It is believed the pyramid was built as a tomb for Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (often Hellenicised as “Cheops”) and was constructed over a 20-year period. Khufu’s vizier, Hemon, or Hemiunu, is believed by some to be the architect of the Great Pyramid. It is thought that, at construction, the Great Pyramid was originally 280 Egyptian cubits tall (146.5 metres (480.6 ft)), but with erosion and absence of its pyramidion, its present height is 138.8 metres (455.4 ft). Each base side was 440 cubits, 230.4 metres (755.9 ft) long. The mass of the pyramid is estimated at 5.9 million tonnes.
The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million blocks which most believe to have been transported from nearby quarries. The Tura limestone used for the casing was quarried across the river. The largest granite stones in the pyramid, found in the “King’s” chamber, weigh 25 to 80 tonnes and were transported from Aswan, more than 800 km (500 mi) away. Traditionally, ancient Egyptians cut stone blocks by hammering into them some wooden wedges, which were then soaked with water. As the water was absorbed, the wedges expanded, causing the rock to crack. Once they were cut, they were carried by boat either up or down the Nile River to the pyramid. It is estimated that 5.5 million tonnes of limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid is surrounded by a complex of several buildings including small pyramids. The Pyramid Temple, which stood on the east side of the pyramid and measured 52.2 metres (171 ft) north to south and 40 metres (130 ft) east to west, has almost entirely disappeared apart from the black basalt paving. There are only a few remnants of the causeway which linked the pyramid with the valley and the Valley Temple. The Valley Temple is buried beneath the village of Nazlet el-Samman; basalt paving and limestone walls have been found but the site has not been excavated. The basalt blocks show “clear evidence” of having been cut with some kind of saw with an estimated cutting blade of 15 feet (4.6 m) in length, capable of cutting at a rate of 1.5 inches (38 mm) per minute.
On the south side are the subsidiary pyramids, popularly known as Queens’ Pyramids. Three remain standing to nearly full height but the fourth was so ruined that its existence was not suspected until the recent discovery of the first course of stones and the remains of the capstone. Hidden beneath the paving around the pyramid was the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, sister-wife of Sneferu and mother of Khufu.
The Giza pyramid complex, which includes among other structures the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, is surrounded by a cyclopean stone wall, the Wall of the Crow. Mark Lehner has discovered a worker’s town outside of the wall, otherwise known as “The Lost City”, dated by pottery styles, seal impressions, and stratigraphy to have been constructed and occupied sometime during the reigns of Khafre (2520–2494 BC) and Menkaure (2490–2472 BC).