The pyramids are one of those places that we’ve always wanted to see but were worried would be a letdown when we saw it up close. Fortunately, neither of us were disappointed by our visit there.
Located on the edge of Giza, the pyramids are in sight of traffic jams and urban sprawl from the encroaching city. But go in the direction of the desert, and it looks much more peaceful–well, as peaceful as it could be with tourists constantly around.
The Giza pyramid complex includes the two largest pyramids of King Khufu (Cheops) and Khafre as well as the smaller pyramid of Menkaure and a series of very small queens’ pyramids. The pyramids are all over 4000 years old and are surrounded by excavations of ancient temples, tombs and cemeteries.
Khufu’s pyramid is the largest, and is also called the Great Pyramid of Giza. It stands at 137 metres (449 feet) tall and it was estimated that 2.3 million blocks were needed to build it. It was impressive from a distance, but more so as we got closer. Eventually we were up against the massive blocks used to build it and we marveled at the engineering skill involved. As we walked behind it the pyramid blocked out the morning sun.
Although we didn’t go inside, it’s possible to check out the inner chambers for an extra fee using the robbers’ tunnel that was cut soon after the original entrance was sealed. Just stepping up onto the huge blocks near the entrance took an effort.
We were busy taking regular photos of the place, but our guide set up a few trick shots from time to time. He had to go low to the ground to get this one.
There were packs of stray dogs out in the desert where the tourists congregate hoping for a handout. Unfortunately we didn’t have any food to give them.
There were also people selling everything from trinkets to camel rides. We learned they can sometimes be aggressive as we had the guy in the photo below sit down next to me while I was posing, force a head wrap for a photo with him I didn’t want and then demand payment for the gesture. He was disappointed and complained when we gave him Egyptian pounds instead of the dollars he was expecting.
The Great Sphinx is located some distance away from the main pyramid and close to edge of the city. It’s been weathered a lot over time but still has that distinctive look.
While in Cairo we also went to the Egyptian Museum, located downtown in the heart of the city. It was built in 1901 by an Italian construction company and designed by a French architect.
This museum is known for the chaotic layout of its many pieces. The sheer number of items arranged wherever space was available made it difficult to appreciate the entirety of the collection, but it never failed to impress us as we wandered through it. We only spent a morning there but you could spend a day or more if you slow down your pace.
Right near the entrance is one of the only reproductions in the museum. It’s a copy of the famous Rosetta Stone, a decree written in three languages that helped decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. We saw the original near the entrance of the British Museum many years ago and it’s still there in spite of efforts by the Egyptian government to have it returned to them.
Many of the exhibits had only basic information while some had more detail. A number of sections were themed whereas other ones seemed to mix different pieces together. But it didn’t matter whether we were looking at chairs, statues, jars, sarcophagi or mummies, it was all interesting.
We went through the Tutankhamen section, but no photos were allowed in there and it was strictly enforced by the guards. They yelled at one tourist while we were there and they watched her closely while she deleted the photo from her camera. The treasures of Tutankhamen were a beautiful part of the museum’s collection that included his coffin, mask and many other gold objects. It was the first time I had seen the mask up close since seeing it many years ago on tour in Toronto.
There was an entire wing dedicated to coffins and sarcophagi, and for an extra fee it was possible to see a large mummy collection. We didn’t go in as there was more than enough to see elsewhere in the museum. Furthermore, the well-preserved mummies of the noblewoman Tjuyu and her husband Yuya were included in the general collection and they were enough for us.
There was also a section devoted to mummies from the animal world. It included crocodiles, monkeys, birds and other creatures.
In spite of the clutter the museum was well worth the visit. There’s a new museum under construction called the Grand Egyptian Museum. It was due to be finished in 2020 (but likely won’t be) and will be located close to the Pyramids of Giza on the edge of the city. A few of the lesser artifacts had already been moved there when we visited, and we saw a few more being wrapped up as we walked through. Most of the artifacts will eventually be moved to this new museum, a much different place than the present one. Once that is done the present museum will be used for research, student visits and smaller collections.
We were driven past the construction for the Grand Egyptian Museum when we stayed in Giza and the new buildings are massive. Once finished, there will be ample space to house the collection in the new location. Undoubtedly the pieces will be spread out, better organized and include more information when it opens.
But the original Egyptian Museum did have its charms. It’s a place stuffed with antiquities where there’s something different around every corner and you could see many of them up close.