The oldest pyramid in Giza and the largest in Egypt, Khufu’s Great Pyramid stood 146m high when it was completed around 2570 BC. After 46 windy centuries, its height has been reduced by 9m.
There isn’t much to see inside the pyramid, but the experience of climbing through the ancient structure is unforgettable – though impossible if you suffer from the tiniest degree of claustrophobia. The elderly and unfit should not attempt the climb, as it is very steep.
First you clamber up the face of the pyramid a bit, up rudimentary stairs to the left of the entrance. Leave your camera with the guard if you have one, then crouch down to enter. At a juncture in the tunnel, a passage descends to an unfinished tomb (usually closed) about 100m along and 30m deep in the bedrock. From here, another passage, 1.3m high and 1m wide, ascends for about 40m to reach the Great Gallery, an impressive narrow space 47m long and 8.5m high. At the start of the gallery, a small horizontal passage leads into the so-called Queen’s Chamber.
As you climb up through the Great Gallery, notice how precisely the blocks in the ceiling fit together. In the 10m-long King’s Chamber at the end, the walls are built of red granite blocks. The ceiling itself consists of nine huge slabs of granite, which weigh more than 400 tonnes. Above these slabs, four more slabs are separated by gaps, which are designed to distribute the enormous weight away from the chamber. Good airflow from the modern ventilation system (built into two tiny ancient air shafts) will help you breathe easier as you contemplate the tremendous weight suspended above you.
East of the pyramid is a ruin of a different era: King Farouk’s Rest House, a grand neo-Pharaonic structure built in 1946 by Mustafa Fahmy. It’s now an unfortunate shambles, but there’s a good view of the city from the adjacent yard and in mid-2017 the government announced it had been pegged for restoration.
Along the pyramid’s east face, three small structures, some 20m high, resemble piles of rubble. These are the Queens’ Pyramids, the tombs of Khufu’s wives and sisters. You can enter some of them, but they’re quite steamy inside. Note also the solar barque pits between the pyramids, which held giant ritual boats.