Great Pyramids of Giza

by jptanabe

The Great Pyramid of Giza is truly worthy of being one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and all the pyramids and the Great Sphinx together are quite out of this world!

The Great Pyramid is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that remains standing, and the whole Giza complex in Egypt is designated as a World Heritage Site. These Great Pyramids truly qualify as amazing and mysterious monuments from ancient times.

The Great Pyramids of Giza consist of the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren), and the relatively modest sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos). The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex, facing east. There are also a number of smaller pyramids and other buildings in the necropolis.

The Pyramids and their Pharaohs

The Great Pyramids of Giza include three main pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and several smaller pyramids and buildings. The whole complex is referred to as the Giza Necropolis, located on the Giza Plateau near what is now Cairo. The necropolis is an amazing collection of buildings that were constructed to house the dead. The two largest pyramids housed the remains of the two famous pharaohs Khufu and Khafre.

Giza pyramid complex
Giza pyramid complex

The Great Pyramid is one of the the largest buildings ever erected on the planet, and the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World to remain standing. It is believed to have been constructed over a 20-year period concluding around 2560 B.C.E. as a tomb for Fourth dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (Cheops). Khafre's Pyramid, is the second largest pyramid and the tomb of the fourth-dynasty pharaoh Khafre (Chephren), a successor of Khufu. Although smaller than the Great Pyramid its location on higher bedrock than Khufu's pyramid, together with the steeper angle of inclination of its construction, make it look taller although it is actually smaller in both volume and height. Khafre is also credited, albeit with much debate, with the construction of the Great Sphinx. The smallest of the three pyramids is Menkaure's Pyramid, Menkaure being a pharaoh after Khafre.

Pyramids of Cheops (left) and Chephren (right) by Ed Yourdon
Pyramids of Cheops (left) and Chephren (right) by Ed Yourdon

The pyramids were constructed of granite and limestone. They were surfaced with white casing stones, blocks of highly polished white limestone which caused the monuments to shine brightly in the sun. Although polished limestone encased them all, today only Khafre's Pyramid retains a significant display on the apex, while several of the casing stones can be found around the base of Khufu's Great Pyramid.

Why and How did they Build these Pyramids?

Now these Great Pyramids are not just some kind of small edifice that we can imagine being built as a tomb even for a great leader, they are truly enormous! At almost 500 feet, the Great Pyramid truly deserves the title "great."

And these pyramids are not only large, they were constructed with amazing precision. The base of the Great Pyramid is as near as makes no difference a perfect square and the sides of this square, and that of the base square of the other two pyramids, are almost perfectly aligned to the four points of the compass. Measurements by the great archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie in the 1880s found the Great Pyramid and Khafre's pyramids to be oriented four minutes West of North, which corresponds to the position of North back in 2467 B.C.E.

Inside the pyramids are passages and chambers, shafts and galleries, niches for statues and burial chambers that house the sarcophagi of their pharaohs. And the outsides were originally encased in polished limestone, reflecting the sun so that the magnificence of the great pyramids shone out for miles around. Great monuments indeed to these powerful pharaohs, and so much work!

The great pyramid passages and chambers, 1910 by john and edgar morton
The great pyramid passages and chambers, 1910 by john and edgar morton

Egyptologists have enjoyed calculating how many people and how long it must have taken to construct these amazing monuments. The calculations have ranged from 300,000 men to only 30,000, and generally 20 to 30 years of work, although one group figured the Great Pyramid could have been constructed in a mere 10 years.

The purpose of the pyramids has long been understood as tombs for the bodies of the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, which often is described as the age of the pyramids. With a strong belief in the afterlife and the divinity of the pharaohs who were a connection between men and gods, the resting place of the bodies that had been the dwelling place of a god during the pharaoh's lifetime was highly significant.

Clearly much thought and calculation went into the design and creation of these monuments, as evidenced by the precision of their construction. The alignment with the North star reflects their belief in the connection between earth and the heavens, and that somehow the divine spirit of the pharaoh would travel to the heavens after the death of the body. The shafts that ascend out of the pyramid from the chamber where the sarcophagus was located appear to have been constructed to allow the Pharaoh's spirit to rise up and out to heaven.

Although it was previously thought that slaves were forced to build these great pyramids, a more recent understanding is that the workers were somewhat willing peasants who worked during idle periods along with specialists on these and other civic projects that contributed to the prosperity of Egypt. Of course the pharaohs were no doubt the planners of these immense monuments to their own greatness.

DVDs about the Pyramids

Learn all about them - their mysteries, see inside and outside, marvel at them!

