Join writer, photographer, and podcaster, Christopher Higgins, as he describes his experiences of exploring The Giza Plateau in Egypt.
Christopher partners this article with a audioguide/podcast that discusses the history of the pyramids (linked below) – discussing the who, why, and how behind the Egyptian pyramid complex at Giza being built.
You can learn more about Christopher and his works over at his website, The Travelling Writer.
Everything: Ancient Egypt Kindle Edition by National Geographic
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The Pyramids at Giza
A special episode of The Travelling Writer podcast. Christopher talks about the rich history of the Pyramids of Giza – exploring who built them, why they were built and how.
Kings in Rags: Exploring The Giza Plateau
The pyramids stood like kings in rags, the limestone casings crumbled away from millennia of wind erosion, or stripped for building materials. They seemed surprisingly small, yet incredibly large at the same time. Small, because they had been obscured from view until we were quite close, instead of towering above Cairo as I expected. Large, because each stone block came up to my waist.
Our guide, Nader, sat in the front seat of the car; a soft-spoken, intelligent young man who insisted on calling me ‘Mr. Christopher,’ and that we could call him Francis if we were more comfortable with a western name. He had been providing us with historical background and pointing out sites along the way, clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. Jenn bragged about how much I already knew about the ancient Egyptians, while I scribbled notes in the back seat, still exhausted from the night before.
We drove first to a viewing point where we could get photos of all the pyramids at once from a good distance away. Vendors circled the rocky outcropping, selling cheap souvenirs laid out on blankets, and a group of camels were available to take tourists on rides down to the pyramids. Nader warned us not to accept any gifts from the vendors, as they would expect the favour returned with the purchase of something more substantial from them.
I stepped out of the car, and was immediately overwhelmed by the desert heat. In order to see everything we could and stay within our budget, we had come in the low tourist season, at the beginning of summer, and in order to get some sleep after our late arrival the night before, we had pushed the visit to Giza later in the day. Now, at high noon in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the summer, we were paying for it.
Instantly, we were approached by a man called Muhammad, who offered to get us souvenirs, or arrange camel rides, or anything else we might need. All things Nader could have done for us, or we could have done for ourselves, but he was a cheerful sort of man, and Nader seemed to know him, so they chatted in Arabic for a few minutes while we took photographs.
Turning to leave, I was confronted by the owner of the camels. ‘You must pay for that.’
‘For what?’ I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
‘I saw you take picture of my camel,’ he said. ‘Is okay, but you give me money for photo.’
I had to show him my camera to prove I hadn’t taken any photos of the camels, and he left when Nader came to shoo him away. ‘Be careful not to give your camera to anyone here,’ he said. ‘It’s rare, but if you give it to the wrong person, they could try to run away with it.’
We got back into the car, and drove down to the pyramids. Up close, they were huge. Nader explained that the limestone blocks used to make up the bulk of the pyramids weighed between fifteen and twenty tonnes each. As drenched in sweat as I was from standing around looking at them, it was impossible to truly comprehend what it must have felt like for the ancient Egyptians to haul those blocks up there.
Even at this time of year, there were tourists around, but not enough to make a queue to get inside. Nader warned me that it would be disappointing, but I hadn’t come all this way just to stand outside, so into the Great Pyramid of Khufu I went.
I thought it would be cooler in the shaded inside, but I was wrong. It was warmer, and humid. The shaft was small, and I had to crawl in places, upward into the centre of the pyramid, pressing myself into the wall to let others pass on their way down. Finally, I made it up there, into a large chamber lit with electric lamps that stood in the corner. No decorations sat on the walls, just a stone sarcophagus at one end of the chamber.
Exhausted, and drenched with sweat, I rested for a while. Watched as groups of tourists climbed into the sarcophagus for photo opportunities, as one tossed an empty soft drink bottle into the corner. When the disrespect of my fellow visitors bothered me more than my exhaustion, I began the long trek back downwards.
I emerged to find Jenn taking selfies with the locals. Being claustrophobic, she had stayed outside, and had apparently been approached by child after Egyptian child wanting to get a picture with a tourist. Somehow, she has more interesting adventures doing nothing than I do chasing excitement, but I know she’s just as jealous of my adventurous spirit as I am of her knack with people.
We would go and see the mortuary temple of Khafre and the Great Sphinx a little later, but first Nader said he wanted to show us something a bit different. He led us around the side of Khufu’s pyramid, showed us the much, much smaller pyramids built for his queens.
We continued to a more modern building, roughly square and surrounded by a low stone wall. It incorporated some elements of ancient Egyptian design, but was clearly out of use. Graffiti was scrawled across the walls, and the door had been kicked in. A handful of Egyptian teenagers stood outside, smoking, but left when we approached. We looked around the building. Peered inside at a replica of an Ancient Egyptian hunting scene painted on the back wall. Nader explained to us that it was a rest house, built by King Farouq, the penultimate king of Egypt, so that he had somewhere to stay when he brought dignitaries to see the pyramids. Previous monarchs had used the Mena House, but by then it had turned into a hotel, and Farouq wanted something more private. For a time, it had been used as a police station, but was then abandoned and left to decay.
There, in the shadow of the decaying monuments of an ancient and glorious civilisation, we had found a relic of a far more modern dynasty that had also fallen. Another king in rags.
See more from Chris over on his blog, The Travelling Writer!
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