While the Great Pyramids of Giza continue to stand tall and proud 4,500 years after they were first built, they have seen better days. They are the (large) remnants of what was once a much larger complex. These were gleaming complexes, and the pyramids were not the rough undecorated giants we see today. This is an important part of what to know before visiting the pyramids of Giza.

This article is only about the Great Pyramids of Giza and not the scores of other smaller pyramids all over Egypt - some of which have all but completely disappeared. Ever wondered what it's like to be inside the Great Pyramid? Well, it wasn't designed for people to go inside, so venturing inside can be thrilling and yet underwhelming at the same time.


Updated by Gabriel Kirellos, March 9th, 2022: There are many things and secrets to know about the Great Pyramids of Giza before visiting this iconic historical landmark in Egypt. This article was updated to include the display of a casing stone of the Great Pyramids in Edinburgh. The update also provides an explanation about the mysterious inscriptions found all over the pyramids.

The Outer Covering Of The Pyramids

The pyramids are built mostly of sandstone (except for the inner chamber to protect the pharaoh - which was built of very hard granite). The pyramids and their complexes were also built for aesthetic beauty as well. They were clad in a smooth white limestone that would have glistened white. However, this decorative and protective outer layer has been removed from the pyramids and used in other constructions.

Only a little of the original outer white limestone remains on the top of the pyramid of Khafra. But even that remanent doesn't do it any justice. The pyramids of Giza are basically located inside the mega-metropolis of Cairo-Giza, and the smog and pollution have blackened the pyramids and the remaining top layer of white limestone.

  • Pollution: Pollution From Giza And Cairo Has Blackened The Pyramids
  • Coated: They Were Coated In Polished Limestone
  • Shrunken: The Great Pyramid Has Shrunk 8 Meters or 27 Feet

4,000 years ago, the pyramids resembled more like brilliant light-forms dropped into the desert from the sky. The Smithsonian made a documentary on what the pyramids would have looked like available on YouTube. In the documentary, the archeologist Marc Lehner remarks"It must have truly added to the impression of Giza as a magical port city, bathed in sunlight, if not existing ethereally in the celestial light. "The pyramids are shorter than they used to be as well. Originally the Great Pyramid of Giza stood some 146.6 meters or 481 feet tall - today, that has shrunken to 138.5 meters or 454 feet.

Related: Which Pyramids In Mexico To Visit Based On Where You're Staying

The Great Pyramid Complex - Causeway and Temples

The Great Pyramid is surrounded by a complex of several buildings - it was never a structure by itself. It had temples and causeways and more, but it's the pyramid that has proven to be the most enduring.

The Pyramid Temple once stood on the east side of the pyramid. It was a large temple that measured 52 meters or 171 feet from north to south and 40 meters or 130 feet east to west. Unfortunately, today it has almost entirely disappeared. The only thing remaining is some of the black basalt paving.

  • Complex Included: Pyramid Temple, Valley Temple, Causeway, More
  • Causeway: Once Linked the Pyramid With The Valley Temple
  • 8 Valley Temple: Buried Under Giza

The once magnificent causeway that once linked the pyramids with the valley and the Valley Temple. But for this, too, only a few remnants remain. The Valley Temple is today buried under the massive city of Giza - specifically the Nazalet el-Samman neighborhood. Some of the basalt paving and limestone walls have been found, but it has not been excavated.

Related: Egypt Isn't The Only Place Famous For Its Pyramids And These Are Just As Mesmerizing

The Great Pyramid Complex - Other Parts of The Complex

The tomb of Queen Hetepheres I (who was the sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu) is located around 110 meters or 360 feet east of the Great Pyramid of the East cemetery. The pharaoh's pyramid wasn't the only tomb in the complex! It was discovered by accident but while the burial was intact, the sealed coffin was empty.

  • Auxiliary Pyramids: There Were Smaller Pyramids In The Complex For Less Important People

On the southern end of the east side are four subsidiary pyramids, while three remain largely intact, one is so badly ruined it wasn't thought to have been a pyramid until excavations in 1991-93

There are also three boat-shaped pits to the east of the pyramid. They are large enough to have held complete boats.

  • Port And City: There Was A Port And Even A Lost City As Part of the Complex

There is also yet another "Lost City" here. Once, there was a worker's town outside of a cyclopean stone wall (called the Wall of the Crow). More recent discoveries have suggested that there was a port here and that the town may not have been for the workers but for the soldiers and sailors using the port.

The other pyramids had their own complexes, like the Great Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid's Original Casing in Edinburgh

A large part of the original casing of the Great Pyramid of Giza was displayed in 2019 at Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland. This is the only casing stone from the iconic landmark to be made public outside of Egypt. The country's government tried to contest the Scottish museum's rights to the large block from the pyramids. However, it didn't succeed in preventing the National Museum of Scotland from displaying the landmark piece.

Here's What To Know About The Inscription In The Great Pyramid's Casing Stones

Diodorus Siculus and Herodotus, who simultaneously visited Giza in the 1st century BC and the 5th century BC, stopped in the Great Pyramid's casing stones a cut inscription. The same was observed in the 12th century AD by Arab scholar Abd al-Latif who found the inscriptions all over the pyramid. However, it's impossible until today to know what these inscriptions meant because the scholars couldn't read what they said. People assume that these inscriptions recorded offerings to the deceased king or immortalized ancient restoration work. Some also consider them to be graffiti left by ancient tourists.

Next: Great Pyramid of Cholula: Why You Should Visit The Second-Largest In The World (After Giza)