Upper Egypt (Part I)June 13, 2016 in Egypt ⋅ 🌙 28 °C
(This post exceeded the length allowed by the FindPenguins website, so it is split into two!)
Wow! Where to even start? Egypt has been amazing. Each day we have been awe-struck by the artifacts and history. The museum on our first day was spectacular, but being at the actual sites has been indescribable. Everything we learned about in school became so real and personalized. We have had excellent guides from Egypt Tailor Made as well: Mido in Cairo and Hassan in Luxor. They are both university-educated Egyptologists and strived to ensure that we actually understood what we were looking at. Hassan even taught us how to read some hieroglyphics as well as how to interpret many of the murals and images we were seeing in carvings and paintings on the walls. We can't even begin to put into writing everything we saw and learned, but we'll give it a shot. Also, we unfortunately are still having problems getting photos from the camera to the internet so we may not have any or many photos to add until we get home. We take a few with Nick's cell phone but hopefully the DSLR pics can be added when we have a computer.
On our second day in Cairo we visited what some would consider the main sites: the pyramids and the Great Sphinx. (Little did we know that the splendor and history in the Luxor area would top even these sites that are most commonly associated with Egypt.) Our day started off with a visit to the first pyramid built from this time period, the step pyramid. It is almost 5000 years old and in surprisingly good condition. As it was the first of this trend, it isn't technically a true pyramid; instead of straight sides there are six platforms (or steps) stacked atop one another to form a pyramid-like shape. It was obvious that this was part of the same movement of pyramid burials but from before the art was perfected. It should also be noted that originally all of the structures seen on this day were originally covered in smooth, polished stone which has since eroded away in the intervening years. Rachel especially was blown away picturing what these buildings would have looked like at the time they were built during the Old Kingdom.
Our second stop was another snapshot of pyramid development. We saw both the bent pyramid and the red pyramid (the first true pyramid). These were both built for the same pharoah, but the angle of the sides was changed midway through building the bent pyramid due to stability concerns, thus the pharoah ordered a separate pyramid to be built for his burial. Ironically, the bent pyramid is in better condition on the outside than the red pyramid, so the pharaoh's fears about his eternal house collapsing were unfounded, at least thus far. We got to go into the red pyramid to see the burial chambers which were empty but very cool nonetheless. We climbed up the outside of the pyramid and then entered a tunnel about a third of the way up. This tunnel was a steady downhill slope into the bottom center of the pyramid, maybe lower (we couldn't really tell how far down it was). The tunnel was not very large so, though we could walk and not crawl, even the shortest of us were hunched over. The rooms were quite tall and one even had an elevated door so stairs (or, prior, a ladder) would have been required to get into the pharaoh's actual burial chamber. It was cool to have been inside a pyramid and definitely worth it, but it was a shame to not be able to see it in its splendor. These Old Kingdom tombs were actually robbed by later ancient Egyptians to utilize the riches for later pharoahs and nobles. Being so close to Cairo, the pyramids were never "rediscovered" as many ruins are; they were always visible and always known to locals, but without any wall carvings, murals, or other artifacts there was little reason to explore and/or preserve them. Still amazing, but it might have felt like a letdown if we hadn't already seen many relics in the museum the prior day.
We then went to see the Great Pyramid and the other eight pyramids that are basically part of the same complex (though for different, successive pharoahs as well as some Queens). This is the typical image of Egypt with the three large pyramids seemingly in a row. We didn't go inside here but understand it is the same as the red pyramid, so the extra fee didn't seem necessary (not to mention all of us had sore legs from the first climb and were starting to melt a little in the heat). After taking plenty of pictures and pausing for the vendors and our guide to have midday prayer (it happens to be Ramadan, though it is possible the same would have been true if it weren't Ramadan), we rode camels to the Great Sphinx! We each rode our own one-humped camel and Nick was even brave enough to take the reins. Rachel did for a short time as well, but she was too in awe of the pyramids so handed the reins back to the guide in order to take in the views. Rachel's camel was called Gaedo and was well-behaved. Nick, ironically because he is allergic to them, had a camel named Banana who kept trying to infringe on Linda's camel's space. We rode for an hour, stopping for pictures, before arriving at the Sphinx and meeting our regular guide. Rachel was very moved by the Sphinx, and not just because of its feline form and its resemblance to Lola. Something about seeing it in person, the details, the history, the excitement - it was a significant moment, and it was hard to tear herself away from the Sphinx. (If only she had known how cool Luxor is - not to insult the Sphinx, but much more time could have been spent examining the details in Luxor and less in Cairo. Luxor can be overwhelming with detail, beauty, and significance.)Read more