Egyptian Pyramids


Locations:

Giza, Egypt -– Satellite Map

Dashur, Egypt -- Satelitte Map

Saqqara Egypt -- Satelitte Map

Dates Built:

  • Step Pyramid: circa 2668-2649 B.C.
  • Bent Pyramid: circa 2613-2589 B.C.
  • Red Pyramid: circa 2613-2589 B.C.
  • Great Pyramid: circa 2589-2566 B.C.
  • Khafre Pyramid: circa 2558-2532 B.C.
  • Menkaure Pyramid: circa 2490-2472 B.C.

How to Get There:

From the U.S., Egypt Air flies direct from JFK airport in New York to Cairo. Travelers from outside the New York area can connect in New York or a European city. A number of European airlines have direct flights to Cairo. Giza, Dashur, and Saqqara are short drives from Cairo.

When to Go:

Late September to late October is the best time to go in terms of weather and crowds. November to February has the best weather, but the biggest crowds. The rest of the year is intolerably hot for most tourists. Travelers should also avoid the holy month of Ramadan, when the country nearly grounds to a halt. Ramadan falls at different days every year. In 2008, it falls between September 1st and September 30th; in 2009, it falls between August 24th and September 23rd; and in 2010, it falls between August 10th and September 9th.

Why They Are Important:

The sheer size of the pyramids of Egypt is awe-inspiring. Throw in the fact that they were built over 4500 years ago without the use of modern equipment and you have something truly special.

The three pyramids located on the Giza plateau (build by Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure) are considered the finest in Egypt, with the Great Pyramid of Khufu (right) the top attraction. The Great Pyramid is the largest of all the pyramids, and is the only original member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing.

Standing at 481 feet (146 meters), it was the tallest structure in the world for over 4000 years, until possibly being unseated by the Lincoln Cathedral in England around the year 1300 A.D. The Eiffel Tower, which was finished being built in 1889, is often listed as the structure that finally surpassed the Great Pyramid as being the world's tallest, but that seems inaccurate, especially considering that the Washington Monument, completed five years earlier, was taller than the Great Pyramid.

While the pyramids of Giza are the most visited, there are over 100 pyramids in Egypt, most of them near Cairo. After the Pharoah Menkaure built the third pyramid at Giza, however, construction techniques and quality of material deteriorated, and most of the later periods are in bad shape.

The best-preserved pyramids outside of Giza are the Step Pyramid (left), Bent Pyramid, and Red Pyramid, all of which pre-date the pyramids of Giza. The Step Pyramid, build for the pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara, was the first pyramid ever built. The pyramid was built by stacking six mastabas (early rectangular Egyptian tombs) of decreasing size one on top of the other.

The Red Pyramid at Dashur (top, left) build by the Pharaoh Sneferu is considered the first true pyramid, and is the third-largest of the Egyptian pyramids behind the Great Pyramid and the pyramid of Khafre at Giza. The Bent Pyramid bottom, left), also built by Sneferu at Dashur, is unique in that it has most of its outside limestone casing in tact, giving visitors a good impression of what the pyramids looked like in their glory days.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • The Great Pyramid has three main chambers, the King's Chamber, the Queen's Chamber, and the pit.
  • It is estimated that over 2.3 million stone blocks weighing approximately 2.5 tons each were used to build the Great Pyramid. The granite blocks used for the ceiling of the King's Chamber weigh as much as 9 tons apiece. The total weight of the structure is estimated to be 6.5 million tons.
  • While originally 481 feet tall, the Great Pyramid stands 449 feet tall today.
  • The pyramid of Khafre often appears bigger than the Great Pyramid in pictures, but this is because it is on higher ground and the vantage point of photographers.
  • The Giza pyramids were originally encased in fine limestone that would have shone brightly in the sun, but the stone was later pilfered to help build modern day Cairo. The Bent Pyramid is unique in that it has most of its outer casing intact
  • While there is still a debate over how the pyramids were built, it is generally accepted that the Egyptians built gently sloping earth ramps and transported the blocks with pulleys, levers, a little water to lubricate the surface, and a lot of manpower. No slaves were used to build the pyramids.
  • Tourists are currently only allowed to visit the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid, but small groups can sometimes arrange to have access to the full pyramid for a few hours by themselves.
  • If exploring the pyramids at Giza by yourself, arrive early before the tour buses arrive.
  • Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Khufu forced one of his daughters into prostitution to help pay for the building of the Great Pyramid.
  • The Bent and Red Pyramids at Dashur are rarely visited, but are nearly as spectacular as their Giza counterparts.
  • The Bent Pyramid was considered the most sacred of all the pyramids during later Egyptian dynasties.
  • The Red Pyramid is the first true, successfully built pyramid. Tourists are given free access inside the tomb. It is the third-largest pyramid in Egypt. It has the second-widest base among the pyramids, but has a much more gentle slope than the ones at Giza.
  • Imhotep, not to be confused with character from the movie The Mummy, was the architect of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. The pyramid has a vast network of chambers located beneath it, but they are not open to the public.
  • While the pyramids were built as tombs, no mummies have ever been found in them, apparently stolen or destroyed by tomb robbers.

Links:

Tour Egypt -- Pyramids

Egyptology Online -- Pyramids

Tour Egypt -- Great Pyramid

Nova Online -- Giza Pyramids

PBS -- 3D Model of Great Pyramid

Tour Egypt -- Building a Pyramid


Giza Pyramids


 The Great Pyramid

The Step Pyramid

Bent Pyramid


The Red Pyramid

Khafre Pyramid

Menkaure Pyramid

Me in front of Great Pyramid

Me inside Great Pyramid sarcophagus

Colleen and me in Queen's Chamber
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