The Second Pyramid of Giza

The Second Pyramid was built by Pharaoh Khafre (Khafra, Chephren, Khepren or Cephrenes), the son of Cheops. It is located on higher ground and appears to be the tallest of the three large Pyramids in the Giza group. It actually is slightly smaller, various sources give it as 2 to 20 feet shorter (1/2 - 6 meters) than the Great Pyramid, the discrepancy due to estimations of the original heights. The difference certainly was intentional, Chephren, it seems, did not want to exceed the work of his father. Because of this modesty (if a builder of so great a Pyramid may be called "modest") his construction has gained the uncreative label "Second Pyramid". The upper third of this Pyramid retains its original smooth limestone casing, which gives it a unique appearance.

It is generally considered that the Pyramid of Chephren is of slightly inferior quality to that of his father, although the construction of the two pyramids is very similar. The Second Pyramid crypt is below ground, no known chambers are in it's upper portions.

chephren's pyramid
Chephren's Pyramid
engraving from "la Description de l'Egypte".

Below is reproduced an account of a visit in 1817 inside Chephren's Pyramid with Giovanni Belzoni who had only a few weeks earlier found the entrance and explored its' interior.

Exploring the Pyramid of Chephren
by Lt.-Colonel George A. F. Fitzclarence,

Published in 1819
edited and adapted for, 2006.

To the Second Pyramid we next proceeded, with difficulty passing over the ground between it and the Sphinx where the sand has been blown into small undulating banks or ridges. The Second Pyramid was the objective of Mr. Salt's present visit, as he had been well acquainted with every feature of the neighborhood, having lived there for three weeks in a tent while the Sphinx was being uncovered. (Mr. Henry Salt was a wealthy traveler and antiquarian, serving at this time as the British consul-general to Egypt. He was a long time patron and supporter of Mr. Belzoni.)

As for myself, all was equally new and interesting.

The ground in the neighborhood of the Pyramids is strewn with small pieces of limestone, which are supposed to have been placed at the angles to prevent the effects of time; for the softer limestone of which the main bodies of these stupendous buildings are constructed would have quickly crumbled at their most exposed parts. In passing the north-east angle of the Second Pyramid, Mr. Salt showed me two triangular stones of a dark color, about six feet on each side, level with the face of the ground, certainly not limestone, and I think not granite. Mr. Salt had often noticed them before. We left some Arabs to dig down to see if their sides were hewn, similar to that visible on the surface.

The Pyramid of Chephren
from "la Description de l'Egypte".

From this point I had a good view of Chephren's Pyramid. It is placed in a wide area, cut about 40 feet (12 meters) deep out of the rock, thus leaving an open space between the face of the scarped rock and the Pyramid of about 200 feet (60 meters) on the north, west, and south sides, so that the base of the Pyramid is below the real level of the ground.

The architect has taken advantage of this and although the hewn stones on the outside commence from its base, a mound of rock was undoubtedly left in the center. I conceive that the stones dug out to form this area were made use of in building the Pyramid, although it is evident that the greater part of the material was brought from the other side of the Nile, from the mountains Gebel Mokuttum and Gebel Tura.

This Pyramid has been faced with a covering of slate colored limestone, of which only the uppermost 100 feet (30 meters) from the top remains, and around its base are heaps of rubbish and dust which have over time fallen from its surface. It was with great trouble that Arabs scrambled over this coating to place lines for Belzoni's measurements. I wished to ascend the face of the Pyramid to where the limestone commences, but my time would not permit it.

The Pyramid of Chephren rises from the desert.
The Pyramid of Chephren.
From a postcard, 1900.

In the area under the opening is a large quantity of rubbish and many large stones which had been removed by Belzoni, which gave us an idea of the difficulties he had encountered in exploring the Pyramid. He had made, through the crumbling sands, a firm footing with large stones to reach the openings.

Giovanni Belzoni began his operations at the Pyramid of Chephren on the 10th of February, 1818 on the north side, employing many workmen in digging through the stones and rubbish. His crew worked for many days unsuccessfully, but he continued and on the 17th found the forced entrance.

a rough 20 foot diameter hole in Khafra's Pyramid.
The forced entrance to Chephren's (Khafra's) Pyramid
Engraving after a drawing by Giovanni Belzoni, 1820.

There had always been Arabic written accounts of this Pyramid having been opened by the Arabs with the hope of gain; and from them we learn that in the sarcophagus were found the bones of a man and some small gold tablets covered with hieroglyphics, which were put into the crucible and divided amongst the spoilers.

