Most famous of the structures at Giza

Built around 2650 BC from 2.5 million blocks of limestone

Constructed between 2589 and 2504 B.C., the Egyptian pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, built in that order, are a testament to ancient planning and engineering.

How these pyramids were built is a source of speculation and debate. Many researchers believe that a ramp system of some form was used to move the blocks into place during construction. When the pyramids were completed they were encased in white limestone, most of which is lost today.

Recent research suggests that when the blocks were being moved across the desert, a small amount of water was put on the sand in front of them, making them easier to move. Additionally, archaeologists have found new evidence that Giza had a bustling port, allowing goods to be shipped to the site from across Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean.

Despite the differences among the three pyramids (Khufu’s pyramid, the “Great Pyramid,” is several times the mass of Menkaure’s) the southeast tips of each pyramid align together almost precisely. Each pyramid had a mortuary and valley temple, with a causeway connecting them. They also had smaller pyramids referred to as satellite or queens’ pyramids.

 

The Sphinx, an enigmatic monument usually associated with king Khafre, stands watch near his valley temple. In addition, tombs sprawling to the east and west of Khufu’s pyramid contain the remains of officials, royal relatives and others who had the privilege to be buried there.

To the south of the Sphinx is the “Wall of the Crow,” which is 656 feet (200 meters) long and 32 feet (10 m) thick. South of the wall is a settlement that archaeologists sometimes refer to as “the lost city.” This city has barracks that may have housed troops. Recently, archaeologists have discovered a mansion in the city that would have been used by senior officials. The pyramid workers may have lived in simpler housing located by the pyramids themselves.

Recent research has also revealed evidence for a massive catering operation that kept people at Giza fed.

Khufu’s pyramid

When it was completed by Khufu, the Great Pyramid rose 481 feet (146 m), approximately the height of a modern, 30-story office building. Today, with the loss of the some of the stone, the pyramid is slightly shorter, measuring 455 feet (138 m). It was the tallest building in the world until the 14th century, when the Lincoln Cathedral was completed in England.

Three smaller pyramids, often referred to as queens’ pyramids, are located adjacent to Khufu’s pyramid. It’s difficult to say for sure for whom they were built, but one of them may have been for Khufu’s mother, Hetepheres. In addition, a smaller satellite pyramid, located between the queens’ pyramids and Khufu’s, was discovered in the 1990s.

Seven boat pits have been found at Khufu’s pyramid, two on the south side, two on the east side, two in between the queens’ pyramids and one located beside the mortuary temple and causeway. The best preserved boat, carefully reassembled from more than 1,200 pieces, is 142 feet (43 m) long, with wooden planks and oars. The purpose of these boats is a mystery

Khafre’s pyramid

Khufu’s successor, Djedefre, built his pyramid off-site at Abu Roash. The person who succeeded Djedefre, Khafre, returned to Giza and built a pyramid that, although smaller than Khufu’s, was on a slightly higher elevation.

Only one satellite pyramid sits outside Khafre’s pyramid. Inside, the pyramid’s architecture is simpler than Khufu’s. It has two entranceways, both on the north side, one located 38 feet (12 m) above the base of the pyramid and another on ground level.

Menkaure’s pyramid

With a height of 215 feet (65 m) and a base of 335 by 343 feet (102 by 105 m), Menkaure’s is by far the smallest of the three pyramids. Lehner notes that its building mass is about one-tenth that of Khufu’s pyramid. Its complex includes three queens’ pyramids on its south side.

The entranceway for Menkaure’s pyramid is located just above ground level, its passages leading to an antechamber and burial chamber. An ornate sarcophagus was found in the 19th century by Howard Vyse but it was lost when the ship that was taking it to England, the Beatrice, sank.

It’s a mystery as to why Menkaure’s pyramid is so much smaller than the other two. It could simply be that there wasn’t room at Giza for another large pyramid or perhaps events during Menkaure’s reign prevented him from building another large structure. No future pharaoh would ever build a pyramid as large as those built by Khufu and Khafre.

Visitors should be aware that, on any one visit to Egypt, one will not be allowed to go inside all of the Giza Pyramids. Though they may all be easily seen, at any one time, the internal structure of one of the three major pyramids at Giza will be closed to the public for preservation. Furthermore, when it is open, the number of people that can enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu, will be limited to 150 visitors in the morning and an additional 150 in the afternoon

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