Pyramids of Giza4th Dynasty

Pyramids of Giza - 4th Dynasty

Snefru’s son Khufu took his father’s achievements to the very apogee of pyramid building by the construction of the great pyramid complex at Giza, the largest surviving pyramid. It stands alongside the smaller pyramids of Khafre and Menkaura, and the three pyramids of Khufu’s queens.

Pyramid of Khufu - The Great pyramid

Khufu was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. His father Sneferu, had built the first true pyramid, the North (Red) Pyramid at Dahshur, near Saqqara.

Khufu’s pyramid is unusual because the burial chambers are built within the structure, as opposed to the usual 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 neighboring pyramid of Khafre.

Pyramid of Khafre

Khafre 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. This makes it appear larger than that of Khufu. It is often mistaken as his father's (Khufu) Great Pyramid. In ancient times this pyramid was known as “Great Khafre”, and is more typical of Old Kingdom pyramid design because of an underground burial chamber.

Through Khafre’s pyramid is shorter than his father’s, 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 canonic chest in a pyramid. Outside the pyramid, all the typical elements of a pharaonic mortuary temple are located in one place: the entrance hall, colonnaded courtyard, niches for royal statuary, storage chambers, and interior sanctuary. Later pyramids would be significantly smaller, with more emphasis placed on the mortuary temples.

Khafre’s necropolis also boasted a precedent with a profusion of statues. Most known among the statues is the Great Sphinx. The Sphinx is carved from an outcrop of rock in a quarry beside the causeway to Khafre’s pyramid. The famous sculpture is usually assigned to Khafre’s region. The Sphinx depicts the pharaoh as a human-headed lion, wearing the headress of the pharaohs. The great statue is considered to be the embodiment of Khafre as the god Horous.

Pyramid of Menkaure

Menkaure has the smallest of the three pyramid complexes at Giza. His valley temple was not made of granite but finished with mud brick instead. Menkaure’s pyramid had its burial chambers below ground, just like that of Khafre. But, unlike other interior walls, the burial chamber was carved. Menkaure’s pyramid, with its original height of some 65-66 meters, represents only about a tenth of the total mass that we find in Khufu’s pyramid. This might be the result of an evolving theology which dictated more emphasis on the temples and less on the pyramid. This evolution is evident in the region of Khafre and continued into the old kingdom.

Standing in a row along the south facing wall of Menkaure’s pyramid are three much smaller pyramids. Referred to as the “Pyramids of Queens” they are attributed to Menkaure’s royal consorts. Of these, only one of them is classified as a true pyramid. The other two have a four-step core. All three of these pyramids were surrounded by a common perimeter wall.


The half-human, half-lion Sphinx statue on the Giza Plateau sits at the west bank of the Nile River, near modern-day Cairo. Despite losing its nose to French cavalry target practice during a brief French occupation in the 18th Century, the lion-like Sphinx remains a remarkable icon of Egyptology. The Sphinx sits guarding the Great Pyramids in Giza and is noted for its mythical identity of lion's body and woman's head. Despite begin dwarfed by the pyramids, the Great Sphinx is an enormous limestone structure in remarkably good shape for it age. It is said to be more than 4000 years old.

The Sphinx has come to symbolize strength and wisdom.