They are stated to have been but of little intrinsic value, but what a loss was sustained to the lovers of antiquity by this outrage! The hieroglyphics, both from the value of the metal on which they were wrought, and the history which they were doubtless intended to communicate, were from every point of view invaluable.

This entrance, discovered on the 17th, Belzoni was satisfied was a forced passage, and not the real one. On the following day his workmen dug their way inside about five feet when the stones and rubbish began to fall from above, and though constantly cleared away for some days, continued to descend in great quantities, until at last an upper forced entrance was discovered, connecting with the first inside the Pyramid.

Belzoni then perceived a continuation of the first passage. This passage was cleared of numerous obstructions, and found to extend more than 100 feet (30 m) into the center of the Pyramid. The passage then ended abruptly.

Under mountains of sand the true, original entrance to Chephren's Pyramid.
The true entrance to Chephren's Pyramid
Engraving after a drawing by Giovanni Belzoni, 1820.

We next proceeded to the real entrance, and I cannot understand by what indication Belzoni dug so directly down to it, for it was no less than thirty feet (9 m) eastward of the forced passage. This sagacity of Mr. Belzoni is even more remarkable when it is considered that in his great discovery at the Valley of the Kings near Thebes he dug down immediately to the entrance of the Tomb of Seti I, though it had been fully covered by sand deposited by a stream of water falling over the entrance.

After many days' hard work, on the 28th of February, Belzoni discovered the corner of a block of granite inclined towards the center of the Pyramid; and was convinced, from the inclination being the same as that of the First Pyramid, and doubtless from granite having been used, that the entrance was near. Subsequent discovery of other large blocks on the 1st of March, although they materially retarded his approach, gave him almost certain hopes of success.

On the 2d of March he opened the true entrance to the Pyramid of Cephrenes (Chephren or Khafre). It had been generally believed that this Pyramid contained no chambers, although this was contradicted by the historical account of the Arabs having opened it.

The four blocks of granite forming the entrance to the passage, which is an opening four feet (1+ meter) high and three feet and a half wide, are well hewn stones, and there is a continuation of them slanting downwards, at an angle of twenty-six degrees with the horizon, the same inclination as that of the Pyramid of Cheops (Great Pyramid). This first passage is lined the whole way with granite, and it in this it is superior to the entrance passage of the Great Pyramid, which is constructed of softer limestone.

Gopher like tunnels lead to the Great Chamber of the Pyramid of Chephren.
The original and forced passages in Chephren's Pyramid
Engraving by Charles Hullmandel after
a drawing by Giovanni Belzoni, 1820.

After having satisfied ourselves as to the inclination of the passage, we each received a small wax candle. The extreme hardness of the granite floor of the passage will render it a work of time to make steps to prevent slipping down, as it was, I risked very nearly breaking my neck. A strong bar of wood, about five feet (1 1/2 meters) long, was placed resting across the outside granite blocks, with a rope from the center the length of the passage. This greatly facilitated our descent. Belzoni, proud of showing us his discovery, went first as our guide, Mr. Salt went next, and I followed.

This passage on its discovery was full of large stones, which required very considerable force to draw forth. Over a hundred feet (30 m) down this tunnel was a portcullis, or door, of granite fitted into a niche above. This moveable piece of granite Belzoni found supported by small stones to within eight inches of the floor, and due to the narrowness of the place it took up the whole of that day and part of the next to raise it sufficiently to allow him to enter. This portcullis is one foot three inches (1/3 m) thick, and six feet eleven inches (2 m) in height. To pass this (the stone had not been raised more than a foot higher than it was originally) it was necessary to creep upon my belly beneath it. Belzoni, having gone through, assured me from the other side of the stone that he had placed two pieces of granite to support it, and thus reassured I managed to pass under it.

We relit the candles, which had been extinguished, and continued. We were now able to stand up, and after walking along a passage cut in the rock twenty-two feet (7 m) long, came to a perpendicular descent of fifteen feet (4 1/2 m). This descent was made easier by a number of stones being formed into a crude flight of steps placed there by Belzoni.

We continued through several passageways which brought us to a chamber thirty-two feet long (10 m), nine feet (3 m) wide, and eight feet (2 1/2 m) in height with a pent roof. A number of stones, about eighteen inches long, eight wide, and six high, were piled against the wall. Belzoni informed me, that when he first entered it there were some inscriptions formed by the smoke of a candle on the roof, which he fancied were Coptic, but as several visitors have since also carved their names in the same space they have become so blended that nothing is to be clearly distinguished.

