The Pharaohs

Birth name: Khafre ("Appearing Like Re"), called "Chephren" by the Greeks
Rule: 2558 - 2532 BC (4th king of the 4th dynasty, Old Kingdom)
Noteworthy relatives: Khufu (father), Djedefre (brother), Menkaure (son)


Khafre succeeded his brother Djedefre as pharaoh. Egypt was prosperous during his reign, but Khafre is best remembered for his pyramid and sphinx.

Unlike his brother, Khafre had his pyramid built at Giza, next to his father's. Even though Khafre's pyramid stands 33 1/2 feet shorter than Khufu's, it appears taller because it is built on higher ground. The exterior of Khafre's pyramid was originally covered with a smooth white limestone casing, but most of it was stripped off long ago to construct other buildings in Cairo. Some of the casing wasn't pilfered: look for the smoother region near the top.


Khafre's pyramid had been robbed in ancient times and during the middle ages. In 1818 an archaeologist named Giovanni Belzoni rediscovered an entrance buried under rubble and went inside. Belzoni found Khafre's red granite sarcophagus inside the burial chamber, but the only thing inside it was some animal bones.

Guarding Khafre's pyramid is the Great Sphinx, a 75-foot tall limestone creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man (presumably Khafre). The Sphinx sits on a spot about a third of a mile in front of Khafre's pyramid, in an area that had been the source of some of the stone used to build Khufu's pyramid. Masons had cut out the huge blocks in a U-shaped path, leaving a single huge outcrop of limestone in the center. This big chunk of rock was later carved into the sphinx during Khafre's time.

When it was first built, it was brightly painted. Most of the color was stripped away by thousands of years of sand blowing against the Sphinx, but small flecks of paint still remain here and there. It originally had a false beard, a cobra on its forehead, and even a nose! A common misbelief is that Napoleon's army blew off the nose while using the Sphinx for target practice— not true. Its proboscis was whacked off in the 15th century by Muslims whose religion forbids the image of gods. And since the sphinx is so large, they found it to be a very offensive sight.

As you can see in the picture below, there are several different layers of limestone making up the Sphinx, and some are harder than others. From the neck down to the paws, the limestone is very soft and more susceptible to erosion. There has been significant damage to this portion of the Great Sphinx; part of one shoulder actually fell off in 1988. In fact, the Great Sphinx would be in even worse condition if it hadn't spent most of the last 4500 or so years buried under a protective blanket of sand!

That's right, the sphinx had been covered with the shifting sands of the desert for thousands of years. There have been many attempts to dig it up— some successful, some not (it's unburied now, of course, and has been so since 1926). The first person to clear away the sand was Tuthmosis IV. He claimed that he was out hunting in the desert and took a nap in the shadow of the Sphinx's head (which would have been the only part sticking out of the sand). While Tuthmosis was sleeping, the Sphinx came to him in a dream and promised Tuthmosis that if he cleared away the sand, he would become pharaoh. Digging started immediately and sure enough Tuthmosis IV became pharaoh in 1419 BC. A carved monument known as the Dream Stele between the Sphinx's paws commemorates the "rescue."

Khafre's pyramid is the one in the middle

Diorite statue of Khafre. By Jon Bodsworth [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Sarcophagus of Khafre. From

Watch: "The Great Sphinx." History Channel documentary on YouTube.

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