Sunday, 21 August 2011

... Egypt: Geometrically Gargantuan in Giza

In the middle of the congested city suburb of Giza lies the only remaining wonder of the Seven Ancient Wonders of The World. Standing proud for 4000 years with their immense size, impeccable geometry and unusual shape, the Pyramids of Giza are Egypt's most iconic images. Nothing whatsoever can prepare you for the sense of wonderment and sheer awe you feel when you first set eyes on them. Absolutely nothing.

The tourist scene is pretty intense that's for sure. There are touts everywhere you look and when you're not trying to avoid them you're trying to avoid being mown down by a camel. Entry was LE£60 and then if you chose to go in one of the Pyramids (two of the three are open to visitors and they rotate every few years) it's extra.

It was their belief in eternal life that led the ancient Egyptians to build such incredible structures. Pharaoh's were deemed to be a son of the Gods and it was his role to conduct the Gods' powers to his people. As a result he was honored in life and worshipped in death.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest in Giza and the largest in Egypt. Originally standing at 146m high, it's height has been reduced by 9m over the centuries. It is believed to consist of approximately 2.3 million limestone blocks weighing in at about 2.5 tonnes each!





The Pyramid of Khafre (son) seems larger but it's actually not, it just stands on higher ground. It is the only pyramid of the 3 still capped with a limestone casing.




The smallest pyramid is the Pyramid of Menkaure. This pyramid has a long slog out of it. Sounded like a good challenge to me for a mere LE£30 compared to the LE£100 for Khufu. There isn't much to see inside any of the pyramids except limestone and more limestone, but the experience of doing it, in my humble opinion, is more than worth it. However if you suffer from claustrophobia then it is probably not for you. Good airflow from an ancient airflow shaft will help you breathe easier although then you start contemplating the immense weight suspended above you. It really is quite something. Oh and you're not allowed to take cameras inside the pyramid. *cough*




The distance between the pyramids is a lot to cover on foot in the intense heat and so the best way to travel? By camel of course! It's quite the experience riding one of the gargling creatures across the desert. Mine seemed to take quite a shine to me as he provided me with transport to Menkaure. He would try nuzzling my foot and at one point decided to wipe his eyeball on my sandal. Lovely. Just what I wanted, camel eye goo on my foot. He did at least appear to smile in all his pictures.

On seeing the Sphinx for the first time I couldn't quite believe how much smaller it was than I had expected it to be. Not that that takes away anything from how amazing it was to see this intriguing monument that is unfortunately showing signs of decay (they say it's the stone equivalent of Cancer). This feline man is actually called after a Greek name and is carved from bedrock. He is missing his nose & beard and some still like to blame Napoleon for the removal of the nose. Napoleon's involvement has since been proven to have been impossible. Besides my camera didn't care about a missing nose. My trigger-finger went absolutely crazy during my time there.




The Egyptian Museum near Midan Tahrir is one of the most important museums of ancient history in the world. The number of exhibits means the building is literally bursting at the seams and so don't plan to see everything in one visit - you will be sorely disappointed. The highlights usually have the crowds around them but I found the best way to explore was simply walk around and see what caught my eye. My list of must-see exhibits has to include:
Tutankhamun Galleries
Old Kingdom Rooms
The Royal Mummy Room - extra charge but well worth it to see mummies such as Ramses II
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
Animal Mummies - birds, cats, dogs, fish & crocodiles

Obviously the treasures of Tutankhamun are amongst the World's most famous antiquities. The tomb & treasures of this Boy-King were discovered in 1922 by English archaeologist Howard Carter and about 1700 items are spread throughout several rooms on the first floor. The room everyone wants to see contains the pharaoh's golden sarcophagi, jewels and of course the iconic death mask. The solid gold 11kg mask is quite simply astonishing to look at.

Be prepared to leave your camera at the cloakroom before entering the museum. Absolutely no photography is allowed inside. There are also several queues for your enjoyment *cough*, which I'm sure would be an absolute nightmare during peak season. Metal detectors, xray machines, ticket barriers and a bag search will all greet you before you can actually start taking in this wonderfully rewarding visit.

As I prepare to leave Cairo by overnight train to Aswan, I take a little piece of the Pharaonic wonders implanted in my brain today with me in the form of a sheet of papyrus with my name written in hieroglyphs and the eye of Horus (wedjat) looking over me protectively.





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