Travel info for Giza pyramid complex in Egypt

The ultimate wonder of the ancient world


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Al Ahram, Giza Governorate, Egypt

GPS: 29.977834903621, 31.133822918212

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Located on the left bank of the Nile, in the outskirts of the city of Cairo, the Giza pyramid complex represents the oldest and most massive monuments in the world. These large-scale constructions serve as a place of royal necropolis, burial and eternal abode of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Supposed to offer immortality to their founders, they are dated almost 5,000 years (the middle of the 3rd millennium BC). This period corresponds to the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the golden age of the pyramids.

The Giza Pyramid Complex succeeds the first mastabas and step pyramids of Egypt, more modest-sized funeral structures foreshadowing the monumental pyramids. It is the pharaoh Sneferu, second sovereign of the Fourth Dynasty, who evolves the construction techniques to lead to the first pyramid with smooth faces (pyramid of Meidum). His son Khufu (or Cheops) inherits this know-how and begins the royal construction site of a pyramid complex on the Giza Plateau. The latter consists of three large aligned pyramids, decorated with a colossal sculpture of Sphinx with a human head and a lion’s body: the Pyramid of Khufu (the oldest and largest also called the Great Pyramid of Giza), the Pyramid of Khafre or Chephren (second son of Khufu) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (little son of Khufu succeeding Chephren). First excavations carried out in the 20th century reveal that these smooth-faced pyramids are surrounded by other vestiges: the workers’village, funeral burials, an ancient ship (solar boat) and smaller pyramids.

With its colossal dimensions, the Pyramid of Khufu was 146 meters high (against 138 meters today) with a constant slope of 51 degrees. According to archaeologists, it consists of around 2 million blocks of stone weighing more than 2 tonnes each on average. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and remains the only structure to exist today. The recent discovery of a set of old papyrus and wooden boats give new elements of understanding on the realization of this extraordinary site. A network of port cities and a system of artificial canals, specially fitted out, made it possible to take advantage of the annual floods of the Nile to transport the stones as close as possible to the Giza Plateau.

