It was with a lot of excitement that our hardy bunch set out for the Great Pyramids of Giza today. First – the Great Pyramid of Khufu – built in the 4th Dynasty over 4500 years ago – this was the tallest structure on earth until the building of Lincoln Cathedral! It stands 146.5m tall and each side is 230.5m. The angle of incline is 51.5 degrees – giving the perfect dimensions for a stone pyramid structure to support its own weight. The latest estimate is that 1.7 million stones were used. It was originally encased in a smooth limestone outer layer, which would have been a sight to see. Even though this layer was missing it was awe-inspiring to be able to stand on one of the original wonders of the world. Khufu’s son built the second Pyramid and while this is smaller in scale to his father’s tomb – his builders were able to give the impression it was bigger because they built on a higher level. After exploring the Great Pyramid, we were surprised to be informed we all were going to have a camel ride. Going a five-minute drive to the start of the Sahara Desert and with the three Pyramids to our left we all had the ride of our lives – scary to get on and disembark from but fine (if a bit hard on the thighs) once you got going! It was surreal to think where we were. But things only got better. We had the privilege of entering the third Pyramid – that of Khufu’s grandson. A scary thirty metre descent down a steep set of stairs in an ever-smaller tunnel which levelled out into a larger room from which we descended another 10 metres into the funeral camber. It was surprisingly cool and an eerie space. To touch the smooth stone walls which fitted perfectly together and realise this was built without the aid of modern technology was mind-blowing. Yet I personally was glad to ascend and feel the scorching heat of the sun once more. We then had the high-light of seeing the Sphinx which guards the entry way to the second Pyramid. While one could have stayed forever in front of such a wonder – it was too hot – no – it was bloody hot to put it mildly!
After a beautiful Egyptian lunch in an outdoor restaurant (The Blueberry) we drove to Sakkara. It was here that we saw and explored the oldest Pyramid on earth – the Step Pyramid built by Imhotep for his Pharaoh Zoser in the 3rd Dynasty. The Palace you enter to get to the square upon which the Pyramid stands at the end was magnificent with 20 pairs of beautiful carved stone pillars.
We drove back to our hotel – had a lovely shower and change and headed off to the railway station for our overnight train journey to Aswan. But that is for another entry!
What a packed day! It got up to about 37 degrees, but it was a dry heat. We started early and went to the Citadel – Saladin’s 12th century fort – to see what is referred to as the Alabaster Mosque and another older but less impressive one. We went onto the Coptic quarter to visit three fascinating churches – the ‘Hanging Church’ – which was built directly over the old Roman fort, as if to say, “We have out lived the Romans!” Next was St George’s, which had a museum including torture equipment used to solicit Christian faith! The last Church visited in the morning was referred to as the ‘Cavern’ church because it was built over a cavern where the Holy family stayed for three months after fleeing the wrath of Herod. This is one of twenty-six sites in Egypt which claim the family stayed there over the course of the three years there were on the run. We then went onto the Ben Ezra Synagogue – the only functioning one in Cairo. The story goes that the Christian church were in a bit of a bother over unpaid taxes and sold a church to Ben Ezra who turned it into a Synagogue. Another story goes that it was a lease for a hundred years – but no dated contract stating when the hundred years started has been found.
After a well-earned lunch we had the afternoon in Cairo Museum. Words fail to describe the overwhelming old-world charm and magnificence of this museum – the first ever built for the purpose of being a museum. It has over 100,000 items. Sherif our guide high-lighted a few items – including a stature of the builder of the 2nd Pyramid – they don’t how they were able to carve it out of the material with the tools available. We saw the copy of the Rosetta stone – the original is in the British Museum – the key to de-coding much of the ancient language of the Egyptians.
We arrived back at our hotel tired and hot and exhausted but with a sense of gratitude for a wonderful day.
After a gruelling long flight from Melbourne to Dubai, followed by a more pleasant flight to Cairo our travelling group of nine (Conrad, Ian, Robert, Judy, Daniel, Lewis, Carole, Janet and yours truly) have been warmly welcomed to Egypt. We were expertly shepherded through Cairo airport by Kerrid to be met outdoors by our tour guide Sherif. The drive from the airport to the hotel took us through the Presidential area of Heliopolis. We passed the sprawling Dead city cemetery to be amazed to learn that people live here among the tombs of the ancestors. 24 million people call Cairo their home! (Population of Egypt is 97 million). To house so many people we saw what Sherif called ‘Randoms’. These are towering apartment blocks built on any spare bit of land. Some are so close to each other that you could probably reach out and shake hands with your neighbour across the gap. There is one colour in Cairo and that is ‘mud brown.’
Other sights on the journey to the hotel included the impressive Citadel build by Saladin in the tenth century. We crossed the Nile into Giza and caught a tantalising glimpse of the Pyramids before turning into our hotel for the next two nights – aptly named the Oasis Hotel. It boosts lush green gardens and a spectacular pool. A relaxing place to recharge the batteries before heading to the Cairo Museum and the Coptic Quarter tomorrow.
A group of nine hardy souls will be taking the trip of a lifetime beginning on Friday 31 August in Cairo. I will be posting a regular blog about our adventures, along with pics! After this trip I head off straight away to the UK to join the Australian Welsh Male Choir as we embark on a three-week tour culminating in the London Welsh Choir Festival at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 13 October. Check in for up dates.