The Giza Pyramids, built to endure an eternity, have done just that. The monumental tombs are relics of Egypt's Old Kingdom era and were constructed some 4,500 years ago.
Egypt's pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. To prepare for the next world they erected temples to the gods and massive pyramid tombs for themselves—filled with all the things each ruler would need to guide and sustain himself in the next world.
Pharaoh Khufu began the first Giza pyramid project, circa 2550 B.C. His Great Pyramid is the largest in Giza and towers some 481 feet (147 meters) above the plateau. Its estimated 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons.
Khufu's son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid at Giza, circa 2520 B.C. His necropolis also included the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh's head. The Sphinx may stand sentinel for the pharaoh's entire tomb complex.
The third of the Giza Pyramids is considerably smaller than the first two. Built by Pharaoh Menkaure circa 2490 B.C., it featured a much more complex mortuary temple.
Each massive pyramid is but one part of a larger complex, including a palace, temples, solar boat pits, and other features.
The ancient engineering feats at Giza were so impressive that even today scientists can't be sure how the pyramids were built. Yet they have learned much about the people who built them and the political power necessary to make it happen.
The builders were skilled, well-fed Egyptian workers who lived in a nearby temporary city. Archaeological digs on the fascinating site have revealed a highly organized community, rich with resources, that must have been backed by strong central authority.
It's likely that communities across Egypt contributed workers, as well as food and other essentials, for what became in some ways a national project to display the wealth and control of the ancient pharaohs.
Such revelations have led Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, to note that in one sense it was the Pyramids that built Egypt—rather than the other way around.
Preserving the Past
If the Pyramids helped to build ancient Egypt, they also preserved it. Giza allows us to explore a long-vanished world.
"Many people think of the site as just a cemetery in the modern sense, but it's a lot more than that," says Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian. "In these decorated tombs you have wonderful scenes of every aspect of life in ancient Egypt—so it's not just about how Egyptians died but how they lived."
Tomb art includes depictions of ancient farmers working their fields and tending livestock, fishing and fowling, carpentry, costumes, religious rituals, and burial practices.
Inscriptions and texts also allow research into Egyptian grammar and language. "Almost any subject you want to study about Pharaonic civilization is available on the tomb walls at Giza," Der Manuelian says.
To help make these precious resources accessible to all, Der Manuelian heads the Giza Archives Project, an enormous collection of Giza photographs, plans, drawings, manuscripts, object records, and expedition diaries that enables virtual visits to the plateau.
Older records preserve paintings or inscriptions that have since faded away, capture artifacts that have been lost or destroyed, and unlock tombs not accessible to the public.
Armed with the output of the longest-running excavations ever at Giza, the Harvard-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Expedition (1902-47), Der Manuelian hopes to add international content and grow the archive into the world's central online repository for Giza-related material.
But he stresses that nothing could ever replicate, or replace, the experience of a personal visit to Giza.
The Future of the Pyramids
Tourism to the structures has declined rapidly since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, when Egypt experienced a political upheaval that lasted years. The country has since been through several administration changes, and the instability means the future of tourism to the Pyramids is uncertain.
Among the major tourist sites, there is only one considered to be “The major” and on top of any list - are the Pyramids of Giza
There are three main Pyramids here, which were built in the 4th Dynasty (circa 2550 B.C). The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built as tombs for Kings (and Queens), and it was the exclusive privilege to have a Pyramid tomb. However, this tradition only applied in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Today there are more than 93 Pyramids in Egypt; the most famous ones are those at Giza.
Click on the winged serpent icon to download a 3D panoramic view of the Pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx.
Click on the winged serpent.
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Now let's go for a little tour around the site of the Pyramids and try to explore the magnificence of the area:
The Great Pyramid of Khufu
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is by far the most famous Pyramid in Egypt, the biggest, tallest, and most intact. After its construction it became one of the “Seven Wonders Of The World”, and today, it is the only one of them remaining. For a period of 4300 years, the Pyramid was also the tallest building on earth, until the French built the Eiffel Tower in 1889 to take that accolade.
Khufu’s Pyramid is built entirely of limestone, and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It contains around 1,300,000 blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 tons to 15 tons and is built on a square base with sides measuring about 230m (755ft), covering 13 acres! Its four sides face the four cardinal points precisely and it has an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5m (488ft), but today it is only 137m (455ft) high, the 9m (33ft) that is missing is due to the theft of the fine quality limestone covering, or casing stones, by the Ottoman Turks in the 15 Century A.D, to build houses and Mosques in Cairo.
You will find that the entrance of the Pyramid is located at the northern side, the same as almost every Pyramid in Egypt. On this side there are actually 2 entrances, one is the original, and is 17m (55ft) above ground level, and the other one is a man-made forced entrance located below it. Created in the 9th Century A.D by Khalif El-Mamoun, who was seeking the treasures that he thought might have been kept inside the Pyramid. He sent out stonemasons to open up an entrance, and they cut it midway across the centre of the northern side. Their tunnel goes almost 35m into the Pyramid, and was crudely cut, and at the end it connects with the original inner corridors of the Pyramid. Nothing was found inside, as it was plundered in antiquity. Nowadays visitors, to the site, use Mamoun’s entrance to gain access into the Pyramid, as it is actually considered to be a shortcut.