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  • The precision of construction and the incredible resistance to time of this vast group of pyramids erected with rudimentary tools; the geometrical complexity of the monuments with their almost perfect right angles; the symbolism of the places that were supposed to ensure the eternal life of the pharaohs; the mystical configuration of the Giza Plateau
  • The colossal size and dimensions of the Pyramid of Khufu (53,000 m² of surface area for a weight of 5 to 6 million tons); the eminence of the Pyramid of Khafre (with a perfectly horizontal square base); the granite cladding of the lower part of the Pyramid of Menkaure (the smallest building of the three)
  • The great gallery of the pyramid of Khufu (8 metres high and 50 metres long) and its system of ascending corridors; the funerary chambers carefully protected from the outside world (they are located several dozen metres underground); the network of labyrinths and secret passages; the ingenious systems set up in the structure of the pyramids to protect the tombs from intrusion
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza (lion with a human head forming the largest statue of the Old World), positioned at the entrance of the limestone Giza Plateau and below the pyramids; the remains of the Temple of the Valley and the Temple of the Sphinx
  • The other pyramidal structures of the Giza Necropolis: the pyramids of the Queens and the Pyramid complex of Khentkaus I
  • The multitude of mastabas (Egyptian funerary buildings) and burials belonging to the Old Kingdom of Egypt; the ancient stone quarries next to the buildings with traces of furrows still remain
  • The art of mummification and embalming mastered to perfection by the Egyptians
  • The memory of a camel ride in this magnificent cinema set
  • The Giza Solar boat museum located at the foot of the Pyramid of Khufu (this ship buried some 4,500 years ago, the oldest ever found, was 43 metres long and 6 metres wide); the sound and light show organized in the evening (admission charge); the new Grand Egyptian Museum to be inaugurated in 2021 (the most important museum in the world dedicated to the art of ancient Egypt)
  • The first step pyramid was built during the reign of Djoser, the first king of the 3rd Dynasty and founder of the Old Kingdom. The Step Pyramid (or Pyramid of Djoser) in the Saqqara necropolis was supervised by the famous architect Imhotep around 2600 BC. Less than a century later, Khufu’s father and predecessor on the throne (Sneferu) was the most pyramid-building pharaoh in the history of Egyptian civilization. With the help of brilliant architects, he erected three great pyramid structures that can still be seen today: the Meidum Pyramid (seven-step), the Bent Pyramid (double-sloped) and the Red Pyramid (smooth-sided). His aim was to improve construction techniques in order to achieve absolute perfection in terms of architecture. These experimental and daring structures served as a model for Khufu to build the largest pyramid in the ancient world. This pharaoh relied on his architect and vizier (close adviser) Hemiunu, who was none other than the grandson of Snefru, to complete his ambitious project.
  • The three pyramids of Giza Necropolis are not only perfectly aligned with each other but also with Heliopolis, the religious capital of Ancient Egypt (it is located in the Nile delta). No royal tomb, sarcophagus or pharaoh’s tomb has yet been found in the various monuments composing the Giza pyramid complex. It is possible that the mummies of the pharaohs were stripped by grave robbers in ancient times.
  • Tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of workers would have been involved in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which would have taken less than 30 years. To accomplish this prodigious mission, extraordinary planning was deployed throughout the empire. The workers were not employed by force or as slaves, but volunteered to participate in a vast construction site that succeeded in mobilising and unifying the Egyptian people. These men were paid for their work, treated and fed well (bread was produced in large quantities on the spot and meat was part of the daily meals served). Perfectly organised into various specialised groups, they were assigned to various tasks according to their skills: cultivating the fertile lands of the Nile, raising livestock, preparing food, ensuring the transport of goods or materials on land or water, producing metal tools and helping to build monuments.
  • The Nile played a major role in transporting the various materials needed to construct the pyramids to the site of Giza. The most important stone quarries were separated from the site by long distances: 800 kilometres for Aswan (pink granite used for the burial chambers) and 17 kilometres for Tura (white limestone used for the outer façades). Most of the copper needed for the production of tools came from Sinai and converged at the port site of Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea coast (250 kilometres from Giza). The Egyptians were able to create seamless logistics and unparalleled coordination to carry out this titanic undertaking. They were able to rely on the Nile’s floods (which lasted four months a year) to build a vast network of waterways made up of artificial basins, lakes and canals. Wooden boats that were dismantled ensured maritime transport to port facilities, while systems of ramps made of rubble allowed the stones to slide on wooden sledges to the top of the pyramids.
