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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

10/19: The Giza Pyramids, Cheops Solar Boat and More

 As a result of two and a half dozen emails back with the owner of Love Egypt Tours that began about six months ago, we hired a driver and guide to show us around the temples in Giza today. We decided that we didn't need a guide to show us around Cairo, our destination tomorrow for three nights. Through the same agency, I also arranged to hire another guide though and driver to show us the temples and other sights on four day trips in and around Luxor in southern Egypt. We had never committed to this sort of money before for day trips but the Giza pyramids and the temples in and around Luxor are so spread out that a guide or tour was necessary.

Breakfast was served to us in our room to get us started for a long day of sightseeing. We had been served freshly squeezed orange juice as a welcome drink yesterday and were very happy to see it again for breakfast. I never would have guessed that Egypt could give Florida a very good run for its money in the orange juice wars!
Amir, our guide and Mena, our driver, picked us up at 7 in Giza for a day trip to see the pyramids right across from our hotel as well as those in Memphis and Sakkara. Amir said he had studied Egyptology for four years in university in order to be a licensed tour guide. 
Egyptian history started five thousand years ago prior to pyramids and the country was divided into Upper Egypt which was located in the southern part and Lower Egypt located in the northern part. The lotus flower was the symbol of Upper Egypt and symbolized the love between the king and his wife. Its essence oil was always an important gift. Famous perfumes like Chanel and Givenchy always come from lotus flowers, Amir said. 
Our first stop was at Memphis, the ancient Egyptian city that served not just as an important city but also as the capital of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom. Memphis was known as the Beautiful Port because it was so important to traders. It was the home of many pharaohs, including King Tutankhamun, and it remained an essential city throughout history, until its demise around the time of the rise of Christianity after the first century AD. Many pharaohs and other powerful people chose the desert bluffs here as their burial place.
Only a few ruins remain of the great city. One of them was a statue of Ramses II who built the best temple in Egypt. Located in southern Egypt, it was moved, block by block, in 1960 by UNESCO because of the building of the Aswan Dam. Ramses II was one busy man: he had 70 wives and 100 plus children! Many kings tried to unify the two kingdoms; when they did, they wore the double red and white crown. The statue once measured 40 feet in length but it was damaged so the lower legs and feet were missing from it.
In ancient Egyptian history, a cartouche was an oval or oblong-shaped piece that enclosed a group of hieroglyphs, typically representing the name and title of a monarch. Here, in Ramses II's belt, was the king’s name inscribed in his cartouche. 
The statue of Ramses II showed him wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and a false or fake beard that only kings were allowed to wear. 
The left leg was forward from the other which represented his moving into the afterlife, some say; others say, that it was indicative of a military march or that the leg was in balance with his heart as the heart is also on the left side. So much of ancient Egyptian history is open to interpretation, Amir said.
Near the statue was a sphinx also of Ramses II.  I never knew the word ‘sphinx’ was a Greek word because the man who wrote ancient Egyptian history was Greek! The lion who represented power, had a false beard and the head represented knowledge. 
What was left of the once great city of Memphis now also included a number of other statues and coffins. While we walked around, Amir told us about the 30 dynasties in ancient Egypt. I won’t bore you with all of them; the most important were the 3rd through the 6th dynasties were known as the Old Kingdom and that was when 90 percent of the pyramids were built. The 18th-20th dynasties was called the Golden Time and had so many famous kings including Tutankhamen.
Another statue of Ramses II but this one was made of granite. In this one, he was pictured wearing the white, lotus-flower crown which signified to his people of Upper Egypt that he was also the king of that region. 
We left Memphis at 8:45 to go onto Sakkhara which is best known for the Step Pyramid, the oldest known of Egypt's 97 pyramids. It was built for King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty by the architect and genius Imhotep, who designed it and its surrounding complex to be as grand as it was unique and revolutionary. Imhotep was the first to build stone tombs in honor of the king's majesty. 

We noticed lots of weaving being done near Memphis.

