This complex of ancient monuments includes the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, several cemeteries, a workers‘ village and an industrial complex. It is located in the Western Desert, approximately 9 km (5 mi) west of the Nile river at the old town of Giza, and about 13 km (8 mi) southwest of Cairo city centre.
The pyramids, which have historically been common as emblems of ancient Egypt in the Western imagination, were popularised in Hellenistic times, when the Great Pyramid was listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is by far the oldest of the ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence.
The Pyramids of Giza consist of the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu and constructed c. 2560–2540 BC), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters farther south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as „queens“ pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids.
Khufu’s pyramid complex consists of a valley temple, now buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman; basalt paving and nummulitic limestone walls have been found but the site has not been excavated. The valley temple was connected to a causeway which was largely destroyed when the village was constructed. The causeway led to the Mortuary Temple of Khufu. From this temple the basalt pavement is the only thing that remains. The mortuary temple was connected to the king’s pyramid. The king’s pyramid has three smaller queen’s pyramids associated with it and five boat pits.:11–19 The boat pits contained a ship, and the 2 pits on the south side of the pyramid still contained intact ships. One of these ships has been restored and is on display. Khufu’s pyramid still has a limited collection of casing stones at its base. These casing stones were made of fine white limestone quarried from the nearby range.
Most construction theories are based on the idea that the pyramids were built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. The disagreements center on the method by which the stones were conveyed and placed and how possible the method was.
In building the pyramids, the architects might have developed their techniques over time. They would select a site on a relatively flat area of bedrock—not sand—which provided a stable foundation. After carefully surveying the site and laying down the first level of stones, they constructed the pyramids in horizontal levels, one on top of the other.
For the Great Pyramid of Giza, most of the stone for the interior seems to have been quarried immediately to the south of the construction site. The smooth exterior of the pyramid was made of a fine grade of white limestone that was quarried across the Nile. These exterior blocks had to be carefully cut, transported by river barge to Giza, and dragged up ramps to the construction site. Only a few exterior blocks remain in place at the bottom of the Great Pyramid. During the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), people may have taken the rest away for building projects in the city of Cairo.
To ensure that the pyramid remained symmetrical, the exterior casing stones all had to be equal in height and width. Workers might have marked all the blocks to indicate the angle of the pyramid wall and trimmed the surfaces carefully so that the blocks fit together. During construction, the outer surface of the stone was smooth limestone; excess stone has eroded as time has passed.