the giza plateau

the giza plateau
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Map of GizaThe Giza necropolis, situated in the immediate vicinity of the southwestern suburbs of modern Cairo is probably one of the most famous ancient sites in the world. 
The group of pyramid complexes of the 4th Dynasty pharaohs of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure form the three most famous pyramids in Egypt together with the Great Sphinx, and are the only remaining "wonders" from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The earliest monument at Giza is mastaba V which probably dates to the reign of the 1st Dynasty ruler Djet (c.2980 BC).
The pyramid complex at Giza
There is a tendency to view the pyramids and Sphinx as individual objects, whereas in fact each lies within a group of related architectural components, including subsidiary pyramids, solar-boat pits, a palace, a harbour, workshops, and a funerary temple connected by a causeway to a valley temple. Together these constituted the physical elements of the cult of the pharaoh, in which the king was worshipped after his death.
The classic view of the pyramids of Giza, grouped together, belying their close proximity to the suburbs of Cairo. The pyramids of queens stand in front of the pyramid of Menkaure, the pyramid of Khafre with the remains of its distinctive limestone casing stands in the centre, and the Great pyramid of Khufu is set back to the far right.

Aerial view of the Giza Plateau and the pyramids.
Fascinating satellite view of the Giza Plateau, with the three pyramids clearly visable. Bottom left: pyramid of Menkaure, centre: pyramid of Khafre with its remaining limestone top. The causeway that ran from Khafre's mortuary temple down to the valley temple is clearly visable. Finally, top right: pyramid of Khufu, the great pyramid. You can appreciate how close the suburbs of Cairo lie in relation to the Giza Plateau from this aerial view.
Satellite imagery courtesy of Google Imagery - DigiGlobe, TerraMetrics.
Pyramid of Khufu - The Great Pyramid
Khufu (2589-2566 BC) was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. In ancient times, this pyramid was known as "Khufu is the one belonging to the horizon". His father Sneferu, had in fact built the first ever true pyramid, the "north" or Red Pyramid at Dahshur, near Saqqara.
While pyramid construction had been solely for the reigning pharaoh prior to Khufu, his reign saw the construction of several minor pyramid structures that are believed to have been intended for other members of his royal household, Amunting to a royal cemetery. Three small pyramids to the east of Khufu's pyramid are tentatively thought to belong to two of his wives, and the third has been ascribed to Khufu's mother Hetepheres I, whose funerary equipment was found relatively intact in a shaft tomb nearby. A series of mastabas were created adjacent to the small pyramids, and tombs have been found in this cemetery. There is a ruined temple on the east side, and the causeway leading out to the valley temple has been lost beneath the modern settlement of Nazlet el-Simman. Several boat pits surround the pyramid, and boats have been found in two of these.
One of these was rediscovered in 1954 by Kamal el-Mallakh, undisturbed since it was sealed into a pit carved out of the Giza bedrock thousands of years previously. It was built largely of cedar planking in the "shell-first" construction technique and has been reconstructed from more than 1200 pieces which had been laid in a logical, disassembled order in the pit beside the pyramid. The history and function of the ship are not precisely known, although it is of the type known as a "solar barque", a ritual vessel to carry the resurrected king with the sun god Re across the heavens. However, it bears some signs of having been used in water, and it is possible that the ship was either a funerary "barge" used to carry the king's embalmed body from Memphis to Giza, or even that Khufu himself used it as a "pilgrimage ship" to visit holy places and that it was then buried for him to use in the afterlife.
Khufu's pyramid is unusual because the burial chambers are built within the structure, as opposed to the more usually underground chambers found in most pyramids. Originally the pyramid would have been covered by a layer of smooth white limestone and possibly crowned by gold sheet at the apex. This covering was stripped away in medieval times, but some still remains on the apex of the neighbouring pyramid of Khafre.
The great pyramid of KHUFU The pyramid of KHAFRE with the great sphinx in the foreground The pyramid of MENKAURE, the smallest of the three
Pyramid of Khafre
Khafre (2558-2532 BC) was the builder of the next great pyramid at Giza. The site of this pyramid is on a slight eminence and retains some of its limestone casing at the apex, and it therefore actually appears larger than that of Khufu, and is often mistaken as the Great Pyramid. In ancient times this pyramid was known as "Great is Khafre", and is more typical of Old Kingdom pyramid design in having an underground burial chamber.
Though Khafre's pyramid is shorter than his father Khufu's nearby Great Pyramid, Khafre made up for it by building at a higher elevation and surrounding his pyramid with a more elaborate complex. Within the burial chamber, a small pit was discovered cut in the floor - possibly designed to hold the first canopic chest in a pyramid. Outside the pyramid all the typical elements of a pharaonic mortuary temple are seen in one place for the first time: entrance hall, colonnaded courtyard, niches for royal statuary, storage chambers, and interior sanctuary. Later pyramids would be significantly smaller, with much greater emphasis placed on these mortuary temples.
The Great Sphinx
Khafre's necropolis also boasted an unprecedented profusion of statues, among them the Great Sphinx. The Sphinx is carved from an outcrop of rock in a quarry beside the causeway to Khafre's pyramid, and this famous sculpture is usually assigned to Khafre's reign. The Sphinx depicts the pharaoh as a human-headed lion, wearing the nemes headdress of the pharaohs. The great statue is considered to be the embodiment of Khafre as the god Horus.
Pyramid of Menkaure
Menkaure (2532-2503 BC) has the smallest of the three pyramid complexes at Giza. His valley temple was not of granite but finished of mud brick instead. Menkaure's pyramid had its burial chambers below ground, just like that of Khafre, but unlike the others the interior walls were carved. In ancient times this pyramid was known as "Menkaure is Divine". Menkaure's pyramid, with its original height of some 65-66 metres, represents only about a tenth of the total mass that we find in Khufu's pyramid. This may well be the result of an evolving theology which dictated more emphasis on the temples and less on the pyramid, a process evident to us already in the reign of Khafre, and which continued throughout the Old Kingdom.

