Cairo: The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt

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The Great Pyramid in Giza along with Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure

Giza…The wonders of the Pyramids

Our flight from Jordan was short and we had no issue passing through Passport Control and securing our luggage. We walked outside and found our driver that would take us to the hotel by the Giza pyramids.

It was about midday, and we had no exceptions about the drive to the hotel. Driving in Cairo is a story in itself! Our destination took us through the city of Cairo, west, across the Nile River into the Giza part of metropolitan Cairo.

We laughed with our driver about the traffic; there seemed to be no order or rules. We asked how he trained, and he joked, “I drive like I am in a go-cart!” It was scary sometimes, but as long as you don’t pretend you’re the backseat driver, you just close your eyes! As we were driving, it seems that there are no left turns. You drive past where you would turn, and then make a U-turn, followed by the right turn!

Our driver gave us some interesting information on the size of Cairo. The city is about 175 square miles with a population of 10 million people. (Not Metro Cairo). We decided to compare it to the five boroughs of New York City, which is 302 square miles and home to 8 million people. Those of us that are familiar with New York City believe it is very crowded. The population is twice as dense in Cairo, very crowded!

What you notice on the Giza side of the Nile River

After crossing the Nile River, the road widened. To make room, buildings were shaved off, and you could see wallboard and other items from where the building was “cut off.” Fortunately, the people were relocated to other apartments to live but we were told it was still sad since some were moved away from the friends and family they had lived near all their life!

Cut off buildings when road expanded in cairo

Marriott Mena House – A very historical Hotel

As we got into the Giza area, we became more excited when we saw our first pyramid in the distance; Janice got chills from the excitement ahead of us. We arrived at our hotel, the Marriott Mena House, it was beautiful, and it is very close to the base of the Great Pyramid. We did not know that the hotel has a long and rich history and is considered one of the best in Cairo.

The Mena House was initially a hunting lodge, a two-story hut nicknamed the “Mud Hut.” It was built in 1869 for the Egyptian Khedive (Khedive was a name for “governor” in those days).

It was sold to a British Couple in 1885, and they immediately began construction on the hotel and opened it to the public in 1886 as The Mena House. The hotel is named after the founding father of the first Egyptian dynasty, Mena. During WWI and WWII, the hotel was used by forces from Australia and Great Britain. Churchill spent a lot of time there, as did Montgomery. The hotel still has the Churchill and Montgomery suits for guests.

The Meta Hotel was used by Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menachem Begin, to set the framework for the Camp David Accords that brought peace between Egypt and Israel.

We woke up early the next morning to catch breakfast before our tour, and we have to tell you we got chills just looking over at the Great Giza Pyramid!

View of great pyramid from meta hotel managed by marriott

The Giza Pyramid Complex

Janice has, through our various trips, picked local companies to supply our local guides that are knowledgeable on the various sites we wish to visit. Our guide for our Cairo stay met us at the front desk, and we were off for the day. He introduced himself as Sam English but later to find out it was Sameh Fawzi. As we tell the stories of Cairo, you will get to know him very well!

We drove to the Giza pyramid complex, known as the Giza Necropolis, tombs, graves, and memorials. Sam explained what we were going to see and how they went together. The complex included the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure.

Khufu, the second king of the 4th dynasty, was the northernmost and oldest pyramid of the group. The Khufu complex included a mortuary temple where the king was mummified. That temple was linked via a sloping causeway to a valley temple on the edge of the Nile floodplain where the king’s body was moved to the mortuary.

The Great Pyramid

John and Janice in front of the great pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid was constructed between 2575 and 2465 BC. It is the largest of all the pyramids in Egypt, The Great Pyramid consists of an estimated 2.3 million blocks. Approximately 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000  tons of granite, and 500,000 tons of mortar.

How was it built? Some say it was built over a 20-year period with over 100,000 workers. They only worked on the pyramids when the Nile River flooded, and they could not farm. By the late 20th century, however, archaeologists found evidence that a more limited workforce may have occupied the site on a permanent rather than a seasonal basis. It was suggested that as few as 20,000 workers, with accompanying support personnel (bakers, physicians, priests, etc.), would have been adequate for the task.

The Great Pyramid’s core is made of yellowish limestone blocks, the outer casing (now almost completely gone) and the inner passages are of finer light-colored limestone, and the interior burial chamber is built of huge blocks of granite. The pyramids’ design was so precise that it showed incredible engineering expertise at that time. Archeologists say the angles are no more than one degree off at any point.

Standing next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, WOW…We found ourselves just awe-struck at its massive size of it. Sam told us we could go inside to a chamber for an extra fee, but there was nothing there to see, and we would be better off waiting until later when we would visit another pyramid where the inside was remarkable.

While we looked at the massive structure, Sam knew exactly where to take the pictures. Some were a bit “Hokey” but lots of fun!

To Camel or not to Camel, That is the Question!

We drove around to where we could ride a camel.  We were scheduled for up to 45 minutes, but 10-15 minutes made more sense. 

Man organizing camel ride, looks like he is from "central casting" at giza pyramid
John being helped by sam and others getting on camel

We met the man organizing the camel ride, and You have to laugh; he was directly  from “central casting.” Just perfect!!