I asked Amir about his country’s flag: the black symbolized the time up until 1952 when the country was occupied by one country or another for thousands of years; the red represented the blood shed during the war with Israel from 1967 and 1973; the white signified peacetime.
We passed a number of carpet schools on both sides of the road en route to Sakkara. Very near Sakkara, we came across a tourist police checkpoint. Amir said the police keep tabs on foreigners as they move from one area to another; whenever we passed through a checkpoint, the license plate number was always written down by hand in a big book. Also included was the time we left Checkpoint A and the time we reached Checkpoint B. Not really sure what happened to all that recording of data, mind you, and Amir didn't appear to know either.
There was a long road up to Sakkara. The parking lot there would normally be absolutely full of cars, vans and tour buses so Amir would have to call the driver when he was done with the tour to ask him where he had parked. There was certainly no issue with that now because of the drastically lower number of tourists since the revolution in 2011.
Sakkara name came from god’s Btah Sokkar name. The mausoleum was chosen to be built on the west bank of the Nile River. Beginning in the 2nd dynasty, the thought of afterlife was of supreme importance. That was why gold, silver and food for the afterlife were always buried with the kings. Since the body was also kept for the afterlife, it was critical that it be kept in very good condition. 
Previously, kings’ bodies were put underground but wind and animals uncovered the remains. King Zosar wanted something better for himself.  He wanted to build an entire city for his afterlife. The steps helped the spirits climb to the afterlife. The entrance was built on the north side because the kings believed the North Star would be their guide to the afterlife. 
There were 42 columns because there were 42 cities under King Zosar's control. There had been statues in the middle between each of the columns but those have been gone for countless centuries.
King Zosar was the first king who used limestone for the statues. It was thought initially that the limestone used to build them came from Aswan in southern Egypt but recently, limestone deposits were found nearby so there was no problem getting access to limestone. 

The high season for tourists is normally October through December because those are the cooler months. Amir said that there are over 16,000 guides in Egypt – I wonder how many of them work regularly with the few tourists now visiting their country.
This Egyptian man asked me if I/we wanted a ride on his horse which he called his Cadillac – good to have a sense of humor!

Sakkara was known as the step pyramid. The government wanted it to be restored but the initial company that was chosen did inferior work so another company is now trying to fix the problems caused by the first one. The restoration was only supposed to take two years but Amir joked that he hopes it will open before he dies!
A wall originally surrounded the pyramid which had 14 false doors. 
Sample of the Coptic language: 
In the large square, the king sang and celebrated after killing some animals to show how powerful he was to his people. 

Workers’ tombs are now being excavated:
We could see other pyramids in the background amid the haze.
The tourist police checked the license plates again at Sakkara.
Part of Sakkara included the Pyramid of Teti, a smooth-sided pyramid that looked to our naked eyes like a small hill rather than a part of antiquity. Amir told us it was the best one to see unlike the much more famous Great Pyramid by our hotel because we could there was far more to see inside. 

In the Old Kingdom, women played a minor role as we culd observe from the much smaller figure of the woman by King Teti's knee!
Thank goodness neither of us suffered from claustrophobia because we would not have wanted to descend into the tomb which was originally called Teti's Places Are Enduring according to its hieroglyphics. 
As we walked the descending corridor hutched over, I was wondering who had walked here before us - could it have been Julius Caesar with Cleopatra? Napoleon? Agatha Christie? 

The basalt used for the tomb from Syria; note the stars on the roof.
Seeing our first hieroglyphics inside a tomb was a wonderful experience. To know that each symbol was a letter and that the panel of stone we faced could be read like the words in a book was amazing. Amir had studied the hieroglyphics enough to be able to decipher a number of the symbols for us so that it truly came alive for us and a story was told.

We saw many more depictions of afterlife here: fishing, life scenes, crocodile, hippopotamus and even a belly dancer!



Workers were portrayed in this perfume room with very dark bodies because they toiled under the hot sun all day. The king, in contrast, was very pale. The red was the original color. I wish I had thought to ask Amir what substance had been used to create the color. 


The spirit would go through this false door to the afterlife. This was the same in all tombs, Amir told us. The scenes we had seen here would be the same from tomb to tomb as everything that was needed in the afterlife was given as offerings. 
Another police checkpoint as we left Sakkara Tombs:

We next stopped at one of the many carpet schools we’d passed earlier. It wasn't on our scheduled itinerary but Steven and I were interested in stopping for a few minutes. The 'school' was in the basement with a magnificent showroom upstairs.