Standing in a row along the south facing wall of Menkaure's pyramid are three much smaller subsidiary pyramids. Referred to as the "pyramids of queens" they are attributed to Menkaure's royal consorts. Of these, only one of them is classed as a true pyramid, the other two having a four step core. All three of these pyramids were surrounded by a common perimeter wall.
Tombs of the pyramid builders
Recent excavations by Mark Lehner's team near the valley temple have again begun to uncover this vast city of workers who built and maintained the pyramids for generations afterwards. Since 1988, excavations have been concentrated around the area about 300 metres south of the Sphinx and a gigantic structure known as the 'Wall of the Crow', near to a recently discovered worker's cemetery. So far they have uncovered bakeries, a copper workshop, and worker's houses which were found to have belonged to a vast royal complex comprising of huge galleries or corridors, separated by a paved street. This may have lead to a Royal Palace.
Zahi Hawass, Director of the Pyramids in Giza, describes some of the discoveries:
We've uncovered titles of the craftsmen, draftsmen, tomb-makers, the overseer of the east side of the Pyramid, the overseer of the west side of the Pyramid, and so on. We found that the average age at death of the workmen was very early, 30 to 35 years, whilst officials died at 50 to 60. We've also studied the bones in these tombs, which have provided us with much information. All the skeletons of men and women show signs of stress in their backs, because people were involved in moving heavy stuff. We determined through x-rays that someone had syphilis, and we found evidence of brain surgery on a workman, who lived for two years afterwards. The ancients even had emergency treatment for workers on site, because we discovered that they were fixing broken bones and even amputating legs that had been crushed by a falling stone.

We have unearthed another 65 tombs, the best being that of the priest Kai, which is dated to the reign of Khufu. It is a beautiful painted tomb with a unique artistic style. One relief shows Kai's daughter affectionately putting her arm around his shoulder. At the entrance to the tomb it says that it is the tomb-makers and craftsmen who made his tomb. He says, "I paid them beer and bread. I made them to make an oath that they were satisfied."
Interview courtesy of Nova Online
Dr Hawass is also in charge of the pyramids at Dashur, Abusir, Saqqara, and the Bahariya Oasis.
Mastaba Tombs
The pyramid complexes are surrounded by groups of mastaba tombs in which members of the royal family and high officials were buried. Extensive mastaba cemeteries are arranged in regular "streets" to the west, south and east of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Each tomb is a similar size. The earliest private tombs at Giza are cut into the quarry faces surrounding the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure.
map of the giza pyramid complex
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Map of the Giza pyramid complex
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