Where: Giza, outskirts of Cairo, Egypt
When: 25th century BC
History: Amazing geometric tombs to hold the possessions and corpse built by Cheops, an ancient Pharoh
Go there for: Spectacular sunrise or evening night show – one of the most amazing manmade sights on earth
The Pyramids are the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World that has withstood the ravages of time. Located on the outskirts of the town of Giza on the West Bank of the Nile, opposite Cairo, they are the most visited site in the whole of Egypt.
What’s the history here?
The Pyramids were built as the spectacular tombs of three of the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt. The largest and the first to be built is that of Cheops. It was built between 2589 – 2566 BC and tested the skill of hundreds of mathematicians and architects and hundreds of thousands of workers – not to mention the two and a half million limestone blocks!
Cheops was the second king of the 4th dynasty. His father, King Snofru, had built two pyramids at Dashur, 27 miles south of Giza, and it’s not known why Cheops chose to locate his at Giza – although it may have been because his palace was located nearby. Snofru had revolutionalised the style of funerary pyramids and Cheops adopted the new geometric fashion for his own monument, but departed from tradition by positioning the burial chamber actually within the pyramid, rather than beneath it. It was, in fact, the centre piece of a complex of smaller monuments and mastaba tombs which may have been the burial sites of members of Cheops’ immediate family. The entire complex was intended to ensure the immortality of the great god-king.
The second pyramid was built for Cheops’ son, Chephren, the third for his grandsonMycerinus. The smallest of the Pyramids was intended for Mycerius’ wife. They are actually the first in a string of 70 pyramids which stretch form Giza to the Sudanese border, so it’s clear that the pyramid building tradition continued for many more generations.
Just south of Chephren’s pyramid is a huge mythical creature with a human head and a lion’s body, known as the Sphinx. The Sphinx was traditionally associated with the Sun God, Amun, but although the Sphinx has been damaged by adverse weather conditions and pollution, in this instance it seems that the workmen sculpted the creatures face to resemble King Chephren. Some say it was built out of stone left over from the Pyramid, others say that it was meant to guard Chephren’s tomb.
Excavations at Giza and elsewhere are far from complete. In fact, it’s likely that future archaeological finds will add to our understanding of the Pharaohic age. However early attempts to uncover the treasure of the Pharaohs have hampered interpretation of the site: in 820 AD a team of men led by Abdullah Al Mamun, unable to locate the hidden entrance to the Great Pyramid, bore an intrusive tunnel though the wall of the pyramid in their quest for riches.
What’s there to see & do?
– These days, visitors have an easier time exploring the interior of the Pyramids than Abdullah Al Mamun. You can join a tour group to take you deep inside, where you’ll experience the mysterious history of the monuments first hand.
– The pyramids can be visited on a day trip from Cairo, in fact Giza can be easily reached as a stop on the underground from Cairo. Because of the crowds of tourists and touts who descend on the site daily, the Pyramids are more atmospheric early in the morning or late at night.
– Sound and light shows illuminate the Pyramids after dark, retelling the history of the Pyramids for the tourists.
Online tour of the Pyramid complex, packed with historical facts and interesting data.
Official internet site of the Egyptian Tourist Authority.
The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries, Mark Lehner; Thames & Hudson 1997
By Jess Halliday
main image: By Nina – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=282496