Rare and Striking: 25 Images of The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids and the Sphinx

A wonderful collection of rare images of the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, its two neighboring, towering pyramids, and the monolithic statue of a monument carved with the body of a lion, and the head of a human are a true wonder of the ancient world. Not a single place on Earth features the type of monuments we see at Giza, both in terms of size and complexity. There is not a single ancient site that contains that much stone and that much wealth of history.

One of the oldest photos of the Great Sphinx from 1880.
One of the oldest photos of the Great Sphinx from 1880.

The pyramids and the Sphinx are an ancient encyclopedia written in stone. It’s not just the size of the great pyramid of Giza that baffles explorers, adventurers, tourists, and scholars, it is the cumulative view of the Giza Pyramid Complex that leaves an imprint in the memory of anyone who visits.

A rare view of the ancient Sphinx still buried beneath sand.
A rare view of the ancient Sphinx still buried beneath the sand.

Of all the problems concerning the pyramids of Egypt, it is their construction which is the most puzzling. Just as puzzling as it is today, it was equally so in the ancient time. Even ancient Roman writer Pliny who condemned the pyramid as an “idle and foolish exhibition of royal wealth” fund much to wonder when speaking of the pyramids.

He wrote that “the most curious questions is how the stones were raised to such a great height.”

And that is perhaps one of the greatest and most asked questions when it comes to the Great Pyramid. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built with approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops, IV Dynasty, ca. 2680 B.C. photograph by J. Pascal Sebah, ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops, IV Dynasty, ca. 2680 B.C. photograph by J. Pascal Sebah, ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
Library of Congress - Matson Photograph. Aerial view of the Pyramid of Khufu and Khafre taken in 1932. Image Credit: Flickr.
Library of Congress – Matson Photograph. Aerial view of the Pyramid of Khufu and Khafre taken in 1932. Image Credit: Flickr.

One cannot just point out one extraordinary feature of the Giza complex, because everywhere where one turns, there are secrets waiting to be uncovered, stories waiting to be told, and history waiting to be revealed.

Aerial view of the Pyramid of Khufu and Khafre. Library of Congress - Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.
Aerial view of the Pyramid of Khufu and Khafre. Library of Congress – Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.

More than 4,500 years ago, the Great Pyramid of Giza signals the zenith of the ancient Egyptian pyramid Age. The successful completion of the Great Pyramid left a profound imprint on later Egyptian history, but also laid down the foundation not only for future pyramids but for future temple complexes which by the time of Khafre were extensively redesigned and redeveloped.

A rare, ancient photograph of the Sphinx before it was completely excavated.
A rare, ancient photograph of the Sphinx before it was completely excavated.
Library of Congress - Matson Photograph Collection. Aerial view of the Giza Pyramids. Image Credit: Flickr.
Library of Congress – Matson Photograph Collection. Aerial view of the Giza Pyramids. Image Credit: Flickr.

The Great Pyramid of Giza set a pattern for future pyramid building that only the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure would follow to a certain degree.

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Rare Aerial view of the pyramids of Giza taken in 1932. Library of Congress - Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.
Rare Aerial view of the pyramids of Giza taken in 1932. Library of Congress – Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.

After the third-largest pyramid at Giza was completed; the pyramid of Menkaure, pyramid building techniques, and quality, in general, began to decline across Egypt.

Aerial View of the Pyramids at Giza. Image taken in 1932.Library of Congress - Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.
Aerial View of the Pyramids at Giza. Image taken in 1932.Library of Congress – Matson Photograph Collection. Image Credit: Flickr.

The pyramids that followed were not built with that much passion and love as the previous structures. The importance of the ancient structures also declined, and not much care was given to structures that in the time following Menkaure were already ancient to the ancient Egyptians.

