The great pyramid in Giza is the last remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the world. As you would expect it is an amazing sight. If you have the opportunity visit Egypt and see it for yourself.
The great Pyramid on the plateau at Giza is the largest and most impressive of the pyramids. The site actually contains three huge pyramids and several smaller ones. The great pyramid is the oldest on this site and was built by the Pharaoh Khufu.
The second and third largest pyramids were built by Pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure. Khafre was the son of Khufu and had to build his pyramid slightly smaller. These pyramids are over 4500 years old. They were 2500 years old when the Romans arrived in Egypt. The Romans would have been just as amazed by the pyramids as we are today.
You can find some reasonably priced hotels with roof terraces which have a fantastic view over the site. You can sit and admire the pyramids while you eat your breakfast. In the foreground to the left you can see the remains of the temple used to prepare the mummy and the processional route up to the pyramids. What a shame as modern road winds its way up today.
The pyramids are built from thousands of huge stone blocks. You can see in the photo below that the blocks are almost as big as a person.
It is believed that the pyramids were built by farmers to give them employment when the Nile flooded the valley. We were told by our guide that the great pyramid was built in less than 30 years . That is difficult to believe when you see the size of the structure.
The site is guarded by the Sphinx, a lion with the head of a man carved from a huge rock. The face may well be that of Khufu who built the great pyramid. The photo below shows the sphinx with the pyramid of Khafre behind. At the top you can see the remains of the limestone cladding which would have faced the pyramids when they were built. The pyramids would have gleamed white in the sun. It is said that the apex was covered with gold. They must have been even more impressive than they are today.
You can see people walking up the processional route to the left of the Sphinx. The temple at the bottom was used to prepare the mummy for burial.
Each evening the Sphinx and the pyramids are lit up during a sound and light show. An eerie glow fills the sky from the floodlit pyramids. The Sphinx is highlighted in the foreground below. If you have a hotel overlooking the site you can enjoy the show every evening, sometimes even in different languages.
At the foot of the great pyramid there is an ugly building which looks quite out of place. You might wonder why anyone would build such a thing. However there is a treasure inside it. A cedar wood boat was discovered in a trench next to the pyramid. This boat is an amazing sight at 44m long. The boat has been re-assembled and is housed in the building. It is an amazing discovery. The wood is not rotten as it has been preserved in the desert. Nothing rots as there is so little moisture. The boat almost looks sea-worthy after 4500 years.
It is thought that the boat was for the king to use in the afterlife. There would have been many other artefacts buried with him too. The boat may have been used to transport the embalmed body of the Pharaoh when it was taken to be mummified.
I think some tourists just wander by the building as it looks like somewhere that archaeologists might store their tools. It is a tragedy to visit the pyramids without seeing this boat.
The pyramids at Giza are certainly huge and impressive but they are not the oldest. There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt and the step pyramid at Saqqara is the oldest. This pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Djoser in about 4700 BC. The step pyramid is about an hours drive to the south of Giza. Saqqara is the site of the necropolis for the city at Memphis. Memphis was the capital of Egypt for hundreds of years.
The structure of the oldest tombs in Egypt are square brick buildings with a flat top. These are known as mastabas. The stepped pyramid is like a series of 6 mastabas one on top of another. You can see how the later pyramids evolved from this type of structure.
Next to the step pyramid there is a courtyard and a colonnaded entrance hall. If you walk round you can see many other tombs and temples. You can see that excavations are continuing today.
Below the pyramid you can enter the burial chamber and see the sarcophagus. There were also some hieroglyphics on this site. I was surprised how few painted hieroglyphics I saw in the area near Cairo so it was good to see these ones.. If you venture further south you see so much more art in the later temples along the Nile.
The necropolis at Saqqara was not far from the city of Memphis. Unfortunately there is not a lot to see of the remains of the city of Memphis. You should definitely visit the open air archaeological museum and see the colossus of Rameses II. It is one of the largest figures you will ever see. It is one of a pair of twin figures which would have guarded the entrance to a temple here. The other colossus has been moved to the site of the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza. You will be amazed at the size and the workmanship.
Travelling south you arrive at the bent Pyramid in a region known as Dashur. This was the Egyptians first attempt at making a pyramid with smooth sides. Unfortunately the ground was not stable enough to support a tall Pyramid. It was only after construction was started that it became clear that a short pyramid would be required. To achieve this the angle of the sides of the pyramid changed from a steep angle to a more shallow angle. Unfortunately this makes the pyramid look like it has bent sides. It looks like an experiment gone wrong. I guess when you make a mistake like this it is easier to press on than pull it down.
The bent pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Sneferu. I think he must have been quite disappointed with the bent Pyramid. After this disaster he had another pyramid built. This is the first ‘real’ pyramid and is known as the red pyramid. You can see in the photo below that the geometry is much more pleasing to the eye. It does not look like an experiment gone wrong.
Note that this pyramid does not look red at all! I find it difficult to believe that the name comes from the hue of the blocks. Certainly if you went looking for a pyramid which was red, you would not give this a second look. Our guide said that the lower courses of stone were red granite. Maybe he was referring to the foundation but it was well hidden.
As you get closer you can see that entrance into the red Pyramid. Unlike the great pyramid at Giza it is free to enter. Our guide stayed at the bottom and sent us up to go inside.
I should have known that there would be a catch. The shaft descends at an angle about 45°. There are no stairs just rods on the floor for grip and handrails to each side. It is not possible to stand up straight. It is a really surprising how much physical effort is needed to descend in this position. It is no wonder that the guide sent us to go on our own. Anyone who is not physically fit should really not a attempt to go down. Some other said that it was much harder work than going into the great Pyramid.
When you reach the bottom you pass through a number of chambers. The largest chamber is shown below. At the end of this chamber are stairs leading up to what we thought was the burial chamber. Unfortunately whatever was once in there has been removed.
So we returned up the shaft again and enjoyed the view from the entrance. On the horizon you can see the remains of the Black Pyramid. Only the inner brick core remains. The outer structure has almost totally collapsed. After we had rested we climbed back down to the waiting guide. We felt the strain on our muscles for days after.
The final pyramid we visited was the pyramid of Hawara in a place called Al Fayoum. The guide suggested we visited as it is one of the few pyramids that you can climb.
I don’t think many tourists visit the pyramid of Hawara. That is probably good news. It is constructed of mud and straw bricks which are easily eroded. In the photo below you can see where a path has been eroded by visitors climbing to the summit.
This pyramid is on the edge of the area that the government suggest you avoid. I must admit being followed by an armed guard was not entirely reassuring. I wondered about the wisdom of climbing. You can see above that I make a nice target picked out on the top.
And so that completed our collection of pyramids. If you collect pyramids you are welcome to find the rest of them. There are more than 100. Amazing as they are by the end I was suffering from pyramid fatigue. Without a doubt the pyramids at Giza are the most interesting, but if you want to understand the evolution it is worth making the effort at least as far as Saqqara.