The Complete Pyramids

The Giza plateau’s Great Pyramid (see pyramid at right in the photo at the beginning of this article), built by the Fourth Dynasty ruler Khufu in the middle of the third millennium B.C., is a marvel of geometric precision. The length of each side of the pyramid’s base measures 756 feet, with no side deviating from the others by more than 1.75 inches. The base is also nearly perfectly level—precise to within 0.8 inches.

As this drawing shows, the pyramid lies at the center of a large complex of structures. Khufu’s pyramid complex included a mortuary temple, where offerings to the dead king were presented; a lost causeway (or walled entrance corrridor), whose walls, reported Herodotus, once contained elaborate relief carvings; three smaller pyramids built for queens; and several pits containing the remains of wooden boats, presumably to provide transportation for the dead king’s journey to the heavens.