Cairo & the Pyramids

We arrived in Cairo in the afternoon and were motored to our hotel that was situated beside the Nile! Our first night in Cairo and we had to freshen up, have dinner, and get ready to see the Pyramid and Sphinx Light Show. It was late in the evening when we arrived at the pyramids, it was very strange, a large street with houses, apartments, people, and lots of traffic surrounded us. On one side of the street was Cairo, bustling with night life, on the other side of the road was sand and the pyramids. One of the women had brought her ski jacket which of course cause us to have a lot of laughs at her expense. We sat in a special area where they served coffee and tea and as we waited for the light show, it got colder and colder. We were all shivering and tried to get warm by drinking coffee and sitting close to each other. We finally had to admit that the ski jacket was a very good idea. Our travel companion was very nice and did not throw it up to us about our statements about the jacket. She would just say, "I am almost too warm!" That should teach us a lesson! The show was anti-climatic in a way. After each pyramid is lit and the sphinx, a booming voice tells you the pharaohs starting around 2,500 BCE, Herodotus the Greek , Caesar, Cleopatra, Napoleon, and so on up to the present have seen these sights. This takes about 15 minutes. Then there is another 45 minutes of speaking that eventually fades into the back ground. Being cold didn't help either!

Camel Ride!

The next day our group approached the pyramid complex in a small touring bus and everyone looked grumpy. Someone saw a camel and make a smart remark about tourists riding camels around the pyramids. I said,

"Well that may be true but if you are in Venice and don't take a ride in a gondola, you have missed a once in a life time chance to do something different. How often will you get to ride a camel around the pyramids in Egypt?"

Everyone sat there and thought about it and when the bus stopped, everyone got out, ran to the camel drivers and had a big fight over who would get to ride which camel. The poor drivers were so use to chasing tourist around to get them to ride the camels that they just sat there in disbelief! I gave my camera to one of the men in our group and told him to take a few pictures of us. Well he suddenly became a Mr. D'Mill (I'm ready for my close up!), shooting pictures left and right. One woman whom never wore a bra, almost fell off the camel as it stood up and the pictures show her breasts first on the left side of her chest, then on the right! She wanted these pictures destroyed, no way! A woman from L.A. whose background was Lebanese, was always very quiet. The next thing I knew, she pushed up against my camel, told the boy holding the rope to let go because she wanted to fly over the desert like Lawrence of Arabia. I told her to get a grip as if the camel ever got loose he would run off into the desert and she would never be seen again. Everyone had a great time, all it took was a little suggestion and they took off with the idea like it was their own! Ha!

We found ourselves standing at the base of the Great Pyramid, it is hard to imagine that this monument which remained the tallest building in the world until early in this century was built in just under 30 years. It presides over the plateau of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, and is the last survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World. Five thousand years ago Giza, situated on the Nile's west bank, became the royal necropolis, or burial place, for Memphis, the pharaoh's capital city. Giza's three pyramids and the Sphinx were constructed in the fourth dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, arguably the first great civilization on earth. Today, Giza is a suburb of rapidly growing Cairo, the largest city in Africa and the fifth largest in the world.

I look especially good sitting in front of Kufu's pyramid and the Sphinx!

How did the ancient Egyptians move the massive stones used to build the pyramids from quarries both nearby and as far away as 500 miles? This question has long been debated, but many Egyptologists agree the stones were hauled up ramps using ropes of papyrus twine. The popular belief is that the gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone, and wood were used as transportation causeways for moving the large stones to their positions up and around the four sides of the pyramids.

See my views on the building of the pyramids in Egypt!

The pyramid of King Chephren is behind Khufu's and the pyramid of King Mycerinus is in front. The three smaller pyramids in the front were built for King Mycerinus' three wives. These monumental pyramids are precisely oriented to the four cardinal points. Today the city of Cairo reaches almost to the foot of the pyramids, but when the pyramids were built, they were in the middle of the desert. The Great Pyramids of Giza still have a strong impact on humanity. The impact is best summed up in this ancient Arab proverb:

"Man fears Time, yet Time fears the pyramid."


