Ask anyone who’s traveled to the Great Pyramids of Giza: no matter how many times you’ve seen them in photographs or on television, you’re never really prepared to come face-to-face with them in real life. But you can get fairly close to at least the appearance of real life by seeing the Pyramids in 4k resolution, as they’re presented in the video above from travel, architecture, and history Youtuber Manuel Bravo (previously featured here on Open Culture for his explanation of Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome atop the Florence Cathedral). This isn’t just vacation footage: Bravo tells the story of the Pyramids, puts them in context, and even incorporates virtual re-creations of what they would have looked like in their heyday.
We know the Pyramids as iconic ruins, undoubtedly mighty but also seriously dilapidated. When they were built in the 26th century BC, they were covered in white limestone exterior shells, giving them the strikingly smooth if chromatically reversed appearance of a 2001-style monolith — a characteristic that no doubt encourages certain theorists who imagine the construction process as having been executed by beings from outer space.
The technically inclined Bravo presumably has little time for such notions, filling the video as he does with details about the architecture and engineering of the Pyramids, many of them thoroughly human in nature, such as the deliberately confusing passageways meant to throw off plunderers.
Along with high-resolution footage and renderings of what the Pyramids looked like then and look like now, Bravo also includes his own on-foot explorations, showing us corners of the complex (and one especially claustrophobe-unfriendly tunnel) that we don’t normally see unless we take a tour ourselves. This close-up perspective gives him the opportunity to connect the modern human experience of these ancient monuments to their vast scale and historically distant conception. To be awed and even overwhelmed is perhaps the most natural response to the Pyramids, and for some, it’s worth the trip to experience that feeling alone. For others, answering the question of exactly how and why they awe and overwhelm becomes the work of a lifetime.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.