The Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt

There are few images that are more iconic than the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau just outside of Cairo, Egypt. It is obviously one of the most popular tourist locations when visiting Cairo and you should certainly expect there to be crowds when you go to see the sphinx. A sphinx is a mythical creature with a lion’s body and head of a pharaoh. It is believed to have been sculpted out of limestone in the time of pharaoh Khafre between 2558 and 2532 BC, which makes it the oldest sculpture used as a monument in Egypt. It is sometimes hard to gauge the size of the sphinx in pictures, but it stands 66 feet high (20 meters), 240 feet long (73 meters), and is 62 feet wide (19 meters).

Iconic View of the Great Sphinx and Pyramids
The View from Behind the Sphinx with People to Provide Perspective
Reconstruction of Parts of the Body

The Great Sphinx was carved directly into the bedrock that also served as the quarry from which the pyramids were built. The stone from which the body was carved was softer than that of the head, which has caused the body to deteriorate more quickly than the head. The body has been repaired over time and you will likely see work being done to continue to repair during your visit. There are a number of shafts underneath the enormous statue, but they are believed to be the result of treasure hunters and tomb robbers and nothing to do with the ancient Egyptians who created the Great Sphinx.

Full View of the Front of the Great Sphinx
Standing in Front of the Sphinx
Vendors Next to the Sphinx Viewing Area

Seeing the statue from the front with the pyramids in the background is certainly the most common image that people associate with the sphinx. With that said, seeing the Great Sphinx from other angles is certainly quite fascinating and does help with getting a perspective of how large it truly is. In addition to the crowds, there are also a long line of stalls with vendors selling items for tourists and you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t have children and others coming up to you either begging or trying to sell you items as well. There is no doubt that seeing the Great Sphinx in person is something that you will never forget.

Another View from Behind the Sphinx with Cairo in the Background
Side View of the Pharaoh Head

The Giza Pyramid Complex

No visit to Cairo in Egypt would be complete without going to see the Great Pyramids. Although the Pyramid of Khufu is officially known as The Great Pyramid, the entire complex is often referred to as the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World and also one of the most intact wonders and stands 481 feet tall (146.5 meters). There are actually six pyramids that make up the pyramid complex as well as the Great Sphinx. The Pyramid of Khafre still has the limestone covering at the top of the pyramid that would have covered all of the pyramids making their sides completely smooth as opposed to the exposed stones that are visible today.

The Great Sphinx

Pyramid of Khafre

Looking Up at the Great Pyramid

View of the Giza Plateau with Cairo in the Background

The three large pyramids are certainly the focal point of the complex, but there are other interesting features of the site including pits where the remains of a ship were buried. It is important to understand that to the ancient Egyptians, because the sky was blue and water was blue, they believed that they needed to sail to the afterworld. It was an important connection to the Nile, which they relied on for there survival, and the world of the gods. The three smaller pyramids were for queens of the Pharaohs which serve as a reminder that the Egyptians had a high regard for women of royalty. Clearly, the Great Sphinx is also an important sight to see while spending time on the Giza plateau.

One of the Queen Pyramids

One of the Pits Where the Ship was Unearthed

One of the Many Camels

Busy Road Between the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid

Because of its close proximity to Cairo, the pyramid complex is extremely busy with tourists, horse drawn carriages, camels, and people peddling trinkets. It is worth having a guide with you so that you can learn the historical facts regarding the pyramids, but it is a location that you can visit on your own. Riding a camel in the desert with the pyramids in the background is about as touristy as it gets, but is worth doing for that classic photo opportunity. Although fascinating, it only takes a couple of hours to fully see the Great Pyramids and the surrounding sights.

Yes, We Rode the Camels

The Great Pyramid Up Close, People in the Foreground Providing Scale

Face of the Great Sphinx

The Giza Plateau

Clearly, seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World is an incredible experience. Gazing up at the pyramids, seeing not only their height, but also the symmetry of their architecture has to make you marvel at the ingenuity of the people who built them over 4,500 years ago. In fact, the Great Pyramid was the largest man-made structure for over 3,800 years, truly an impressive feat.

Walking Around the Great Pyramid with the Pyramid of Khafre in the Background

The Great Sphinx

The Great Pyramid

Walking Among the Pyramids

Visiting Dahshur Outside of Cairo, Egypt

We enjoyed seeing a wonderful variety of pyramids during our time in Cairo, but visiting Dahshur was probably one of our most interesting experiences. First, we were virtually by ourselves as we walked around the pyramids as there were less than a dozen total other visitors there during the time that we spent there. Also, since it is the site of the first smooth sided pyramids, one successful and a couple of others that weren’t successful, it is an interesting look into the learning that occurred by the ancient Egyptians to create what would later become the Great Pyramids. Dahshur is located out in a remote area of the desert, which was purposeful as they wanted the pyramids to be away from any well-traveled area.

The Bent Pyramid

The Red Pyramid

Stairs Inside of the Pyramid

Looking at the Red Pyramid from the Bent Pyramid

We visited two of the pyramids, the first being what is commonly referred to as the “Bent Pyramid” as they miscalculated the dimensions of the sides and had to curve the walls as it neared the peak in order to keep it from collapsing. Although it was never used as a tomb, it is certainly still fascinating to see. Imagine all of the work that must have gone into building such a structure only to deem it a failure despite the fact that it has survived thousands of years.  From the bent pyramid, you can see the ruins of another pyramid that collapsed called the Black Pyramid, which was actually built in a later time period, as well as the first actual smooth sided pyramid off in the distance. Standing in the desert and seeing the pyramid off in the distance was very surreal and it almost felt as if we were standing on the surface of Mars or some other distant planet.

Standing Outside of the Bent Pyramid

Crumbling Pyramid in the Distance

Looking Up at the Entrance of the Red Pyramid

Entrance to an Antechamber

Visiting the Red Pyramid as it is called due to the color of the stones that were used to build it, was simply amazing. Partly due to the fact that we were basically alone as we visited it, but also because we were able to climb up to the entrance and then down the steep tunnel leading to the tomb and antechambers. Although it was well worth the effort, be prepared for a steep climb up and down and the tunnel is only about 4 feet high (1 1/3 meters), so you have to crouch as you scoot your way down. The ground of the tunnel was smooth, so wooden boards with metal slats have been added to allow you to keep from sliding down the near 45 degree angle. In addition to the physical exertion, be prepared for the heat. In the desert heat, climbing into the pyramid is almost like climbing inside of a clay oven.

Tunnel Entrance to the Tomb

Brisk Climb to the Entrance

Floor of the Tunnel

Inside of the Antechamber

Although there aren’t any colorful hieroglyphs or anything remaining inside of the tomb and antechambers, seeing the Red Pyramid in Dahshur is definitely an amazing sight. The Red and Bent Pyramids were both built by King Sneferu between 2613 and 2589 BC, which makes them almost 5000 years old. The son of King Sneferu, King Khufu, would be inspired by his father to build his own pyramid, which is now one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is known as The Great Pyramid of Giza. Obviously we would make our way to see the Great Pyramids, but seeing the pyramids of Dahshur was the perfect way to start our time in the Giza Plateau.

Steps to the Pyramid

Looking Up Inside of the Tomb

Erosion on the Bent Pyramid

Taking a Break During the Climb to the Entrance

Hot Desert Sand