“There they are!”
We’d been making our way through rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Cairo, when Rich spotted a colossal shape looming over the buildings and trees (yes, trees) to our right. Almost five years later, I still clearly remember the excitement of seeing the Giza Pyramids for the first time, their outlines slightly blurred by the early morning smog.
The viewpoint to the west provides a wonderful vista of the Pyramids on the horizon, silhouetted against the sky.
There are three main Pyramids at Giza, of which the Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops, or simply the Great Pyramid) is the oldest and largest. Historical evidence suggests that construction began around 2589 BC, although scientists and historians continue to argue about the accuracy of this date.
One word immediately comes to mind upon seeing the Great Pyramid of Khufu… Massive. You can almost feel its weight pressing down on the desert.
The Pyramid of Khufu was named after the pharaoh who had it constructed and whose remains it once housed. Most archaeologists now dismiss the idea it was built by slaves, favouring the theory it was constructed by around 100,000 seasonal workers during the months when they couldn’t tend their fields because the Nile was in flood.
Made up of approximately 2.3 million blocks of limestone, each weighing around 2.5 tonnes on average (and as much as 15 tonnes), the Pyramid of Khufu originally stood just over 481 feet tall. Plundering of its smooth outer casing reduced this to a mere 451 feet high (!), yet it remained the tallest artificial structure on Earth until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.
It’s hardly surprising the Great Pyramid of Khufu was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. And the only one still standing.
Immediately south of the Great Pyramid is the second of the Giza pyramids, built by Khufu’s son, Khafre. At first sight, the Pyramid of Khafre appears taller than that of Khufu. However, this is an illusion resulting from the fact it is built on slightly higher ground.
The most striking feature of the Pyramid of Khafre is that a remnant of its outer casing still survives near the summit. This really gives you a feel for what all three pyramids must have originally looked like.
The final pyramid at Giza belongs to Khafre’s son, Menkaura. Originally standing 228 feet tall, the Pyramid of Menkaura is less than half the height of the Great Pyramid, built by his grandfather, Khufu. That said, there’s no denying the youngest of the three Giza Pyramids is still an impressive structure in it’s own right.
The Pyramids are surrounded by the ruins of a whole host of associated buildings, temples and monuments, including several much smaller pyramids (known as Queen’s Pyramids). Together, they mark the northern end of the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1979 under the title Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur.
Sadly, my time at the Pyramids was very limited, due to the constraints of the tour (which is why I normally avoid bus tours, but very occasionally you have to bite the bullet). On the one hand, this means I have A LOT of unfinished business at Giza, and in Egypt as a whole. On the other hand, I still count myself extremely fortunate to have spent even a short amount of time at these astounded structures.
Of course, even the briefest visit to Giza would be incomplete without a stop at the Sphinx. But I think I’ll save that story for another day!
This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Three Items or the Number Three, and also the photo themes Old-fashioned from Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?) and Buildings over 4 stories tall from Ed (of Sunday Stills Photography).
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