  • In ancient times, the Great Pyramid of Giza was carefully covered with a polished white limestone that has almost disappeared today. Shimmering in the sunlight, this monument was topped with pure gold before being stripped of it. Its four faces precisely orient the four cardinal points. This alignment with the rising and setting sun was made in honour of Ra (or Re), the solar god who created the universe in Egyptian mythology. The tomb of the pharaoh (considered a king-god) was thus to merge with the sun deity (which occupies the centre of Egyptian beliefs) and the world beyond (symbolised by Osiris) in order to revive the soul of the deceased king. This soul was to follow the path of the sun by day and travel into the underworld by night to ensure the resurrection of the pharaoh and the eternal prosperity of Egypt.
  • Deprived of its golden summit, the Pyramid of Khufu is now dethroned in height by the Pyramid of Khafre (140 meters against 138 according to the latest measurements). With its raised foundations, the Pyramid of Khafre presents an angle of inclination of 53° (against 51° for the Pyramid of Khufu). It contains only one funerary chamber whose herringbone vault supports the hundreds of tons of the pyramid (this weight distribution system prefigures the construction of later stone structures).
  • Despite its modest dimensions (63 metres high), the Pyramid of Menkaure holds the largest block of cut stone of the Giza complex (200 tons). Its north face was ripped open by Sultan Osman I, founder of the Ottoman dynasty in the 13th century, who searched in vain for the entrance to the monument (this is actually 4 metres underground and leads to 2 complex but untouched burial chambers).
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza is the largest monolithic sculpture in the world (it is 73 metres long, 20 metres high and 14 metres wide). Sculpted and carved to perfection in the rock, this reclining feline with a human face is believed to represent the face of a pharaoh whose identity remains a mystery. Some Egyptologists believe that this grandiose work was made during the reign of Djedefre in honour of his father Khufu (whom he succeeded at the head of the Fourth Dynasty at the expense of his elder brother Kawab who died before being able to govern). Other experts believe that Khafre (half-brother of Djedefre) could have had this monumental statue built in his image in order to protect the necropolis of Giza and to watch over the pyramid complex that he had enlarged. Other voices suggest that this monumental sculpture could be a representation of Anubis, the Egyptian deity of death and embalming, before his face was later modified. During the construction of this statue more than 4,500 years ago, a crack forced its builders to lengthen the lion’s body of the sphinx. No secret chambers or cavities have been uncovered inside.
  • During the equinoxes (a natural phenomenon that occurs twice a year in general on 21 March and 22 September), the setting sun disappears precisely at the Sphinx’s right shoulder. This would reinforce the thesis that the site of Giza also has an astronomical function (the stars would have guided the builders to align the three pyramids according to the orientation of the cardinal directions).
  • In 2016, archaeologists identified the foundations of a fourth large-scale pyramid less than 10 kilometres away, at the site of Abu Rawash. According to the latest surveys, this forgotten pyramid would have surpassed in absolute height the three buildings of Giza because of its location on a high plateau. It would have been built by King Djedefre, another son of Pharaoh Khufu. Its ruins, which today stand only 12 metres high, were used as a stone quarry from Roman times.
  • Thanks to the use of new non-intrusive research techniques, a new corridor on the north face and a large unknown cavity were uncovered in 2017 within the Pyramid of Khufu. This concave structure has the particularity of being located above the Great Gallery (passage linking the chamber funerary from the king to that of the queen). Additional investigations are needed to find out the precise function and nature of this mysterious and inaccessible room, which has been dubbed “Big Void”. Measuring nearly 40 metres long and totalling between 400 m3 and 500 m3 of volume, it could lead to one of the greatest discoveries in the history of Egyptology. Another hypothesis raises the possibility that this hollow space could correspond to an ingenious system used by the builders to reduce the weight gravitating above the Great Gallery.
  • As a result of the growing urbanization of the Egyptian capital, the Giza Necropolis is now only several hundred metres from the city centre of Cairo. With nearly 20 million inhabitants, this city is the largest metropolis in Africa and the Middle East.
  • Explore the Giza pyramid complex early in the morning to enjoy the rising sun, mild temperatures and less crowding conditions.
  • The visit to the interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza is limited to 300 people per day (150 people per half day).
  • The whole complex can be explored on foot (the distances between the monuments remain reasonable) but remember to protect yourself from the strong sunlight.
  • After many years of studies and preparatory work, the Grand Egyptian Museum is open since 2022. It is one of the largest museums in the world and is located less than 3 kilometres from the pyramids of Giza.

Where to eat

  • Andrea El Mariouteya
    (excellent breakfast)
  • Restaurant El Dar Darak
    (fast and efficient)
  • Sehraya Cafe & Restaurant
    (square air oasis)

Where to go

  • Egyptian Museum
    (wonders of the pharaonic era)
  • Saqqara
    (major archaeological site)
  • Red Pyramid
    (pyramid with smooth faces)

Where to stay

  • Dahab Hostel
    (popular hostel)
  • Bella Luna
    (pleasant and central)
  • Mena House Hotel
    (luxury nearby the pyramids)