The Great Pyramids Of Giza

What can you say about the Great Pyramids that hasn’t already been said or written? There are some world monuments that have become iconic, we have seen pictures of them thousands of times, studied them in school, read about them, like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Coliseum in Rome, but none are as famous or as spectacular as the Pyramids of Egypt.  You can’t really grasp their magnitude until you see them up close with your own eyes.  No visit to this part of
the world would be complete without some time touring the Pyramids, so of course that was near the top of my list.  When I arrived and we drove through the streets of Cairo I kept searching the skyline for a glimpse of the Pyramids, without any luck… until I arrived at my hotel.  I went out onto the balcony and there they were.  They were shrouded in a smoggy haze but were still breathtaking. The next day I got up
early to visit these historic icons.  I had always thought they were separated from the urban area, set apart in the middle of the desert, but was surprised to see the city has grown up around them.  The gates don’t open until 8am and usually there  is a stampede to the ticket booth to make sure you are among the 150 lucky people to purchase a pass to climb inside the Pharaoh Cheops Great Pyramid, the largest of the 111 pyramids scattered around Egypt. But when we arrived there were just a handful of people, tourist numbers are still way down from the revolution just a couple of months ago.  We got our ticket and made our way inside but had to leave our cameras behind.  It was a strenuous climb up a massive ramp that you huff and puff your way up about 60 meters, stooped over to risk hitting your head on the low stone ceiling, only about 2 meters high.  Going up is manageable despite the climb, but going down was more of a challenge in the same stooped over position.  Once you reach the top you enter a chamber, with nothing really inside.  It is warm and stuffy but luckily there were only 2 other people inside at the time, during peak tourist season (in the days before the revolution) there can be dozens of people making the climb, making it slower, hotter and even stuffier.  If you miss the first ticket release you have another chance at 1pm, the hottest time of the day which makes the climb almost
unbearable and more difficult to catch your breath inside.  I was travelling with my guide Hend, a remarkable Egyptian woman who studied Egyptian tourism for 4 years, taught herself fluent English in just 7 months and has been giving tours like mine for 7 years.  She also brought along her friend Anna from Naples, Italy who was considering a job giving Egyptian tours.  Hend gave us a brief overview of the Great Pyramid; it’s the largest at 146 meters when it was built in 2600BC although erosion has brought it down several meters since.  Astronomers at the time understood that it is 146,000km to the sun, the most revered god ‘Ra’ which inspired the size. It used 2.3 million blocks of stone and took more than 30 years to build, although workers only had 3 months of the year to construct it, when the Nile would flood the surrounding farm fields. They were all clad in white limestone to reflect the sun, but only a small part of one of the Pyramids still has the limestone near the top.  Cheops son built his own pyramid next to his fathers and built it on a raised platform, so while it looks bigger it was only 137 meters when completed.  He had planned to cover it in granite but died before it could be completed so just a small section at the bottom has the granite cladding. Chephren also built the mighty Sphinx to guard his pyramid.  It’s believed the face of the Sphinx is actually Chephren’s face.  Because the city has built up around these magnificent monuments the Sphinx now looks down onto a Pizza Hut and KFC… a sign of the times. There is a third and smaller Pyramid, built by Chephren’s son Mycerinus also on the same site, and next to each Pyramid is what appear to be piles of rocks but in fact were much smaller Pyramids for each of the king’s wives.  As you stand gazing at these massive structures you are transported back in time, imagining the herculean effort that went into constructing them.  You can imagine the thousands of men cutting the massive blocks of stone, then hauling them onto barges to float up the Nile to their final resting place where they were dragged to the construction site and then hoisted up, one on top of the other to create this stairway to heaven. We also visited the Pyramids of Saqqara, the largest burial site in Egypt, with 11 Pyramids excavated there (another was recently uncovered nearby along with several mummies one wearing a golden mask encased in a brightly painted wooden sarcophagus). The Step Pyramid was the first, built for King Zoser around 2650BC. Previously royalty was buried in tombs buried under mud and brick mounds. It is the world’s oldest stone structure.  It was constructed of 6 steps, and encased in white limestone.  The entire complex is massive and surrounded by a wall, part of which still stands today with a colonnade of columns leading to a false door to allow the King’s spirit to enter and leave whenever he wanted. The Pyramids are truly awe inspiring and something that will stay with you forever, something that everyone should aspire to visit at least once in a lifetime.

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