Pyramid of Khafre

The second largest of the Great Egyptian pyramids on the Giza plateau belongs to Pharaoh Khafren (Khafre). Each Egyptian pyramid is interesting in its own way, but the tomb of Khafre immediately catches the eye of tourists thanks to the remnants of the cladding at the top, the central position and the fact that it seems to be the tallest of all.

The pyramids were closed briefly during the lockdown at the start of the pandemic. Now there are no restrictions on the number of visitors. There is no need to buy or book tickets in advance. Unfortunately, tickets have risen in price, details in this article.

Which of the three pyramids in Giza – Pharaoh Khafre

Most tourists confuse the pyramids of Cheops and Khafre. Knowing the fact that the tomb of Cheops is the largest of all ancient monuments in Egypt, most tourists believe that it is in the center (see photo on the right).

In fact, in the center of the photo is precisely the pyramid of Khafre. She really looks the tallest, although she is not. Pharaoh Khafren very well chose a place for construction, just in this place of the Giza plateau 10 meters higher than in the place where the Cheops pyramid is located.

The pyramid of Khafre immediately after construction was 143.5 meters high. Now it has decreased to 136.5 meters, that is, it has lost only 7 meters in 4600 years of its history. The pyramid of Cheops during this period of time has become lower by 10 meters. Another plus three meters in favor of Khafre.

As a result of these circumstances, tourists think that it is she who is the highest, although this is an illusion. To date (the article was updated in September 2021) the pyramids of Cheops and Khafre have heights of 137 and 136.5 meters. That is, Cheops is still ahead.



Why is it interesting for tourists, and what you can see

The Antiquities Service of the Arab Republic of Egypt issues permits for climbing the tops of the pyramids. If you go through a certain set of bureaucratic procedures in this department, you can get official permission to climb to the top of the pyramids of Cheops or Mikerin. But, you cannot climb the pyramid of Khafre, it is strictly forbidden.

The reason for this is the upper “cap” of the structure, which is now in an unstable state and may begin to collapse.

This “hat” is the main distinguishing feature of the tomb of Pharaoh Khafre. For other pyramids in Giza, the outer cladding was completely lost, becoming a source of building materials for local residents.

Once upon a time, such a facing covered the entire surface of the monument. The cladding was made of two kinds of stone – red granite from Aswan and white limestone from Tura. Granite was more expensive, as it had to be transported almost 1000 kilometers along the Nile by ships.

Pharaoh Khafren was able to afford the cladding of red Aswan granite, but only at the first few levels, up to a height of 3 meters. The rest was covered with Tours limestone. The stones were polished, and the pyramid shone in the rays of the bright sun. The ancient Egyptians called her “The Great Kafra”.

The geometric shape of this building is very interesting. Are you familiar with the expression “Egyptian triangle”? This is the name of the classic right-angled triangle with an aspect ratio of 3 to 4 to 5.

The Khafra pyramid is the oldest example of architects following these proportions (see photo on the right). The angle of inclination of the face is 53.1 degrees, which almost corresponds to the parameter of the “Egyptian triangle” – 53.08 degrees.

One can only wonder how 4600 years ago the Egyptians already knew these proportions and were able to build an object that fully corresponds to them.

Although, there is an opinion that it happened purely by accident. We know for sure that the Egyptians were familiar with the geometric figure “Egyptian triangle”. This is what the Akhmes Papyrus, an ancient educational document, tells us about. But the “papyrus of Ahmes” dates from the era of the Middle Kingdom, and the buildings in Giza were erected in an earlier era of the Old Kingdom.



Every pharaoh of ancient Egypt was deified after death. He became a real god, sacrifices and prayers were made to him. Each pyramid was part of a common architectural complex, which included: itself, the small pyramids and the resting temples. Close relatives of the ruler rested in small pyramids, priests held religious ceremonies in the reposed temples.

Another feature of the Khafre pyramid is that its reposed temples are very well preserved. If you pay attention to the neighboring tomb of Pharaoh Cheops, then there is nothing of the kind, only foundations remained on the site of the temples.

There is only one small pyramid here, it has no name, but only the designation “GII”. Now it is not known exactly who rested there. There are a lot of hypotheses on this score, the most common one assumes that the eldest son of Pharaoh Khafre rested there.

