As is the norm after most of my photo-‘tours’, photographs from said travels usually lie forgotten on my computer. And since I’ve recently decided to revisit these albums, I’ve come across a lot of great memories.
June 2012 was hot, sandy, and sweaty. But for a history undergrad this meant loads and loads of ancient history to be discovered! I visited Israel and Egypt that summer (an ironic choice of holiday destinations judging my people came to the Promised Land from Egypt!). And the timing couldn’t have been better – Egypt had just gone through a revolution: Hosni Mubarak was ousted and it was time for the Egyptians to vote for their first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi(after a year however, he too was overthrown). Interestingly we just managed to make our way out of Tahrir Square the day we went to the Egyptian Museum as protesters gathered and an hour later, that day went down in history.
After an hour’s flight from Amman (in Jordan), we landed in Cairo. For those like me who’ve grown up on Tin Tin, the sights are literally out of the comics and are also quite like India – minus the cows on the roads.
Cairo or Umm ad Dunya – the Mother of the World – is said to have been set up somewhere around c. A.D. 959 by the Fatimid Dynasty, but the roots can be traced back to the Romans. They had built a fortress at the port of On which they later called Babylon. In A.D. 642 when Amr Ibn al-As conquered Egypt, he established the city of Fustat nearby and when the Fatimids came in from Tunisia, they spurned Fustat and built a new city believed to be Cairo. Many Fatimid structures like the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo remain today.
Our hotel was located just across the road from the Pyramids! Imagine my delight. But since we were whisked off to Aswan the next day for a three day cruise down the Nile, it was only until I came back that I would be able to gaze at these 4,000 year old structures.
There are six pyramids in Giza, all which have outlived the other six ancient wonders of the world. The biggest one – the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) was built in c. 2570 B.C. As the name suggests, it belonged to Khufu. A tunnel has been dug out and visitors are allowed to explore the inside of the pyramid. A narrow winding path made for a five-foot-something person like me leads into the pyramid. No cameras allowed. On the right in a really really small steep hole with a wooden plank going all the way up. You literally have to bend at ninety degrees to climb up the tunnel, which seems to last forever. And just when it seems to get claustrophobic, you are in the middle of a small, dimly lit room – a red sandstone sarcophagus in the middle, empty, sadly. Outside on the eastern side of the pyramid are three smaller ones belonging to Khufu’s wives and sisters.
The other pyramid looks bigger than that of Khufu but it happens to stand on a small platform. It belongs to Khufu’s father, Khafre and is the only remaining pyramid to have a limestone cap. A limestone coat is believed to have existed over the sandstone structures so as to enable them to gleam in the sun – this same limestone was later stripped and used in palaces and mosques. In fact it is believed that the pyramids had caps of gold too.
The third huge pyramid belonged to Menkaure or Mycerinus. I was told that a foolish king had once blasted off a part of the structure with dynamite so as to recover gold from the tomb. According to the story, he dug out three separate tunnels but didn’t find his treasure all of which are now closed for visitors. A gash is apparent on one side of the pyramid.
Once you manage to get over the pyramids, there’s still one more thing left – the Sphinx. A little bus ride away from the Great Pyramids lies this feline-human looking structure. Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol or Father of Terror, it was apparently dubbed ‘the Sphinx’ by the ancient Greeks as it resembled a mythical winged monster of the same name what with a woman’s head and a lion’s body.
The Sphinx of Giza is said to have been built in Khafre’s rule and was thus probably made to resemble him. It was between the 11th and 15th centuries that the nose was broken off; there is still a big question of who did it with many even maintaining that Napoleon was behind it. It truly is a wonder how these magnificent structures were set up and more so how they stand today. One of the reasons why historians who specialize in Egypt are called Egyptologists and not historians 😛
It became difficult to pry me out of there, my camera clicking away in a frenzy. It was great that i was able to return the next night to watch a sound and light show against the backdrop of the setting sun and the mysterious 4,000 year old tombs.
(Sources: Lonely Planet – Egypt and my memory)