 Sam helped John on the camel; he was always informative and caring.  Once you sit o the camel, he extends his back legs, and you hold on, thinking you will fall over his head. He then extends his front legs, and up you go. A funny experience.

Riding in the desert near the Great Pyramid makes you feel like you are a part of history! It was a true “Kodak Moment.” Here we are in the beginnings of civilization!

The Great Sphinx of Egypt

The Great Sphinx in front of the Great pyramid in Giza

The Great Sphinx is among the world’s largest sculptures, measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high. It features a lion’s body and a human head adorned with a royal headdress. There is only speculation as to who the head of the Sphinx image is. The archaeological evidence suggests that it was created by ancient Egyptians during the reign of Khafre (2558–2532 BC). The statue was carved from a single piece of limestone, and pigment residue suggests that the entire Great Sphinx was painted. According to some estimates, it would have taken about three years for 100 workers to finish the statue using stone hammers and copper chisels.

An Egyptian Arab historian wrote in the 15th century that the nose was destroyed by a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr. In 1378 AD, Egyptian peasants made offerings to the Great Sphinx in the hope of controlling the flood cycle, which would result in a successful harvest. Outraged by this blatant devotion, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism. Whether this is an absolute fact is still debatable since there is no proof, maybe the 15th-century writer just told a good story!

Our Guide Sameh Fawzi

It is time to talk about our guide, Sam. First, he is extremely knowledgeable and engaging. He lives in Cairo and is a full-time guide working for a tour company. Sam is a Christian and gave us an interesting history of Christians in Egypt. Saint Mark’s mission in Alexandria during the first century AD spread Christianity through Egypt under Roman rule. Roman emperor Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, which was the recognized and main religion in Egypt until the Muslims took over Egypt in 641 AD. Christians became second-class citizens and were persecuted for centuries.

Sam was very enthused as a Christian with the recent political changes. Under President Mubarak and the short period of the Muslim Brotherhood under Morsi, Christians were still persecuted. Since General el. Sisi took over the government, and Christians are treated with much more respect.

Saqqara and the pyramid and Pyramid Teti

Saqqara contains the oldest complete stone building complex known in history, the Pyramid of Djoser, built in the Third Dynasty (2650 – 2475). Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation.

The pyramid of Teti is a smooth-sided pyramid situated in Saqqara. Teti (2345–2323 BC), was the first ruler of the Sixth Dynasty Upon completion, it stood 52.5 m tall. Although it was originally encased in blocks of fine limestone, its core consists of small blocks of local limestone and debris fill. This meant that, when the casing blocks were removed in antiquity, the core, unable to sustain its shape, began to droop. The pyramid appears a little different from a natural hill today as a result. It is the second known pyramid containing texts and designs. The preservation above ground is very poor, and it now resembles a small hill.

A descending passageway turns into a horizontal corridor, which leads to an antechamber. The burial chamber’s ceiling is decorated with gold stars against a dark blue background, reflecting the ancient Egyptian notion of the tomb as a microcosm of the universe. The end of the corridor and the entirety of the antechamber and burial chamber are beautifully decorated with Pyramid Texts. These are a collection of rituals and recitations that were designed to ensure the king’s successful journey to the afterlife. Since the originally intended decorative program was never completed, that indicates the king’s untimely death. In the third century BC the ancient Egyptian priest and historian, Manetho recorded that Teti was killed by his bodyguards, but there is little evidence to support this.

Going into the Teti Burial Chamber

Now there was a decision to make do we go down to see Teti’s tomb or not? The passage was open which would allow us to go down to the chamber and the room where the sarcophagi (the stone or wooden box, where the mummy is placed and sealed) were stored.

One could see it was downhill with small pieces of wood put into the rock so you would not slip on the descent. The space was only about four feet high causing you to crouch, bending your back and knees to move down to the tomb.

We opted to go for it. Sam said he would join us, which he usually doesn’t do. He’s a guide and he guided us to the tomb!! Once we got to the bottom of the steep hill, there was another smaller flat tunnel we needed to go through to reach the actual tomb. It was about the same height but smaller in width. You had to bend over even more. We finally reached the tomb and could stand. We looked back for Sam, he eventually arrived with a big grin on his face! He is claustrophobic, and it was very hard for him to go down into the tomb. For us, it was amazing. We got down and, while looking at the beauty of the tomb, wondered if we could make it back up.

There were stars carved into the walls, and many pyramid texts, there were several rooms, and the room where the sarcophagus, the container of the king, was located. It was quite the experience.

While making our way back up the shaft, people were trying to come down. Needless to say, this was not a place for two-way traffic. The people behind us had to be patient as we were not going very fast. We made it back up to the top. Sam said it best. “Praise to God we made it!!” This was truly an experience of a lifetime.

Sam then took us for lunch at one of his favorite Giza restaurants. It was a simple mixed grill with wonderful sauces and various salads. Plenty to eat and good “local” food.

The Stair Pyramid – Pyramid of Djoser

The next stop was the Pyramid of Djoser, still in the Saqqara complex.

We got to the entrance and headed into the Entrance Colonnade of the step pyramid complex.

