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12 Wondrous Facts about the Great Pyramid of Giza

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For more than 4000 years, the pyramids of Giza have towered over the west bank of the Nile just south of Cairo, Egypt, sparking innumerable theories on everything from their construction methods to their astrological connections. Here are 12 facts about the largest of them all, the Great Pyramid.

1. THE EARLIEST PYRAMIDS IN EGYPT WERE BUILT A CENTURY PRIOR.

Tombs for the kings of Egypt had been constructed underground for many years before the pharaoh Djoser built a step pyramid in Saqqara, south of Giza, around 2630 BCE. Djoser’s tomb predates that of Sneferu, whose Red Pyramid was the first completed true pyramid, built sometime between 2613 and 2589 BCE.

2. THE GREAT PYRAMID WAS CONSTRUCTED BETWEEN 2560 and 2540 BCE.

Not long after Sneferu’s 341-foot tall Red Pyramid was completed in Dahshur (his first pyramid in Maidum was abandoned, and his second was turned into the Bent Pyramid), Khufu began work on the Great Pyramid at Giza. The largest of all the tombs built in the ancient world, the Great Pyramid is the centerpiece of a complex that includes tombs for Khufu’s wives, a mortuary temple, valley temple, boat pits, and a causeway.

3. THE GREAT PYRAMID WAS BUILT FOR THE PHARAOH KHUFU.

The second pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty, Khufu, Hellenized as Cheops, was the son of Sneferu and Hetepheres I and likely ascended to the throne in his 20s. Very little information about Khufu has been preserved, and the conflicting accounts of his reign were written centuries after his death, most notably in Herodotus’ Histories. The only acknowledged statue of him stands a mere three inches.

4. IT WAS THE TALLEST MAN-MADE STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS...

At 481 feet tall, the Great Pyramid eclipsed every structure ever built until the completion of the Lincoln Cathedral in 1311 CE. The Cathedral topped out around 525 feet before the collapse of its central spire in 1548.

5. ...BUT IT HAS SHRUNK BY ABOUT 25 FEET.

Today, the Great Pyramid stands only about 455 feet tall, as four millennia of erosion has sliced 25 feet of stone from the structure. An iron triangle currently sits atop the pyramid and represents the pyramidion, or capstone, that once marked the apex of the structure.

6. ABOUT 2.3 MILLION STONE BLOCKS WERE USED TO BUILD THE PYRAMID.

The quarry at Aswan, about 525 miles upriver, was the site for the stone used to make the massive blocks that comprise the pyramid. Each block weighs about 2.5 tons on average, and the pyramid itself is estimated to weigh 6.5 million tons.

7. A SERIES OF RAMPS WAS LIKELY BUILT TO CONSTRUCT THE PYRAMID.

With no hard evidence, historians and scholars have theorized that a system of ramps had to have been the method for raising and maneuvering the massive granite blocks for the Great Pyramid. Archaeological evidence at other pyramid sites indicates that linear, staircase, and spiral ramps were used to slowly bring stones hundreds of feet into the air. Once there, historians believe wooden and bronze levers were used to intricately position the stones.

8. THE INTERIOR CONTAINS THREE CHAMBERS.

Designed as a tomb, the Great Pyramid contains three burial chambers that were intended to house Khufu and the litany of goods and treasures he would take with him in the afterlife. Upon entering the pyramid, a passage (3.1 feet high, 3.4 feet wide) descends about 354 feet into the bedrock, levels off, and continues another 29 feet to an unfinished, underground chamber. About 93 feet down the descending passage, a hole in the roof leads to the ascending passage, a 129-foot stretch that rises to the Grand Gallery (it is the only known pyramid with a passage that slopes upward). At the start of the Gallery is a passage to the Queen’s Chamber, which measures 18.9 feet by 17.2 feet and is 20 feet high. A series of shafts, extending from the north and south walls, were explored multiple times but their purpose has yet to be uncovered.

Back at the Grand Gallery, a 28-foot high, 153-foot long passage leads up to the King’s Chamber. Inside, the walls are entirely covered in granite, and a pair of shafts, which at one point were thought to be air shafts, slope up and out the north and south sides of the pyramid, leading many experts to believe that they had an astrological purpose. Khufu’s sarcophagus is the only object that remains in the room, and its lid is gone and a chunk of the corner is missing. Atop the roof was a series of relief chambers that took pressure off the room below.

9. ALMOST EVERYTHING IN THE CHAMBERS HAS BEEN TAKEN.

Some accounts state human remains were present in the King’s Chamber around the 9th century CE, but constant looting has left the interior barren except for Khufu’s red-granite sarcophagus. In addition, the white limestone casing that once covered the exterior was also taken and used by various rulers and kings in other building projects.

10. HISTORIANS BELIEVE SKILLED LABORERS BUILT THE PYRAMID.

Long thought to have been the work of thousands of slaves, experts today believe 20,000-30,000 skilled laborers, including stone masons, engineers, architects, surveyors, builders, and other craftsmen, were conscripted to construct Khufu’s temple. Egyptologists Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawaas theorize that a small crew worked year-round on the project, while a larger collection of workers was summoned during the summer months when the Nile flooded the surrounding valley and integrated with the permanent labor force.

