Alexandria, or Iskandariya, or simply Alex is Egypt’s second largest city, a major economic center due to its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast.
We started from Nasr City, east Cairo at 8:30am, and it took us close to 4hrs to Alexandria (233km), including one stop in one of the rest areas along Cairo – Alex Desert road. The Desert Road is a highway, however, its northern end close to Alexandria suffers from bottle necking due to ongoing road construction hence slowing down the trip.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was our first stop (EGP 5 Egyptian, EGP2/5 Student, EGP70 Non Egyptian). This vast library (enough shelf space for 8 million books, though it’s not in full capacity today) is intended to revive the grand old library once stood close to its current site, before it was thought to be burnt or destructed.
Admission into the Main Reading Area is restricted to ages 16 and above.
Children under 6 are not permitted in the Library. They can stay at the on-site daycare facility, located behind the Conference Center, provided they are accompanied by a parent.
Youth aged 6–16 are not permitted in the Main Reading Area unless with a tour group
Bags and other items are not allowed inside the Library and must be deposited at the safekeeping facility next to the ticket booths
We managed to visit main reading areas, some exhibitions and Library Shop but not to its 4 museums, planetarium nor Culturama.
Citadel of Qaitbay is our next visit. The citadel is basically a 15th-century defensive fortress was established in 1477 AD by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. The Citadel was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
There was a very long queue when we arrived on site that we aborted our plan to go inside. Instead we rather had a walk around the citadel. The pedestrian entrance to the citadel was lined with street stalls selling Egyptian souvenirs as well as sea-based souvenirs with some offers a horse ride service. The Mediterranean Sea was so inviting that some people took a plunge to its blue water.
What could be better next than taking a respite from a hot day by licking roadside ice creams!
After a prayer in the Mosque of Al Abbas Al-Moursi with its beautiful interior decorations we headed to one of the Indonesian restaurants in Al Ibrahimeyah area located between the Bibliotheca and Alexandria Sporting Club.
We arrived at Montaza Palace just few minutes before sunset. To arrive here was a struggle in itself. Although the Palace is located only 15km from where we had our lunch, it took us nearly an hour owing to heavy rush hour traffic clogging the coastal road.
The Palace and its extensive gardens in the Montaza district of Alexandria is popular with residents seeking a lovely view of sunset, or simply picnicking on its large green park complex. Unfortunately, the palace is not open to the public.
Sunset in Montaza concluded our day in Alexandria. We went back to the city center to check-in into Le Metropole Hotel. Strategically located in front of Midan Saad Zaghloul by the corniche, the hotel was believed to be constructed on the very location of former obelisk of Queen Cleopatra, now it is a gift to the city of Paris.
It was an eerie feeling entering into the hotel’s 18th century building with classical decorations, small and old elevators, high ceilings, carpeted corridor and dimmed rooms. It’s paid off however with stunning view to Mediterranean Sea, or the nearby square and Corniche Street from our room balcony.
The next day, waiting for our flight back to Doha, I and my eldest son decided to take a short walk to nearby Roman Amphitheater. A 15-min leisure walk (1.1km) took us to the site which is very close to Misr Railway Station . Beware that it is not as grand as you would expect, including the nearby (within the same complex) Villa of the Birds.
We proceeded to Graeco Roman Museum only to find it has been closed for renovation since years ago (2008).
An hour limo ride took us to the isolated Borg El-Arab International Airport (50km – southwest) (200 EGP normal taxi, 300 EGP limo if arranged through hotel. It could have been cheaper if self-arranged).
It is here where the blatant “where is my tips?” demand from the staff at the First Class Lounge in El Borg Airport seemed to justify the generalized accusation of ‘baksheesh’ culture in Egypt tourism industry, unfortunately.
Taking off Qatar Airways flight to Doha would only mean that we had to end our mixed feelings of experiences in Egypt. We’re glad we had an opportunity to sample Egyptian life, to dive into past rich history of Ancient Egypt, or the grand of Islamic era. We believe that each place has its unique charm and travelling is always an experience you can’t buy.
If only I could summarize Cairo in three phrases then they would be: dysfunctional trash bin resulting in litter strewn streets, very functioning horns, and culture of baksheesh. And all of them, fortunately with the rich history backgrounds that spanning more than five thousands years from the Ancient Egypt to Islamic era and minority Coptic community to today’s modern Cairo.
