The earliest private burials at Giza were laid out in rows or streets of mastaba tombs divided geographically to the east and west of the Great Pyramid (generally called the Eastern Field and the Western Field). They are the tombs of high officials and minor royalty of the Old Kingdom who were rich or privileged enough to be buried close to the pharaoh’s royal tomb. There are also cemeteries grouped around the other Giza pyramids and to the south of Khafre’s causeway. The term ‘Central Field’ is given to the old quarry area between Khafre’s Pyramid and his Valley Temple and the Sphinx with Khafre’s causeway as its northern border. The Southern Field is as the name suggests, at the southern limit of the Giza necropolis where the ground rises steeply above the Giza Plateau and this has not yet been very well explored.
On an archaeological map of Giza, the necropolis is further divided into separate areas within each location, usually offshoots of the main cemeteries and mostly relating to their excavation. Cemetery GIS is immediately to the south of the Great Pyramid, and another necropolis called the Quarry Cemetery is to the west of Khafre’s pyramid. These are part of the East and Central Fields, though with a more remote location they are often treated separately. A third smaller group of tombs around Menkaure’s pyramid is generally known as the Menkaure Cemetery.
There was no standard numbering system used at Giza, each early excavator tending to use his own numerical system. The necropolis was first investigated by Lepsius, who gave each of the tombs he investigated a number and these were the numbers used by Maspero and Mariette when they re-investigated the tombs at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s excavations were begun by the Boston-Harvard Mission, directed by George Reisner, who developed a more consistent classification system. Reisner’s system is the one we use today and can be recognised by the letter G, followed by four digits. The rows of tombs are usually arranged into blocks within a particular part of a cemetery (numbers generally proceed from west to east) and a few of the larger monuments may have more than one number, for example, the tomb of Queen Meresankh is numbered G7530-7540. Dr Reisner’s classification provides a rough skeleton when searching for specific tombs.
There are currently thought to be over 6000 tombs on the Giza Plateau and around 50 have been open to the public for some time. In recent years there have been a number of newly restored tombs which are now open to the public for the first time. There are currently around 50 tombs at Giza into which visitors are allowed, but it is an impossible task to find out which ones these are, and needless to say I have not yet managed to visit them all. Some of them are open all of the time, while others may be closed for archaeological work sometimes. Many are ‘unofficially’ open, which means that if you can find a guard with a key, for a little backsheesh they will open them for you. On these pages, at least to begin with, I can only include a selection of these fascinating structures – tombs which are newly opened, easily accessible or of particular interest and if I miss out your favourites I apologise in advance.
Photography is no longer allowed inside any of the tombs.