Friday, January 30, 2015

Egypt | Cairo | Giza | Pyramids

Wandered down to Cairo from Istanbul. Another milk run on Turkish Air. The Airbus took off from the same remote gate as flights to Tabriz, Iran, and Ulaanbaatar. From the gate they ferry you by bus to the plane parked in the hinterlands of the airport. Just once I would like to fly somewhere that deserves a walk-on ramp. At first I thought I was at the wrong gate. At last three-quarters of the passengers were Chinese. Was I lining up for the Beijing flight? But no, they were all Chinese tourists. In Istanbul itself I would guess that at least half the tourists are Chinese. Many older Chinese couples on the plane, presumably retirees, plus the usual bevy of young Chinese women traveling by themselves. 

It is only a two hour hump across the Mediterranean to Cairo. I spent it reading Amelia Edward’s A Thousand Miles Up The Nile, a classic of Victorian travel literature (the Kindle version is $1.99; a fantastic bargain). I also dipped into Barbara Mertz’s Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs, a light-hearted romp through four or five thousand years of Egyptian history. Mertz, writing under the pen name of Elizabeth Peters, also wrote nineteen novels featuring the indomitable Amelia Peabody, wife of Radcliffe Emerson, “the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other age,” at least according to his besotted spouse. Almost all of the Peabody books take place in Egypt and deal with the madcap adventures of Peabody and her husband. I am embarrassed to admit that I have actually read All Nineteen Of The Amelia Peabody Books. This may sound ridiculous, but on the other hand I have probably not watched one entire TV program in the last twenty years. Everyone is entitled to one shameless vice. 

The Cairo Airport is very modern and extremely large. It takes probably twenty minutes to walk to Immigration. The guest house I am staying at offered a free pick-up at the airport if you stay more than four nights. I am staying seven, so before I even went through Immigration I was met by Abdullah, the representative of the guesthouse. Apparently in Egypt tourist guides can do this. He shepherded me through Immigration and then Customs. They knew him at Customs and we were waved through without the official even glancing at my portmanteau or passport, even though I noticed they were checking everyone else’s documents. The free airport pickup proved to quite a boon, since the airport is on the east side of the Nile, and Giza, where I am staying in on the west side. It can take a hour to get to Giza if traffic is heavy. 

Abdullah it turns out is a history aficionado and while driving to Giza we had quite an interesting chat about the Mamluk period of Egyptian history. Unfortunately he was wrong in his assertion that Chingis Khan invaded Egypt. Chingis Khan died several decades before the Mongols reached Syria, where on September 3, 1260 they were soundly defeated by the Mamluks of Egypt at the Battle of Ain Jalut. He also insisted that the Mamluks were descendants of Mongol slave-soldiers. They are  descended from slave-soldiers, but mostly of Turk and Turcoman descent. I am unaware of any Mongol Mamluks. Happily the discussion soon veered to Fourth Dynasty Egypt, during which time the three big pyramids of Giza were built. Indeed, soon after we crossed the Nile they could be seen looming above the Giza skyline.

My guest house is just fifty feet from the entrance to the Pyramids complex. It is a rather modest establishment actually, although my room is quite large and features a huge double bed. More importantly, the windows provide stunning views of the three Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx. There is also a roof top viewing area with even better views. After stashing my portmanteau I headed across the street to the entrance of the Pyramid complex and bought a ticket for eighty Egyptian pounds ($10.52)
View from my room at the guest house. In front of the middle pyramid can be seen the Sphinx (click on photo for enlargement).

5 comments:

  1. I strongly advise no lighthearted banter with the sphinx. I've heard it's the cryptic one-liner that can be most lethal. If it were me and I heard the Sphinx say anything at all, I'd run back to my room as quickly as possible. Chances are there's nothing to worry about as long as you think of your parents with an ordinary fondness. Words for the wise. Take care. -D

    PS: I strongly recommend an overnight in Edfu.

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  2. Far be if from me to attempt any cryptic banter with the Sphinx. I know full well when to remain silent. Napoleon, I have heard, was no so discrete.

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  3. Speaking of Napoleon, the oft-told tale that his artillery men shot off the Sphinx’s nose for target practice is now considered apocryphal.

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  4. So what happened to the exterior of the first pyramid that removed the smooth layer?

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  5. “In AD 1303, a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones, which were then carted away by Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 to build mosques and fortresses in nearby Cairo. Many more casing stones were removed from the great pyramids by Muhammed Ali Pasha in the early 19th century to build the upper portion of his Alabaster Mosque in Cairo not far from Giza.”

    A few of the casing stones can still be seen on the north side of the Big Pyramid. And of course they can be seen at the top of the middle Pyramid. I will post photos of them later .

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