Giza Month, Part Two: Khafre, the Pyramid, and the Sphinx

The second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau, and the second largest in the entirety of Egypt, is the monument built by the Pharaoh Khafre (Known to the Greeks as Chephren). While his brother (or possibly his uncle) Djedefre ruled before Khafre and constructed his pyramid at Abu Rawash, Khafre returned to Giza to build his pyramid beside his father’s.

map giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

map Giza pyramid complex- courtesy of khan academy

Standing around 471 feet tall, Khafre’s pyramid is just shy of reaching the height of Khufu’s monument, but despite this seeming inadequacy, Khafre would not be outdone. In order to make his pyramid appear the larger of the two, Khafre constructed his pyramid 10 m (33 feet) higher on the plateau. Although the capstone of the pyramid is lost, a section of the original outer casing stones still remains near the top of Khafre’s pyramid, giving Egyptologists greater insight as to how the great pyramids at Giza would have looked to the ancient Egyptians.

photo courtesy of Keith payne

photo courtesy of Keith Payne

An examination of the inner layout of the pyramid makes it clear that Khafre’s focus was on the exterior of the pyramid and the surrounding complex.  The interior of the pyramid is much simpler than that of Khufu’s Pyramid, holding only a single burial chamber, a small subsidiary chamber, and two passageways.

layout of Khafre's pyramid

Diagram of the interior of the pyramid of Khafre

There are, however, some mysteries surrounding Khafre and his pyramid. Although a sarcophagus was discovered within the burial chamber, no mummy or other remains have ever been found within the pyramid. In the second burial chamber (according to the above diagram), archaeologists uncovered a pit which may have been the intended resting place for Khafre’s canopic jars (jars containing internal organs extracted during the mummification process), but this is uncertain. It is also thought that perhaps this grand pyramid was meant to serve a ceremonial purpose rather than as a burial site, but this is also a speculation.  The purpose of the second chamber within the pyramid is also unknown.

Pillars in Valley Temple of Khafre. Photo courtesy of Amy Calvert

Pillars in Valley Temple of Khafre. Photo courtesy of Amy Calvert

The complex surrounding Khafre’s pyramid is much more intricate than that of its predecessor. Pharaoh Khafre was known for his self-representative statuary, and he filled his mortuary temple with over 52 life-size or larger images. The valley temple, located at the east end of the causeway, is beautifully preserved. Holding an additional 24 images of the pharaoh, the temple was constructed of megalithic blocks sheathed with granite and floors of polished white calcite.

However impressive the temples may be, nothing comes close to the colossal Great Sphinx. With the body of the lion and the head of Pharaoh Khafre. The sphinx is carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau, and archaeologists believe that the core blocks that construct the king’s valley temple were quarried from the stone that runs along the upper sides of the sphinx itself! The king’s head is slightly smaller in scale than the lion body, which sculptors attempted to compensate for by elongating the body.

courtesy of Disney Corporation

courtesy of Disney Corporation

The combination of the lion, a royal symbol as well as a symbol of the horizon, and the king’s head, show not only his power as the ruler, but helps to guard him through a successful journey to the afterlife.One highly-debated aspect of the Sphinx’s history involves the missing part of his nose, which is often believed to have been blown off by a shot from one of Napoleon’s soldiers.

(Or maybe it is from Aladdin and Jasmine accidentally knocking it on their magic carpet ride?)

In any case, Pharaoh Khafre’s contribution to the Giza Plateau solidified the site’s importance in the history of the Old Kingdom and the ancient Egyptian civilization, adding to the majesty and mystique that continues to attract and inspire the human race.

courtesy of Keith Payne

courtesy of Keith Payne

Additional resources:
Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 2008).

David O’Connor, Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris (Thames and Hudson, 2011).

Amy Calvert , Old Kingdom: Pyramid of Khufu, Khan Academy

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Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Giza Month, Part Two: Khafre, the Pyramid, and the Sphinx

  1. Great job Melissa, I really love reading your articles they are so interesting. Keep up the good work.

  2. Megan Anderson

    It was totally Aladdin and Jasmine that knocked off the Sphinx’s nose… 😉

  3. It was totally Aladdin and Jasmine that knocked of the nose… 😉

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