Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx
Lonely Planet review for Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx
The sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza live up to more than 4000 years of hype. Their extraordinary geometry and age render them alien constructions rising out of the desert. The Sphinx sits nearby, a 50m-long feline character carved from a single block of stone.
There are swarms of visitors to the site, attended by swarms of camel and horse touts, but they fail to destroy the wonder. If you want a peaceful view of the pyramids, it's best to take a horse ride in the area at around 17:00 - you won't see them close up, but it can be a lot more atmospheric than battling around close to the monuments.
The Pyramids at Giza are the planet's oldest tourist attraction; built by successive generations of pharaohs, they were already more than 2500 years old at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. The wonder of the Pyramids lies in their age and in the twin mysteries of how they were built and what they were used for. Despite all the evidence, there are still those who refuse to accept that the ancient Egyptians were capable of such an astonishing achievement.
These amazing architectural accomplishments are part of a massive necropolis, or burial site, attached to the ancient capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, a city that predated the founding of Cairo by more than 3500 years. While there is nothing much left to see of Memphis itself, the monuments in which its dead kings and nobles were buried remain hugely impressive.
The key sites to visit are Giza, closest to Cairo, and the day-trip sites of Abu Sir, Memphis, Saqqara and Dahshur. The oldest pyramid at Giza and the largest in Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) stood 146m high when it was completed around 2600 BC. About 2.3 million limestone blocks, weighing around 2.5 tonnes each, were used in the construction of this giant. Although there is not much to see inside the pyramid, the experience of climbing through such an ancient structure is unforgettable. Along the eastern and southern sides of the pyramid are five long pits that once contained the pharaoh's boats. You can see one of the boats in the Solar Boat Museum.
Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol (Father of Terror), the Sphinx is carved from the natural bedrock at the bottom of the causeway to Khafre's pyramid. Recent geological and archaelogical survey has shown that the Sphinx most likely dates from Khafre's reign, and probably portrays his features, framed by the striped nemes headcloth worn only by royal personages. Unfortunately the monument is suffering the stone equivalent of cancer, and recent restoration attempts have sped up, rather than halted, the decay. The cheesy sound and light show held near the Sphinx is a painless, albeit pricey, way to see the Pyramids by starlight.