The entrance you can see where the massive door once protected the entrance to the complex. The ceiling blocks here were carved into the shape of tree trunks and a wider corridor flanked by 40 limestone columns arranged in pairs that fronted projecting walls, which formed alcoves. The columns were each nearly 20 ft tall and were fashioned to resemble bundled reeds; They supported a limestone ceiling whose blocks were carved again into the form of palm tree trunks. Twenty-four alcoves are suggested to have held statues of the king or perhaps, because of their number, a double statue of the king.

View of the Step Pyramid from the South Court
View of the Step Pyramid from the South Court

We walked around and then headed outside to the South Court. The South Court is the vast expanse separating the Step Pyramid from the South Tomb. The Step Pyramid complex is a stone, eternal, version of the royal palace, and the South Court is the palace’s courtyard, where the king would have made formal appearances. It also had a ritual function. A pair of crescent-shaped stones lie at the north and south ends of the South Court. These were symbolic of Egypt’s northern and southern borders.

Memphis was the capital of Egypt from 3000 BC Until 700 AD

All of the necropoleis, such as Giza and Saqqara were a part of Memphis. Memphis was founded in the 1st dynasty (3100 BC) by King Narmer, Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt and the first capital city after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It remained the capital city of Ancient Egypt throughout the Old Kingdom. Due to a large number of necropolises (these are ancient cemeteries) associated with Memphis. After the Arabs took over Egypt, Memphis was destroyed and abandoned. The temples, buildings, shrines, and walls were dismantled and used to build the city of Fustat, the first capital of Muslim Egypt, which later became Cairo.

Mit Ruhaynh Open Air Museum, Where Memphis Once Existed

You walk into the open-air museum and the first thing you encounter is the Memphis Sphinx (The Alabaster Sphinx).

The Sphinx-the largest calcite statue ever discovered in the Mit Ruhaynh Open Air Museum, located where Memphis once existed
The Sphinx-the largest calcite statue ever discovered

The Sphinx is calcite stone and is located near the remains of Memphis which was once the capital of Egypt, It is the largest calcite statue ever discovered. The carving was believed to take place between 1700 and 1400 BC. It is unknown which pharaoh is being honored and there are no inscriptions to supply information. The Alabaster Sphinx was carved from an 80-ton rock.

Inside the small museum lies the sculpture of Ramses II, dated around 1200 BC. It was damaged in an earthquake so it is missing part of its legs and one hand. The statue, which is about 14 meters high, is beautifully carved from a whole piece of limestone. Although it has been around 3200 years, the hieroglyphic writing on it is still visible. It is Magnificent!

Ramses II Head in the Mit Ruhaynh Open Air Museum, located where Memphis once existed
Ramses II Head


That evening we were to attend the light show at the Great Pyramid. Unfortunately, the show was canceled by the government for the evening. Sam had no idea why. He said it just happens, that’s Egypt! We decided to head to the hotel take a short rest and go out to dinner. We had a very nice meal at the same place we had lunch, then back to the hotel, we were EXHAUSTED!

Comments

  1. Stuart Shull

    WOW – what an exciting experience👍‼️👏👏

  2. kathy kiciak

    All I can say is it is truly an unbelievable trip of a lifetime – without a doubt – pretty inconceivable from my limited travel experience. What a trip for you guys! What memories…. xoxo

    1. Kathy, Was always a dream of mine/ours..We have more to tell but are already on our way home..takes many hours to write but
      we will complet ethe rest int he next week or so.Just found out there was an attack (physiical shoot em up) at the pInehurst grid..6 substauions down and the FBI is investigating..so when we get home no power for days..amy have to grab the car and head up to Zraleigh..Never a dull moment..If i did not tell you..Janice passed away a few weeks ago..
      Best, janice

    2. Kathy, Was always a dream of mine/ours..We have more to tell but are already on our way home..takes many hours to write blog but we will complete it in the next week or so. Just found out there was an attack (physical shoot it up we hear). At the Pinehurst grid, 6 substauions down and the FBI is investigating..so when we get home no power for days..may have to grab the car and head up to Raleigh…Never a dull moment..If I did not tell you..Janice passed away a few weeks ago.
      Best, janice

  3. Cathy Wilson

    I’ve been sharing your adventures with extended family and friends. Egypt is on everyone’s bucket list. Thanks for the journal, it is like being there!

    1. Cathy:

      We still have a few posts to write on Egyp. We don’t blame them; it is a “Bucket List” location. Ancient history is beyond belief. Art and engineering blow your mind away! The people we met could not be more sociable and love America.

      Merry Christmas

      Love,

      John and Janice

  4. Hedi Eickert

    Thank you for sharing! What an experience ! Your description and writing is excellent . It felt as if I were with you , just fascinating. . Ari and I never made it to Egypt . Please keep on reporting !
    Merry Christmas. Love Hedi

    1. Hedi:

      Thank you so much and Merry Christmas to you. Egypt was such a thrill, and the people were so lovely, so happy we made it there!
      Love,
      John and Janice

  5. Mary

    Wow! What an exciting trip! I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids… maybe one day! Sounds like an amazing trip!

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