Even now, it is clear what magnificent structures the resting temples were. The first of them has a size of 113×49 meters, the second 50×45 meters. The first temple is located right next to the pyramid, and the second is 500 meters away, it is called the “Temple of the Valley”.

The Valley Temple is better preserved, even now the buildings are 13 meters high. The dimensions of the building blocks are amazing, some of them weighing 40 tons.

It was in the Temple of the Valley that the famous statue of Pharaoh Khafre made of diorite stone was found. See the photo on the right. Pharaoh is depicted sitting on a throne, and in the back, in the form of a falcon, is depicted the god Horus – the patron saint of royal power in Egypt. In total, about 200 statues of Pharaoh Khafre of various sizes were found in the temple.

The Valley Temple is very well preserved due to the fact that it was covered with sand. It was dug up only in 1853. A completely enclosed corridor led from the pyramid to the Temple of the Valley, which was used by the priests. It has not been completely preserved to this day.

In the temple near the pyramid, you can see a 400 ton limestone building block. Egyptologists argue about this block to this day. It is difficult to imagine how the ancient Egyptians could move it.



Interesting in the pyramid of Khafre, which is not visible to tourists

It is believed that at the top of each pyramid there was a special stone, which in our time is usually called the word “pyramidon”, and the ancient Egyptians called it “benben”. It is symbolically associated with the legend of the creation of the world by the god Atum.

Not a single such stone has survived from the large pyramids, and not a single written source describes them in detail. Now the “benben” stones are found, but they remain from small buildings.

It is believed that the “pyramidons” of the large pyramids were covered with gold and painted with inscriptions, but this is only a hypothesis. It turns out that there is no exact certainty that they existed at all.

The pyramid of Khafre is the only evidence of the existence of stones “pyramidons”. There is a square platform at the top of the structure, and a square depression in the center of the platform. This structure served, presumably, as a fastener for such a stone.

But I wonder how the thieves got him out of there? It weighed several tons, but we still need to climb to a height of 140 meters, and there, at a height, somehow manage to overturn it and throw it down. This is a big mystery!

Is it possible to see the top and get inside?

It is a pity, but tourists cannot see the top of the Khafre pyramid, the Egyptians have not yet built any lifts to the top.

Tourists are now allowed inside for an additional fee – 100 Egyptian pounds. The entrance to the Giza plateau itself costs another 200 Egyptian pounds.

A limited number of tourists are allowed inside per day. Therefore, if you are aiming to get inside, then we advise you to book a place for an excursion inside the pyramid immediately upon arrival at the plateau. But if you didn’t get inside, then don’t worry, there’s nothing special to watch.

When and by whom was the pyramid opened and where are the treasures?

The first Europeans to discover this pyramid was Giovanni Belzoni, the famous Italian Egyptologist and explorer, famous for the discovery of the Abu Simbel temple. In 1818, he discovered that the pyramid of Khafre was empty, and the treasures and the sarcophagus with the mummy had long been taken away. Rather, the outer granite sarcophagus remained, but the inner sarcophagi are missing.

Before Belzoni, the tomb was opened by the Arabs in 1372, writes the Arab historian Ibn Abd al-Salam. They also found nothing of value.

The pyramid of Khafre, like the other pyramids of Giza, was plundered 4000 years ago during the “first transition period” – the era of crisis and anarchy in Egyptian history. Even the mummies of the pharaohs of the ancient kingdom have not survived to this day.

However, unlike Cheops, we know quite a lot about Pharaoh Harf. Thanks to the statues from the reposed temples, we know exactly what it looked like. Less is known about his deeds.



A little about the Pharaoh Khafren himself

Many guides say that Khefren was the son of Cheops and the next pharaoh, such information is easier for tourists to digest. But this is not so, another pharaoh named Jedefra ruled between them.

The Djedefra pyramid is located away from the Giza plateau, 10 kilometers to the northwest. This pyramid was almost completely dismantled for building materials, only the base remained of it. In the photo on the left, you can see this sad picture.

The most common version says that Khefren was the son of Cheops and the brother of Jedefra, who inherited the throne after him.

