Pyramids of Giza

Giza Plateau – Home to the Greatest Wonder of the World

Regardless of which list of the “Wonders of the World” you consider your favorite or the most accurate (my son and I have argued about this), the Pyramids of Giza have to be on every list. For most tourists flying into Cairo, Egypt the first sight you see as your plane turns to make its approach into the Cairo International airport are the Pyramids at Giza. They look a bit surreal from the air, and I could hardly believe my eyes, seeing these massive structures for the first time. The scale and magnificence of the Pyramids of Giza pretty much defy description.

This photo of me by the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops) puts into perspective how massive these structrues are.

This photo of me by the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops) puts into perspective how massive these structrues are.

We still don’t really know how the ancient Egyptians (more accurately their slaves) managed to build these structures, with almost perfect engineering strength and accuracy. Built with stone blocks that weigh 2.5 to 15 tons, they have been standing almost 5,000 years. The greatest difference in the length between the four sides of any pyramid is 2 inches.  The largest pyramid is 450 feet high.

The Great Pyramid. 450 feet high. The haze is the smog of Cairo - which was very bad on the day of our visit.

The Great Pyramid. 450 feet high. The haze is the smog of Cairo – which was very bad on the day of our visit.

All this said, Giza was probably my least favorite spot of the places we visited in Egypt simply because the tourist crowds and smog of Cairo made our visit a little less appealing.  My favorite pyramids were south of Giza and Cairo, in Dahshur and Saqqara, which I will cover in another post. The main sights at Giza (which is just south of the Cairo suburbs), include the three large pyramids made so famous in many pictures and the Sphinx sculpture.

My in-laws at the Sphinx (Great Pyramid of Khufu in the background).

My in-laws at the Sphinx (Great Pyramid of Khufu in the background).

The three large pyramids are: The Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops), Pyramid of Khafre (Khufu’s son), and the relatively smaller third pyramid called Menkaure, who was Khafre’s successor).

The third of the great pyramids, Pyramid of Menkaure. It's quite a distance from the other two to this one (the little pyramid at the left is one of his queen's tombs).

The third of the great pyramids, Pyramid of Menkaure. It’s quite a distance from the other two to this one (the little pyramid at the left is one of his queen’s tombs).

These pyramids were built as tombs during 2600 – 2100 BC, making them over 4,500 years old. These were not the first pyramids built in Egypt, the oldest is the Step Pyramid (King Djoser’s Pyramid) in Saqqara (2665 BC). While these pyramids are the main attractions at Giza, there are other less-visited sites such as the much smaller Queen’s pyramids which are more intimate and fun – very few tourists visit these tombs, which are near the largest (Great) Pyramid.

In front of the Queen's pyramids next to the Great Pyramid.

In front of the Queen’s pyramids next to the Great Pyramid.

The Giza site is very spread out and somewhat confusing – there is no signage to speak of and I got differing directions as we tried to find a few other tombs (such as the Tomb of Khentkawes).

I believe this is the Tomb of Khentkawes, which was closed.

I believe this is the Tomb of Khentkawes, which was closed.

At the time we visited a few years ago, it was possible to only visit one pyramid on a given day (they also rotate closures), and we were able to visit the Pyramid of Khafre, the 2nd largest (slightly smaller than Great Pyramid, even though it looks larger).

My mother-in-law and wife in front of the Pyramid of Khafre. It's the only one with a bit of the brillant outer limestone layer left at the top.

My mother-in-law and wife in front of the Pyramid of Khafre. It’s the only one with a bit of the brillant outer limestone layer left at the top.

I could not get a picture inside this pyramid, and the tunnel is very long and steep.  Be prepared to stoop as you climb the whole tunnel length. It is also humid and stuffy in the main room.

Climbing out of the Queen's Pyramid, giving an idea of what the access tunnels are like.

Climbing out of the Queen’s Pyramid, giving an idea of what the access tunnels are like.

There really isn’t much to see, other than the sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Khafre, but it’s one of those things you have to do!  If you’re claustrophobic it’s probably a good idea to stay outside.  For an overview of places we visited in Egypt, click here.

My brother-in-law doing the touristy thing (why not?) in front of the Pyramid of Khafre.

My brother-in-law doing the touristy thing (why not?) in front of the Pyramid of Khafre.

References: DK Eyewitness Travel Egypt, Lonely Plant Egypt.