To say that the pyramids are impressive feels like the understatement of the century. To say that they are larger than they look in pictures doesn’t begin to cover the scope of the sheer amount of space covered by a single pyramid. To say that I was overwhelmed by what I saw doesn’t capture what it really felt like to stand in the shadow of such greatness.

The pyramids are 4500 year old masterpieces of technical engineering that were created with an incredible amount of precision, allowing for the pharaoh buried within to still commune with the sun god (Ra), even though they were under thousands of pounds of rock and encased in a sarcophagus.  It took the coordinated efforts of thousands of slaves to build them and few took less than 10-20 years to create. They were covered by a casing of limestone so that they shone in the sun and could be seen for miles. These were structures that were made to impress and even more than 4000 years later that is exactly what they do.

You can see all that remains of the limestone cap at the top of this pyramid.

You can just make out all that remains of the limestone cap at the top of this pyramid.

The ancient Egyptians were a people that focused a great deal on life after death (which makes sense since you would spend far more years dead than alive :)… They believed that your spirit lived on and needed the luxuries that you enjoyed in life. The Pharaoh being the physical incarnate of a god by necessity required many luxuries. Even though the bulk of the pyramid was solid rock, there were several chambers housing the remains of the pharaoh, much of his worldly possession (inclusive of slaves sacrificed to serve him in death), as well as quite a few booby traps and secret passage ways  to keep wily thieves from robbing the grave. It didn’t work (except in the case of King Tutankhamun, whose grave was discovered in tact in 1922 (and then robbed) – but he died young (at 19), and was put in a regular tomb, which likely threw grave robbers off of the scent).

Me and the Khufu pyramid of Giza

Me and the Khufu pyramid of Giza – the hat wasn’t working for me that day, but the sun was so intense that I kept it on to protect my eyes and face.

Anyway,  the pharaohs body was mummified, a process that took 70 days to complete and placed in a multilayered coffin before placement in a sarcophagus. Animals were also mummified, favorite pets and in some cases livestock, as well as favorite wives and royal advisors. Funny, but Egypt is so hot and arid that the natural environment has produced mummies, those buried directly in the sand have been found to be mummified, so the pharaohs really didn’t have to go to all this trouble.

Picture of the inner coffin. I took this at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Picture of the inner coffin (this whole thing would go inside the stone sarcophagus). I took this at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Two of the pyramids at Giza

Two of the pyramids at Giza

The Sphinx

The Sphinx

The Sphinx is not a tomb, but a monument associated with the pharaoh Khafre. It is impressive for what it is, but I have to say that it was a lot smaller than I was expecting. I am just guessing, but I imagine that as he built his tomb, he wanted to do something different, something memorable. The first person to build a pyramid was going to be remembered because he was first, the second guy built a bigger pyramid, doing another one up may have seemed kind of lame, so instead he had a lion with a mans head sculpted to call attention to his earthly life. I would say it worked.

Noseless Sphinx at Giza

Noseless Sphinx at Giza

So there are quite a few myths about how the sphinx lost its nose: (1) Napoleon used it as target practice, (2) that it was shot off because it looked too Nubian and flew in the face of the belief that they were uncivilized savages, (3) it just fell off.  But here is what I pulled from my mental archives. The ancients believed that statues made to look like  a person housed that persons spirit. They believed that this spirit could come out and bedevil the living at will. They also believed that breath was life and all things needed it, even non-corporeal spirits. So in order to kill the bothersome spirit they would cut off the nose of the statue thereby suffocating the spirit within. Sounds far fetched, but I swear I heard this somewhere. The simple truth is no one really knows what happened to the nose.

 

A new friend & I in front of the royal doctors tomb

A new friend & I in front of the royal doctors tomb

 

False door inside the tomb of the royal doctors. It was believed that even spirits needed a means of exiting the tomb

False door inside the tomb of the royal doctors.
It was believed that even spirits needed a means of exiting the tomb

 

The Queens pyramids, which were a fraction of the size of the pharaohs pyramid, but I guess this was better than an honorable mention

The Queens pyramids, which were a fraction of the size of the pharaohs pyramid, but I guess this was better than an honorable mention

 

As mentioned in a previous post, Egypt was at the very top of my bucket list. So when I found a tour/cruise that would take me there in relative safety I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, the world just isn’t always the safest place for a single woman to travel alone, so sometimes it is necessary to find a group of temporary friends to watch your back. In this instance I also found a few lifelong friend as well.  In the case of Egypt, which not only suffers from political unrest (it was stable when I went), it also is a country where a woman alone would be little more than a victim. So I felt incredibly lucky to be with my brand spanking new friends and share this journey.

 

Be Safe!

Sunset over Alexandria from the cruise ship

Sunset over Alexandria from the cruise ship