Some of the best-known monuments in the world occupy the Giza Plateau in Egypt. These are the Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure as well as the Great Sphinx. Below we list the best attractions of the Giza Plateau.
The plateau is situated about 15 miles (25 Km) south-west of the Egyptian Capital of Cairo, just outside of the town of Giza on the Nile River.
How it all started?
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was believed to be Horus, the god of the heavens, during his lifetime. At death, he became Osiris, god of the underworld. When the king died, part of his soul, the ka, remained with the body. If he was not properly mummified, buried and provided with goods and food for the afterlife, his spirit would not be able to perform the functions of the deity. These beliefs lead to the building of massive, luxurious tombs, but not yet pyramids.
Most experts agree that the pyramid idea came from the benben, a pointed stone, which represented the sun’s rays. Since ancient beliefs alleged that the Pharaoh went to heaven on sunbeams, it was only a matter of time before the king’s architects and engineers made the connection and began fabricating tombs in a pyramidal shape.
The three pyramids of Giza were built by three Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom’s Fourth Dynasty. Either on purpose (most likely) or not, they are aligned with the three stars in the belt of the constellation of Orion. The pyramids of Giza, in addition, are oriented east to west.
The first one was built by Khufu. Known as the Great Pyramid, it is the oldest and largest of the three and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that endures largely intact. It took 20 years to build. The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Originally the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface, and it is thought that, at construction, was originally 480.94 ft (146.59 m) tall. The casing stones and interior chamber blocks of the Great Pyramid were fit together exceptionally well. Based on measurements taken, the average separation of the stones is only 1/50th of an inch (0.5 millimeters).
The second oldest and also next in size is the Pyramid of Khafre. He was the son of Khufu, and little is known about him. Khafre’s pyramid has a base of 706 ft (215.25 m) long and in the beginning, rose to a height of 470 ft (143.5 m) and it was made of Limestone blocks weighing more than 2 tons each. Khafre died before his tomb was completed.
The newest and smallest of the Giza Pyramids was that of Menkaure, grandson of Khufu and son of Khafre. It originally stood as 218 ft (65.5 meters) high with a base of 356.5 ft (106 meters). Today it is only 204 ft (61 meters) tall. The upper portion was cased in the normal manner with the lower part built of granite, while the top is limestone. Menkaure also finished his father’s pyramid.
Inside Khufu’s Pyramid
Standing in front of Khufu’s pyramid, the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, is awe-inspiring. Taking in its size and timeless nature is enough to make the trip to Egypt worthwhile. After soaking in the grandeur of the pyramids, there are many other things to see on the Giza Plateau.
For a small fee, visitors can actually enter Khufu’s great pyramid. Some view this as a necessity – their trip would not be complete without a trip inside the pyramid. Be warned, however, that this is not a journey for the claustrophobic or for small children. The air is musty and the passages are narrow.
Those who wish to enter a pyramid should choose the most famous pyramid on earth. Lucky visitors may get to share their trip with a group of people who believe the pyramid is religiously significant; sometimes chanting or singing occurs in such groups, and that in itself is worth the price of admission.
The Great Sphinx
The fourth great monument at Giza is the Sphinx, the large statue with the body of a lion and the head of a man. It is not the only one in Egypt, but it is certainly the largest and most famous. The Great Sphinx is 65 ft (20 m) long and the body is 200 ft (60m) long. The face is 30 ft (10 m) long, 14 ft (4m) wide and the eyes are 6 ft (2m) apart. It was probably built under the auspices of Khafre and it is believed to be a representation of the king’s power, for lions had been identified with royalty since the beginning of history. Egyptologists are divided in whether the face in the Sphinx is that of Khafre himself or his brother, the Pharaoh Djedefre, who reigned for a short period after Khufu’s death.
The Great Sphinx is probably the most damaged of the famous Giza monuments. It has had to be dug out of the sand on various occasions. Windblown sand, underground water, and pollution from Cairo have harmed the stone. The nose was used for target practice by Turks when they invaded Egypt in the 16th Century. The broken off beard is in the British Museum.
In front of the Sphinx is a temple complex, where the actual mummification took place. A good guide can teach a lot about the process of mummification. Even those who aren’t interested in this process should enter the temple complex. After waiting in the wandering lines over alabaster floors, visitors find themselves within arm’s length of the Sphinx. Seeing her up close and personal is amazing.
This is the best place to take in her true size, the remnants of restoration through the ages, and the subtle beauty of her remaining features. This is also the best place for pictures of the Sphinx.
Myths about the Pyramids and the Sphinx
Through the years many legends have been told about the secrets of the pyramids and the Sphinx. Neither possesses magical powers, and there are no great secrets about ancient civilizations, alien invasions or supernatural beings inside.
While the builders of the pyramids created many a maze and an occasional chasm to protect the royal cadaver and its treasures, there is no evidence of mechanized booby traps a la Indiana Jones.
Neither the pyramids nor the Sphinx are stand-alone monuments. They are all part of vast burial complexes that included temples, thoroughfares, statues and other memorials.
Furthermore, while the pyramids certainly held fabulous treasures at one time, none had been found in modern times. Whatever riches were buried with the Pharaohs had been removed by tomb robbers’ long before modern archaeologists starting their digs.
The Boat Museum
Right behind Khufu’s Pyramid is the Boat Museum. In ancient Egypt, the bodies of pharaohs were floated down the Nile in ceremonial boats to their final resting places. These boats were dismantled and stored in tombs of their own. Amazingly, one wooden boat survived the millennia, almost entirely intact. It was discovered a few decades ago, and was painstakingly put back together again.
The Boat Museum contains the story of the discovery of this boat, and the process of reconstruction. It also contains the boat itself, which is beautiful in its own rights. Witnessing a piece of history like this is well worth the ten extra Egyptian pounds, and the time it takes to put protective coverings over shoes.
Finishing Your Visit
These are the three main attractions on the Giza Plateau, other than simply seeing the pyramids themselves. There are other things to see and do, however. Visitors can shop for souvenirs, or have their picture taken from the back of a camel. Up the road a short distance, there’s an amazing panoramic view of all three great pyramids in a row, with some of the smaller Queen’s pyramids in front of them – this is the picture usually portrayed on postcards.
Wandering among the tombs and mastabas built for the high officials and architects of ancient Egypt is also a treat, as they are speckled with hieroglyphics and other stunning indications of the lives and deaths of people who lived thousands of years ago. Also, there is often archaeological work going on somewhere on the plateau; peeking over the shoulder of the world’s Egyptologists is a treat.
In short, visitors should plan a full day for the trip to Giza. All should bring water, hats, good walking shoes, small Egyptian bills for bargaining, and of course, a camera.