Egypt 2: Pyramids!
I should note for veracity that everything we did this day actually happened at the end of the tour for me. My friend and I had our flight to Istanbul cancelled on us, so we got to Cairo a day late and joined the tour group on the evening of the first day. But the tour operator (again Bucket List Travel Egypt - can't recommend them highly enough) made sure that we got to do everything on the schedule on the day after the regular tour ended. So this was Day 9 for us, but Day 1 really. We had great weather (it was chilly the day we missed), and we had a cool treat the others didn't! Scroll down (no spoilers)!
Pyramids! Sure, we could see them from the hotel, but that's not like up close and personal. Still, we didn't go there first thing.
First up, a drive through rural Egypt to Memphis, ancient Egypt's first capital, now a small village. I didn't get a picture of the young man riding a donkey, leading four water buffalo, and talking on his cell phone. Very rural Egypt.
A tantalizing glimpse of the pyramids as we leave Cairo.
Note that the donkeys, as seemed to be typical, aren't bridled - there's no bits.
This is a canal, not the Nile. Water is free to the residents and farmers.
Note that this donkey doesn't even have a halter, let alone a bridle.
Can you see the second animal, tied to the donkey?
Yes! My first non-zoo camel!
Memphis is the Greek version of Menfe, a later name for Anab-Hedj, the White Walls. Founded in 3100 BC, it was the first capital of Egypt and remained important - Ptah and Sekhmet were worshipped here, and there was a famous school - well after the capital was moved to Thebes, as evidenced by the colossus and sphinx of Ramesses II, whose reign began in 1279 BC. Little remains, mainly because the city is in prime agricultural lands instead of the desert, and mud preserves less well than dry sand.
L.E. is Egyptian pound. It fluctuated between 16 and 19 LE to the dollar while we were there - things were half as expensive for tourists this year than just last year. Our guide told us about the difficulties for Egyptians - things are priced in dollars, and the price in "what's in the bank" bounced around. $10 went from 80 LE to 100 LE to 180 LE to 150 LE and back to 190LE, on a daily basis. One thing for sure, I felt bad haggling over $3 or $5 dollars and more so about haggling over 100 LE or 80...
You can see here they've been changing the (LE) price as the pound dropped in value. 40 LE was not quite $2.50 that day...
This is a colossus of Rameses II, the Great, third Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, who ruled 1279-1213 BC. That he was building temples at Memphis more than a thousand years after the capital was moved to Thebes testifies to the old city's lasting cultural and religious significance. The statue is displayed prone because its feet are broken off. It would be 11 meters (36 feet) if standing - its pair mate will be displayed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum, opening this spring.
The cool thing about it being prone is that you can see all the detail that you miss when it's up in the air.
Here's where the colossi would have been: the eastern entrance to the temple to Ptah.
A smaller Rameses at the Temple of Hathor.
The Alabaster Sphinx of Memphis is the second-largest sphinx in Egypt. It's not known whom it honors, as there is no name cartouche, but the face suggests Hatshepsut or possibly Amenhotep II. It's 18th Dynasty for sure.
Then, we drove to Saqqara to see the early pyramids: the Step Pyramid, the Bent and Red Pyramids, and the pyramid of Teti.
Imhotep is the chief builder of the Second Dynasty pharaoh Djoser (or Zoser). At Djoser's time Imhotep was of such importance and fame that he was honored by being mentioned on statues of Djoser in his necropolis at Saqqara.
This is the Step Pyramid of Djoser , the last one built in this design.
Here's me with some donkeys.
Here's the step pyramid and the remains of a small smooth-sided one.
Third Dynasty Pharaoh Sneferu (2613 - 2589 BC) built several pyramids: one at Meidum and two at Saqqara. Here we see the Bent and the Red Pyramids. Apparently, he didn't like the way the Bent Pyarmid - a transitional form between step and true pyramids - turned out, so he immediately set about having the Red Pyramid built. The Bent Pyramid was never used as a tomb; Sneferu was buried in the Red. One can imagine the architects and chief builders looking at the Bent Pyramid and wondering "do you think he'll notice?"; also, one can imagine Sneferu saying "Are you kidding? I'm not paying for that!" However, in actuality, he and his architects were perfecting the form, rather than messing it up; the one at Meidum (which he may have taken over from his predecessor) collapsed and was never finished.
The entrance into the ruined pyramid-tomb of Teti. These Sixth Dynasty tombs - with sometimes a small pyramid on top but otherwise entirely underground - had much carving on the walls but almost no artwork. This is just the name Teti with symbols for Life, Power, Luck etc over and over. You can enter the tomb through that little door and go down a narrow corridor to the burial chamber - it has stars on the roof - but you're not allowed to take photographs inside it.
This is part of the Necropolis of Teti. The complex contained his pyramid, pyramids of his two principle wives (in later dynasties wives' pyramids continue to exist but are much smaller), and several temples.
This guy was an employee of the site. They often were eager to pose for photos for a small (to us but huge to them) payment - say a dollar or two. He's pretty striking.
Lunch was at a little place outside of Saqqara. It was Friday, so the weekend for Egyptians, and a company was having an office party. Look who led the dancing! (Hope Disney doesn't find out!)
Then it was on to a rug school. There are many of them in Saqqara. They emply students, teaching them for two hours a day twice a week. They learn how to weave on looms or to hand-knot, and they get 10% of the profits and a subsidy to keep them in regular school. The other group saw the students working, but since it was the weekend, we didn't. The owner showed us the techniques and the looms himself. I bought four rugs, three wool on wool, woven on the loom, and one silk on wool, knotted. It was amazing how small the package was when they were rolled up, easily fitting in my suitcase.
This is a variation on the ancient Egyptian Tree of Life. I adore the deer's facial expression.
We wound up the day at the Giza Pyramid complex. Probably a perfect ending (or beginning) to a tour of Egypt.
The pyramids and Sphinx at Giza were built in the Fourth Dynasty (2375 - 3460 BC) by successive pharaohs, Khufu (aka Cheops), his son Khafre (Chefren), and their grandson/son Menekaure (Mykerinos). Khufu's is the largest, his son's a tad (25') smaller, and the third quite a bit smaller still. There are three very small women's pyramids in the complex, as well as some other tombs. The Fourth Dynasty was before carvings, paintings, or inscriptions were put on tombs, so all the inner walls are totally plain.
You can ride a camel - you can ride one all the way around the complex if you've a mind to.
It's huge. It's really huge.
Our guide, Yasser Omar. The best guide in Egypt.
Me and my friend Nancy.
Did I say it was huge?
It's mind-bogglingly huge.
This is the middle-sized one. You can see the remains of its limestone cap. They'd all have been smooth when they were new.
Me on a camel. Just for the photo op and a tiny walk around.
Here you can make out the tiny queens' pyramids.
A random tourist galloping in the desert.
Cleaning up after the tourists. I have to say all the sites were as speckless as possible.
A cop on a camel.
Preview of coming attractions :-)
So that was pyramid day. Pyramids fell out of favor because they were too easily robbed - you can't hide one! - and hidden underground tombs took over. We'd see them in the Valley of the Kings. Stay tuned!