The Giza Necropolis, right on the edge of Cairo on the Giza Plateau, is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Great Pyramid of Giza, as well as the Great Sphinx and numerous other attractions of tremendous significance in Egyptology. This photo essay explores a little of what tourists can expect to find there. In addition to the sights of beautiful golden stone, which contrasts wonderfully with Egypt’s rich blue skies, it gives a little insight into the impact the Egyptian Revolution has had on tourist numbers and – by extension – those who depend on tourist revenues to make a living. While these people are struggling at the moment, the flip-side is that this is a great time to visit Egypt and its remarkable archaeological sites, owing to the unusual peace and quiet that’s on offer. The essay also introduces you to some of the faces (both man and beast) you’ll see at the Giza Pyramids, and ends by going back in time to see what was happening there at different points of modern history with the aid of some vintage-style photography.
All the images below, along with others from the same series, may be purchased as beautiful colour prints and downloads, as well as greetings cards and eCards. To view them, just click on the ‘Buy | Share’ link at the end of any of the captions, which will take you to the gallery entitled ‘The Pyramids of Giza’ in my Image Archives.
Solid granite pillars inside the Valley Temple of Khafre, situated near the Eastern entrance to the Giza Necropolis, alongside the Great Sphinx and at the foot of a causeway that leads to the Funerary Temple and Pyramid of Khafre. The temple once housed 23 statues of Khafre, a pharaoh whose rule is thought to have lasted from 2558 to 2532 BC, but tragically these have all been plundered. Buy | Share
The Great Sphinx (or 'Terrifying One' in English), a mythical creature with a lion's body and a human head. This is the largest monolith statue in the world, and also the oldest known monumental sculpture, dating back to approximately 2500 BC at the time of Pharaoh Khafre. Seen from this position, the Sphinx appears to be carrying the Pyramid of Khufu ('The Great Pyramid') on his back. Buy | Share
Looking up the Pyramid of Khufu ('The Great Pyramid') from the corner. This is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids at the Giza Necropolis. More notably, it is also the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (constructed under Pharaoh Khufu over roughly 20 years to around 2560 BC), and the only one that has stayed pretty much intact to this day, testimony to its remarkable engineering. Originally built to a height of 146.5 metres (480.6 feet), it remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Buy | Share
An even steeper view up the side of The Great Pyramid. Originally, it was encased in highly polished white limestone, giving it a smooth outer surface. In 1300 AD, many of the outer casing stones were shaken loose by a powerful earthquake, and Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan ordered these taken away in 1356 to build mosques and fortresses in nearby Cairo. This left the underlying core structure exposed to the elements. Buy | Share
Soft toy camels, for sale near the Great Sphinx. Tourism has been hit badly during early 2011 owing to fears of instability in Egypt in the wake of the revolution. Buy | Share
Alongside her daughter, Om Doa’a sells souvenirs to tourists at Giza Necropolis. You can read her story in my photo essay, 'Vision and Hope Among Egyptian Women'. Her family, like many of those who work at the Giza Pyramids, got sucked into the ugly side of the revolution because the menfolk who owned camels and horses were persuaded to use their animals to attack the protesters at Tahrir Square. The argument was simple: it's these protests that are keeping the tourists - who pay for your daily bread - away from Egypt. Buy | Share
A camel comes for a closer look. One of tourists' most coveted images of Egypt is of a graceful caravan of camels passing by the Pyramids. Well, this one was having none of that. He was far more interested in a portrait shoot. Buy | Share
A tourist guide poses heroically on his camel. This beast's burden has been considerably lightened for several months, owing to the drop in tourist numbers. The comparative peace that a tourist can enjoy at the Giza Pyramids should be a significant lure, as during pre-revolution days there could be thousands of tourists at the complex at any one time and hundreds of camel owners jostling for the tourist buck. For now, one can be sure of a fair price and a friendly smile from people only too happy to have some business. Buy | Share
Caught napping: in the midst of such quiet, it's perhaps unsurprising that this guard decided he had plenty of time for 40 winks. Buy | Share
Left: An Egyptian tourist gazes into her camera, seemingly lost in the images she's captured. Right: A small boy, son of one of the souvenir sellers at the complex, entertains anyone who will listen to his homemade flute. Buy | Share
Let's pretend this photograph was taken in the 1880s (as I've tried to make it seem). What was happening at the Giza Necropolis then? At that time, archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie was working at the site. His work revealed how the ancient Egyptians managed to construct these pyramids with extreme precision. For example, he determined that The Great Pyramid was oriented four minutes West of North, which was the position of North (which migrates) in 2467 BC. Buy | Share
By the 1930s, the era of frenzied archaeological activity at the site, and also wider afield in Egypt, was beginning to decline. Some of the great Egyptologists were getting quite old by this time (George Reisner, for instance was starting to lose his sight by 1932). Growing nationalism was also leading to growing hostility within Egypt's Antiquities Service towards the involvement of foreign institutions, while Europe was becoming increasingly oriented towards war, which eventually broke out on a massive scale in the latter part of the decade. Buy | Share
As this wane in interest in making new finds continued, the money to be made from tourism was of increasing concern. In the 1950s, a decision was taken to lay a paved road for tour buses along the East face of The Great Pyramid. However, some archaeologists were at pains to argue that this ran perilously close to the pyramid, even allowing vehicles to drive over important architectural features like the basalt pavement of Khufu’s mortuary temple. When the road was eventually dismantled, several new and important finds were made. A boat pit, for example, was found to have been filled with sand to enable the road to run over it. Buy | Share