Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Great Pyramids and Sphinx (Egypt)

Through the dust and sand, these three giants stand proudly overseeing so much of the world's history. Crowds snap photos and gaze in amazement, touts hawk the latest in T-shirts, plastic pyramids and hats to hide the sun. Camels cruise by, seemingly unaware of the fuss.

Built over 4,500 years ago, the Pyramids are the only survivor of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Although there are around 100 pyramids in Egypt and Sudan, the most famous are the Pyramids of Giza, a virtual suburb of Cairo. As the ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, the pyramids are built on the west side (setting sun side) of the Nile and are glorious mausoleums to the pharaohs. They sit on a perfect north-south alignment. When you are there, note the extraordinary architectural skill - the huge blocks aligned into a perfect pyramid with only the mesuring tools of almost 4,000 years ago to guide.

In order of size, and looking from right to left are the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) at 137 metres in height, the Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus). All three were originally coated in a white limestone coating so they would have sparkled in the hot desert sun. The limestone has been taken over the years for other buildings and only a small cap on the middle pyramid (Khafre) and a small amount around the base of Khufu remains.

The Pyramid of Khufu remained the tallest building in the world for another 3,800 years.

Near the Pyramid of Menkaure are the three much smaller Queen’s pyramids. Beyond this area, touts will sell camel rides. While they charge much more than they should, some bargaining will reduce the price a little (though the camel owners are seasoned pros). The view from the end of the ride makes it all worthwhile and sets a great end-on scene of all three giants.

Either side of the Pyramid of Khufu are the cemeteries of the various nobles. At times, a couple of these are accessible though finding the guard with the keys can be tricky.

Getting There

Try to come here early in the morning to have less crowds and to get away from some of the midday desert heat. Taxis cost around E£20 (US$3) from the center of Cairo or E£5 (US$1) from the Giza metro stop. There are two entrances to the Pyramids.

The Sphinx

Though smaller than most people imagine when they first see it (due to photos where it is in the foreground and the pyramids in the background), the Sphinx is still a mesmerising sight. Thought to be a model of Khafre (the middle pyramid’s pharaoh) with his royal headcloth, the Sphinx looks eastward guarding the Pyramids. The story that one of Napoleon's men shot off his nose seems unlikely. Sadly, the Sphinx's beard is in the British Museum (London).

Inside the Pyramids

Although there is not much to see inside, it is an experience to climb through one of these ancient wonders and into the actual tomb area. Khufu follows to both the King’s gallery and also to the Queen’s gallery. Typically two of the three pyramids are open at any one time (one being closed for maintenance).

Light and Sound Show

The sound and light show is held every night in different languages (three shows per night). It is well worth the journey as the lighting is spectacular with the use of colors and lasers to tell the story of the pharaohs (the Sphinx tells the story!).


TravelWhippet said...

I know it's an older post, but when we're you in Egypt? Great photos.

Mark H said...

@travelwhippet: Cool name and thank you for your kind remarks. I was in Egypt in 2005 covering the typical Egyptian tour down the Nile and through Cairo. Enjoy my blog. I am planning an entry on Machu Picchu in the next few weeks.

willamsblack said...

Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization and some of the world's most famous monuments, including the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx. The southern city of Luxor contains numerous ancient artifacts, such as the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings.
holidays to egypt

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