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The Great Pyramid – Giza, Egypt

The facts and figures about Pharaoh Khufu’s pyramid, commonly referred to as the Great Pyramid, are staggering.

It was the tallest building in the world until the 19th century, and the precision with which it was built, using simple surveying tools, is remarkable: the greatest difference in length between the four 756-ft (230m) high sides is just 2 inches (5 cm). The construction methods and exact purpose of some of its chambers and shafts are unknown, but the architectural achievement is clear. The pyramid is estimated to contain over two million blocks of stone weighing on average 2.5 tons, with some weighing as much as 15 tons.

THE SPHINX

Dating back to 2500 BC and positioned at the entrance to the Pyramid of Khafre, the Sphinx is the earliest known ancient Egyptian sculpture. It stands 66 ft (20 m) high, with an elongated body, a royal headdress, and outstretched paws. It is carved from an outcrop of natural rock, augmented by shaped blocks around the base added during one of several renovations. It was once thought that the nose of the Sphinx was shot off by Napoleon’s French army, but in reality it was lost before the 15th century.

THE GIZA PLATEAU

During the Egyptian 4th dynasty (2613-2498 BC), the Giza Plateau became the royal burial ground for Memphis, capital of Egypt. In less than 100 years, the ancient Egyptians built three pyramid complexes to serve as tombs for their kings. These consisted of the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre (r. 2558-2532), and the Pyramid of Menkaure (r. 2532-2530). The Sphinx was added to guard the pyramids, while each king’s close family and royal court were buried in satellite pyramids and mastaba tombs nearby. Of these, one of the most noteworthy is the 6th-dynasty (2345-2181 BC) tomb of Qar, a high-ranking official in charge of maintaining the Giza pyramids. His tomb is decorated with fine reliefs.

KHUFU

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Statue of Khufu (Cheops)

The second pharaoh of the 4th dynasty, Khufu (also known as Cheops) probably came to the throne in his 20s and reigned for about 24 years. The Greek historian Herodotus portrayed Khufu as a cruel and oppressive ruler, but this was belied by his posthumous reputation in Egypt as a wise king. Khufu is generally accepted as being the builder of the Great Pyramid — one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Contrary to popular belief, this massive monument was not built by slaves, but by a conscripted workforce, and its enormous scale is a testament to the pharaoh’s skills in harnessing the material and human resources of his country. Khufu’s tomb was robbed long before archeologists discovered it, and his only likeness is a small ivory statue (statue of Khufu) found at Abydos, to the south of Giza.

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A cross-section of The Great Pyramid of Giza

Vertical Shaft

This probably served as an escape route for the workers.

King’s Chamber

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The chamber was probably emptied 600 years after being built, but, despite holding only a lidless sarcophagus, it was often broken into by treasure seekers.

“Air Shafts”

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These may have been symbolic paths for the king’ s soul to ascend to the stars.

Queen’s Chamber

This probably held a statue representing the ka, or life force, of the king.

Queens’ Pyramids

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These three small pyramids were built for members of the king’s family, although the actual identity of their occupants is unknown.

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The Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre viewed from the Giza Plateau

Entrance

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The original entrance is blocked, and a lower opening made by the Caliph Maamun in AD 820 is now used.

Great Gallery

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Soaring nearly 30 ft (9 m) high, this is thought to have been used as a slipway for the huge blocks that sealed the passageway.

SOLAR BOAT MUSEUM

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This museum near the Great Pyramid houses a reconstructed solar boat that might have been a funerary barque for Khufu. Discovered in 1954, the boat’s 1, 200 individual pieces took archeologists 14 years to put back together.

KEY DATES

2589-2566 BC: Pharaoh Khufu builds the Great Pyramid during his reign.
2555-2530 BC: Construction of the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure on the Giza Plateau.
1400 BC: The Sphinx is restored for the first time; four more conservation phases follow.
1979: The Giza Plateau is i rise ri bed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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