Arrival in Egypt – The Step Pyramid – The Giza Plateau & Sphinx
TR Robertson -The last morning in Jordan began with another delicious breakfast, this time at the Hilton at the Dead Sea Resort, then another chance for Carolyn to float in the very salty waters of the Dead Sea. This time she was able to also enjoy an invigorating mud and salt treatment by one of the Hilton’s employees providing these services in a tented area by the part of the beach controlled by the Hilton. Returning to our room, we then headed to the Hilton’s lobby to check-out, packed luggage in tow ready to board our bus and take a one-hour drive to the Queen Alia International Airport. Our guide, Ridwan, assisted everyone getting to the right locations in the airport to check-in, get our boarding passes and get through the customs and security procedures for leaving Jordan and getting to our terminal for departure.
The final stop on our Mid-East adventure was, for Carolyn and me, a return to Cairo and the surrounding Egyptian historical sites. We had led a student group, in 2007, for a two-week tour of Egypt that included stops in Alexandria, Cairo, a Nile River cruise to Luxor and a flight to Abu Simbel. For the current trip we would only spend a couple of days in Cairo visiting the sites before the long flight home.
The 1 ½ hour flight from Amman to Cairo put us in Egypt in the late afternoon, arriving at the Cai Cairo International Airport. We had a relatively easy time going through the Customs and Immigration checkpoint, including purchasing a Visa to enter Egypt. Exiting into the terminal with our luggage we met one of the Go Ahead guides who was to take us to the tour bus for a trip to our hotel. We had an armed guard on the bus and a police car drove behind us to the hotel. This one-hour trip took us through areas I had not seen before on our previous tour of Cairo, including traffic as bad as what we had seen in Israel and Jordan. We passed a number of military academies and installations with guard towers in each facility. The bus also took us on raised highways that ran above the downtown Cairo area passing an array of large outdoor open-air markets, like the Suuq el Ataba Market, all jammed packed with locals buying everything imaginable. We arrived at our hotel, Steigenberger El Tahrir, checked in and were told to relax and return for dinner where we would meet our guide for the next two days at dinner, Samia el Badry who had an extensive knowledge of Egyptian history and archaeology.
After a relaxing night, the next day was packed with tours of the Giza Plateau pyramids and surrounding area, the Sphinx, an Egyptian Rug Factory, and a great souvenir shop. Off on the bus again we were told some general Cairo facts, such as there are presently 30 million people in the Cairo area including Giza, 110 million in Egypt and Cairo experiences a growth of 2 million each year. For this reason, new cities are being established throughout Egypt to try and alleviate how crowded the cities have become. New Cairo, about 33 miles outside of Cairo, was established in 2000 and presently has reached a population of 500,000+ people. Areas around the Giza Plateau are also experiencing major renovations as older apartment complexes are being torn down and the citizens are being moved to newer apartments miles from the Plateau. We were told that as they have moved people out of these apartments’ authorities have discovered a number of illegal activities that had been going on involving people digging into the cellars of the apartment complexes to find ancient tombs and artifacts and selling items illegally in markets. As we drove through the city, the streets were very crowded and amazingly no painted lines existed on most of the roadways making for interesting driving situations. Markets and shops were everywhere packed with locals.
Our first stop in the Giza Plateau area was at the Saqqara Pyramid, considered the first pyramid and one of the first stone structures built in Egypt and referred to as the Step Pyramid. It was built in 2,700 BC by Imhotep for the pharaoh Djosar. The pyramid appeared to have been built in 2 sections, one on top of the other. There are some smaller stone structures close by that date back to 3,000 BC. As other pyramids began to appear they grew bigger and more elaborate with the style and the methods for building changing. The Step Pyramids tomb is underneath this pyramid. The mummification process also went through changes as new techniques developed. It took 70 days to mummify the pharaohs body. Pyramids are built on the west side of the Nile and along with tombs for the pharaohs there are tombs that have been found for significant officials in Egypt and for workers. Mummification would also be used to some extent on these people as well. From Saqqara we could also see the Bent Pyramid, built in 2,600 BC, so called as a miscalculation caused a slight bending appearance on one of the sides. While at the Step Pyramid we also visited the Royal Tomb of Kagemni, the chief justice and vizier in Cairo in 2,300 BC.
