Giza, Part 3: Pyramid of Khafre

The Pyramid of Khafre, located on the outskirts of Cairo, is both the 2nd-largest and 2nd-tallest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids on the Giza Plateau. It is also the purported tomb of the Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre (Chefren), who ruled from around 2558 to 2532 BCE. Made of limestone blocks weighing over 2 tons each, the pyramid has a base length of 706 feet and a height of 448 feet. It rises at an angle of 53° 13′, which is steeper than its neighbor, the Pyramid of Khufu, which is built at an angle of 51°50’24”. And since it sits on bedrock that is 33 feet higher up than Khufu’s Pyramid, Khafre’s Pyramid also appears taller. Due to the slope of the plateau, the northwest corner was cut 33 feet out of the rock subsoil and the southeast corner is built up.

The Pyramid of Khafre was likely robbed during the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE), and during the Nineteenth Dynasty (1292-1189 BCE), the overseer of temple construction took most of the casing stones, on Ramses II’s orders, to build a temple in Heliopolis. It is also reported that in or around 1372 AD, the pyramid was opened again, as evidenced by an Arabic graffito on the wall of the burial chamber, which dates from around that time. It is not known when the rest of the casing stones were robbed, although it is presumed that they were still in place by 1646, when John Greaves, professor of Astronomy at the University of Oxford, wrote his Pyramidographia. Today, the casing stones only cover the top third of the pyramid, although the pyramidion and part of the apex are also missing.

The pyramid was first explored in modern times by Giovanni Belzoni in 1818, after the original entrance was found on the north side. He had hopes of finding an intact burial chamber, but it was empty, except for an open sarcophagus with its broken lid on the floor. Two entrances lead to the burial chamber, which was carved out of a pit in the bedrock, one that opens 38 feet up the face of the pyramid and one that opens at the base. The chamber roof is constructed of gabled limestone beams.

The first complete exploration of the pyramid was conducted by John Perring in 1837. And in 1858, while completing the clearance of Khafre’s Valley Temple, Auguste Mariette discovered a statue of Khafre made out of diorite. We now know that at one time there were actually over 50 life size statues of Khafre which have since been removed, possibly by Ramses II. On the whole, the temples of Khafre’s complex, especially the Valley Temple, have survived in much better condition than those of Khufu. Unfortunately, the Khafre mortuary temple now sits largely in ruins, although we do know that it was the first to include all five standard elements of later mortuary temples: an entrance hall, a columned court, an inner sanctuary, five niches for pharaoh statues, and five storage chambers.

The temple of the Sphinx, although not attested to any king, does bear structural similarities to Khafre’s mortuary temple, which therefore points to him as its builder.

  • Visited: Feb 2008
  • UNESCO: 1979

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