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Visit The Ancient Pyramids Near Cairo
Giza and Upper Egypt: When you cross to the West bank of the Nile, you officially enter Giza and Upper Egypt. Today, Giza is a busy, modern suburb of Cairo. The main square of Giza is called Midan El Galaa.

Great Pyramids of Giza: The pyramid area is open daily from 8-4:30. Unless you are on a tour, it's best to take a Taxi, negotiate a price, and have them wait for you. A "shared taxi" service is also available from the parking lot across from Midan Tahrir.

Great Pyramid of Cheops: According to Herodotus, the Greek historian, the Great Pyramid of Cheops took the work of 100,000 men each year for 20 years, to build. It is estimated that over 200 million stone blocks, averaging more than 2 1 tons each, were used in its construction. Each side of the pyramid measures 746 feet along the base... which is about 7 1/2 times the length of a football field. The peak of the pyramid is now 450 feet high, but with its original limestone cover, it was more than 30 feet higher, the stones for this pyramid were taken from a nearby quarry. You can see some of the stones in various stages of preparation, just to the north of the middle pyramid. Originally all the pyramids in this area were faced with a sheath of polished limestone, brought from Tura in the Mokattam Hills southeast of Cairo.

Pyramids of Chephren and Mykerinus: Chephren was the son of Cheops, the great pyramid builder. His pyramid appears to be larger than his fathers because it's on higher ground. The third major pyramid is that of Mykerinus, Chephren's son. It seems small in comparison to the others. It is only 204 feet high with a base 356 feet long.

You can inter all three pyramids, although most people just visit Cheops. You ascend this Great Pyramid via a low, narrow, dimly lit tunnel... requiring you to bend forward until you reach the Grand Gallery... 28 feet high and 153 feet long, but only a few feet wide. (Note: If you are not in tip top physical condition, you will not be able to walk the next day after entering this tomb. And it is almost impossible to change your mind and turn around). You continue as far as the burial chamber, which houses the remains of Cheops' sarcophagus. Above, in the ceiling, are two air holes, which were supposed to allow the king's "ka" access to his body. Many tourists are disappointed with the interior. Climbing on the exterior of the pyramids is forbidden... but everyone does it anyway. Be aware of the danger. Stones are slippery!

Nobles Tombs of Giza: Along the south side of the Great Pyramid are 6 additional pyramids. They are small in comparison, and were built to house the remains of the wives of families of the Pharaohs. All are in ruins and not open to the public. The area around these 6 pyramids is awash with the tombs of nobles. You can visit some by scouting around for the man with the keys... usually near the hut in the area of the Great Pyramid. Tip him for his work.

The Solar Boat: This is the barge, which ferried the remains of the Pharaoh from his capital at Memphis to Giza. The boat was discovered by an archaeologist who has been reconstructing it for the past 30 years. It's located in a concrete and glass building on the south side of the Great Pyramid.

Take a few minutes. As you stand before the pyramids, try to imagine the great engineering feats utilized in their construction thousands of years ago. The method of building these monuments, which have stood for centuries, is still part mystery. When you return to Cairo, look at the present construction going on, and watch the men "working". Many new buildings in Cairo have already collapsed. What happened? Many say it's all because of the prevalent attitude of today's Egyptian, with all the incompetency summed up with "It's Allah's Will".

The Great Sphinx: Down the hill to the southeast of the Great Pyramid is the Valley of the Sphinx. Don't be disappointed if it's smaller than expected. It's only because it appears small next to the pyramids. The figure is 66 feet high and 240 feet long... and was carved out of a single piece of stone as part of the Temple Complex attached to the Pyramid of Chephren. During the flood of the Nile, the remaining temple parts sit on the very banks of the Nile. Legend has it that the "nose job" on the Sphinx occurred in the 13-16th centuries when soldiers took shots at it. Later, the soldiers of Napoleon continued the practice. Between the paws of the Sphinx is a Stela, which recounts an interesting tale. It was erected by the Pharaoh Tutmosis IV, and the narrative tells how, as a youth, Tuthmosis came to rest at the foot of the Sphinx. At that time, the Sphinx was buried under the sand, and as the young man rested, he had a dream. In this dream the Sphinx told him that if he would uncover its body, that he would become Pharaoh of Egypt. He did uncover the Sphinx and has a wall built to hold the sands back... and did become Pharaoh of Egypt. Remains of the wall can still be seen.

Sound and Light Show: The show generally starts about 7:30 PM, but it's worthwhile to come earlier to watch the sunset behind the pyramids. The show, itself, is beautiful and interesting for a short period... but becomes repetitious after a while. Seating is by general admission... all seats, the same price. To go to this show, either arrange for a tour, or book a taxi (Determine the price in advance). The taxi will take you there and wait for you.

