The Frenchmen Who Saved The Pyramids

Emily Hirsch | February 23rd, 2019

Everyone loves tales of ancient Egypt, the pyramids and the tombs. Tales of grave robbers and booby traps, long lost treasure and ancient mummies being found. So it would come as a surprise to hear that at one point the local government was thinking of destroying the pyramids. Surely such a structure of heritage and culture could never be touched?

One such story is the ruler Muhammad Ali who during the early 19th century was set on modernization and industrialization Egypt. In the 1830s he had finally able to approve a plan to build a dam across the Nile Delta. This was going to bring irrigation to the land and help farmers grow their crops. There was however a concern about paying for the necessary construction material, but then Muhammed Ali realized they had an abundance of stone ready to be used: the Pyramids of Giza.

His plan was to demolish the Pyramids and use the quarried rock to dam the river up. However, his lead engineer was French-born Louis Marie Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds and this Frenchman had a certain love for the pyramids. He was not ready to destroy the heritage of the Egyptian people, even if their leader demanded it.

So he prepared a cost analysis about using the Pyramids versus mining the stone from Cairo. And the ingenious Frenchmen decided to fake some of the numbers so that it would work out to be more expensive to use the stone from the Pyramids. He factored in large disassembling costs that would make the project cost more than if they were to buy their stone from the mines of Cairo.

And it worked! Once he presented his analysis the ruler Muhammad immediately stops talking about his idea to destroy the pyramids. Though there is actually some debate in the truth of this tale, it is very cool to think an engineer saved some world monuments from being destroyed. If you are wondering why the ruler would have this idea in the first place, well Egypt did have a long history of reusing stone from temples and monuments to construct new buildings. In most cases it simply had to be that way: the region was too scarce and the required stone was expensive.

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