Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Giza Pyramids

9 a.m. Sunday: I've seen the Great Pyramid of Khufu a thousand times in movies and on TV, but never before in person. It's incredible—more than 137 meters of massive stone blocks piled high. It's the only remaining of the ancient world's Seven Wonders. Khufu ruled from around 2589 to 2566 B.C. and had this tomb built around 2550 B.C. It's still one of the largest buildings ever erected. I get goosebumps standing outside looking up at it, then wonder how I'm ever going to climb the long stairways inside. Entering the pyramid is truly like stepping back in time 4,500 years. Not much has changed since then; there's certainly no gift shop or soda machine to greet visitors. There's not much in here, actually—no carvings or paintings. Just a narrow, ascending corridor. We have to hunch over to climb up the makeshift stairs. Next comes a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel. We bend waaay over—nearly 90 degrees—and continue upward. I wish I were shorter. I need another shower.
We reach the erroneously named queen's chamber (its function still isn't known). We leave the small and unadorned room and head up to the king's chamber, where Khufu's sarcophagus still rests. To get there we have to climb up the famous Grand Gallery, a loooong staircase , and scramble through another tunnel.
Inside, the sarcophagus, robbed and emptied in ancient times, lends the barren room a spectral air. Whatever treasures were buried with Khufu were stolen long ago.
After a while, legs shaking and completely soaked with sweat, I retrace my steps. It's disorienting to emerge from the dark pyramid into the harsh sunlight. Haze hangs over the modern skyline of Cairo just a short ways away. Giza is really just a suburb of the city, which sprawls closer and closer to the past every day.

The Sphinx

A camel! I am sitting astride a camel, about to ride from the Great Pyramid down to the Sphinx. But after he stands up although I think he'll come around. So I changed the camel for a horse. Much better. Khafre (who also built the second pyramid at Giza) had the enormous Sphinx built in his image around 2500 B.C. Visitors from all over the world are here, clamoring for the best angle for photos. People have been coming here for more than 4,000 years to pay homage to Khafre in one way or another.
From the Sphinx it's a short way south to the recently discovered workers' village, where the people who built the Pyramids and the Sphinx lived and died. (ofcourse I study the forbidden history but we will still tell the Egyptian story).
Looking around now, it's hard to imagine the workers here. A soccer field covers part of the area, and backfilled sand covers much that's been excavated, at least until the next archaeological field season gets under way this winter.

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