We spent the whole day exploring Cairo. Afwan, our guide, took us not only to those tourists usual sites but also the backside of Cairo not usually in the tour agent itinerary. He showed us areas full of student dormitories from Indonesia and Malaysia in Nasr City, visited student-run businesses such as restaurants serving the students, to Al Azhar campuses, or to mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i. He insisted us to aboard public boat ride on the last night in Cairo, which we’re grateful we accepted later.
Started at 8.30 in the morning we hit the road for the Mosque of Amr bin Al-Aas, the first mosque ever built in Egypt. Within walking distances to it is Coptic Cairo areas with as many churches in one single area as could be in Cairo.
We’re trapped in typical Cairo traffic trying to get to Asfour Crystal (hey check your purchase!) on the north Cairo before recharging ourselves with simple West Sumatra cuisines in Nasr City.
Then, tuck into a slum area of the City of the Dead, where 500,000 people depend their daily life to the eery city, for a mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i before going to the beautiful mosque of Ibn Tulun. The latter has inspired I.M. Pei to build Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art based on cubism architectures in the mosque.
Khan el-Khalili was the next stop, the perfect place to practice your haggling skills! We’re fortunate we had Afwan as he is fluent in Arabic and with his sense of humor he always managed to get big discounts. Prices for souvenirs here are cheaper by Qatar standard.
While in here, we visited El Fishawy coffee shop, tempted by a good review in Lonely Planet. With a glass of coffee as cheap as 4 QAR and shisha for 10QAR this two-century old coffee shop is a treat after that shopping marathon in the bazaar or if you fancy people watching. Prepare your refusal words though as no single minute passed without roaming vendors!
We closed our Cairo chapter by taking a cheap public boat ride (70 EGP for 3 adults 2 children?); a 20-min ride on the river Nile, accompanied by blaring Arabic music, tacky dances by the youth and with glittering views of building alongside the river.
Once we concluded our tour in Madinat Habu, we moved northwardly to the two most important historical sites: Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings.
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
Along the way we passed by Qurna Village -an old-fashioned, brightly painted mud-brick houses village sitting on top of suspected ancient tombs – and the Tombs of the Nobles.
Our guide, jokingly said to us that many would say ‘hot chicken soup’ in lieu of Hatshepsut, owing to the difficulty to spell it. Anyway. Queen Hatshepsut is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs. This mortuary temple is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and is located next to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II. Unfortunately, the temple was the site of the massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, by extremists that took place in 1997.
What we see today is basically a reconstruction of the temple (that was started in the early 20th century).
The superbly detailed relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh – the first of its kind. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast. Interestingly enough there is a tree in front of Hatshepsut’s temple, claimed to have been brought from Punt by Hatshepsut’s Expedition which is depicted on the Temple walls.
Unfortunately many of the statues and ornamentation have since been stolen or destroyed, at order of Hatshepsut’s stepson Thutmose III after her death.
In later time, the temple became a Christian monastery and therefore it bears its alternative name, Deir el-Bahari (Northern Monastery)
The temple was built into towering pink cliffs back-to-back with the Valley of the Kings, behind the Theban hills. The entrance to the temple complex is quite far so use the train provided especially if you visit the place during hot weather.
After Hatshepsut tour our guide took us to an alabaster factory, run by Luxor villagers.
We noticed that he was welcome here and got free tea and cigarettes. I believe that tour guides definitely get commission here, which in turn means higher prices for you.
In this factory, they do a fake demonstration in front of you, a guy grinding alabaster the old fashion way , serve a hot tea (to prolong your sipping time) and to increase your guilt level). They said that there is no obligatory purchase here etc.
We did buy here, at half the price originally offered (fortunately not much) but it is still 2-3 times much more expensive than the same stuff we later noticed in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili.
We also bought 3 pieces fridge magnets in one of the shops in Karnak Temple and again it’s 2-3 times more expensive. Remember Luxor is much dependent on tourist industry (especially in this climate of low tourist) and that this is just business. As one of the tripadvisor member has said: “I feel deep sympathy for the people of Luxor, their desperation is clear for everyone to see. But their way of dealing with the lack of income is counterproductive, and makes things much worse”
So avoid these similar places (perfume factory, papyrus museum, carpet factory or alabaster factory) if you can, or unless you are pre-equipped with high haggling skills, resist guilt level and know the prices.
THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS
The Valley of the Kings is a valley where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. At first glance there seems to be nothing to see in the valley, hidden behind the Theban hills; if not because of modern day pathways to access the tombs, the area looks lifeless. Towering above the Valley is a mountain, whose shape may have reminded the ancient Egyptians of a pyramid.
The tombs are tunnelled deep into the hillside (some reach hundreds of meters). There are 62 numbered tombs (by initial KV) in the Valley , ranging from a simple pit (KV 54) to a tomb with over 121 chambers and corridors (KV 5). Most were found already looted and ravaged.
Unlike the West Valley, the East Valley contains most of the tombs and is the most commonly visited by tourists.
Tourist access to the Valley is through a single gate entrance complex where a simple information hall, tourist market and ticketing office are clustered. The ticket is valid only for 3 tombs; a tomb keeper would punch your ticket against the access. So please go pre-armed with information on which tombs are found to be most interesting. No camera is allowed inside the tomb; I’ve seen at least two occasions were tourists caught by the guard for taking pictures. Please be aware that some tombs may be closed for preservation precautions.
Unfortunately, although it is almost a compulsory stop on most organized tours and the best-known of all tombs, tomb of Tutankhamun is an anti-climax. A separate ticket is to be bought for Tomb of Tutankhamun.
Check Theban Maping Projects for a detailed description, images, and map/plan of every single tomb in this valley:
Our guide selected for us three tombs he thought of most interesting, and now pity I can’t really remember except two and that I found it worth visiting: KV 14 (Tomb of Tausert and Setnakht) and KV 17 (Tomb of Seti I). The other most interesting tomb is KV 9 (Tomb of Rameses V and VI).
KV 14: a joint tomb; a joint tomb, used originally by Tausert and then reused and extended by Setnakht. It has two burial chambers, the later extensions making the tomb one of the largest of the Royal Tombs, at over 112 metres.
KV17: is one of the best decorated tombs in the valley, but now is almost always closed to the public due to damage. The longest tomb in the valley, at 137.19 metres.
KV 9: Ramses VI took over the unfinished tomb of his predecessor, so he was getting a head start in construction of his own. Reaches 83m into the hillside and its wall richly decorated with complex illustration of the Book of the Dead ( a kind of guide to the afterlife)
We visited in April and it got very hot in the Valley. Do bring hat, umbrella, sunglasses and water. They provide several shades though.
Once we finished our business in the West Bank, our last stop would be Karnak Temple on the East Bank. We opted to take a lunch break and start the tour at 3pm to catch up our flight back to Cairo at 6pm and to avoid sunblasting walking tour in the temple
Fortunately enough Nefertiti Hotel allowed us to use one of the rooms to take a rest.
It is worth visiting Karnak twice: once in the evening for the excellent Sound and Light Show, and second time during the day when we can see the vast scope of the complex and look at its detailed inscriptions, reliefs or murals.
Entrance is by a processional avenue guarded by ram-headed sphinxes which leading to the first pylon and then the Great Court.
Two granite colossi of Ramses II guard the second pylon, leading to the Great Hypostyle Hall, famous for its 134 gigantic columns (with diameter up to 3 meters and 10 meters high). Further ahead are more pylons gateways leading to the oldest section of the complex. The most striking feature is the 29m Obelisk of Hatshepsut (one of the three remaining obelisks in the entire Egypt).
The key difference between Karnak and most of the other temples and sites in Egypt is the length of time over which it was developed and used. Construction of temples started in the Middle Kingdom and continued through to Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere.
Visit to Karnak concluded our one-day visit to this largest open-air museum. We’re lucky enough to visit Luxor, and still amazed on the level of architectural feats of the Ancient Egypt. To me, Luxor is a must visit. Keeping all those tourist traps and hassles, a tour to these historical sites will definitely be an eye opening experience.
Thanks to Nefertiti Hotel and Aladdin Tour for their excellent service, knowledgable guide, and hospitality!