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. From left to right: Menkaure, Khafre, Khufu. Photographed from a balloon from about 600 meters above ground. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. From left to right: Menkaure, Khafre, Khufu. Photographed from a balloon from about 600 meters above ground. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Image of the Sphinx before it was completely excavated. Early 19th century.
Image of the Sphinx before it was completely excavated. Early 19th century.
Profile view of Sphinx Giza Egypt 1900-1920. Image Credit: Photographium Historic Photo Archive.
Profile view of Sphinx Giza Egypt 1900-1920. Image Credit: Photographium Historic Photo Archive.

The importance of the pyramid also declined, and more effort was put into temple-building than pyramid building.

In fact, the truly gigantic stone pyramids were built over the course of only three generations in Ancient Egypt: Sneferu Khufu and Khafre.

The Pyramids of Giza, photograph by C. Zangaki ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Pyramids of Giza, photograph by C. Zangaki ca. 1880. Shutterstock.

Pharaoh Sneferu, for example, built three pyramids that contain more than 2.5 million cu. meters (124 cu. feet) of stone. All other ancient Egyptian pyramids combined, excluding satellite pyramids and queens’ pyramids, contain only 41 percent of the total mass of the pyramids built by Sneferu, his son Khufu and his grandson Khafre.

The Step Pyramid of King Zoser, III Dynasty, Old Kingdom, ca. 2590 B.C., photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Step Pyramid of King Zoser, III Dynasty, Old Kingdom, ca. 2590 B.C., photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.

Although Menkaure still used massive, multi-ton stones in the construction of his pyramid, Menkaure’s structure contained a total mass less than that of the first pyramid in Egypt, the Stone pyramid of Djoser.

The Pyramid of Cheops, photograph by G. Lekegian ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Pyramid of Cheops, photograph by G. Lekegian ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
American Air Transport Command plane flies over the pyramids of Egypt. Flights from the U.S. supplied strategic battle zones of North Africa during World War 2. 1943. Shutterstock.
American Air Transport Command plane flies over the pyramids of Egypt. Flights from the U.S. supplied strategic battle zones of North Africa during World War 2. 1943. Shutterstock.

After the pyramid boom during the fourth dynasty, pyramid building declined in Egypt. During the fifth and sixth dynasties, Pharaohs still built pyramids but on a much smaller scale and with much smaller stone and a core of stone rubble fill.

The Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx, photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx, photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.

This signalized an inferior pyramid construction, where the ancient Egyptians used materials that were much less expensive and easier to come by.

The Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx, photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx, photograph by Antoine Beato ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
Great White Fleets Sailors pose at the Sphinx during a sightseeing tour to Giza, Egypt. January 1909. Shutterstock.
Great White Fleets Sailors pose at the Sphinx during a sightseeing tour to Giza, Egypt. January 1909. Shutterstock.

During the First Intermediate Period, pyramid building nearly stopped in ancient Egypt. It was resumed in the Middle Kingdom when the first pyramids were constructed with a core of small and broken stone in casemate and with retaining walls, while later pyramids were then built with a core of mudbrick.

The Great Sphinx with the Pyramid of Pharaoh Cheops in the background. 1877 photo by French photographer Henri Bechard. Shutterstock.
The Great Sphinx with the Pyramid of Pharaoh Cheops in the background. 1877 photo by French photographer Henri Bechard. Shutterstock.

Pyramid sizes were not as standardized as during the old Kingdom, and pyramids lost their importance after the First Intermediate Period. Entrances of the pyramids no longer opened consistently from the north side, and passages in the interior of the pyramids followed entirely off-axis routes leading towards the different chambers inside the pyramid.

The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, photograph by C. Zangaki ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, photograph by C. Zangaki ca. 1880. Shutterstock.
The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, 1896. Shutterstock.
The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, 1896. Shutterstock.
A man standing in a cavity at the head of the Great Sphinx.
A man standing in a cavity at the head of the Great Sphinx.
British soldiers posing at the Great Sphinx at Giza. Image Credit Unknown.
British soldiers posing at the Great Sphinx at Giza.
The Sphinx Giza Egypt circa 1850.
The Sphinx Giza Egypt circa 1850.