Thursday, February 23, 2012

Around the World: Pyramids of Giza

February 23, 1992

The taxi ride from the hotel to the edge of the Sahara desert is short.  A road is all that separates the pyramids of Giza and the ancient tombs of the Pharaohs from the modern (by comparison) city of Cairo.

Arial view of Cairo and the The Pyramids of Giza.

The entrance fee is tripled for tourists, but students get a discount which makes the price just slightly more than the Egyptian fee.  I show my Ontario driver's licence to the cashier and tell her it's my student identification.  She doesn't ask any questions and charges me the student amount.

The big black shawl I bought yesterday is very handy.  The temperature rapidly fluctuates between cool and hot, depending on the direction and intensity of the wind.  Anything stronger than a gentle breeze kicks up the fine desert sand and whips it at my eyes.  It feels like stinging needles on my skin.  Wrapping myself up in the shawl is my only shelter.

It's difficult to imagine the sheer grandeur and size of these pyramids until you find yourself standing next to one.  Each square stone is almost the height of me, all laid without the aid of heavy machinery and with meticulous precision.  It's only then that one can even attempt to appreciate the effort and ingenuity required to build this enormous structure .

Pyramid vs. Man (on a camel)
Photo by Tinou Bao

There are three main pyramids at Giza.  The Great Pyramid is the tomb of the great Egyptian king, Khufu, and the tallest pyramid ever constructed.  Built on a base that covers 13 acres, Khufu once stood 488 ft tall. The erosion of the limestone covering has shrunk Khufu to a height just over 455 ft.  Built around 2560 BC, Khufu held the distinction as the tallest building on Earth until the French built the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

The middle pyramid is the tomb of Khufu's son, Khafre.  Standing 446 ft tall, it is the only one of the three that still bears some of the polished limestone outer casing at it's top that once covered all the pyramids.  There is a steep, narrow passage, about one meter in height and width, that allows visitors to crawl into the chamber under the pyramid.  The small space did nothing to help my claustrophobia, especially knowing that once inside, I was committed to completing the trip to the bottom.  The end of the tunnel opens into a larger passageway and into several empty chambers.

Passage into Khafre's tomb.
Photo by Ashish Agarwal

Khafre's son, Menkaure, built the smallest pyramid, standing only 215 ft tall.  In front of Mehkaure are three smaller pyramids, called the Pyramids of the Queens. 

From the right: Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure with the
Pyramids of the Queens in front.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a massive monolith depicting a mythical creature with a lion's body and a human head. Situated on the west side of Khafre, it seems to guard the tombs of the Pharaohs, although the purpose of its construction remains a subject of controversy.  Made of soft sandstone, the Sphinx likely would not have survived the harsh desert climate had it not been buried in sand for most of its existence.  Restoration work is constant and despite careful efforts, often results in further damage.

The Sphinx and Khafre
Photo by Mrs Logic

After taking in the incredible experience of the Giza Pyramids, another taxi returns us back to the hotel. Along the way, I made note of the Arabic numbers as they scrolled by on the meter. Perhaps I can improve my bartering skills, or at the very least know what things cost if I can recognize some basic numbers.

Sabina and I end the day at the Excelsior, the bar I discovered yesterday.  Dinner is made up of donair, meat sliced from a vertical rotisserie and served wrapped in a pita.  We talk and laugh over a couple Stellas before returning to the hotel for the evening. I don't think I'll ever lose the feeling of awe I felt today, being able to touch and experience one of the few remaining true wonders of the world.

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"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
~Albert Einstein