Camel riding: There will be dozens of men around the pyramid area offering their camel "for hire". By all means, do try it. But bargain with these men. As you get on the camel, they will take your camera before you know it. Don't panic! They simply will take your picture while you're on the camel. They are able to use any kind of camera immediately, and will keep snapping your picture until you tell them to stop. When you board the camel, he will be kneeling. Hold on tightly. When he gets up, his back legs rise first, throwing you forward. When all four legs are erect, it's an interesting experience. Incidentally, the owners will probably have a headdress and band on your head before you know it. Another tip required.

Sakkara and Memphis: These are the oldest sites of ancient Egypt near Cairo. Memphis was the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and Sakkara was used as a burial place by kings, princes, nobles, and the residents. Take a tour and do make Sakkara your first stop. It's in the desert and should be visited before the sun gets too hot.

Step Pyramid of Zoser at Sakkara: Zoser was the first Pharaoh of Dynastic Egypt. He was also the first in whose name a pyramid was constructed. Until the time of Zoser, the Pharaohs were buried in "mastabas"... long flat tomb-buildings. When the architect had finished Zoser's mastaba, Zoser wasn't ready to use it, so the architect added a smaller layer on top and kept doing this until there were 6 layers on top of one another. Thus, the pyramid was born. You enter the tomb complex through a gallery of columns.

Pyramid of Unas at Sakkara: Unas was the last Pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty. To find his pyramid, look for a flight of stairs. Go up the stairs and turn left, walk across the sand for a short distance and look to your right. To enter the tomb, you go down a short, steep ramp, then through a tunnel, which is only a few feet high. Inside, you'll see the oldest known hieroglyphic tomb writings, which were to guide the Pharaoh through the trials to the after-life. The room on the right contains the sarcophagus.

Tombs of the Apis Bulls at Sakkara: This tomb is a short walk from the areas rest house, and was the tomb complex for the Apis Bull... the animal sacred to the God Ptah. These bulls were treated as royalty, including the full 70-day embalming treatment, and entombment in sarcophagi.

Mastabas of Ti and Mereruka at Sakkara: Both of these men were ministers, and both tombs are large...quite lovely...full 0f paintings. See also, Mastaba of Ptah-Hotep, who was a minister of the 6th Dynasty. It is located on the far side of the Tomb of the Apis Bulls.

City of Memphis: Memphis was the ancient capital of Egypt. The site among the palm trees is lovely. There is a colossal statue of Ramses the Great, housed in a small stone building. Above this is a gallery. Go to it, for the views and to take photographs. To the left of the statue of Ramses is a small image of his wife Nefertari. Near her head, in the far right corner of the building is the God Bes, the protector of women in childbirth. Beyond the building is a small open area with a beautiful alabaster Sphinx, which was recently dug out of the nearby swamps. Among the trees to the right, behind the building is another statue of Ramses II. There's very little else left of the once great city of Memphis. As you head back to Giza or Cairo, there are some ruins of the Embalming Temple. Here, the bulls' bodies were prepared for burial. The embalming table still exists, with a channel around the edge to drain, and carry out the body fluids.

Khan El Khalili Bazaar: Unreal! Narrow, winding alleys jammed with small shops, selling every conceivable variety of wares. It's fun to walk in the more out-of-the-way places and watch the artisans at work. If you plan to do any serious shopping this Bazaar is the place to begin. It's a huge place, and a guide is essential...as well as bargaining. A guide will obviously steer you toward certain shops. Hire a guide from your hotel.

Papyrus Institute: This is a workshop and research facility, as well as a mini-museum. Its purpose is to preserve the ancient of making paper from papyrus. You will probably be taken to a "branch" for a demonstration, which is interesting. You will be expected to buy a painting on papyrus!

Fortress of Babylon: The remains of the Roman Fort are now part of the grounds of the Coptic Museum.

Coptic Museum: A pleasing, quiet oasis displaying simple sculptures of the early Copts - tombstones, doorposts and other carved pieces, as well as manuscripts. You will find no people or animals in the art, because their religion would not allow images of living creatures. Daily 9-4.

Church of Al Muallaqa (Sitt Mariam): This is the so-called "hanging church" because it's constructed over the ruins of the Old Fortress. The building dates from the 4th century.

Church of St. Sergius: This church is especially revered by Christians because the crypt below is supposed to mark the spot where the Holy Family was sheltered during their flight into Egypt. Building dates from 11th century.

Islamic Museum: Houses the most complete and extensive survey of Islamic Art anywhere - glass, pottery, metalwork, woodwork, tiles and carpets, Daily 8:30-1PM.
About the Author
Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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