Saturday, July 7: Today I meet Ahmed Seddick, the Egyptologist, at the American University of Cairo. Then we head off for a tour of the Pyramids of Giza.
The Pyramids of Giza are three 4th dynasty pyramids built on the west bank of the Nile River in northern Egypt. The names of the pyramids—Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure—correspond to the kings for whom they were built. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the Great Pyramid took 20 years to construct and demanded the labor of 100,000 men (Encyclopedia Britannica: Pyramids of Giza).
Khafre’s Pyramid, or the 2nd Pyramid, is easily recognizable by the layers of its original casing stones that still remain near its summit and this, along with the fact that it actually stands on a higher part of the plateau, gives the impression that it is taller than the Great Pyramid. This is only an optical illusion, as it is only 136m (446 ft) tall, compared to the Great Pyramid of Khufu, which is 137m (455 ft) tall. This middle pyramid was built for Khafre, the fourth of the eight kings of the 4th dynasty.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the most famous of the pyramids, and is the biggest, tallest and most intact. Khufu’s Pyramid is built of around 1.3 million blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 tons to 15 tons and is built on a square base that covers about 13 acres. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5m (488 ft), but today it is only 137m (455 ft) high. The drop in height was due to the theft of the fine quality limestone covering by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, to build houses and mosques in Cairo (Ask Aladdin: Pyramids of Giza).
We walk around the pyramids. Ahmed is one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met. He tells me the history of ancient Egypt, including details of all the dynasties. He is fluent in too many languages to count, and tells me all about word origins. He tells me so much information, which I don’t write down, that I can’t possibly remember it all. Or any of it, for that matter.
The southernmost and last pyramid to be built was that of Menkaure, the fifth king of the 4th dynasty; each side measures 109m (356.5 feet), and the structure’s completed height was 66 m (218 feet). (Encyclopedia Britannica: Pyramids of Giza)
Looking back at Cairo from the Pyramids, I’m surprised that the city is so close to the Pyramids. For some reason I envisioned the pyramids out in the middle of the desert.
We explore Khafre’s Valley Temple: The valley temple is built of megalithic blocks sheathed in red granite. The square pillars of the T-shaped hallway were made of solid granite and the floor was paved in alabaster. The exterior was built of huge blocks some weighing over 100 tons (Wikipedia: Pyramid of Khafre).
At the Giza Solar Boat Museum, Ahmed introduces me to the Khufu ship, an intact full-size vessel from ancient Egypt that was sealed into a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza around 2500 BC. The ship was almost certainly built for Khufu (King Cheops). Like other buried Ancient Egyptian ships, it was apparently part of the extensive grave goods intended for use in the afterlife (Wikipedia: Khufu Ship).
When I ask Egyptians riding camels if I can take pictures of them, they require some money from me for that privilege.
Ahmed and I ride a camel and have some pictures taken in front of the pyramids.
As we are walking around the Great Sphinx, we run into a group of my fellow travelers from Al-Ameen Associates who are just arriving as we are finishing up our tour. It’s too hot to be getting started at this time of day!
The Great Sphinx lies to the south of the Great Pyramid near Khafre’s valley temple. Carved out of limestone, the Sphinx has the facial features of a man but the body of a recumbent lion; it is approximately 73 meters (240 feet) long and 20 metres (66 ft) high (Encyclopedia Britannica: Pyramids of Giza). Sculpted from soft sandstone, many believe that it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried in the sand for so many long periods in its lifetime. The body is 60m (200 ft) long and 20m (65 ft) tall. It faces the rising sun, and was revered so much by the ancients, that they built a temple in front of it (Ask Aladdin: Pyramids of Giza).
After spending a large part of the morning at the Pyramids, Ahmed and I go to Mena House for lunch, where I have some delicious Sea Bass and he has lamb. I feel like I don’t belong in such an elegant place because I’m so dusty and sweaty from walking around the Pyramids in the sweltering sun.
According to Wikipedia: Mena House, The Mena House was initially a hunting lodge; it was a two-story hut nicknamed the “Mud Hut”. It was built for the Egyptian King Isma’il Pasha in 1869. Due to political matters in 1883, Isma’il sold the lodge to a couple, Frederick and Jessie Head, as a private residence. The couple came across the building while on their honeymoon and once it was purchased they expanded it. In 1885, it was then sold to an English couple, Ethel and Hugh Locke-King. They immediately began construction on the hotel and opened it to the public in 1886 as The Mena House.
In December 1977 Egypt and Israel sat down together at Mena House in quest for a peace settlement (also attending were American and United Nations representatives). The results of this Mena House Conference were to lead to the Camp David Agreement, which restored Egypt’s sovereignty over the Sinai peninsula.
A long list of dignitaries and otherwise famous people have stayed in The Mena House over its long history. In 1889, Prince Albert Victor of Wales stayed at the hotel. In 1894, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife stayed there. Circa 1914, Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel. In 1939, King Farouk of Egypt frequently visited. In 1974, President Richard Nixon visited. Other notable people such as Agatha Christie, Roger Moore, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin have all stayed at Mena House Oberoi (Wikipedia: Mena House).
After lunch, Ahmed goes with me to City Stars Mall to help me buy a phone, since he can speak with the salespeople in Arabic to get my questions answered. I buy a Nokia phone. After Ahmed and I part ways, I spend a great deal of time trying to text Mohsen my new cell number, but it doesn’t work. Finally I email it to him. Here’s the email I send him:
Finally, after a long day at the pyramids, riding camels & getting so much information from Ahmed that my head is about to burst, we went to lunch at Mena House (on my bill), then to City Stars where he helped me to buy a phone. Hooray! I feel that I’ve moved up from sub-human to human! Anyway, I tried to text you, but for some reason the text kept failing. Then I tried to call, but it just rang and rang on your end with no voice mail. So, I’m sending my # by e-mail. Here it is: 0118611524.
I hope you have had a good day. If you call me, of course I would love to hear from you, but if not, then you must have your reasons. So, salaam alaykum and take care of yourself.
Using my new phone, I call Basim, the brain surgeon who gave me his card at the Cairo Hash House Harriers yesterday, and we arrange to meet on Sunday night.
This morning before going out to the pyramids, I received this email from R, telling me about his ongoing struggle with the spider bite.
I have been quite distracted by the spider bite. I’ll give you the whole story at a more convenient time (funnier in person), but bottom line: after a serious scare, it seems to be moving to a more appropriate recovery path and I think I’ll live. New superpowers have yet to reveal themselves, beyond those rediscovered in NY.
I’ll write more tomorrow when I can, but for now suffice it to say, I really really mu.