Cairo / egypt / history / Tourism / Travel

Geometric Graveyards, Pt. 1

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Classes have started and AHHHHHHH suddenly I have zero free time to breathe, let alone write. (Potentially also because I have taken on a second job meaning I work 6 days a week. Sometimes 5. But if we’re being super honest I work every day because lesson planning is a joy that never ends. Go hug and thank a teacher. Right now. DO IT.) Anyway, that’s my excuse for going to visit the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, and the ruins of Memphis without a peep about it around here for a couple of weeks. Better late than never though, right?

So let’s start with Giza, because that’s what everyone cares about. Yeah, don’t lie to me, that’s like 50% of what you know about Egypt, am I right? (Don’t worry, zero judgement here. Egypt is far away.)

Well hello there. Aren't you...large.

Well hello there. Aren’t you…large.

First of all, I procrastinated this trip for like a month. I had all those weeks when I first arrived of little to nothing to do, but I was pretty focused on apartment hunting and just generally not being outside during the hellish afternoons. Plus, I’d heard TERRIBLE things about the Pyramids. If you go on your own, you’re overrun by vendors and “guides” and scammers. If you go with a group…well, you have to be with a group. (Ewww.) But eventually I decided to enlist a tour guide to help fight off some of the unwanted tourist-hunters, and so I used Your Egypt Tours. They responded to all emails AMAZINGLY fast, (for Egypt, that is. Within ~12 hours or less) sent a car to pick me up, and my tour guide Sahil was quite knowledgeable about everything and anything. My only complaint is that their tour price listed on their website is $60 (!!!) but I was told in emails that it would actually be $90 since I was on my own and they didn’t have groups they could put me in because Egypt’s tourism has been so diminished. Update your website then, people. But aside from that, all sunshine and rainbows.

Crumbling but still magnificent.

Crumbling, but still magnificent. A good chunk of the outsides of the Pyramids have been stolen, particularly by the Ottoman Empire. Whoops.

So, after being picked up in an embarrassingly large van for just me at my apartment, we drove over to Giza, with Sahil giving me a rundown of the day along with tidbits about the parts of the city we were driving through. We arrived at Giza just as it was opening, so only a couple of tour buses beat us there. Sidenote: Purchasing an entrance ticket means you can see the Pyramids. It does NOT mean you can go inside them–That’ll cost you another 40-200 Egyptian Pounds, depending on which pyramid you choose. I’ll explain why in my next post, but I chose none of them.

On the right, Khafre's pyramid, with Menkaure's on the left--the tinies pyramid in the back is actually for one of Menkaure's wives.

On the right, Khafre’s pyramid, with Menkaure’s on the left–the tiniest pyramid in the back is actually for one of Menkaure’s wives.

So let’s do the Pyramids in a quick nutshell: We have the Great Pyramid (belonging to Khufu/Cheops) the Pyramid of Khafre (Khufu’s son) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (Khafre’s son). The Great Pyramid is by far the largest–however, Khafre looks like he tried to one-up daddy because his sits on ground that is 3 meters higher, and while the pyramid is 9 meters shorter, it is at a steeper angle–so it has the illusion of being the biggest. (Khafre’s is the only pyramid that still has any of the smooth limestone outer wall, just covering the top.) Back in the day all 3 pyramids would have been gleaming white beacons to the world with desert sunshine glinting off of their sides.

Honestly the sphinx pissed me off more than anything. All those PERFECT lines and angles, and you can't get the HUMANoidanimalthing proportioned correctly?!

Honestly the sphinx pissed me off more than anything. All those PERFECT lines and angles, and you can’t get the HUMANanimalthing proportioned correctly?!

  1. Fun facts:
    Menkaure tried to be “different” by covering the bottom of his pyramid with granite, and limestone was used on the upper portion. He was the only one of the three to die before the completion of his tomb.
  2. We can thank Khafre for the Sphinx, which is supposedly guarding his tomb. In fact, the Arabic name for it is ” ابو الهول” (Abu al-hol) or the Father of Fear…it’s supposed to scare you, basically, so you stay away from the pretty decorated graves. (…Clearly that worked just great.)
  3.  It took 20 years for the Great Pyramid to be completed. Khufu ruled for 23 years. Got a nice 3 years to enjoy his manifested ego before kicking it.
  4. When it comes to mummification, everything inside the Pharaoh had to go in order for the body to dry correctly–everything, that is, except the heart, which was left to be weighed in judgement against the Feather of Truth in the afterlife. (Hint, you don’t want your heart to be heavier than that feather…)
  5. Some of the heaviest stones in the Great Pyramid weigh up to 30 tons. WHAT.

Also not to be missed at the Giza site are the Sphinx, located next to the temple to Khafre (each pyramid has a temple, his is still relatively intact) and the solar boat museum.

The whatsit?

This is actually an insanely massive boat. The archaeologist in me was really impressed by the amount of preservation as well as the skill of restoration.

This is actually an insanely massive boat. The archaeologist in me was really impressed by the amount of preservation as well as the skill of restoration.

The solar ship, friends, is one of I think 5 or 6 boats buried with good to be carried with King Khufu into the after life. Pits have been found all around his pyramid, though only one held any remains. Thousands of pieces of wood were reconstructed over 14 years–without the use of any nails–to re-create what is basically the oldest sailing vessel on the planet, now. The museum, while an eyesore outside, is large and spacious inside and pretty much designed to let you walk around with your mouth open, staring at the boat.

The outside of the plant was used for basket-weaving, and the inside was dried and then soaked in sugar water and woven together to get the cemented fibers.

The outside of the plant was used for basket-weaving, and the inside was dried and then soaked in sugar water and woven together to get the cemented fibers.

I was lucky during my visit in that few vendors hassled me, and those that did took it well when I rejected their offers, so our trip was very smooth. After we made our rounds, we headed to a nearby Papyrus shop, aka an “our-tour-program-gets-a-cut-of-their-sales-from-you” kind of relationship that admittedly has benefits–tourists can not only see how ancient papyrus was made, but also purchase some made in the same traditions today. I got a nice little show in Arabic as my tour guide thought it was a fun idea to tell the salesman I was Egyptian. Clearly that charade didn’t last long, but I was pretty tickled that my Arabic comprehension was able to get through the show-and-tell portion.

The main event finished, we piled back into the van and moved along to Saqqara and Memphis, which I shall drone on about next time as this is already extremely lengthy. So, enjoy these touristy photos before you go:

Yessssss. Workin' that camera.

Yessssss. Workin’ that camera.

Yes, yes, I was there too. And yes, yes, I photoshopped this too.

Yes, yes, I was there too. And yes, yes, I photoshopped this too.

 

To be continued…

-B

One thought on “Geometric Graveyards, Pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Memphis, Saqqara, November | Becky Abroad

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