The Great Pyramids of Giza

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The great pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most famous and discussed structures in history. The outstanding monuments continue to amaze us. The structures boast of an ‘impossible’ perfection. Their astonishing construction has led to many theories about their origins including mind-boggling claims that they had extra-terrestrial impetus. Upon examining history, it becomes clear that the breathtaking structures are the result of over years of experiments; the royal mortuary complex, for example, is an epitome of architectural brilliance.   

Three pyramids, three rulers

Rulers Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure built three primary pyramids on the Giza plateau over the span of three generations. Each and every pyramid was part of the royal mortuary complex which included a temple at its base and a long stone causeway. The path was nearly 1 km in length and led to a valley temple at the edge of the floodplain.  

Smaller Pyramids

A number of smaller pyramids which belonged to the queen were arranged as ‘satellites’. To the east and west of the pyramid of Khufu, there was a large cemetery of smaller tombs, known as ‘mastabas’. Built in a grid like pattern, they were constructed for prominent members of the court. Being buried near the pharaoh was regarded as a great honor. People believed that it will help them secure a prized place in the Afterlife.

Reference to the sun

The shape of the pyramid involves a ‘solar reference’. Rather they were considered as the solidified version of the rays of the sun. In the texts, the sun’s rays are mentioned as the ramp which the pharaoh mounts to climb the sky. For example, early pyramids such as the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara were designed as a staircase. It was also connected to the sacred ben-ben stone. The pyramid was considered as a place of regeneration for the deceased ruler.


The workforce needed to make these massive structures is still a topic of discussion. There would have been a permanent group of skilled craftsmen and builders who were supported by peasants.  Workers carried ton blocks from quarry to pyramid, their paths were lubricated by a surface of wet silt. An estimated number of 340 stones were moved daily from the quarry to the construction site.       



We are used to seeing amazing pyramids at Giza in photographs. The suburbs of Giza are a part of the greater metropolitan area of Cairo. The historical structures face the threat of pollution, waste, illegal activities and auto traffic.

In 1979, the pyramids entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List. The organization has supported the restoration of the Sphinx. It has adopted several measures for curbing the adverse impact of tourism as well. Threat looms over the iconic structures. While air pollution leads to degradation of stones, massive illegal quarrying of sand in the surrounding has also done considerable damage to the pyramids. To add on to it, the 2011 uprisings in Egypt badly affected the country’s tourism industry, which is among its major source of income.

Further challenges lie ahead. As the Cairo metropolitan area (largest in Africa, has a population of over 20 million) continues to grow, planners are proposing a multilane tunnel under the Giza Plateau. UNESCO and ICOMOS are studying the proposal in detail. 

As Cairo continues to develop, the pyramids at Giza need sufficient attention and protection!

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