If you've been online anytime in the past decade, you might have seen a few popular photos of the Pyramids of Giza that are a bit different from the traditional views. The first reveals that, far from being surrounded by sand on all sides, the complex sits bang next to an urban area:

The second is a shot that suggests the encroachment is even worse, showing you can see the Sphinx and the Pyramids from inside a Pizza Hut next door:

Now, if you look at these photos and think, "Okay, now I know a little more about the world" or "Wow, so that's what it looks like from a different angle," great, you can never have too much knowledge. 

But when some people share these photos, they put a very specific spin on them. They're saying that the common conception of the pyramids is a lie. They're suggesting that most photos have been carefully staged to exclude the truth (much like how the Mona Lisa has to be photographed straight on from just a few feet away, to hide that it's one small painting in a room crowded with visitors). And that's misleading, much more misleading than the traditional picture perfect shots.

Yes, the city of Giza has developed right up to the east side of the Giza Plateau that has the pyramids, but also, yes, miles of featureless sand stetch to the south—and if you go past another development to the west, that desert continues for thousands of miles. Yes, you can walk to a road and get transport returning you to central Cairo, but yes, you'll also feel totally cut off from the modern world when next to the pyramids themselves. When you walk among the pyramids, or look at them from some distance as you ride a camel over the sand, it feels exactly the same as the good pictures suggest. The only thing pictures get wrong is that the pyramids look bigger in real life than they do in photos. 

As for the Pizza Hut specifically, we get that it might sound a little inappropriate. But don't think that there's, say, a mega shopping mall staring at you when you're at the Sphinx. It's a narrow store—Cairo has large Pizza Huts, but this isn't one of them—in a row of narrow stores that do not feel out of place when you're on the ground.

The Pizza Hut surely benefits from tourist traffic, but the other buildings there don't exist thanks to tourism. They exist despite tourism. Buildings even stood around there a hundred years ago

Pyramids 1926

Walter Mittelholzer / ETH-Bibliothek Zürich

Go a bit further back in time, and we suspect you'd see less build-up there. But go further still, and you might see more build-up. Five thousand years ago, the Nile flowed right up to the Giza Plateau, and society has flourished on the banks of the Nile for millennia. We also see signs of ancient buildings we haven't been able to identify next to the temples within the complex. It's entirely possible that Pizza Hut had a franchise much closer to the pyramids back in the year 2000 BC. 

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Top image: Drew Hess

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