BTW, Luxor Airport has a very nice facade. Don’t miss it.
“Is it scary Dad?” Fathan asked me before he was going to bed. We just wrapped our day in Luxor as we returned from Karnak Sound and Light Show, and prepared for a long day tomorrow, starting with a balloon ride. This is his first time.
The hotel staff told us to be ready at 4:20am for the balloon ride but three minutes before the time, telephone rang from the receptionist asking us to go to the lobby. The receptionist has also prepared 4 breakfast boxes as per our request. Then one guy asked us to follow him walking down to the river Nile, passing through an Egyptian tourist bazaar. There, a wooden boat waited for us. Few minutes later 2 couples, two staffs and one cameraman joined us and off we sailed 500m crossing the river Nile.
Arriving at the balloon launching pad, an open area close to the road to the Temple of Hatshepsut, we saw several balloons were getting prepared. One ballon was taking off when our ballon was being warmed. Soon after our pilot came and provided a short safety briefing, focusing on how to respond to crash landing. Wew…this only made Fathan more scared.
A hot air balloon consists of a bag called the envelope that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket , which carries passengers (our basket has 16-person capacity divided into 4 boxes, separated by a pilot and fuel cylinders area in the middle) and a source of heat (four propane cylinder with quadruple burners). The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope. The pilot manages the flight by a combination of actuating a specific burner, and opening a vent. He also takes into consideration the prevailing wind.
The first balloon to take off was Sindbad then followed by our Salem balloon . Later while up in the air we found out that the Sindbad balloon ventured out close to the Nile while ours only maintained a close position to the Temple and vicinity.
In this 45 minutes floating over Luxor, we could see contrasting images of monotonous color of the desert and green-yellow farming area, peeked into a private life of the villagers, and enjoyed a golden rays of sunrise. Life is indeed totally different when it’s seen from a bird eye view.
The flight took us from seeing the Valley of the Kings, and nearby Temple of Hatshepsut, then to Rammeseum, the Tombs of the Nobles, and Qurna Village.
The balloon finally made a soft landing on a different landing area and immediately a group of people jumped out of the truck, knowing what they’ve got to do.
Our van dropped us in a parking lot near Colossi of Memnon. We were then met by our guide, Hassan.
Hassan started his story of the two statues in front of us. He said that they are the statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and has stood for the past 3400 years (since 1350 BC). They were intended to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep’s memorial temple. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Colossi, however, very little remains today of Amenhotep’s temple, due to annual inundations.
Madinat Habu refers to an area on the West Bank, Luxor, however it is well-known for its temple: The Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III. The templeis an important New Kingdom period structure and is probably best known as the source of inscribed reliefs depicting the advent and defeat of the Sea Peoples during the reign of Ramesses III.
What amazing about the temple is its decorative structure including use of colors, details of relics and neatness of art workmanship. Majority of them are still well preserved.
The complex has three pylons. The first pylon leads into an open courtyard, lined with colossal statues of Ramesses III as Osiris (was an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead) on one side, and uncarved columns on the other. The second pylon leads into a peristyle hall, again featuring columns in the shape of Ramesses. This leads up a ramp that leads (through a columned portico) to the third pylon and then into the large hypostyle hall (which has lost its roof).
As we were in the hypostyle hall, a man approached us to follow him to the tombs but we politely and consistently refused him.
Hassan told us a story of what the life looked like in the past including the use of middle area as a festival area where common people could come, and meet the King, and the inner areas where only nobbles and the King relatives could go in.
He made fun of the boys by asking them different names of Egyptian god and how they are represented on the reliefs:
– Anubis – a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife
– Horus – usually shown as a falcon or as a human child, linked with the sky, the sun, kingship, protection, and healing
– Isis – goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom
– Osiris – god of death and resurrection who rules the underworld and enlivens vegetation, the sun god, and deceased souls
So we finished with all pyramids and we moved to the Nile river. We chose Novotel El-Borg, located on Zamalek Island in the river, due to its strategic location and fair prices.
From the window of our room, we can’t help watching buzzing Cairo till late night, serene Nile river in the morning (on Friday exactly) with Cairo skyline as backdrops.
