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Ancient Egypt

Great Pyramids of Giza

The Giza pyramids as they are todayThe Giza pyramids as they are todayThree massive pyramids were built on the desert plateau above Giza, almost perfectly aligned along a diagonal. Pharaoh Sneferu’s son, Khufu (2589–2566), chose the site for his pyramid, at 147 metres (482 feet) tall, the largest. The pyramid of Khafre (2558–2532 BC), Khufu’s second reigning son, is a little smaller than his father’s, but was built on ground 10 metres (33 feet) higher. Two descending passages led to an underground burial chamber. The pyramid of Menkaure (2490–2472 BC), Khufu’s grandson, was much smaller—just 66 metres (216.5 feet) high. The casing stones of its lower slopes were made of red granite. 

The Great Pyramids of GizaThe Great Pyramids of Giza
The chambers inside the Great Pyramid of KhufuThe chambers inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu

Inside the
Great Pyramid

Work commenced on the Great Pyramid, as it came to be called, soon after Khufu ascended to the throne in 2589 BC. Like Sneferu’s pyramids at Dahshur, it consisted of casing and core stones laid horizontally. Inside the pyramid were three chambers, together with several passageways and shafts. The King’s Chamber was reached via the Grand Gallery and three granite portcullis sliding slabs. Five more chambers bore the weight of the pyramid above the King’s Chamber.

Two other chambers were built beneath the King’s Chamber. No one knows what these were for: perhaps the pharaoh just changed his mind about where he wanted his tomb to be. The purpose of the shafts is also unclear: they may have been intended as the routes to be taken by the pharaoh's soul on its way to the stars.


The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the most exactly aligned of all the Egyptian pyramids. It deviates from true north on average by less than one twentieth of one degree.

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