The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as Khufu Pyramid, is the largest Egyptian pyramid in the world, and should be high on your list of things to see while you are in Egypt, as it's listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The pyramid is located in Giza, in the Giza Necropolis, next to the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, both of which are smaller and were built slightly after the Great Pyramid of Giza. You'll be able to visit all of these in one day.
Read on to find out more about the Great Pyramid, who built it and when, how it was built, what was found inside the pyramid, and what you could expect during a visit!
- 1. Who Built the Great Pyramid and Why?
- 2. How was Khufu Pyramid Built?
- 3. What is Inside the Great Pyramid of Giza?
Who Built the Great Pyramid and Why?
Khufu Pyramid was completed in 2560 BC by Pharaoh Khufu, who had instructed his vizier Hemiunu (or Hemon) to build the structure as a tomb for himself. Construction of the pyramid took about 27 years. The timeline makes it the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it is the only one on that list to remain mostly intact. Just to give you a bit of an understanding of the timeline, this was still 1,200 years before the rule of the famous King Tutankhamun.
There are multiple theories about why the pyramid was built, but since Ancient Egyptians were big believers in the afterlife, it is largely accepted that it was believed that an impressive tomb (the pyramid) would help pharaohs transition into their next life as gods.
How was Khufu Pyramid Built?
There are conflicting theories about how the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, but it is now generally accepted that the huge stones were dragged and lifted, likely through ramps, by large groups of workers working closely together. Historians have not been able to agree on whether these were slave laborers or paid laborers, as some workers' camp remains have been found nearby.
Khufu Pyramid is an impressive feat of architecture, as it was built using an estimated 2.3 million huge stone blocks, weighing about 6 million tonnes in total. In its heyday, the pyramid stood at 146.6 meters (481 feet) tall, but with most of the white limestone casing being removed it is now approximately 138.5 meters (454 feet) tall. This means that what you can see today is actually the underlying core structure, and that the pyramid is not presented in the way that the ancient Egyptians had planned originally.
Stones that were brought onto the pyramid were bound together by mortar, and evidence shows that most of the resources used to build the pyramid came from the Giza Plateau, or were imported from down the Nile (Tura for the white limestone that made up the casing of the pyramid, and Aswan for the granite blocks that made up the King's Chamber). This further confirms what a huge undertaking the building of the pyramid was at the time, as strong boats would have been needed to transfer the resources to the building site.
Suggested reading: Which is the Oldest Pyramid in Egypt? - Step Pyramid of Djoser
What is Inside the Great Pyramid of Giza?
The original entrance to the pyramid is on the north side, east of the center of the pyramid. Before the casing was taken off the pyramid in the Middle Ages, you could enter through a hole about 17 meters (56 feet) above the base level of the pyramid. Due to thieves and looters having been through the pyramid (likely very early on), no treasures were found inside the pyramid, and the most interesting things to see are the passageways and chambers connecting the structure on the inside.
Through the entrance you will find a passageway, from which you can get to the Subterranean Chamber, as well as the Grand Gallery. Back in the day, this gallery had three granite stones to seal it from perpetrators.
The network of passageways also takes you to the Queen's Chamber, where evidence has been found that it was also concealed with slabs. This chamber is exactly halfway between the north and south faces of Khufu Pyramid, and has been deepened by treasure hunters and looters through the years. The King's Chamber is also connected, and this is the one that you would visit should you choose to enter the pyramid on a visit. (Do note that a separate ticket is required for this, and that there are only a limited amount available per day so as to avoid bringing too many tourists into the pyramid. The smaller two pyramids at Giza are also open for entering should you wish to visit a different pyramid.)
The King's Chamber, when rediscovered in the Middle Ages, was already broken open and contents had unfortunately been emptied from here. The lid to the sarcophagus, which is the only remaining object still found there, is missing too, but there are holes in the sarcophagus that indicate there would have been a lid.
There are still areas that remain unexplored within the Great Pyramid of Giza today, the latest planned work by a team from Tokyo was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and muon radiography mapping is expected to continue in order to thoroughly document the entire inside of the pyramid and figure out what certain cavities that were recently discovered are. Due to its sheer size and complexity, it might take us a long time to discover exactly what is inside Khufu Pyramid!
Suggested reading: The Egyptian Pyramids: Facts, Inside, Location...
The Grounds around Khufu Pyramid: What Else Can You See?
Around Khufu Pyramid, there are the remains of the Pyramid Temple, which was found on the east of the pyramid but has almost entirely disappeared. You'll only be able to see the basalt floor which is the only part of this that is remaining.
Other treasures found near the pyramid include the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and the mother of Khufu, which is approximately 110 meters (or 360 feet) east from the Great Pyramid. This tomb was discovered accidentally, but unfortunately the sealed coffin was found empty at the time meaning tomb robbers had got to it earlier.
Apart from the temple and the tomb, there are also three boat-shaped pits east of the pyramid, which would have held complete boats, and two boat pits to the south of the pyramid, in which boats were found intact underneath stone slabs. These boats weren't discovered until the 1950s, and are now found in the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is well worth a visit.
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How to Get to the Great Pyramid of Giza
To get to the pyramids of Giza, you can take a taxi or an Uber, or join an organized or private tour. While it depends on where in Cairo you are staying, Giza is fairly close at approximately 20–40 minutes away. We do recommend getting a tour guide as they can help bring the pyramids to life with interesting facts and all of the background information.
Most people will take the full day to explore Giza. This gives you plenty of time to visit the pyramids from the outside, see the Great Sphinx of Giza, and pick a pyramid to visit on the inside, too.
Suggested reading: How to Avoid Crowds When Traveling in Egypt
What You Can See When You Visit the Great Pyramid of Giza
To visit the pyramids, you'll need a ticket that gives you access to the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, which will set you back 200 Egyptian pounds (10.2 US dollars)
If you want to also enter the Great Pyramid (through the entrance mentioned above!), which is a possibility although tickets are limited per day, you'll need to pay an additional 400 EGP (20.4 US dollars). While there isn't a decorated and ornate tomb inside Khufu Pyramid, you will be able to see what the inside of the pyramid looks like, and what the passageways are like that connect the chambers. You will also be able to see the King's Chamber, in which you'll find an empty granite sarcophagus. It is worth doing for the experience of climbing inside a pyramid.
Further reading: Top 10 Things You Cannot Do in Egypt
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