Our plan today is centered around mosques, and Cairo Tower. With us is our Indonesian guide we hired from Wisma Nusantara, Cairo. Later we found that he is an Al Azhar University student and is really very good guide.
THE SALADIN CITADEL OF CAIRO
This medieval Islamic fortification is easily recognizable due to its location on the hill (Mokattam) near the center of Cairo, dominating the city view. The Citadel is sometimes referred to as Mohamed Ali Citadel because it hosts the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, perched on the summit of the citadel.
The Citadel is the most visited Islamic monument in Egypt. Within the enclosure walls are several important buildings that are open to the public, including the famous Mosque of Muhammad Ali (1828-1848 AD); the Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad (1318); and several museums (Egypt Military Museum and National Police Museum).
Great views of Cairo (southwest to northeast) just outside the Mosque of Muhammad Ali was an added bonus.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Open daily, 8AM-5PM
Mosques closed during Friday prayers
Egyptian/Arab: LE 2 (Students: 1 LE)
Foreign: LE 40 (Students: 20 LE)
Student rates available to bearers of a valid student ID from an Egyptian university or an International Student ID Card (ISIC)
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali
This great mosque is the most visible mosque in Cairo. Built in between 1830 and 1848, the mosque took its inspirations from Yeni Cami in Istanbul (if you happened to visit Istanbul it is located at Eminonu, at the southern end of the Galata Bridge).
Visiting this mosque, I couldn’t help admiring the grandness, and beautiful architectural elements though I wished it could be maintained better.
Mosque of Al-Nassir Muhammad Al-Qala’un
This mosque is easily missed, shadowed by its nearby Muhammad Ali Mosque. It’s probably best visited after your visit to Egypt Military Museum, north of this mosque.
What’s unique from this mosque is that the walls of the mosque were constructed using limestone pillaged by the pyramids and some red granite pillars in the mosque were also stolen goods (I saw one of them bears Christian cross symbol!)
AL AZHAR MOSQUE
Al Azhar Mosque was the first mosque established in Cairo (circa 970). We visited the mosque one hour before the busy Friday congregations so we had a plenty of time exploring the mosque, taking pictures and listening to beautiful Al Quran recital (I wanted to cry! Masha Allah).
Although it’s located in very busy Al Azhar Street and opposite Khan el-Khalili, once we entered its marble paved courtyard it was as if we’re in the oasis of calm and quiet amid chaotic and frenetic Cairo!
Once we finished with our lunch at one of the Indonesian restaurants in Cairo, we returned to our hotel to get ready to Cairo Tower, located just behind our hotel. We timed our visit so as we’ll be able to see Cairo in both world: day and night; unfortunately many visitors thought the same and we ended up with long queue. Later I found out that there were two queues, the normal one and speedy one. The latter would cost 30EGP more (normal would cost 70EGP) however it included an access to Sky Garden restaurant and use of this price difference for drinks and snacks! Recommended if you have little time.
Access to the observatory deck (which crowning the tower’s 178m structure) is via one only old, slow, and small elevator. The tower’s partially open lattice-work design is intended to evoke a pharaonic lotus plant, an iconic symbol of Ancient Egypt.
The tower offers a fantastic 360 panoramic view over all of Cairo, the river Nile and, on a clear day the pyramids at Giza.
Egypt has been in my bucket list since 2011 but the Revolution and political turmoils since then pushed this transcontinental country to the bottom in my list.
Until we boarded Gulf Air to Cairo, 1 April 2015, we’re still cautious on what’s happening there although armed with security information that as long as we stay within tourist areas along the Nile it should be okay. We decided to go on and alhamdulillah everything went smooth, business as usual there, and we felt safe and secure.
Three hours flight flew us from Bahrain to Cairo. All other airlines than Egypt Air (Terminal 3) uses Terminal 1 of Cairo International Airport. We were greeted by a hotel staff we requested before ($25 for the airport pick-up service which is worth the fee), just before immigration control, then he walked us over to Immigration Check. The immigration process was quick and although there was a sign of baksheesh demand from an immigration assistant I ignored it and she didn’t have any problem with handing back our passports.
There’re two main agenda on this very first day of our Egypt trip: one was visiting the Egyptian Museum and second stop was enjoying Pyramids Sound and Light Show.