We had a very brief tour by Ahmed, one of the salespeople. Anyone wanting to learn could study and work there, he stated. The workers are paid by the piece daily because the work takes so long to complete. The carpet pattern was of the night sky and stars - it was exactly like what we had just seen in the tomb. 
The woman was working with 100 percent pure silk in just blue and a yellowish gold so the pattern was the simplest. It would take from one to six months to finish just one square meter because there were 464 knots in a square meter. We watched the woman work for a minute or two and her fingers were lightning fast. Ahmed asked her to slow down so we could see her tie just one or two knots and he said how hard it was for her to do that. She works five hours a day, six days a week.
He next showed us a wool carpet being made. It is normally completed in one to two months because there are about 200 knots in a square meter. 
I asked what age the children can start ‘learning’ or perhaps, more accurately, working, and Ahmed said they start as young as ten so they can help support their families. Ahmed said many families have looms at their homes so they can work there rather than coming to the school. Seeing first hand these very young workers made me wonder who had made the beautiful Turkish, Indian and Afghani rugs we have. Ignorance had been bliss until we were faced with the reality of how young those workers had probably been too.
Ahmed next showed us woven carpets. Those are a lost art and are not made from any pattern but rather from using his imagination. 
We went to the showroom next. We have been in a number of carpet showrooms before but this was the biggest. They had a beautiful selection of both silk and wool rugs but we weren’t in the market for one. I am glad we stopped there but didn't come away with a great understanding of what schooling actually transpired there.
Amir asked if we wanted to stop at a papyrus shop next so we said, sure, as that would be a first for us. Hassan, the store employee, mentioned that papyrus was considered a holy plant and that, if we touched it, we would receive good luck. It’s grown around the Nile because it needs water and a certain temperature in which to grow. 
Hassan showed us how papyrus paper is made. The bark is cut off and is then used for weaving. The core of the papyrus is then hammered to remove the water before being placed in water to remove the sugar for one week to produce white paper and for two weeks for darker colored paper. Then, one horizontal strip and one vertical strip are interwoven repeatedly until the size paper is achieved. 
Then, that is put under a press for one week between two pieces of thin cloth. Hassan said you can tell if a piece of papyrus is real by holding it under a piece of light to see the horizontal and vertical lines. It can be washed easily and not damaged.
Hassan showed us a couple of famous scenes commonly found on temple walls. One was called a Tree of Life. The painting he showed us was different in that rather than there being just the tree, it showed the father as a bird with his arms or wings outstretched as the protector and the woman, another bird, always wearing a crown and looking toward the future perched on another branch. The children or smaller birds were on the right side of the tree. No photos of the art in the gallery were allowed unfortunately but we did buy a lovely piece that we look forward to framing and hanging up once we get home. 

When we stopped for lunch next, we noticed an armed tourist police officer standing guard outside the restaurant which was soley used by tourists, their guides and drivers. Hassan said that the officer was there for our protection but we didn't know from what or whom though. Once again, the van’s license plate number was written down and communicated with others via walkie talkies.  

For nearly 4,000 years, the extraordinary shape, impeccable geometry and sheer bulk of the Giza Pyramids have invited the obvious question: How were they built and why? Centuries of research have given parts of the answer. Historians knew they were massive tombs constructed at the behest of the pharaohs by teams of one hundred thousand workers. This is known by the discovery of a pyramid builders' settlement, complete with areas for large-scale food production and medical facilities. Ongoing ecavations on the Giza Plateau have provided more evidence that the workers were not the slaves of Hollywood tradition but rather an organized workforce of Egyptian farmers. The workers only toiled for three months at a time because the other seasons were taken up by harvest, irrigation and floods, Amir said. Otherwise, it would only have taken five years if it had been constructed all at once rather than twenty years.

According to information I read, despite the evidence, some still won't accept  that the ancient Egyptians were capable of building the pyramids. They point to the carving and placement of the stones, precise to the millimeter and argue the numerological significance of the structures' dimensions as angels or aliens. Amir joked, I think, that the Russians believe aliens built it! 

The oldest pyramid in Giza and the largest in Egype is known as the Great Pyramid of Khufu aka by his Greek name Cheops. When it was completed around 250 BC, it stood 146 meters high. After 46 windy centuries, its height has been reduced by 9 meters. Others believe there had been either alabaster or gold at the top which accounted for the missing height and which was carted off long ago.
Known as one of the Seven Wonders of Ancient World, 2.5-3 million stones were used in its construction, enough some say, to build a wall around all of France. Each stone weighed from two to eight tons. The flood waters from the nearby Nile made it easier to transport them to the site. Long ramps were used to move the stones. 
Amir convinced us that it wasn't worth paying a huge amount extra to see inside the pyramid as it is all solid inside except for some chambers and the corridors. Plus, he said the climb inside was very steep and it would be impossible if we suffered even the tiniest bit of claustrophobia as we would have only been able to crawl once inside.
I managed to climb the north face right up to the entrance door, but didn't enter it. 

