The Great Pyramids of Giza are the greatest relics of Ancient Egypt and one of the most iconic man-made wonders on earth. They were built around 4,500 years ago, made to last for eternity to guide the divine Pharaohs into the afterlife. Today, they show off an astonishing wealth of mathematical and construction genius. As we work to understand the mystery and magic behind these fascinating pyramids, we’ve gathered decades’ worth of facts, myths and theories. So what’s true and what’s not? We take a look at 8 of the biggest myths about the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
1. The pyramids were built by slaves
This is one of the most common myths about the Pyramids of Giza. The rumour is thought to have been started by the Greek historian Herodotus. He visited the site of the Great Pyramid in 450BC and began reporting that slaves were building the pyramids after hearing stories from supposed priests. However, all evidence now shows that the pyramids were built by well-fed, skilled labourers.
Archaeologists discovered a huge number of cattle bones at Giza, showing that beef (once a delicacy in ancient Egypt) was a common food for the builders. They also discovered tombs holding the remains of the pyramid builders that were built next to the Pyramids of Giza holding the Pharaohs. Being buried beside the Pharaohs was a huge honour and would never have been granted to slaves.
Another pyramid construction myth spread by Herodotus was that there was a workforce of around 100,000 men. Current evidence shows that the workforce was more likely around 10,000 people, including talented craftsmen, manual labourers, cooks and cleaners. Considering that the Great Pyramid alone was built with around 2.3 million blocks of stone, and likely weighs around 6 million tons in total, this is a truly impressive feat.
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2. There is only one Great Pyramid
Although the Pyramids of Giza are usually all referred to as the Great Pyramids, there is only one Great Pyramid. It’s known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, or the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu, and it’s the largest pyramid of the three main pyramids in the Giza Necropolis. It’s also the only wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that has survived to this day.
You’ll also find the Great Sphinx, six smaller Pyramids of Queens, a few cemeteries and a workers settlement in the Giza Necropolis. Spread over an area of 2.25 square kilometres, this whole incredible space is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. The pyramids are in the middle of the desert
One of the most surprising facts about the Pyramids of Giza for many people is that they aren’t in the middle of the desert. Most photos of the pyramids make them appear to be in a remote sandy landscape. However, they’re actually on the edge of the desert and very close to the modern world. Most of the pyramids stand close to the city of Giza, right next to modern buildings, hotels and restaurants.
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4. The pyramids were only royal tombs
We know that the pyramids were used as royal tombs for three Pharaohs, as they prepared to become gods in the afterlife. But another fun fact about the Great Pyramid of Giza is that it’s a giant sundial. This remarkable structure was built with such ingenuity that it can actually tell time. The shadows that fall on marks made in the stone tell the hour. The pyramid can also signal solstices and equinoxes that helped the ancient Egyptians mark the solar year.
They also used the stars to build the pyramids with astounding mathematical accuracy. The Big and Little Dippers were used to align the pyramids in a north-south direction, with a margin of error of up to only 0.05 degrees. This level of sophistication is a truly extraordinary feat of humanity.
5. The Great Pyramid has four sides
At first glance, the Great Pyramid of Giza appears to have four sides. But look again, because the Great Pyramid actually has eight sides. It’s the only eight-sided Egyptian pyramid and this fascinating detail can only be seen from the air either at dawn or sunset on the spring and autumn equinoxes. This is when the sun casts shadows on the Great Pyramid that make all eight sides visible. Amazing!
6. We know what’s inside the Great Pyramid of Giza
While you may be able to enter the Great Pyramid and visit the King’s Chamber, Queen’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery, there is still much of the Great Pyramid that remains unexplored. The ScanPyramids project discovered a previously hidden chamber in the middle of the Pyramid but it still hasn’t been accessed. With all kinds of secret doors and corridors built to stop grave robbers (and now modern archaeologists!), we may never discover all of the treasures within the Great Pyramid of Giza.
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7. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest pyramid in the world
Although the Great Pyramid is the largest of all ancient Egyptian pyramids – and the tallest pyramid in the world – it’s not the biggest pyramid on earth. That title goes to the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, as it’s the largest pyramid in terms of volume. The base of the Great Pyramid of Cholula is a staggering 160,000 square metres. That’s three times the area of the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza. At 450 metres wide and 66 metres tall, the Cholula Pyramid is equivalent to nine Olympic sized swimming pools!
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8. The Great Pyramid was the first pyramid in Egypt
The Great Pyramid is impressive for many reasons – but it actually wasn’t the first pyramid built in Ancient Egypt. The first royal pyramid complex in Egypt was the Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser at Saqqara, built around 4,700 years ago. Centuries later, Pharaoh Sneferu kickstarted the pyramid building craze with the Bent Pyramid, which signalled the transition from step-sided pyramids to smooth-sided pyramids.
Do you know any interesting facts about the Great Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza? Let us know in the comments below!