11. KHUFU'S SON AND GRANDSON BUILT PYRAMIDS ON THE SAME SITE.

Along with his tomb, Khufu’s pyramid complex includes three small pyramids built for his wives, a mortuary temple, and mastabas (tombs) for the relatives and officials who would accompany Khufu on his journey in the afterlife. His son, Khafre, built a 446-foot pyramid, which appears taller than Khufu’s from certain angles because of its position on slightly elevated ground. Khafre also commissioned the the Great Sphinx at the front of the complex. Menkaure, the son of Khafre and grandson of Khufu, built a relatively modest 213-foot pyramid nearby.

12. IT IS BOTH THE OLDEST AND THE ONLY REMAINING ANCIENT WONDER.

Named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid is the only work that has survived into modernity. Archaeological evidence has been discovered that indicates, like the Great Pyramid, some of the legendary structures (the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus) were real, while the others (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes) are harder to verify, and may be composites of legend, myth, and fact.

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12 Pieces of 100-Year-Old Advice for Dealing With Your In-Laws
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The familial friction between in-laws has been a subject for family counselors, folklorists, comedians, and greeting card writers for generations—and getting along with in-laws isn't getting any easier. Here are some pieces of "old tyme" advice—some solid, some dubious, some just plain ridiculous—about making nice with your new family.

1. ALWAYS VOTE THE SAME WAY AS YOUR FATHER-IN-LAW (EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE).

It's never too soon to start sowing the seeds for harmony with potential in-laws. An 1896 issue of one Alabama newspaper offered some advice to men who were courting, and alongside tips like “Don’t tell her you’re wealthy. She may wonder why you are not more liberal,” it gave some advice for dealing with prospective in-laws: “Always vote the same ticket her father does,” the paper advised, and “Don’t give your prospective father-in-law any advice unless he asks for it.”

2. MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

According to an 1886 issue of Switchmen’s Journal, “A greybeard once remarked that it would save half the family squabbles of a generation if young wives would bestow a modicum of the pains they once took to please their lovers in trying to be attractive to their mothers-in-law.”

3. KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF.

In 1901, a Wisconsin newspaper published an article criticizing the 19th century trend of criticizing mothers-in-law (a "trend" which continues through to today):

“There has been a foolish fashion in vogue in the century just closed which shuts out all sympathy for mothers-in-law. The world is never weary of listening to the praises of mothers ... Can it be that a person who is capable of so much heroic unselfishness will do nothing worthy of gratitude for those who are dearest and nearest to her own children?”

Still, the piece closed with some advice for the women it was defending: “The wise mother-in-law gives advice sparingly and tries to help without seeming to help. She leaves the daughter to settle her own problems. She is the ever-blessed grandmother of the German fairy tales, ready to knit in the corner and tell folk stories to the grandchildren.”

4. IF RECEIVING ADVICE, JUST LISTEN AND SMILE. EVEN IF IT PAINS YOU.

Have an in-law who can't stop advising you on what to do? According to an 1859 issue of The American Freemason, you'll just have to grin and bear it: “If the daughter-in-law has any right feeling, she will always listen patiently, and be grateful and yielding to the utmost of her power.”

Advice columnist Dorothy Dix seemed to believe that it would be wise to heed an in-law's advice at least some of the time. Near the end of World War II, Dix received a letter from a mother-in-law asking what to do with her daughter-in-law, who had constantly shunned her advice and now wanted to move in with her. Dix wrote back, “Many a daughter-in-law who has ignored her husband’s mother is sending out an SOS call for help in these servantless days,” and advised the mother-in-law against agreeing to the arrangement.

5. STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. AND CLOSETS. AND CUPBOARDS.

An 1881 article titled "Concerning the Interference of the Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law in Domestic Affairs," which appeared in the Rural New Yorker, had a great deal of advice for the father-in-law:

“He will please to keep out of the kitchen just as much as he possibly can. He will not poke his nose into closets or cupboards, parley with the domestics, investigate the condition of the swill barrel, the ash barrel, the coal bin, worry himself about the kerosene or gas bills, or make purchases of provisions for the family under the pretence that he can buy more cheaply than the mistress of the house; let him do none of these things unless especially commissioned so to do by the mistress of the house.”

The article further advises that if a father-in-law "thinks that the daughter-in-law or son-in-law is wasteful, improvident or a bad manager, the best thing for him to do, decidedly, is to keep his thought to himself, for in all probability things are better managed and better taken care of by the second generation than they were by the first. And even if they are not, it is far better to pass the matter over in silence than to comment upon the same, and thereby engender bad feelings.”