Another Theory

Although it was generally accepted that the Great Pyramids of were built around around 2,500 B.C.E. as tombs for the Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, Menkaure and others, an alternative hypothesis about their purpose and date of construction has been proposed.

Belt of Orion
Belt of Orion

This is the Orion Correlation Theory, which states that there is a correlation between the spatial arrangement of the three largest pyramids at Giza and the three middle stars of the constellation Orion that make up Orion's belt.

Pyramids of Giza. Photographed from a balloon from about 600 meters above ground.
Pyramids of Giza. Photographed from a balloon from about 600 meters above ground.

The theory was first proposed in 1995 by Robert Bauval, and has since been expanded in collaboration with Adrian Gilbert and Graham Hancock to include the Great Sphinx as a representation of the constellation Leo, and the Nile river to represent the Milky Way galaxy. This theory not only notes that there is a match between these arrangements, but postulates that this was deliberate on the part of the builders of the pyramids. That sounds OK, but the biggie here is that the stars in Orion's Belt and the constellation of Leo match up in these locations approximately 10,500 B.C.E., a mere 8,000 years earlier than the accepted accounts!

Well, despite some support from geologists who have argued that the effects of water erosion on the Great Sphinx date parts of that monument to at least 7,000-5,000 B.C.E., mainstream Egyptologists don't accept the Orion thesis. It does put the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx into an era before the Ancient Egyptians, so that's understandable! Still, it's a fascinating thought that someone might have built these huge monuments in relation to the constellations.

And, here I have to note that my daughter was quite thrilled by this idea when studying ancient cultures, probably in elementary school. She did a project on this very hypothesis, building a 3-D map of the Pyramids with the Great Sphinx, the Nile and all carefully positioned to match up with a picture of Orion. It was remarkably cool!

They are really Great!

You know, even if we aren't completely sure when the Great Pyramids were built, how, by whom, for what purpose, and so on, we can still enjoy them. They after all, really worthy of the title "Great." So, if you don't get a chance to visit them in person, or maybe as an encouragement to make the trip, here's a bunch of amazing photos.

Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki
Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki

Photographs taken at sunset or sunrise, or with a full moon, add natural wonder.

Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki
Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki
Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki
Great Pyramid of Giza by Jerzy Strzelecki

Artistic Pictures

The pyramids at Giza are an amazing sight. Artists have found them inspirational in many creative ways. Here are some samples.




"Bei den Pyramiden" by Leander Russ
"Bei den Pyramiden" by Leander Russ
The mystic lost pyramids of Egypt
Ghost Pyramids by monsta1
Ghost Pyramids by monsta1
Power of the pyramid by arteologist23
Power of the pyramid by arteologist23

Visiting Today

Today the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx that appears to guard them are great tourist attractions, and designated as a National Heritage Site.

Who wouldn't want to visit and see these camels travel past the pyramids in the desert?

Pyramids of Giza, Giza, Cairo, Egypt by Jon Arnold
Pyramids of Giza, Giza, Cairo, Egypt ...

Actually, though, you don't need camels to ride through the desert to reach the pyramids. They are located right on the edge of Cairo, so when you turn to look in the direction the Great Sphinx is facing there's a KFC/Pizza Hut in a shopping plaza straight ahead! But not to worry, the buildings are all on one side so if you face the other way it's all desert, and camels too.

More about the Pyramids of Giza

Updated: 12/26/2022, jptanabe
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jptanabe on 11/20/2017

Yes! It is quite astounding how they were constructed so long ago.

blackspanielgallery on 11/20/2017

Excellent images. I marvel at how the accuracy of the pieces had to be considering the time they were built.

frankbeswick on 11/18/2017

There may have been civilisations much earlier than we have thought, as there seeem to be stone remains off the coast ofIndia onland that was last dry when the sea levels were lower than now during the Ice Age.

jptanabe on 11/18/2017

Indeed, the age of such monuments is not entirely clear. I read that the Sphinx could be as much as 12,000 years old, and not necessarily built at the time of the pharaohs for whom the pyramids were believed to have been constructed (4,500 years ago).

frankbeswick on 11/18/2017

How old is the Sphinx? I don't know, but I am aware that historians have in the past under estimated the skills of peoples in the years before writing and stone built urban civilisations. I would not be surprised if it is older than we have previously thought.

jptanabe on 11/18/2017

Glad to be helpful. And thank you for your positive response!

Veronica on 11/18/2017

Lovely. There are some interesting pieces of information here that I can tell the children in schools. Thank you an informative piece.

Veronica on 11/17/2017

Ahhh I am just off to bed... 11 35 pm here of course but look forward to reading this tomorrow

I looks very interesting.

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