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Pyramids of Egypt, Babylonia and Mexico

A pyramid is a building where the upper surfaces are triangular and converge on one point. The base of pyramids are usually quadrilateral or trilateral (but generally may be of any polygon shape), meaning that a pyramid usually has three or four sides. The most remarkable pyramids are those of Egypt and Nubia and those of Mexico.

A pyramid therefore, should be understood as meaning a building bounded by a polygonal base and plane triangular sides which meet in an apex. Such a form of architecture is only known in Middle Egypt, and there only during the period from the IVth to the Xllth Dynasty (before 2000 B.c.)—having square bases and angles of about 50*. In other countries various modifications of the tumulus, barrow, or burial-heap have arisen which have come near to this type; but these when formed of earth are usually circular, or, if square, have a flat top, and when built of stone are always in steps or terraces. The imitations of the true Egyptian pyramid at Abydos, Meroe, and elsewhere are puny hybrids, being merely chambers with a pyramidal outside and porticos attached; and the structures found at Cenchrese, or the monument of Caius Sestius at Rome, are isolated and barren trials of a type which never could be revived: it had run its course in a country and a civilization to which alone it was suitable.

In Assyria the Birs Nimrnd or Tower of Belus was a kind of step-shaped pyramid, built of bricks of different colours. It was erected by Nebuchadnezzar, and dedicated to the planets. Its height was 235 feet and its circumference 2286 feet. The Mujellibe in Babylon, of which the ruins are still to be seen, was another pyramidical structure of the same monarch. Ruins of pyramids are to be found at Benares in India and in other parts of the East. The singular monuments of the ancient inhabitants, found in Mexico, are also called pyramids. They are built of brick, disposed in layers alternating with clay or of a mixture of clay and pebbles, with a coating of stone overlaid with a plastering of lime, and the sides are formed into terraces, as in that of Cholula. The two pyramids of Teotihuacan are considered to be of the eighth century. They are situated in the centre of the plain of Otumba, to the north-east of the city of Mexico, and are called respectively the houses of the Sun and Moon. Both consist of four terraces or stages; the height of the 'House of the Sun' is 180 feet, and of the 'House of the Moon' 144 feet.

Another remarkable monument of this kind is the pyramid of Papantla, near Vera Cruz, which had been carefully concealed by the superstitious veneration of the Indians until accidentally discovered about a century ago. It is constructed of large blocks of hewn porphyry cemented with mortar, and sculptured in relief with innumerable figures, principally of serpents and alligators. Like the others before mentioned, its sides are formed into terraces, the wall above each of which contains square niches, 378 in number, being, as is supposed, intended to represent the common year and the intercalary daj's at the termination of each cycle. It is about 60 feet high, and has a base 80 feet broad.

The fact that the pyramids of Babylonia were built in imitation of mountains favors their antiquity. This confirms the tradition in reference to the ark resting upon a mountain, which shows that the pyramid builders here originally migrated from the mountains. The difference in the construction is to be noticed. The pyramids of Babylonia were ziggurats or towers and not pyramids at all, nor were they used for burial places, but rather the foundation for temples or shrines.

Many differences between the pyramids of Egypt and those of Babylonia may be traced.

1. The pyramids of Egypt were for the most part constructed for tombs and had no buildings upon the summit or in the immediate vicinity. The temple of the Great Sphinx, discovered in i853 below the level of the sand, was constructed by the pyramid builders. This temple was, however, a tomb as well as a temple. Numerous other tombs of great interest have been discovered near the temples; that of Edtou, the one at Sakkarah, the tomb of Beni Hassen, are supposed to belong to the same period.

2. The pyramids of Egypt were constructed out of heavy blocks of stone which, with incredible toil, were transported from the mountains upon the other side of the river and lifted to their height by mere brute strength. The pyramids of Babylonia were generally constructed out of bricks, and were built in terraces; the ends were veneered with stone, pavements of stone being placed on the platforms or terraces, and either palace, or shrine, or temple being placed upon the summit.

3. The pyramids of Egypt were perfect pyramids. They were built in imitation of mastabahs or primitive Egyptian houses, or tombs placed upon one another, thus making terraces, but before they were completed the terraces were filled with stone, and the whole was covered with a veneering of polished flint, which made them perfect cubes. The only room or house about them was on the inside or below the surface. The pyramids of Babylonia on the contrary were always built in terraces and were surmounted by a building of some kind, either a palace, a temple, or a religious house, and were never perfect pyramids. They resembled the pyramids of America much more than they did those of Egypt.

4. Another difference is shown in the fact that in Babylonia the pyramids were all orientated toward the solstices, the corners toward the points of the compass. It is almost impossible to suppose that those who worshiped the sun at the solstice did not begin the year at the solstice, and that those who proposed to arrange themselves as equinoctials did not begin the year at an equinox. Both of these practices could hardly go on in the case of the same race in the same country. We have then, a valuable hint of the equinoctial cult of Gizeh, which in all probability was interpolated alter the nonequinoctial worship had been first founded at Abydos and possibly Thebes.

5. The largest of the Egyptian pyramids are far larger than those of Babylonia, both in height and width.

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Page last modified: 18-06-2012 20:35:23 ZULU