We returned to the passage, which runs north about thirty feet (9 m) more, at the end of which is a niche to receive a portcullis similar to that before mentioned. This had evidently been of granite, and fragments of it lay nearby.

Our next investigation was directed to the passage leading to the center chamber. This passage is almost entirely cut out of the living rock, but about half way there are some stones introduced, as Belzoni supposes, to fill up fissures in the stratum. In many parts the walls are encrusted with fine crystals, frequently resembling sheep's fleece, and sparkling beautifully with the reflection of our candles. This passage is five feet eleven inches high (less than 2 m), three feet six inches wide (1 m), and the length to the great chamber is 158 feet (48 m).

A large rectangular chamber with a triangle roof, at the center of the pyramid of Chephren.
The Great Chamber of Chephren's Pyramid
Engraving by Charles Hullmandel after
a drawing by Giovanni Belzoni, 1820.

We now entered the great chamber, which is forty-six feet (14 m) long, sixteen feet (5 m) wide, and twenty feet (6 m) high. A large mass of native rock fills the center of the Pyramid, and almost the whole of this chamber is cut out of it, excepting a part of the roof towards the western end, which is of masonry. The floor of this chamber is exactly level with the base of the Pyramid, the roof is of a pent-house form. On the wall, immediately opposite where we entered, Belzoni has inscribed, in the Italian language and in large letters his name and the date of his discovery.

In the west end of the chamber a sarcophagus of granite is buried in the ground to the level of the floor, placed due north and south. This sarcophagus is surrounded by large blocks of granite, placed there in all probability to prevent its removal, but Belzoni has determined to do so, though it must be attended with much labor. The lid is placed diagonally across it. Belzoni found within it the bones of a human skeleton, which could be the bones of Pharaoh Chephren, who is supposed to have built this Pyramid. Belzoni presented me with three or four pieces, and on learning it was my intention to deposit them in the British Museum, he added others, making in all seven pieces of bone.

The floor of the chamber has been forced up in several places, doubtless in search of treasure. Under one of these stones Belzoni found a piece of metal, evidently the head of an iron mallet or hatchet. Iron being unknown in the time of the Pyramid's construction this must be a relic of a later intrusion. This hatchet, which he was so good as to give me, I also intend for the British Museum.

Very high up in the center of the wall there are two small square holes, about a foot in diameter, one to the north, and the other to the south. They are of considerable depth, like those in the great chamber of the Great Pyramid, and I cannot conjecture what could have been their use.

On the wall of the western side of the chamber is an Arabic inscription, which declares"This Pyramid was opened by the masters Mehomed El Aghar and Otman, and inspected in the presence of the Sultan Ali Mehomed the 1st Yugluck.", showing proof that the Arabs had indeed penetrated the Pyramid in ancient times. Belzoni stated that there were several inscriptions on the walls, but I was not satisfied as to the language in which they were written.

On the left hand side of the passage, on returning a few feet from the great chamber, two Arabic inscriptions give the names of two men who had visited this Pyramid, the last thing worthy of note which I remarked in the interior of this stupendous fabric, issuing from which, we revisited the light of day.

I cannot help thinking that this Pyramid must contain more chambers, which it is possible may yet be discovered. I should conceive that at whatever period it may have been opened, it was immediately closed again, as the state of the granite passage, the whiteness of the limestone walls throughout, and the very small number of inscriptions, show that very few persons have entered it. On the block of granite across the entrance on the outside, Belzoni has again cut his name, and certainly no one has a better claim to be indulged in this innocent vanity.

Edited excerpt from "Journal of a route
across India and through Egypt to England in 1817-18",
written by Lieutenant-Colonel George Augustus Federick Fitzclarence,
Published in 1819.
Adapted for in 2006.

A second entrance - from the plaza near the Pyramid,
was discovered after the above was written.


In his turban and full beard, Belzoni is the archetypal adventurer.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who opened the Second Pyramid.
A former circus strongman, he stood 6 feet 6 inches (nearly two meters) in height.
Engraving by T. Woobuth, 1825.

Belzoni's autograph in the Great Chamber of the Second Pyramid.
Photo: EgyptArchive.

The Giza pyramids are located upon a relatively flat plateau.
A map of the Giza necropolis by Prisse de l'Avennes, 1878.

wings of the Sun.

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