Please Note:If you attempt to go inside the Pyramid, you will have to bend down all the way till you reach the burial chamber!
From the main entrance of the Pyramid there is a long narrow corridor with low roof that descends for more than 100m (330ft), which takes you to a chamber, located about 24m (79ft) below ground level, which is an unfinished burial chamber with very little fresh air inside, and is inaccessible today.
Almost 20m (66ft) from that descending corridor there is another corridor connected to it, which takes you up into the heart of the Pyramid. This ascending corridor ends up at one the great parts of the Great Pyramid, the "Grand Gallery"! It is a large, long, rectangular hall, which is 49m (161ft) long, and 15m (49ft) high, with a long tunnel, at the bottom, that takes you the 2nd chamber, which is famously known as the "Queens Chamber". It actually has nothing to do with a Queen, and was given this name by the early Arabs, who went inside the Pyramids and gave it its name. It is commonly believed that it served as a magazine, or a storeroom, inside the Pyramid.
When you ascend the “Grand Gallery”, you will find, at its end, an entrance to the 3rd chamber, which was the real burial chamber of King Khufu, and this is where you will find his stone sarcophagus, which was made out of one block of granite. You will find this chamber to be really amazing, it is rectangular in form, has a flat roof, and is built out of granite that was brought from the city of Aswan, which is located 1000Km (625 miles) away. The roof consists of 9 slabs of granite; each one estimated to be around 50 tons in weight! Above the roof of the burial chamber, the Ancient Egyptians built 5 small relieving chambers so that the huge pressure, of the weight above, would not cause the burial chamber to collapse. These 5 chambers are also made of granite, and are about 1m (3 ft) above each other. The tops of the first 4 are flat, the 5th one having a pointed top to divert the enormous pressure of weight away from the burial chamber.
Both the northern and southern walls of the burial chamber have two small tunnels with rectangular entrances. They are small, and once were thought to go all the way through the outer sides of the Pyramid, though no exterior openings have been found, and are believed to be “star shafts” that served a certain purpose in the ancient cult connecting the King with the stars.
If you need to know more about these small tunnels, and their connection to the stars, it is a long story! I guess you will need to come to one of my lectures!!!
One last point! The Great Pyramid is the Pyramid of the great Egyptian King, Khufu. The name “Cheops” is also associated with this King and his Pyramid, the name being given to him by the Greeks. Though both names are generally accepted, Khufu was used in this description because it was his birth name! The same goes for Khafre (Chephren in Greek) and Menkaure (Mycerinus), and their Pyramids are described below.
The Pyramid of Khafre:
Khafre's Pyramid, or the 2nd Pyramid, is easily recognisable by the layers of its original casing stones that still remain near its summit and this, along with the fact that it actually stands on a higher part of the plateau, gives the impression that it is taller than the Great Pyramid. An optical illusion, as it is only 136m (446 ft) tall, with sides of 214.5m (704ft),a surface area of 11 acres and an angle of 53 degrees. It also has lost some of its original height through the years, once being 143.5m (471ft) tall.
The only similarity to his father's Pyramid is the entrance in the same, north facing side. There are no corridors leading into the heart of this Pyramid, the burial chamber being underground, and a long descending passageway has to be negotiated to reach it. This entrance is 50 feet (15m) above ground level, leading to the narrow passage, which descends at a 25-degree angle into the large burial chamber, which measures 14.2m by 5m by 6.9m (46.5ft by 16.5ft by 22.5ft). To take the weight of the pyramid, the roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the pyramid face. A large, black sarcophagus is found in this room.
A lower corridor is directly under the upper corridor, and once contained a portcullis that could be lowered to prevent entry as well as an unfinished burial chamber, which was cut from the bedrock and, it is thought, unused. Like the upper corridor, this one has a 25-degree slope, it then levels out, climbs slightly, and eventually the 2 of them join together. The united passageway then leads to the burial chamber.
The Pyramid of Menkaure:
Khafre's son, Menkaure, built the smallest of the 3 main Pyramids on the Giza Plateau. This one was only a mere 65.5m (215ft) tall, nowadays 62m (203ft), with sides of only 105m (344ft) and an angle of 51.3 degrees. It is thought that this Pyramid was altered during its construction, and made a lot bigger than originally planned. The original, smaller Pyramid had a simple descending corridor and burial chamber, but when it was enlarged, a new corridor was built with 3 portcullises and a small panelled chamber. Later still, another burial chamber, along with a storeroom were added at a lower level. This Pyramid, like its 2 neighbours, has a north facing entrance.
