This was a "pinch-me" day. Seeing the pyramids in person is like seeing the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House for the first time.
Being able to stand on them was surreal!
The pyramids were built as tombs for the pharaohs. Generally, tombs were built on the west bank of the Nile where the sun "dies" and temples were built on the east side. Giza is considered part of greater Cairo and is only about 10 miles from central Cairo.
The Giza complex consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu), the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure and the Sphinx.
In the photo below, the Great Pyramid is to the left. The Pyramid of Khafre appears larger only because it was built on higher ground and has a steeper angle. Experts believe that they were built during a span of about 85 years between 2589 and 2504 BC. At just under 500 ft., the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 3,800 years until the Cathedral of Lincoln was built in England in 1300. The Great Pyramid is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still exists today.
You can see buildings in Cairo through the haze.
The Great Pyramid consists of 2.3 million limestone and granite blocks, each weighing about 2.5 tons. The building of the pyramids boggles the mind. While it's not known exactly how they were built, most experts believe that they were not built by slaves, but by highly skilled laborers. It's estimated that an average of 14,500 men worked on them at any given time to a peak of 40,000 men. The stones were likely dragged, pushed and pulled into place.
Notice the "cap" on the Pyramid of Khafre below. Originally the pyramids were covered with "casing stones" which were highly polished blocks of white limestone giving the pyramids a smooth sheen unlike the rough exterior we see today. So what happened to them? In 1303 AD the pyramids survived an earthquake, although the casing stones did not, creating massive amounts of rubble. Soon after the earthquake, An-Nasir Ahmad, an Egyptian sultan, had many of the stones carted away to nearby Cairo to be used in the construction of mosques and a fortress. In the 19th century, Muhammad Ali Pasha removed some of them to build his Alabaster Mosque in Cairo.
Menkaure's pyramid, the smallest of the three, has three much smaller pyramids next to it. These are called the Queens' Pyramids, thought to be built for his royal consorts.
Close-up...we didn't go in, although it's possible.
Yep, we weren't above this...
Equally pinch-worthy was standing in front of the Sphinx! Made of limestone, it has the body of a lion and the head of a human, generally believed to be the pharaoh Khafre. It's 240 ft. long and 66 ft. high. Experts believe it was built during the reign of Khafre from 2558-2532 BC but no one knows exactly what purpose the Sphinx served.
The birds obviously like it, too!
It sits pretty squarely in front of the Pyramid of Khafre.
The Step Pyramid
The Pyramid of Djoser, commonly known as the Step Pyramid, is considered to be the oldest large-scale cut stone (limestone) structure in existence. It was built over a 23-year period in 27th century BC. by Djoser's vizier Imhotep.
Today Imhotep would be considered a Renaissance man. Below are the titles attributed to him.
There is a small museum devoted to him at the Saqqara site which is very interesting and informational.
This is believed to be Imhotep's coffin. No mummy was found, but the inscription indicates that it was built for him.
Cartonnage is a type of material used in ancient Egyptian funerary masks. It was made of layers of linen or papyrus covered with plaster. This mummy is unidentified but the quality of the cartonnage is excellent.
This is a funerary procession. They are carrying offerings for the deceased person. The first person is carrying papyrus and lotus, both of which figured prominently in the lives and mythology of Ancient Egypt, and the second person holds jars containing the tomb owner's mummified organs.
The goddess Isis holding her son Horus.
The god Osiris.
Other artifacts from the museum's collection.
Also located at the Saqqara complex are the tombs of Idut, Unas-Ank and Inefert, three senior officials who lived around 2400-2200 BC. We would see many more tomb and temple carvings during our two weeks, but this was the first time we saw them and it was very exciting!
The slaughter of the cow.
As we were walking around the complex, Katie was "hijacked" in the blink of an eye. She loved it and we had a good laugh.
Visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx made for an unforgettable day!
➜ Top Tips
It's possible to see both the pyramids of Giza and the Step pyramid in a day, but If you want to spend more time in either place, you could easily spend the better part of a day at each.
Wear comfortable shoes!
Wear a hat to protect from the strong Egyptian sun!
Spend some time in the Imhotep museum at Saqqara first; it will give you good context for what you'll see at the complex.