The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza Carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau, the Sphinx is truly a marvel from ancient Egypt. The body of a lion with the head of a king or god, the sphinx has come to symbolize strength and wisdom. From the north side the profile of the Sphinx reveals the proportion of the body to the head. It would appear as though the head is small in proportion to the body. Because of the changing desert terrain, the body of the Sphinx has been buried several times over the past several thousand years. Most recently in 1905, the sand has been cleared away to expose the magnitude and beauty of the entirety of the Sphinx. The paws themselves are 50 feet long (15m) while the entire length is 150 feet (45m). The head is 30 (10m) feet long and 14 feet (4m) wide. Because certain layers of the stone are softer than others, there is a high degree of erosion that has claimed the original detail of the carved figure. The most popular and current theory of the builder of the Sphinx holds that it was commissioned by the Pharaoh Khafre in the 4th Dynasty. Khafre was one of the sons of Khufu (AKA Cheops) who is recognized as the builder of the Great Pyramid. The Sphinx lines up with the Pyramid of Khafre at the foot of its causeway. As one rounds the northeast corner to the front of the Sphinx, the alignment of the two structures becomes more apparent. Although the head of the Sphinx is badly battered in some places, traces of the original paint can still be seen near one ear. Originally it is believed that the Sphinx was painted and was quite colorful. Since then, the nose and beard have been broken away. The nose was the unfortunate victim of target practice by the Turks in the Turkish period. It is often erroneously assumed that the nose was shot off by Napoleon's men, but 18th century drawings reveal that the nose was missing long before Napoleon's arrival. Interestingly, to some the features of the face of the Sphinx bear a far more striking resemblance to an older brother of Khafre, the Pharaoh Djedefre (AKA Radjedef). Djedefre's short lived reign occurred just prior to the reign of Khafre. Unlike Khafre, Khafre's father and later Khafre's brother Menkara, Djedefre did not construct his pyramid on the Giza plateau. Instead Djedefre built his pyramid at Abu Roash where it now lies badly damaged. Some believe that Khafre usurped the throne of Djedefre and then built his pyramid and Sphinx at Giza. YOU DECIDE who you think more resembles the Sphinx. In between the paws of the Sphinx is a stele, now called the "Dream Stele" , which is inscribed with a story. The story tells of the time that Thutmosis IV fell asleep under the Sphinx which was covered to the neck in sand. Thutmosis had a dream that the Sphinx spoke to him and promised that if he would clear the Sphinx, Thutmosis would be destined to become king of Egypt. Prior to the 1905 clearing of the Sphinx, the Sphinx has been buried and cleared several other times throughout history. During the 18th Dynasty, Thutmosis IV probably did clear the Sphinx at that time. But it is more likely that the story about the dream was created for political purposes, an ancient propaganda story. This type of story could support the legitimacy of a kingship, asserting and assuring the power of the pharaoh.

Institute of Papyrus

We visited the institute and saw people create a papyrus sheet or scroll . The stem of the papyrus plant was first cut into usable lengths after having been soaked for many weeks. The outer covering was peeled away, and then the stem inside was either cut or unrolled. Strips from the stalk of the plant were laid flat in two layers at a right angle; that is, one layer running horizontally and the other vertically: The layers were then pressed, causing the cells of the plant to break and produce a form of sap that kept the two layers glued together. Individual pieces of papyrus that were produced in standardized dimensions were then glued one after the other to form a roll. Subsequently, these rolls were sold in the market, not the individual pages. Papyrus, as is paper today, was produced in different qualities and was sold at different prices. If we are to believe the ancient sources, a papyrus roll of average quality cost almost three days wages of a workman in the second century AD! However, the price of papyrus fluctuated and there were times when it was cheap, especially in the Paranoiac times.

The institute had many rooms filled with beautiful hand painted scenes, many with gold leaf high lighting the works. I could have bought everything there but kept my purchase down to one scroll of the pharaohs giving offerings to the gods which I have had framed and hangs in my living room for a remembrance of my trip to Egypt.

Shepard Hotel Toilet Mishap!

The day we booked into the hotel found everyone tired and dusty. It was late, around 10:00 P.M. and I took a shower and then proceeded to sit on the toilet to meditate! I leaned over to pick up something and the toilet started to tip over. I grabbed a table and tried to jump off the toilet. It tilted and the water whirled around and flew out onto the floor. I about had a heart attach. I found the toilet was just placed over the plumbing and not anchored down. I was mad. I went to the management and threw a fit, partially because I was so tired. They also had given me one of those little rooms at the back of the hotel as happens with singles. The rest of the group heard me, guess I was loud, and the management said what ever I wanted they would do. I wanted another room and not in the back of the hotel. They had the bell boy take my bags and me to another room. It was on the third floor in the front of the hotel with a large private balcony overlooking the Nile and downtown Cairo. Perfect for watching the city and the boats going by. The rest of the group was jealous of my room and later I and everyone else found out that all of the toilets were just placed on top of the pipe in the floor and if you didn't watch how you sat down, you too might have a toilet incident! I at least used it to a good advantage and got a spectacular room with a view!


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