6. NEVER COHABITATE.

While there is frequent discussion about how to achieve happiness with the in-laws in advice columns and magazines, rarely does this advice come from a judge. In 1914, after a young couple was married, they quickly ran into issues. “The wife said she was driven from the house by her mother-in-law,” a newspaper reported, “and the husband said he was afraid to live with his wife’s people because of the threatening attitude of her father on the day of the wedding.” It got so bad that the husband was brought up on charges of desertion. But Judge Strauss gave the couple some advice:

“[Your parents] must exercise no influence over you now except a peaceful influence. You must establish a home of your own. Even two rooms will be a start and lay up a store of happiness for you.”

According to the paper, they agreed to go off and rent a few rooms.

Dix agreed that living with in-laws was asking for trouble. In 1919, she wrote that, “In all good truth there is no other danger to a home greater than having a mother-in-law in it.”

7. COURT YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

The year 1914 wasn’t the first time a judge handed down advice regarding a mother-in-law from the bench. According to The New York Times, in 1899 Magistrate Olmsted suggested to a husband that “you should have courted your mother-in-law and then you would not have any trouble ... I courted my mother-in-law and my home life is very, very happy.”

8. THINK OF YOUR IN-LAWS AS YOUR "IN LOVES."

Don't think of your in-laws as in-laws; think of them as your family. In 1894, an article in The Ladies’ Home Journal proclaimed, “I will not call her your mother-in-law. I like to think that she is your mother in love. She is your husband’s mother, and therefore yours, for his people have become your people.”

Helen Marshall North, writing in The Home-Maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine four years earlier, agreed: “No man, young or old, who smartly and in public, jests about his mother-in-law, can lay the slightest claim to good breeding. In the first place, if he has proper affection for his wife, that affection includes, to some extent at least, the mother who gave her birth ... the man of fine thought and gentle breeding sees his own mother in the new mother, and treats her with the same deference, and, if necessary, with the same forbearance which he gladly yields his own.”

9. BE THANKFUL YOU HAVE A MOTHER-IN-LAW ... OR DON'T.

Historical advice columns had two very different views on this: A 1901 Raleigh newspaper proclaimed, “Adam’s [of Adam and Eve] troubles may have been due to the fact that he had no mother-in-law to give advice,” while an earlier Yuma paper declared, “Our own Washington had no mother-in-law, hence America is a free nation.”

10. DON'T BE PICKY WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING A WIFE; CHOOSE A MOTHER-IN-LAW INSTEAD.

By today's standards, the advice from an 1868 article in The Round Table is incredibly sexist and offensive. Claiming that "one wife is, after all, pretty much the same as another," and that "the majority of women are married at an age when their characters are still mobile and plastic, and can be shaped in the mould of their husband's will," the magazine advised, “Don’t waste any time in the selection of the particular victim who is to be shackled to you in your desolate march from the pleasant places of bachelorhood into the hopeless Siberia of matrimony ... In other words ... never mind about choosing a wife; the main thing is to choose a proper mother-in-law,” because "who ever dreamt of moulding a mother-in-law? That terrible, mysterious power behind the throne, the domestic Sphynx, the Gorgon of the household, the awful presence which every husband shudders when he names?"

11. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE.

As an 1894 Good Housekeeping article reminded readers:

“Young man! your wife’s mother, your redoubtable mother-in-law, is as good as your wife is and as good as your mother is; and who is your precious wife's mother-in-law? And you, venerable mother-in-law, may perhaps profitably bear in mind that the husband your daughter has chosen with your sanction is not a worse man naturally than your husband who used to dislike your mother as much as your daughter’s husband dislikes you, or as much as you once disliked your husband’s mother.”

12. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MARRY AN ORPHAN.

If all else fails, The Round Table noted that “there is one rule which will be found in all cases absolutely certain and satisfactory, and that is to marry an orphan; though even then a grandmother-in-law might turn up sufficiently vigorous to make a formidable substitute.”

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A Secret Room Full of Michelangelo's Sketches Will Soon Open in Florence
Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images
Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images

Parents all over the world have chastised their children for drawing on the walls. But when you're Michelangelo, you've got some leeway. According to The Local, the Medici Chapels, part of the Bargello museum in Florence, Italy, has announced that it plans to open a largely unseen room full of the artist's sketches to the public by 2020.

Roughly 40 years ago, curators of the chapels at the Basilica di San Lorenzo had a very Dan Brown moment when they discovered a trap door in a wardrobe leading to an underground room that appeared to have works from Michelangelo covering its walls. The tiny retreat is thought to be a place where the artist hid out in 1530 after upsetting the Medicis—his patrons—by joining a revolt against their control of Florence. While in self-imposed exile for several months, he apparently spent his time drawing on whatever surfaces were available.

A drawing by Michelangelo under the Medici Chapels in Florence
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Museum officials previously believed the room and the charcoal drawings were too fragile to risk visitors, but have since had a change of heart, leading to their plan to renovate the building and create new attractions. While not all of the work is thought to be attributable to the famed artist, there's enough of it in the subterranean chamber—including drawings of Jesus and even recreations of portions of the Sistine Chapel—to make a trip worthwhile.

[h/t The Local]

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