Why do people come from all over the world to see a really old, really big pile of stones?
The key word here is really old. It is so old that to the thousands of folks crowding the brand spanking new Colosseum in Rome to enjoy an execution or two, The Pyramids were as old as the Colosseum is to us today.
Coming to Egypt, when all the travel warnings say not to, meant that we had most of the sites pretty much to ourselves and for the only surviving site from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this is a very welcomed reality and a definite luxury these days.
The Pyramids are big. I loved watching them peak on top of the half-built dwellings of Giza. They stood with dignity resisting the sprawl of the city – magnificent and calm – while we were buzzing around in the car, trying to catch more glimpses of them. Within a few meters we left the hustle of the garbage filled streets and honking cars behind and entered…history.
Chock a block full of just about everything a man could need, from the teeny-tiny precious stones and materials, to a full sized boat, burred in a pit right next to them, those structures may look amazing now, but imagining them in their hey-day, covered in limestone sharp and smooth, makes the picture even harder to take in. This is the kind of stuff people were busy doing more than four thousand years ago. And today it is hard to finish all those couple of story buildings crowding around Giza. No limestone necessary, just smooth them out, slap a lick of paint and voila! But not. Even after being battered by the desert for all those years, the pyramids still look better than most of what surrounds them.
The pyramids were just one part of the burial grounds ensuring a good and comfortable afterlife for the pharaohs and the chosen few who can afford such feats.
The Sphinx lays down the hill from the pyramids and it is easy to see why it was buried by the sand over the years. We walked slowly watching it grow before us.
After a few hours we left the best known heavenly pointing structures and made our way to the older, but not as popular sites.
In Dahshur there was no one else. Big open desert, with a winding through tiny road and a security guard on a camel and another one with a big gun over his shoulder were the only signs of life around. We walked slowly around the Bent Pyramid, or the first one that tried to be a true smooth one, not a stepped construction, be it unsuccessfully. The guy with a gun was showing the kids stones and which one is what, so they enthusiastically turned into geologists, while we the adults breathed in the atmosphere.
A short drive away is the Red Pyramid, where we parked with another 3 cars and I took my little girl inside the depths of the giant structure – an experience that here is included in the ticket, while at Giza one has to pay for more than the entrance fee.
The experience is freaky.
We butt slid down a long, narrow slope that never seemed to end. The original idea is that if you are a robber, you would fall through to your untimely death. Thankfully we had slats crossing the wooden planks lining the bottom of the tunnel, but still this is not a comfortable journey. And if you are claustrophobic – forget about it. Stay out and enjoy the view.
At the bottom we found a surprisingly high ceiling, which was a nice breather. A few more ducks and climbs and we were at the sight of the burial. I don’t know about you, but imagining all the tons of unsettlingly old rocks above the hot dead-end space we were occupying made me inch quite rapidly towards the long tunnel leading to the exit. So we did.
We also visited the Saqqara area and the oldest pyramid there is – the crumbling stepped one of Djoster.
And there are more. Many more. These structures are not a rarity here and archeologists keep on finding more and more to this day.
`The pyramids are what they are, essentially enormous piles of rocks. You can talk to me about mathematics, star alignments and mind boggling measurements, but these things one can salivate over from the comfy chair of their house in another continent somewhere.
What touched me is the direct connection to the people of that time that being here afforded me. Sliding my fingers through the stones and the carvings someone had chiseled thousands and thousands of years ago felt as though they were telling me their story, showing me their way. They were not so distant anymore.
Driving back through Giza and watching the results of our own modern construction passing by in the smeary window, made all those years that separate me from the times the pyramids were built completely melt away. I don’t know where we are all going as humans, but we have not gone that far. iGadgets, smart phones and clap-operated window curtains progress do not make, and lets not kid ourselves.
People have managed to achieve a lot more, many, many years ago.
The pyramids of Egypt – a sobering experience.
Tip: Come before the travel warnings get lifted.