The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb for fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek) over an approximately 20 year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially at 146.5 metres (480.6 ft), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, the longest period of time ever held for such a record.
Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface; what is seen today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base. There have been varying scientific and alternative theories about the Great Pyramid's construction techniques. Most accepted construction hypotheses are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place.
There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called Queen's Chamber and King's Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only pyramid in Egypt known to contain both ascending and descending passages. The main part of the Giza complex is a setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honor of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller "satellite" pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles.
The original entrance to the Great Pyramid is 17 metres (56 ft) vertically above ground level and 7.29 metres (23.9 ft) east of the center line of the pyramid. From this original entrance there is a Descending Passage .96 metres (3.1 ft) high and 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide which goes down at an angle of 26° 31'23" through the masonry of the pyramid and then into the bedrock beneath it. After 105.23 metres (345.2 ft), the passage becomes level and continues for an additional 8.84 metres (29.0 ft) to the lower Chamber, which appears not to have been finished. There is a continuation of the horizontal passage in the south wall of the lower chamber; there is also a pit dug in the floor of the chamber. Some Egyptologists suggest this Lower Chamber was intended to be the original burial chamber, but Pharaoh Khufu later changed his mind and wanted it to be higher up in the pyramid.
At 28.2 metres (93 ft) from the entrance is a square hole in the roof of the Descending Passage. Originally concealed with a slab of stone, this is the beginning of the Ascending Passage. The Ascending Passage is 39.3 metres (129 ft) long, as wide and high as the Descending Passage and slopes up at almost precisely the same angle. The lower end of the Ascending Passage is closed by three huge blocks of granite, each about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) long. At the start of the Grand Gallery on the right-hand side there is a hole cut in the wall (and now blocked by chicken wire). This is the start of a vertical shaft which follows an irregular path through the masonry of the pyramid to join the Descending Passage. Also at the start of the Grand Gallery there is a Horizontal Passage leading to the "Queen's Chamber". The passage is 1.1m (3'8") high for most of its length, but near the chamber there is a step in the floor, after which the passage is 1.73 metres (5.7 ft) high.
The Grand Gallery continues the slope of the Ascending Passage, but is 8.6 metres (28 ft) high and 46.68 metres (153.1 ft) long. At the base it is 2.06 metres (6.8 ft) wide, but after 2.29 metres (7.5 ft) the blocks of stone in the walls are corbelled inwards by 7.6 centimetres (3.0 in) on each side. There are seven of these steps, so at the top the Grand Gallery is only 1.04 metres (3.4 ft) wide. It is roofed by slabs of stone laid at a slightly steeper angle than the floor of the gallery, so that each stone fits into a slot cut in the top of the gallery like the teeth of a ratchet. The purpose was to have each block supported by the wall of the Gallery rather than resting on the block beneath it, which would have resulted in an unacceptable cumulative pressure at the lower end of the Gallery.
Today tourists enter the Great Pyramid via the Robbers' Tunnel dug by workmen employed by Caliph al-Ma'mun around AD 820. The tunnel is cut straight through the masonry of the pyramid for approximately 27 metres (89 ft), then turns sharply left to encounter the blocking stones in the Ascending Passage. Unable to remove these stones, the workmen tunnelled up beside them through the softer limestone of the Pyramid until they reached the Ascending Passage. It is possible to enter the Descending Passage from this point, but access is usually forbidden.