Some other information about the Pyramids and pharaohs of Egypt – There have been 170 pharaohs in Egypt, 110 pyramids have been found and there are thought to be many more not yet discovered in the sands of Egypt. It is estimated that only 10% of the tombs ever built have been excavated. The last pyramid built was in 1525 AD for King Ahmage I. Memphis was the first capital of Egypt, located a short distance from the Giza Plateau. The Giza Plateau was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The most widely accepted theory for the building of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau is the workers used a ramping system to move the stones up, then filled the areas in as they worked their way down.
After our visit to Saqqara, we drove a short distance to visit an Egyptian Rug factory to see how the cotton and silk rugs are made. The traditional looms for making the rugs are still in use today, making these beautiful handmade rugs a little pricy. We saw young people working on the rugs and on one loom a father and his two children were working on a rug. We visited the large showroom where several in our group bought some smaller rugs. From here we rode in the bus to the Giza Plateau to see the Great Pyramid Complex and the Sphinx.
The Giza Complex consists of 10 total pyramids, the most famous being the Pyramids of Khufu (The Great Pyramid), Khafre and Menkaure. Also, in the complex are smaller queen’s pyramids, a number of cemeteries, a worker’s village, an industrial complex where the stones were prepared and the Sphinx. The entrance area to the Giza Plateau has changed since we were last there in 2007. Buses can park extremely close to the Pyramid of Khufu, also called Cheops Pyramid. We were told the vendors are a little aggressive and we would be offered camel or carriage rides around the pyramids for a price. The last time we were there we visited a large funeral boat located behind the Great Pyramid, but this boat has now been moved to the new Grand Museum of Giza, set to open sometime later this year. The Great Pyramid was once 481 feet tall, now 449.5 feet tall. Much of the outer coverings, once on the pyramids, have been removed, as well as some of the stones. The Great Pyramid is also 756 feet long on each side. The largest of the stones weighs as much as 50 tons. You were able to go into the entrance shaft of the Great Pyramid and visit the first of the three rooms in the middle of the pyramid. Several in our group paid the fee to do this, I had entered the pyramid before and passed this time. We were told that there will some changes to the parking areas as far as how close the buses can pull in next to the pyramids and electric vehicles will be brought in to cut down the pollution around the pyramids.
Returning to the bus we drove to an area closer to the entrance of the Sphinx Complex. We drove past many of the vacant apartment complexes people have been moved from in order to move the population away from the Giza Plateau. The Sphinx is said to have the face of Pharaoh Khafre carved on the front, but that has not been proven. There is now a raised ramp around the Sphinx and to get closer to the front of the Sphinx, next to the paws, you must pay as much as $220 U.S. In 2007 we were able to walk up next to the Sphinx. The access to the ramps is made through a temple complex built in front of the Sphinx. The story is told that the Sphinx was carved from a large bedrock that was originally here, rather than the bedrock being destroyed. The Sphinx is said to be the oldest monumental structure in Egypt, dating back from 3,000-2,500 BC. The Sphinx is 240 feet long and 66 feet tall at its highest point. This area was very crowded the day we were there.
Leaving this area, we visited a large souvenir shop called the Cotton Flower where many local souvenirs were available. This was a popular stop for many in the group needed additional gifts to take back home. Another stop we made was to a Papyrus shop with beautiful had made Papyrus art pieces hanging on the walls. We had purchase some of these on our previous trip but several in our group picked out a wall hanging they wanted to buy. After a long day of walking in the sands of this ancient land, we were ready to return to our hotel for a short break before we were taken to dinner at Felfela Restucafe, established in 1959, for a traditional Egyptian dinner.
The final article of this amazing Mid-East Adventure will cover a visit to the historic Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and a portion of the King Tut exhibit, lunch on the Nile, shopping for cartouches, a visit to the Salah El-Din Citadel and Al-Nasir Muhammed Mosque and our departure from Egypt.