21 October 2012

The Land of Pharaohs: Giza Necropolis

Oh hi! Lauren here...so in one of my last posts, I mentioned that I was leaving Iraq, and headed to Egypt. I spent five weeks in Egypt working on studying Arabic, and also seeing some sights. In the first weekend after I arrived, I decided that I needed a break to clear my head of a year in Iraq, and put it all behind me. I ended up at the world-famous Mena House Oberoi hotel, right at the base of the Pyramids with a great deal through booking.com for the weekend. Imagine! Waking up in the morning, and the first thing you see are the Pyramids looming over the hotel grounds while you drink your morning tea! Amazing!

On Friday morning, I met my roommates, just outside the hotel compound, at the entrance to the Necropolis. They'd already negotiated a deal for a carriage ride for about 40 pounds ($6.5 US) for each of us. Not a bad foreigner price, if you ask me, though the horses were not very well cared for, or well-treated as far as I was concerned. But by the looks of what I saw there, none of them were. 

Our Carriage Drivers
While our carriage drivers were friendly, I was frustrated because they were so focused on trying to secure their tip and they kept trying to take my camera to take my picture at various sites. With my brand new Nikon, I was not willing to just hand it over to a stranger for any reason.

This little boy was hawking souvenirs off the back of this donkey. There were really not many tourists, and certainly not the usual Western rubes. The Egyptian tourist economy has been hit really hard since the revolution and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country. Most of the people that we saw at the Necropolis were other Arab people, or Egyptian school children on a field trip.

The Great Pyramid
As we started wandering around the necropolis grounds, I was imagining how I'd process my photos. I think they're much better in monochrome or sepia toned, giving them a more turn-of-the-century kind of look. And considering I'd been staying at the Mena House, which is famous for having been the site of the famous 1979 Egypt-Israel peace talks. 

The Giza Necropolis sits on the edge of a limestone cliff that overlooks the city of Cairo. Though, the city is rather difficult to see from there now, because of the hazy cloud of pollution constantly hanging over the city, just past the great western cemetery. There are three main pyramids on the grounds, and they are named, Khufu (the Great Pyramid), Khafre, and Menkaure. There are also loads of other tombs of non-royals, as well as the excavation of the workers' village just south of the Sphinx.

The Great Pyramid is one of the most well-known ancient structures in the world, and the pyramids are the only remaining structures of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. My pictures hardly do the size of the stones justice, but each one weighs about two tons. There are over two MILLION of these blocks making up the Great Pyramid of Khufu. It would have been covered with an outer coating of alabaster, and it would have have been smooth, and nearly sparkling in the intense Egyptian sun, and capped with a golden top. That alabaster was stolen over the centuries, and all that remains is just a little bit near the top of the pyramid of Khafre. 

Though I found the pyramids to be a bit underwhelming, this is likely to do with the fact that I live in contemporary society, and have seen buildings (even in Cairo) which are a great deal taller and more imposing. However, the Great Pyramid stood as the tallest man-made structure on earth until the 19th Century (CE). 

Now we move on to the single most iconic symbol of ancient Egypt, and the oldest statue in the world: the mysterious Sphinx (أبو الهول). I say that it's mysterious, not because of the so-called, Riddle of the Sphinx, but because we really do not know much about it. The sculpture is 197 feet long, with the body of a lion, and the head of a man, with the Pharonic Nemes headdress. Some scholars argue that it was built by Khafre, but there really isn't any evidence showing its association with him. I once watched a show on the History Channel that showed that the structure had experienced water damage, and that would date it to prior to the time of Khafre. I honestly don't believe this, and from my obviously scientific eyeball study of the state of the bricks of the structure (many of which have been restored), I saw that the bricks miiiight have shown some water damage, but it seemed like it could also be explained by pollution and atmospheric conditions as easily as water. Here's a better picture of the Sphinx complex. You can probably decide for yourself:

The one question that comes up repeatedly when people start talking about the Sphinx, is always about his nose. What happened to it? Where did it go? Often, you'll hear that Napoleon's soldiers didn't like the "Africanness" of the nose so they blew it off with a canon ball. According to drawings of the sculpture that pre-date this period, the nose was gone LONG before the Napoleonic wars. An alternate story dates back to the 14th century, and was told by a 15th century Arab historian, saying that because the peasants in the river valley of the area would give offerings to the Sphinx, hoping to better control the flood cycle. Outraged by such a blatant display of paganism, the Sufi Sheikh of the area, Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, destroyed the nose of the sculpture in 1378. He was later executed for vandalism. No one really knows if any of these stories are true, but I am much more inclined to believe the second story...

As I mentioned before, I decided to process these in monochrome/sepia tones. I think it just lends a more turn of the century look to the photos. I feel like, other than the excavation of various sites, the grounds of the necropolis itself hasn't really changed since then!

You can take either a carriage or a camel. I probably should have opted to ride the camel, but honestly, I really just didn't want to. I was pretty nervous about having it toss me off the front when it stood up! The rickety carriage was enough for me!

So I spent a total of five weeks in Egypt. Most of the time, I was sweating through my Arabic lessons and doing homework. However, I did manage to get out to a few things during the first month, and spent my last week on a tour of Upper Egypt (re: the southern part, or Nubia), and the temples of ancient Egypt there. So here's a rundown of the things that I'm thinking of writing about (below) I'd love to hear if you our handful of readers have any preferences, or questions in advance around which I can center some of these blogs. Requests welcome!!! For more pictures from the Mena House and the Pyramids, be sure to like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ParMieuxAdventures

Here's the list of ideas:

  • My neighborhood in and life in Cairo
  • Coptic/Islamic Cairo
  • September 11th, and the teargas
  • Porto Sokhna and the Red Sea
  • The Night Train and Luxor
  • Luxor and Karnak Temples
  • Temple of Hatsheput
  • The High Dam/Unifinished Obelisk/Colossi of Memnon
  • The Temple of Horus
  • The Philae (Isis) Temple
  • Abu Simbel


Jackalyn M. said...

I would really love to hear more about the neighborhood and life arounf Ciaro. Also, I wanted to say that your blog is put together extremely well. I will check it again. Egypt seems so amazing. I hope to visit there sometime soon.

familynomadic said...

Thanks for sharing Lauren!! I would be interested in Coptic/Islamic Cario, The Night Train & Luxor (but only if it reads like a spy novel), or The High Dam/Unfinished Obelisk/Colossi of Memnon. And if none of that suits your fancy, how about something related Nasser and nationalism...I love Egyptian nationalism!!

Mia said...

The sepia tones turned out really well! Your list is really impressive, I'd be curious to hear about your daily life around Cairo in particular. And the night train!

gunner said...

my neighborhodd in karo