According to an alternative version, Khafren was the brother of Cheops, but this assumption is very doubtful.

Khafren ruled Egypt for 24 years, and possibly longer. In the mastaba under the index G 7650 there are inscriptions that Egyptologists call “the will of Prince Nekura”. It speaks of “the 13th count of the cattle of the reign of Pharaoh Khafre”. Livestock counting was carried out in Egypt every two years.

This piece of Egyptian history has an interesting alternative version written by the ancient Greek historians Manetho and Herodotus. According to their version, Cheops (Khufu) ruled for 50 years, and Khefren (Khafra) for 56 years, the people of Egypt suffered from their tyranny for 106 years in a row.

This version is untenable. Firstly, there is no Pharaoh Djedefre in it, but he definitely existed, he is mentioned in sources. Secondly, people did not live so much then. Even Pharaoh Ramses II ruled for 66 years, and this was an extraordinary case of longevity among the Egyptians.

Khafren left behind a memory of a cruel ruler. He acted like his father – he closed temples and rounded up the Egyptians to build the pyramid and other monuments.

It is believed that he ordered a huge statue with the body of a lion and the head of a man to be carved out of a solid rock. Now we can see it on the plateau in Giza – this is the Great Sphinx. It is believed that the face of the sphinx is copied from his image. You can yourself try to assess the veracity of this hypothesis. See the photo of the face of the sphinx and the face of the statue of Khafre.

In foreign policy, Khefren did not show himself, nothing is known about his military exploits. The period of the ancient kingdom was relatively peaceful, as Egypt had no rivals in the area. In fact, there was no one to fight with, except for the nomadic tribes on the Sinai Peninsula.



What’s inside and the main mystery

The configuration of the interior in the Chephren pyramid is simpler than in the Cheops pyramid. There is only one burial chamber (recall that there are three of them in the tomb of Cheops). There is a sarcophagus in it, and right there were canopes (vessels with the internal organs of the pharaoh).

The burial chamber measures 14 by 5 meters. There is nothing mysterious about it, except for one fact. Giovanni Belzoni found here the bones of a large horned animal, presumably a bull. It is not clear what they were doing here. Perhaps they were brought in by one of the previous plunderers.

The main mystery of the Khafre pyramid is two entrances and two tunnels leading to the burial chamber. These tunnels connect near the entrance to the chamber.

The first entrance is at a height of 11.5 meters on the surface of the pyramid, the second is located right at the base (see the picture above). The main question is: why did the builders have to make two entrances? They knew perfectly well that it would only hurt, as it doubled the chances of thieves finding the entrance. Apparently, there were good reasons for this decision.

The most adequate theory says that the builders feared the premature death of the pharaoh. The burial chamber and the passage to it were prepared at the very beginning of construction in order to be prepared for the worst. Then, already during construction, the upper official passage was created (pictured on the right).

The second riddle of the Khafre pyramid is a hall that can be found in the middle of the lower corridor. It could not serve as a burial chamber or a repository of canopes, since all of this was found in the main chamber, and in the tombs of the times of the Old Kingdom there could always be only one “inhabitant”.

The most popular hypothesis is that it is a treasure trove. This is doubtful, since the dimensions of the burial chamber itself are quite sufficient to accommodate a large amount of wealth.

The area of ​​this mysterious chamber is 71 square meters, which is comparable to the area of ​​the famous tomb of Tutankhamun, located in the Valley of the Kings near the city of Luxor. In addition, it is located far from the burial chamber, which is not typical for Egyptian burials.

It is believed that this pyramid was built in several stages. First, a small pyramid was created, then it was enlarged. As a result of these actions, two passages were formed, and this small chamber was originally planned as the main burial chamber.

This theory has indirect confirmation. Khafren was the brother of Pharaoh Jedefre. We know that Jedefra ruled 11 livestock accounts – that’s 22 years. That is, Pharaoh Khafren came to the throne at a mature age, he was clearly not young. It is logical that the architects were afraid of his death. At that time, the age of 40 was already considered old, and about the same number of people lived to 60 years as now live to 90. Hence the haste, hence the several tunnels, hence the overstrain of the country’s forces and hatred of the Pharaoh.