The pyramids of Giza had been a spectacular sight from our hotel window last night so imagine what it was like actually standing in front of them! It took our breath away as we felt the power of long ago civilizations and what they were capable of accomplishing.
Walking around the Great Pyramid showed us exactly how few tourists there were visiting one of the greatest sights known to man.

Many people choose to ride the horses or camels when visiting the pyramids as there are great distances in between them. There is, though, a considerable amount of controversy over doing that because of the well-founded concerns over the ill treatment of the animals.

Immediately south of the Great Pyramid was the Cheops Boat Museum which only had one object on display: one of five solar barques or boats buried near Khufu’s aka Cheops’ pyramid. Stones from the Cheops Boat were found in preparation for the Saudi king’s arrival in 1954.  
Before entering, we had to don covers for our shoes to protect the boat from the sand and dust we brought in from outside.
This is what the pit looked like where the boat was discovered. 
It seemed almost impossible to believe but the tag said these were the original knots that joined the main pieces of the boat.
The boat was found in this 31 meter long pit and the museum was built over it. It was covered with 41 large blocks of limestone, each one weighing about 18 tons. The dismantled parts of the boat - 1,224 pieces - had been placed in 13 layers. Imagine trying to figure out how to put that puzzle together? Also imagine the honor and awesome responsibility!

The model of the original boat at a scale of 1:10 showed it contained 12 oars: 10 in the middle and 2 in the stern for the rudder. The royal cabin in the center and the smaller captain's cabin in the prow were also depicted. 
After hearing about it from Amir and then reading the information about it, actually being able to see how grandiose it was took my breath away. The south end of the boat had the lotus flower and the north end had the papyrus flower to symbolize that Cheops represented both the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt. 
Five large pits were found near the Great Pyramid of Khufu. They contained the pharaoh's solar barques or boats, which may have been used to convey the mummy of the dead pharaoh across the Nile to the valley temple. The boats were then buried around the pyramid to provide transport for the pharaoh into the next world.


It was almost unbelievable to think to think the 4,000 year old boat hadn’t disintegrated in all that time. 
A second boat that was destroyed was found here. 

Other pyramids known as the Queens' Pyramids:
For the most cliched photo, we headed to the cliff beyond the third pyramid so we could could get a panoramic view of the three pyramids. On a clearer day, Cairo would have beenvisible in the background!
Menkaure Pyramid with another set of Three Queens’ Pyramids: The Menkaure Pyramid was about one tenth the size of the Great Pyramid.
We drove next toward the Sphinx, surely one of the world's most recogonizable sights. To approach it, we entered Khafe's Valley Temple that once sat at the edge of a small, artifical lake that was connected to the Nile by a canal. This was how construction materials were brought to the area and later, how worshippers came to visit the temple.
The temple was discovered in 1954; it was made of beautiful pink granite columns and the floor from alabaster to allow for the best reflections from the sun. The temple originally held 23 statues of Khafre which were illuinated with the ancient version of mood lighting, through slits between the top of the wall and the flat roof! Only one of the statues, all carved in the hard black stone diorite, has been found intact, Amir said. It is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo which we planned to see.

The pink granite pieces fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle!

Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol or the Father of Terror, the sculpture of a man with the haunches of lion was dubbed the Sphinx by the ancient Greeks because it resembled their mythical winged monster who set riddles and killed anyone unable to answer them. As is clear from the accounts of early Arab travelers, the nose was hammered off sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries although some still like to blame Napoleon for the deed. Part of the fallen beard was carted off by 19th century adventurers and is now on display at the British Museum in London. Amir explained others think it occurred when a Muslim king came in the 15th century and noticed people praying to the statue. These days the Sphinx has potentially greater problems: pollution and rising groundwater are causing internal fractures and it is under a constant state of repair. 
Coming face to face with an unforgettable look in the eyes of the great Sphinx, the guardian of the greatest pyramids in Egypt, will not be an experience soon forgotten.


In our hotel across the street an hour or so later, we were lucky enough to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable.

Posted from Doha, Qatar on November 1st, 2016.

3 comments:

  1. That is an amazing sunset! So jealous of you both and love you lots! So nice to hear from you both today

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fabulous account of a true architectural "wonder"of the world;
    The last photo is post card worthy. xo Lina

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