Wednesday, April 02, 2008

By the Power of Ra

As you fly over the deserts of Egypt, you will find yourself looking for pyramids behind every sand dune. The stories you read and hear your entire life have led you to this moment and the knowledge that there are more pyramids in Egypt than stars in the sky. But yet, none appear no matter how hard you look and you arrive at the Cairo airport slightly disappointed not to have seen any pyramids or wandering mummies yet.

But that disappointment changes the day you visit Giza.

A friend of Hubby’s set us up with a driver for the day to take us to see the pyramids. Armed with sunscreen, water, a camera, and wide brimmed hats, we set off on what for me was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

We drove through the city chatting with our driver about his children, the history of Egypt, and American politics when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I spotted something to my left. In what was obstinately the middle of a city I saw the Great Pyramid of Giza. Not out in the middle of some desert (although it is) but from my left hand car window through a canopy of trees and apartment buildings. Our driver explained that the city used to be further away but had been encroaching for the last few decades due to population growth in Cairo.

After making it through the gauntlet of touts and would-be tour guides, we made our way to Khufu’s Pyramid, or the Great Pyramid as it is more commonly referred to. (It is also sometimes referred to by its Greek name Cheops.) I could comment on its exact size and how each side is exactly the same as the one before it but all you conspiracy theorists already know all of that. But what you can’t anticipate is just how big it is. That realization comes just before the one that it is man made. Not man made with the help of cranes and modern conveniences but shaped and built by actual people who placed the first stone on the bottom and the one on the very top.

Despite the fact that we were there in the middle of March, there were quite a few tourists climbing the stairs to the small opening through which people can gain entrance to the interior of the pyramid. Such was our luck that by the time we got there they had closed access for the morning. Although climbing the pyramid per se hasn’t been allowed now for quite some time, even walking up the carved out stairs is amazing. All around us we could hear people say ,“I’m standing on something that was built thousands of years ago. This is so freaking cool.” Ok I said that. But the sentiment was being shared in at least a dozen languages around us.

Some people took camel rides to the pyramid complex while others sat in horse-drawn carts as they made their way between pyramids. We chose to walk to the second pyramid, Khafre, not realizing that this would require avoiding the annoying teenagers who appeared to be there on a school trip. “Hello! What is your name? Give me water! Give me drink!”

While time and tourists have eroded much of the limestone and stonework on the exterior of all of the pyramids, this slightly smaller edifice is easily distinguished as the pyramid that still has its capstone.

After a bit of exploration, we hopped in our car and drove to a nearby viewing plateau. From this tout-filled spot, you can see all three pyramids at once. Across the expanse of desert, they seem to arise out of nothing and even the doubters start thinking about alien conspiracies.

Then you turn a little to the right and the city looms up in the background and somehow Giza loses a bit of its majesty. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing and they always will be, Ra willing, but you can literally see modern life overtaking the Giza Complex and that’s rather depressing. These large tombs of the dead represent the ancient world and they are at risk of being pushed out by the needs of the living.

Of course, there is still one part of Giza I haven’t yet discussed – the Sphinx. Stay tuned…


Anonymous said...

When you mention the encroachment of city, I think of Niagara and the majesty of the Falls vvs the aweful towns that border them on both sides of the border.

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