Because its apex is in better condition and it is located on an elevation (of about 10 meters), Khafre's sometimes appears to be the largest of the three great Pyramids of the Giza Plateau. However, originally it was some three meters lower than its neighboring pyramid belonging to Khafre's father, Khufu. In fact, the walls of Khafre's pyramid are steeper than the Great Pyramid of Khufu (53o 10' as opposed to Khufu's 51o 40'), so it contains considerably less mass. It's name is "Khafre is Great".
Khafre may have, prior to his succession to the Egyptian throne in the 4th Dynasty, been named Khafkhufu, and according to Stadelmann, may have built a large double mastaba (G 7130-40) in the East section at Giza. However, his older brothers, Kauab and Djedefre apparently died early and upon taking the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt, his name was changed to Khafre.
As one of the grandest pyramids in Egypt, his construct has been much studied, with a history of modern research not unlike that of Khufu's monument. In 1818, the strongman of Egyptology, Giovanni Belzoni, succeeded in penetrating into the pyramid's interior after a failed attempt by Giovanni Caviglia only a year earlier. Belzoni discovered the pyramid's "upper entrance" and managed to investigate its subterranean sections. However, the first extensive exploration of the monument was made in 1837 by Perring.
Mariette directed excavations of the pyramid's Valley Temple, which is also related to the Great Sphinx, in 1853. A year later, he was responsible for unearthing one of ancient Egypt's most famous and beautiful statues, that of Khafre on his throne with the protective outstretched winds of the falcon god, Horus, sheltering his head from behind. While Petrie also worked on this pyramid complex while at Giza, the first systematic modern excavations did not occur until the German Ernst von Sieglin expedition of 1909-1910 under the direction of Uvo Holscher. Later in the 1930s, Hassan unearthed the boat pits associated with the pyramid, and in recent times, Lehner and Hawass have investigated the pyramid complex under the auspices of the American Giza Plateau Mapping Project. Their work has mostly centered around modern geodetic measuring techniques, which has yielded considerable knowledge on both the pyramid, and the archaeology of architecture.
Overall ground plan for the Khafre complex
The valley temple of Khafre's Giza complex, which is one of the best preserved Old Kingdom temples in Egypt. As a masterful work of ancient Egyptian monumental architecture, it was cleared of sand and in 1869 this temple, along with other monuments at Giza, became the backdrop for the ceremonial opening of the Suez Canal.
The temple was fronted on the east by a large terrace paved with limestone slabs, through which two causeways led from the Nile canal. Just about in the middle of the terrace, fragments of what may have been a small, simple, wood and matting structure was unearthed that may have been the location of a statue depicting Khafre. However, others believe that this was a tent used for purification purposes, though known examples of such a structure are only found in a few private tombs.
The temple was laid out in almost a square ground plan. It is situated just next to the Great Sphinx and its associated temple. Not surprisingly, since the valley temple was a gateway or portal to the whole complex, it is very similar to the fore part of Khafre's mortuary temple. Its core wall was built of huge blocks that sometimes weighed as much as one hundred and fifty tons. This inner core was then covered by pink granite slabs, a material used extensively throughout the complex that was quarried near Aswan far to the south. This wall was slightly inclined and rounded at the top, making the whole structure appear somewhat like a mastaba tomb.
Between the two entrances to the valley temple was a vestibule with walls of simple pink granite that were originally polished to a luster. Its floors were paved with white alabaster. A door then led to a T-shaped hall that made up a majority of the temple. This area too was sheathed with polished pink granite and paved with white alabaster, though it was also adorned with sixteen single block pink granite pillars, many of which are still in place today, that supported architrave blocks of the same material, bound together with copper bands in the form of a swallow's tail. These in turn supported the roof.Here, in the dim light provided by slits at the tops of the walls, stood as many as twenty four statues of the king (though one statue base in the middle that is larger than the others may have been counted twice) made from diorite, slate and alabaster. This line of statues continues along the cross of the T shaped hall ending at a doorway that leads to a corridor from which a stairway ramp winds clockwise up and over the top of the corridor before terminating on the roof of the valley temple.
Kafre's pyramid is surrounded by an inner, huge stone perimeter wall, within which is an open courtyard barely ten meters wide that bounds the four sides of he pyramid proper. This courtyard is paved with limestone slabs of irregular form.
As with earlier pyramids, the burial chamber has a rectangular, east-west oriented ground plan which places it at a right angle to the passage system. With the exception of its ceiling, it was excavated completely out of the rock. Located over the pyramid's base, the burial chamber's gabled ceiling is built from enormous pented, limestone blocks. Originally, the intention may have been to cover the burial chamber's walls of this chamber in pink granite. There are shaft entrances in both the north and south walls of the burial chamber that, at first, appear similar to those in the Queen's and King's cambers of the great Pyramid, but are rather short, horizontal openings that could have been used to reinforce a wooden structure inside the tomb.