Apart from the size, Menkaure's Pyramid differed from the other 2 in the choice of casing stones. Whereas the Pyramids of his father and grandfather were completely cased in fine, white, Turah limestone, Menkaure's Pyramid was only partly cased in Turah limestone, from about 15m up! The first 15 metres was cased with pink granite, which had come from Aswan, the last of which was taken by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848) who used them to construct his arsenal in Alexandria.
The Great Sphinx:
The Great Sphinx, or as the ancients knew it, “Shesib Ankh” or “the living image”, has to be one of the most recognizable constructions in history. Think of the Sphinx and you automatically think of Egypt and the Giza Plateau.
Sculpted from soft sandstone, many believe that it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried in the sand for so many long periods in its lifetime. The body is 60m (200ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Its face is 4m (13ft) wide with eyes measuring 2m (6 ft) high. It faces the rising sun, and was revered so much by the ancients, that they built a temple in front of it.
The 18th Dynasty King, Thutmose IV installed a stele between its front paws, describing how, when Thutmose was a young Prince, he had gone hunting and fell asleep in the shade of the Sphinx ‘s head. Thutmose had a dream where Ra Hor-Akhty the sun God, talking through the Sphinx, spoke to him, telling the young Prince to clear away the sand because the Sphinx was choking on it. The Sphinx said to him that if he did this, he would become King of Egypt .
Thutmose cleared away all the sand and s after 2 years, the god fulfilled his promise to the price and he was made king of Egypt
Today, part of the “uraeus” (the sacred cobra at the forehead ) and the nose are missing (not shot off by Napoleon’s men as many believe, but were destroyed by Sa'im Al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the Khanqah of Sa'id Al-Su'ada.
In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im Al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose!). There are small parts of a beard in the Cairo museum and big one at British Museum in London which reputedly belong to the Sphinx, but many Egyptologists deny this, as the style of beard found, does not relate to the “nemes” that The Sphinx wears – different Dynasties!
Because of the soft sandstone, the Sphinx has been repaired many times; sometimes the repairs causing even more damage! Also, due to the wind, humidity, and pollution from modern Cairo, its condition is still deteriorating, and the present renovations are a never-ending task.
I hope this gave you a glimpse of information about the Pyramids of Giza.
Know before you go:
|The Giza pyramids opening times from 800 AM and closes at 1700|
|Winter working hours are - ( 8:00 -- 16:30)|
|Ramadan working hours are -( 8:00 --15:00)|
|Entrance ticket per person - 80. LE|
|Entrance to cheops boat Museum – 60 LE|
|Entrance to Khafree's Pyramid – 40 LE|
|Entrance to Khufu's Pyramid – 100 LE|
Before you visit the site of the Giza Pyramids, you have to know the following facts:
- It is forbidden to climb the Pyramids. You are only allowed to climb up the stone steps that lead to the entrance, which is 55 feet above ground level.
- It is strongly advisable to e Wear good walking shoes.
- If you wish to take a car onto the site, you need to get a car parking ticket. 2 LE for a small car, 5 LE for minibuses, 10 LE for a coach.
- The best time to go the Pyramids, is in the morning between 0800 and 1200. - or 156:00 to 17:00
- If you wish to go inside the Great Pyramid, there is an extra ticket for this that will cost you 100 LE. You will find the ticket office for the entrance to the Great Pyramid in front of the north-eastern side of the Pyramid. Sometimes is quite difficult to get this ticket, as the amount is limited to a certain number of visitors. They sell only 300 tickets daily, and they are divided among morning and afternoon. They sell 150 at 0800, and then, at exactly 1300, the other 150.
- If you wish to go inside Khafre's Pyramid, you will have to get an extra entrance ticket - 20 LE. In addition to that, they charge 10LE for cameras.
- As for Menkaure's Pyramid, it is now closed for restoration. The Pyramids are opened on a rotational basis, usually it would last for a year, so that restoration work can be done.
- If you want to get a camel or horse ride, the best place for this are the stables at the foot of the Pyramids plateau, it is cheap and safe.
- In order to get rid of the vendors, simply say "No, thank you! " or "La Shukran" and they will go away Believe it or not, it works.
- As for the street vendors Don't say the word "Emshi", like many of the guide books will advise you, it is simply means get lost, and you don't want to offend anyone in there , after all they are just trying to make a living. Here are Some useful Arabic words for you
- Tip: If you don't want to pay the extra entrance ticket for any of the above mentioned pyramids Pyramids and still want to have similar experience of being inside one, then go the eastern side of the Great Pyramid and you will find there three subsidiary smaller Pyramids (one was for the Khufu's daughter, one for Khufu's wife and the third one for Khufu's mother). Two of these Pyramids (his wife's and his mother's) are opened for visitors, and there is no extra charge to get in. All you need to do is show your site ticket to the guard and you will be in!
- If you ever feel that you need to go to the toilet while you're conducting your visit, then the best place to go is at the boat Museum which is located in front of the southern side of the Great Pyramid. Just tell the people at the entrance that you only want to use the toilet and they will let you in.