A camel poses in front of the Great Pyramid.

The Last Wonder: Great Pyramid of Giza

To see something in person that you’ve only seen in photos can be a surreal experience, especially something as iconic as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World rises like a mountain from the flat desert west of the Nile River. The glimpses caught through the tall apartment buildings that clutter the modern skyline are just a tease of the main attraction.

Our first up-close glimpse of the Pyramids came from a gas station... pretty good view while filling up the tank.

Our first up-close glimpse of the Pyramids came from a gas station… pretty good view while filling up the tank.

As we drove from Cairo toward Giza, it struck me how much the city encroaches on the plateau. The pyramids are typically photographed toward the west with the desert in the background. But just across the highway, the city has a front row seat to Ancient Egypt. So perhaps it’s fitting the roof of the On The Run gas station obstructed my first up-close view of the Pyramids.

The Great Pyramid of King Khufu. From a distance, the pyramids seem smooth, but up close you can see the jagged exposed limestone of the pyramid's core.

The Great Pyramid of King Khufu. From a distance, the pyramids seem smooth, but up close you can see the jagged exposed limestone of the pyramid’s core.

Only a moment later, we left modern-day Egypt behind. From a distance, the pyramids are smooth, three-dimensional triangles, but up-close, you get a sense of how they were born. More than 2 million stone blocks, each weighing more than two tons create a craggy surface. Once covered in white sandstone—some of which can still be seen atop the middle pyramid—the exposed core tells a story of the construction.

Thought to have been built by slaves, it’s now known that the pyramids were built by skilled laborers, revered and honored for their work in the form of statues found during excavations. Construction techniques still used today were applied here in 2500 B.C. Stones sit flush with perfectly-flat surfaces. Corner joints allow for heat expansion and movement during earthquakes.

Khafre's Pyramid and Menkaure's Pyramid. In the distance, a smaller pyramid belonging to one of Khufu's wives can be seen.

Khafre’s Pyramid and Menkaure’s Pyramid. In the distance, a smaller pyramid belonging to one of Khufu’s wives can be seen.

Pharaoh Khufu commissioned the three main pyramids of the Giza Pyramid Complex in the 26th century B.C. The Great Pyramid, the largest structure on Earth until the 1300s, is built in his honor. The middle pyramid—which appears largest because of its higher perch—is named for Khufu’s son and successor Khafre. The third and smallest pyramid belongs to Khafre’s son and successor, Menkaura.

The Great Sphinx and Khafre's Pyramid at the Giza Pyramid Complex.

The Great Sphinx and Khafre’s Pyramid at the Giza Pyramid Complex.

The Great Sphinx is part of Khafre’s pyramid complex. With the body of a lion and a head believed to depict Khafre, workers carved the famous statue out of the limestone from the quarry used to build the pyramids.

By all accounts, the Great Sphinx is a great kisser!

By all accounts, the Great Sphinx is a great kisser!

On the south side of the Sphinx, tourists gathered above the temple to pose for a variety of photos. The statue’s slightly puckered lips beg for a kissing photo. Not unlike Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, part of the fun is watching visitors contort for the perfect picture.

Coming around a corner near the entrance of the Sphinx Temple, the Great Sphinx and Khafre's Pyramid peeked through the ruins.

Coming around a corner near the entrance of the Sphinx Temple, the Great Sphinx and Khafre’s Pyramid peeked through the ruins.

Mohammed from Emo Tours served as our guide and site historian. He led us into the one of the sparsely populated temples where we caught a view of the Great Sphinx from below. With no other tourists around, it was a moment of solitude to really take in the experience.

View of the three main pyramids from a northwest viewpoint.

View of the three main pyramids from a northwest viewpoint.

We ended our visit at a northwestern viewpoint, looking back toward the pyramids with Cairo in the background. The blend of the ancient and modern worlds made me wonder what the pharaohs would think of all this? Did they ever imagine visitors from far away lands making a pilgrimage to this place? Or that their legacy would outlive nearly everything else from their time, to tell their story for generations to come?

If You Go

Emo Tours
Guided tours of Egypt’s top sightseeing locations and highly-rated on TripAdvisor.

3 Comments

  • Reply Brian Bertsch February 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve been to some interesting places but standing in front of the pyramids would definitely be a major surreal experience. Thanks for sharing this with us folks who only get to see this from 10,000 miles away!

    • Reply Cascadian Abroad February 4, 2017 at 8:35 pm

      I have a little bit of video from the trip too. I’ll try to get that posted in soon!

  • Reply Nile River Cruise and the Temples of Upper Egypt - Cascadian Abroad March 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

    […] From the 134 columns of the 50,000 sq. ft. Hypostyle Hall to the 70-ton beams balanced atop the columns, Karnak is a marvel of ancient construction. Built under the watch of 30 pharaohs over hundreds of years, it’s a monument to both the rise and fall of ancient Egypt. As a result, Karnak is the most visited tourist site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza. […]

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