What is the Great Pyramid of Giza?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops, is the second largest pyramid ever constructed, with a height of 146 m (780 ft). Built over a period of 20 years, starting around 2560 BC by a couple hundred thousand slaves and paid workers laboring seasonally, the pyramid is estimated to have a total mass of 5.9 million tonnes. It is composed of an estimated 2.3 million blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tonnes apiece. The largest blocks, which had to be transported down the Nile by boat, weighed 15 tonnes. The Great Pyramid of Giza remained the world's tallest structure for 3,800 years, until the construction of Lincoln Cathedral in London in 1311.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest structure in the Giza Complex, which is an ancient religious site that took generations to build.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest structure in the Giza Complex, which is an ancient religious site that took generations to build.

One of the most fantastic structures ever created by man, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the most obvious structure to be included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not only was it the largest of the Wonders, but it is the only to still stand today, the rest being destroyed by fire or earthquake, in some cases (such as the Colossus of Rhodes) less than 60 years after their construction. Its survival to the present day puts the age of the structure at approximately 4570 years old.

The pyramids held the remains of Egyptian royals before they were looted.
The pyramids held the remains of Egyptian royals before they were looted.

The purpose of the Great Pyramid of Giza, like many Egyptian pyramids, was as a mausoleum to a powerful person, in this case the pharaoh Khufu, who had a reputation for being cruel and ruthless. He would have had to have been ruthless to build such a huge pyramid, as its construction required quarrying and installing more than 1000 tonnes of stone everyday. Khufu, also known as King Cheops, also had a long reign in which to manage his project, 65 years total. It is believed that his vizier, Hamon, was the primary architect for the project.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is just one of three very large pyramids at Giza, referred to as the Giza pyramid complex. The complex, a World Heritage Site, consists of the Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafra (Khufu's son), and the Pyramid of Menkuare (Khafra's son). The main pyramids are further surrounded by a number of satellite edifices, including "queen's pyramids," causeways, and valley pyramids. Shortly after their completion, these pyramids would have been even more spectacular than today, covered in an outer layer of polished white limestone. The weathering of the centuries has stripped these off, leaving only the internal blocks.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


@chivebasil - I’ve heard about the crazy alien idea, but I’ve never bought into it for one reason. Inside the pyramid, there are inscriptions on the walls of the names of the slave leaders and their groups.

Why would there be such inscriptions if slaves didn’t build them but aliens did? It defies logic. I can appreciate the fact that modern scientists don’t know how to build such a structure, but I think the Egyptians had hundreds of years to perfect this method of building pyramids.

There are other pyramids they built which were not so successful. Therefore I think they honed this craft to an art.


I am from the Middle East myself, and had the opportunity to visit the great pyramid of Giza many, many years ago. No, I didn’t actually go inside.

But I did visit the area when my family went to Egypt back when I was a teenager. I begged my father to let me climb the pyramid. Yes, there were people who were climbing those big stones.

Nowadays I don’t know if the Director of Antiquities or the Egyptian government would let you do something like that. But I wanted to, yet couldn’t. I beheld the pyramid from a distance, and I also had the opportunity to ride a camel in the desert with my brother.

I can tell you, however, that there is nothing like seeing the pyramid up close. It is mammoth in size, and takes your breath away.


I have been fascinated with the pyramids ever since I was a little kid. I can remember seeing a show on TV when I was probably 8 or 9 that talked about all of the pyramids but especially the Great Pyramid of Giza.

From there I went on to read a lot about the pyramids and my young mind definitely got preoccupied with some of the aline stuff. There are all kinds of goofy ideas but most of them involved the theory that aliens had helped to build the pyramids.

I have seen the error in my adolescent ways and now appreciate the pyramids only as an an aesthetic and engineering marvel. I would love to see them in person but I have never been able to find the time or money to go to the Egyptian desert.


Once when I was a kid my older brother made a near perfect replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza with matchsticks. It was built to scale and even featured some of the crumbling features so that it mimicked the look of the pyramid today.

I remember he had a picture of the Great Pyramid of Giza that he kept tacked up to the wall next to his bed. It was there for probably a year before he got the idea to build it himself. It took him a few weeks to complete, it was almost three feet tall when finished. That is a lot of matchstick building and even more so a lot of matchstick collecting.

It was in our high school for a while but somewhere along the road it got trashed. There are still pictures though.


Can anyone tell me where the best place to learn about the Great Pyramid of Giza's history would be while I am in Cairo?

I have heard that some of the guides are more interested in getting you into look at a relative's carpet shop or perfume store than actually teaching you much about what you are going to see. I really want a quality tour that includes The Great Pyramid of Giza information that would make for a great conversation back home.

So far I have done some research and it seems that only the very expensive tours have good reviews. This is a bit of a problem since I am going to be on a tight budget.


@wander - While the history of The Great Pyramid of Giza is well worth a read, the modern day structure is simply awe-inspiring. It is just amazing that humans could build such a huge structure that long ago.

As far as the practicalities of visiting go, just be aware that The Great Pyramid of Giza today is a bit of a tourist trap. You'll find yourself amongst a lot of people snapping Great Pyramid of Giza pictures and stumbling into your shots. Also, there are fast food joints around, so don't expect to see a sprawling empty desert when you get there.

Finally, be careful of taking camel rides. Locals have been known to take tourists out in the desert and insist on a large "tip" before returning them back to the safety of the main complex.


I have been looking up a ton of information on The Great Pyramid of Giza lately, as I am really hoping that I will finally get to visit Egypt in the coming year. When finding information about The Great Pyramid of Giza you really start to get a sense of how incredible the history is surrounding the area.

While I am no history buff, the stories of ancient pharaohs and queens of Egypt are really fascinating.

I hope that the pics of The Great Pyramid of Giza I have been seeing really do it justice when I finally get to visit. I imagine that visiting Egypt is going to be one of my most incredible trips to date. Does anyone have any tips for when I get to the pyramids?

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