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The Near-Destruction of Giza

Jean-Daniel Stanley

A Subtle Plan

Although he was personally opposed to the demolition plan, Linant knew that if he declined or failed to move expeditiously on this task, the viceroy would select another engineer in his place. Facing what he termed Muhammad 'Ali's "deplorable proposition," Linant recounts that he did not object or directly counter the viceroy. Rather, he wisely used less conspicuous means. First, he requested permission to study the Giza site to assess the demolition task and provide a logistical plan. He also organized a preliminary visit with the Egyptian ministers of foreign affairs, public works and education. Linant compiled a careful report, which compared the cost of using material scavenged from pyramids versus newly cut stone from quarries, surmising that the quarry material would be cheaper. He judged that the majority of available blocks in the largest of the three pyramids, Khufu or Cheops, was of good quality. However, the report pointed out that Khufu contained four times more rock than was needed for the barrage works. Thus, demolition would require the selective removal of many blocks—at considerable cost. Blocks in the other two pyramids (Menkaure and Khafre) were of mixed quality, especially in the smallest, Menkaure, which did not contain enough suitable rock to meet the total needs for barrage construction. Linant also noted that even if the project used blocks from Menkaure, the cost of additional stone from quarries would excessively raise the overall price. Finally, Linant estimated that, regardless of the specific pyramid source, the project would incur further expenses to recut those blocks too large for barrage construction.

The skillfully crafted report provided specific time constraints and cost estimates for the viceroy's consideration. For example, it detailed the best method for disassembling a pyramid, including a series of cranes positioned to displace and lower the blocks. The facile transfer of material from pyramid base to the Nile plain below would require a 1,000-meter-long ramp of sand faced with rock. Of course, engineers would have to modify the canals so that these waterways could transport blocks from below the Giza plateau to the barrage sites. Thus, Linant itemized the costs of terrain preparation, taking into account the movement of large volumes of soil. The proposed work schedule incorporated the need for terracing at pyramid sites and the time allotted for rock removal. Among other details in Linant's proposal was a projected work rate for an early phase of upper pyramid removal: 480 blocks moved per day. The report recognized that the rate of block removal would increase as disassembly advanced, consequently lowering the cost per volume of rock. The total cost was 15,401,280 Egyptian piasters, a sizable amount at the time.

Linant anticipated that the estimated costs in his report might dissuade Muhammad 'Ali from his straightforward plan to obtain pre-cut stone. With so many projects already under way and a growing shortage of funds, would the viceroy really want to pay for the first-phase removal of 28,800 pyramid blocks—an amount six times greater than that needed for an equivalent volume of rock from quarries? Linant calculated the total volume of rock required to construct the barrages at 1,288,551 cubic meters. The average cost of one cubic meter of rock transported from Giza: 10.20 piasters. The cost of commercially quarried stone was only 8.35 piasters per cubic meter. Financially overextended, Mohammad 'Ali was convinced by the bottom line. The ruler told Linant that the quarry solution would be the better one in any case, because it would enable him to shift more workers to still other projects, rather than waste time on pyramids.

Word of this matter spread, and some officials expressed gentle dismay about the engineer's poor form in countering the viceroy. The French General Consul in Egypt, having caught wind of plans to demolish the pyramids, published in newspapers a diplomatic letter that opposed "vandalism" but refrained from mentioning the ruler. Most people would agree with Linant that at least this potentially terrible state of affairs ended well. If Egypt places any more monuments on the Giza plateau in the future, they might think to add one to Linant de Bellefonds for his work and honorable defense of history.

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