Capt. Caviglia to descend no lower than where it was intersected by the descending passage, its depth there being 155 feet, was afterwards cleared out by the French to the depth of near 208 feet, of which 145 feet are in the solid rock; so that the base of the pyramid being 164 feet above the low water level of the Nile, the present bottom of the well is 19 feet above the Nile; but the actual bottom does not appear to have been reached. The temperature within the body of the pyramid was found to be 81° 5', Farenheit, and in the well it was still higher. Herodotus was informed that the chambers cut in the solid rock, were made before the building of the pyramid was commenced. It is evident it was intended that the pyramid should not be entered after the body or bodies were deposited in it, as blocks of granite were fixed in the entrances to the principal passages, in such a manner as not only to close them, but to conceal them.—There are evidences, however, that this pyramid was entered both by the Roman and Arab conquerors of Egypt.

The materials of all the pyramids are limestone, and, according to Herodotus, were brought from the mountains near Cairo, where there are ancient quarries of vast extent; but Belzoni is of opinion that a part of them, for the second pyramid at least, was procured immediately on the spot; others think that the greatest part of the materials came from the west side of the Nile. The granite which forms the roofing of the chambers, etc., was brought down the Nile from Syene. The stones of which it is built, rarely exceed 9 feet in length, and 6½ in breadth; the thickness has already been stated.

The ascent to the great pyramid, though not without difficulty and danger, is frequently accomplished, even by females.

The pyramid of Cephren, the second in size, according to Belzoni, has the following dimensions:

Side of the base, 684 feet.
Vertical height, 456 feet.
Perpendicular, bisecting the face of the pyramid, 568 feet.
Coating from the top, to where it ends, 140 feet.

Belzoni, after great exertion, succeeded in opening the second pyramid, and after traversing passages similar to those already described in the great pyramid, reached the main chamber, which is cut in the solid rock, and is 46 feet 3 inches long, 16 feet 3 inches wide, and 23 feet 6 inches high. The covering is made of blocks of limestone, which meet in an angular point, forming a roof, of the same slope as the pyramid. The chamber contained a sarcophagus, formed of granite, 8 feet long, 3 feet 6 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches deep, on the inside. There were no hieroglyphics on it. Some bones were found in it, which were sent to London, and proved to be those of a bull or an ox. From an Arabic inscription on the wall of the chamber, it appears that some of the Arab rulers of Egypt had entered the pyramid, and closed it again. Belzoni also discovered another chamber in this pyramid.

The pyramid of Mycernius, the third in size of the Jizeh group, is about 330 feet square at the base, and 174 feet high. This pyramid has never been opened.

There are some large pyramids at Sakkârah, one of which is next in dimensions to the pyramid of Cheops, each side of the base being 656 feet, and the height 339 feet. At Dashour there are also some large pyramids, one of which has a base of 700 feet on each side, and a perpendicular height of 343 feet; and it has 154 steps or platforms. Another pyramid, almost as large at the base as the preceding, is remarkable. It rises to the height of 184 feet at an angle of 70°, when the plane of the side is changed, to one of less inclination, which completes the pyramid. At Thebes, there are some small pyramids of sun dried bricks. Herodotus says, "About the middle of Lake Moeris, there are two pyramids, each rising about 300 feet above the water. The part that is under the water is just the same height." It is probable that these pyramids were built on an island in the lake, and that Herodotus was misinformed as to the depth of the water. There are numerous pyramids in Nubia—eighty or more—but they are generally small.

The object of the Egyptians in building these pyramids, is not known. Some writers maintain that they were as memorials, pillars, or altars consecrated to the sun; others, that they served as a kind of gnomon for astronomical observations; that they were built to gratify the vanity and tyranny of kings, or for the celebration of religious mysteries; according to Diderot, for the transmission and preservation of historical information; and to others, for sepulchres for the kings,—which last was the common opinion of the ancients. Some suppose that they were intended as places for secret meetings, magazines for corn, or lighthouses; but their structure, and great distance from the sea, are sufficient refutations of these absurd hypotheses.