Egypt: Secrets of an Ancient WorldGive a year of history
   
WONDER OF THE WORLD

Khufu, son of Snefru and second ruler of the 4th dynasty (time line) moved the royal necropolis to Giza, north of modern-day Cairo. According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Khufu (aka Cheops) enslaved his people to build his pyramid. But archaeologists have since disproved his account (see "Who Built the Pyramids?").

On the Giza Plateau, Khufu's builders oriented his pyramid almost perfectly north. The largest pyramid ever built, it incorporates about 2.3 million stone blocks, weighing an average of 2.5 to 15 tons each. It is estimated that the workers would have had to set a block every two and a half minutes.

The pyramid has three burial chambers. The first is underground, carved into bedrock. The second, aboveground chamber was called the queen's chamber by early explorers. We now know it was never intended to house one of Khufu's wives but perhaps a sacred statue of the king himself. The third is the king's chamber, which held a red granite sarcophagus placed almost exactly at the center of the pyramid.

The king's chamber is accessed via the 26-foot-high (8-meter-high) Grand Gallery, which was sealed off from thieves by sliding granite blocking systems.

The Great Pyramid was the centerpiece of an elaborate complex, which included several small pyramids, five boat pits, a mortuary temple, a causeway, a valley temple, and many flat-roofed tombs for officials and some members of the royal family.

CLASSIC FACT: Several mystery shafts extend from the king's and queen's chambers. Neither airshafts (they were sealed) nor hallways (they are too narrow), they may have been designed to allow Khufu to travel to the stars in his afterlife. A blocked shaft from the queen's chamber was penetrated in 2002. Archaeologists discovered another stone blocking their way (read more in National Geographic News).

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Introductory Great Pyramid photograph by Carmen Redondo/Corbis. Pharaoh Khufu, Giza Plateau, and Grand Gallery photographs by Kenneth Garrett. Khufu's ship photograph by Victor R. Boswell, Jr. Photograph of robot by Chris Sondreal/NGT&F.

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