Things you might not know about the Great Pyramids of Giza

  • Victoria Hearn
  • 28 Sep 21

By the time anyone travels to Egypt for the first time, they will have seen thousands of photos and heard many stories about the most famous of Egypt’s structures, but the photos and stories pale in comparison to the extraordinary feeling of actually standing in front of these ancient monuments. In 2017, I was lucky enough to experience this for myself!

Pyramids by Victoria Hearn

Pyramids by Victoria Hearn

The only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza has been standing for over 4,500 years. For more than three quarters of its life (3,800 years), the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure on Earth, until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in England in 1311 AD.

Built as a tomb for the pharaoh Khufu (or Cheops, as he was known to the Ancient Greeks), the Great Pyramid of Giza is part of the Giza Necropolis/Giza Pyramid Complex site. The Giza Necropolis encompasses the three main pyramids, as well as funerary temples, tombs (or mastabas), boat pits, a worker’s village, cemeteries, and The Great Sphinx, to name but a few. The three main pyramids are the Pyramid of Khufu (the Great Pyramid), completed in 2560 BC, the Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) which was completed shortly afterwards, and the Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mycerinus) which was completed last in 2510 BC.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was not the first pyramid to be built in Egypt, that honour belongs to the pharaoh Sneferu in c. 2600-2570 BC. He built three pyramids, the Meidum Pyramid in Meidum, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid in Dashur. The Red Pyramid became the basis for all future pyramids, including those built by his son Khufu, grandson Khafre, and great grandson Menkaura at Giza. These were all built during the “golden age” of the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, also the height of the pyramid building age, lasting from c. 2613 to 2494 BC.  

Contrary to popular belief, it is now understood that the workers who built these amazing structures were not slaves, but were in fact paid and fed very well, to keep up their strength to manoeuvre the massive stone blocks into place. The average weight of one stone block (and there are over 2 million of them in the Great Pyramid alone!) is about 2.5 tonnes, but they range upwards to about 70-80 tonnes each. About 10,000 workers worked on each pyramid at any one time, usually for shifts of about 3 months. It was thought to be an honour to work on the pyramids, and the workers came from all over Egypt. These workers included skilled masons, engineers, architects, and craftsmen, and many of them were given the honour of being buried in tombs nearby.

The pyramids were originally covered with a well-polished limestone outer, most of which has been removed over time but some still remains at the top of Khafre’s pyramid. Once they were completed, historians believe they would have shone ‘like diamonds’ when struck by the sun and been visible for many miles.

The Great Sphinx is considered to be part of Khafre’s complex, and its face is said to be a representation of the pharaoh Khafre. The name Sphinx was actually given by the Ancient Greeks about 2,000 years after it was created, to this day we are still unsure what Khafre actually named it. Traces of blue and red pigments can still be seen on its head, and some have theorised that it might have looked quite gaudy when it was first created. There are stories claiming that the nose of the Sphinx was destroyed by Napoleon’s troops with a cannon in 1798 AD, however there are drawings of the Sphinx without its nose that pre-date his arrival. It is more likely that the nose was purposely removed by Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim who was annoyed by the local peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hopes of increasing their harvests and so he defaced it back in 1378 AD.

We still have many questions about these amazing structures, and may never know the answers, but the mystery surrounding them is part of what makes them so incredible. Nothing compares to getting up close and personal with these ancient wonders, a trip to Egypt will dazzle your senses!

Interested in discovering the ancient ruins of Egypt? Join us on one of our Egyptian small group tours now. Check out all the tours here.

All images by Victoria Hearn