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Giza – In the Shadow of the Pyramids

Giza is located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Egypt’s modern day capital of Cairo. 17 kilometres to the north of Saqqara and some 8 kilometres to the south of Abu Rawash, it is part of the northernmost extension of the necropolis of ancient Memphis.
Even though the oldest known tomb is a mastaba dated to the early 1st Dynasty, the site is mainly known because of the 3 pyramids that were built there during the 4th Dynasty. On a clear day, these three landmark monuments can be seen from the Citadel of Saladin, to the east of Cairo.

The site itself has not been fully explored, so it is possible that older tombs are yet to be discovered. The only traces of activity between the building of the 1st Dynasty mastaba and the pyramids are some jar-sealings dated to the first half of the 2nd Dynasty.

It is not known what prompted Kheops, the second king of the 4th Dynasty, to build his funerary monument at Giza. His father, king Snofru, built two pyramids at Dashur, some 27 kilometres to the south. A third pyramid, located at Meidum, even more to the south, is also believed to have been built by Snofru. It is, however, not unlikely that the proximity of Kheops’ palace may have helped determine the location of his pyramid.
During the reign of Kheops’ predecessor, the shape of the royal funerary monument had evolved from a Step Pyramid to a true geometrical pyramid. The pyramid at Meidum was started as a Step Pyramid, but somewhere during his reign, Snofru decided to fill up the steps and build a true pyramid. At the same time, work had already started at Dashur, at the so-called Bent and Red Pyramids. The size and shape of Kheops’ pyramid was thus the result of an evolution that had started several generations earlier and which would continue for the generations to come.

Despite the fact that Kheops’ pyramid was the result of an ongoing evolution, its internal design makes it a unique monument. Contrary to most other pyramids, the burial chamber was not constructed underneath the monument, but inside it. This too, however, is likely to have been caused by the changing design plans of the pyramid: an unfinished room underneath the pyramid was probably originally intended as the king’s burial chamber. That the Great Pyramid of Giza, as it is called today, was indeed built by Kheops is shown by its Ancient Egyptian name, "Kheops is the one who belongs to the horizon". A graffito identifying a team of workmen responsible for building the stress relieving chambers above the burial chamber mentions Kheops’ name, confirming that he was indeed the pyramid’s builder.

As a funerary monument, the pyramid was part of a larger complex that was to ensure the king’s immortality. The foundations of a satellite pyramid to the south-east of the main pyramid were discovered in the 1990s. Although satellite pyramids were a common feature of pyramid complexes throughout the Old Kingdom, their actual purpose is still being examined. The hypothesis that they were used for the burial of a statue representing the king has gained some acceptance. To the east of his pyramid, Kheops also built three smaller ones for some female members of his family. A cache next to the northernmost queen’s pyramid contained some furniture that once belonged to queen Hetepheres I, Kheops’ mother. It is now on exhibit in the Cairo Museum. Only traces remain of the mortuary temple that once stood against the pyramid’s eastern flank. A massif causeway once connected it to the valley temple, which has now disappeared underneath the modern-day village of Nazlet el-Siman.

Kheops’ pyramid is surrounded to the east, south and west by groups of mastaba tombs. The cemetery east of his pyramid was mainly used for members of the king’s immediate family. Among them, we find the tombs of several of Kheops’ children, such as prince Hordjedef and queen Hetepheres II. High officials and priests used the burial fields to the west of the pyramid. This cemetery would continue to be used throughout most of the Old Kingdom, until the 6th Dynasty, by priests in the service of Kheops’ mortuary cult.
(Jacques Kinnaer)

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