It took us around 45 minutes (22km) from the airport to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum. Located next to famous Tahrir Square, this grand museum is said to have an extensive collection of 160,000 items ancient Egyptian antiquities spread over its two-storey building and 107 halls. No visit to Egypt is complete without a trip through its galleries.
We’re met by an Egyptologist whom we arranged from our hotel (Guardian Guest House), at the entrance to the museum. He introduced himself as Yusuf. Not long Yusuf guided us into the museum, bought us tickets and flooded us with his immense knowledge of history and almost every object we stopped to inspect. Halls after halls, artefacts after artefacts, we’re overwhelmed by 5000 years of history spanning from the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom to New Kingdom. The exhibits are honestly not given their best presentation (compared to Musee du Louvre and the like) but they are all very impressive.
You could spend days easily in the museum, but I recommend to hire a good and knowledgable guide who will give you a great insight and highlights of the exhibits within two to three hours. Our favorites are The Tutankhamun exhibit (golden shrines, iconic burial mask, jewellery etc.) and the mummy rooms (such as popular Ramses II mummy).
HOURS OF OPERATION: Open daily, 9:00 AM-7:00 PM
9:00 AM-5:00 PM during Ramadan
TICKET COST: General Admission:
Egyptian: LE 4 (LE 2, students)
Foreign: LE 60 (LE 30, students)
Royal Mummies Room:
Egyptian: LE 10 (LE 5, students)
Foreign: LE 100 (LE 50, students)
Note: Camera is to be deposited in Deposit Counter by the entrance and not allowed inside the museum. (Expect to pay baksheesh to the keeper)
Pyramid Sound and Light Show
Our hotel is located just at the border of pyramids area and few meters from one of the entrances to the Giza Pyramids. It’s not promising from the outside, but once we stepped on one of its pyramid-facing rooms, we understood the high praises it received from travellers community.
Okay, it’s no TV, pool or even garden and fancy rooms. It’s this million dollars view from the room window that justifies all of its sorts.
The hotel bordered with other hotels on its left and right (Pyramid Inn and Sphinx Guest House). The former has lower rooftop.
Later, we climbed to its roof top; we hold our breath…..this is it: our long awaited and dreamed view before our eyes. All grandeur pyramids: Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre and Pyramid of Menkaure lined up behind sunset lights. It was just majestic!
The Sound and Light Show (English version) starts at 7pm, at least for that day whereas the second shows (8pm or 8:30pm) offers shows in Italian/German/Spanish/French, and the third show is only by booking.
Ordering dinner to be brought to rooftop we enjoyed the show which could otherwise cost 100 EGP. The voice, narrated by Sphinx, might not be clear from this rooftop but seeing the pyramids at night showered by different colors was still an excellent sight. The show lasted around 50minutes
No visit to Egypt is complete without having a close encounter with the pyramids. Primordial mound, burial chambers inside the pyramids, unsolved method of construction, millions of stone blocks, marvellous feat of engineering at that time are among mysteries that would make a visit to them is a must.
Today is a big day. We’re going to visit three main sites of pyramids: Giza, Saqqara, and Dahshur.
Exactly at 8.30am upon check-out, we met Yusuf again at the lobby hotel meanwhile our luggages were being transferred to the van. He’s ready with Mohammed, the driver.
Not so long we’re at main entrance to the pyramids, close to Oberoi Hotel. Yusuf bought us tickets and told us that we had to carry our luggages past x-ray security check. Now the adventure begins.
Yusuf started by ushering us to the great pyramids of Khufu (Cheops), the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis . Yusuf explained that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. At height of 146.5 metres (initially), it consists of roughly 2.3million stone blocks. (doing some maths it would involve installing approximately 800 tonnes of stone every day and would involve moving an average of more than 12 of the blocks into place each hour, day and night. Impressive).
We then dared ourselves to enter the great pyramid of Khufu. We knew beforehand that nothing to see inside the pyramids, it is dark, narrow and humid. But, experience can never be bought.
Camera is not allowed inside the pyramid. Neither is the guide. So we went inside without camera and guide. The (modern/intrusive) entrance is located at the north side of the pyramid and tens of meter (about 15 stone blocks) above ground. This is not the original entrance, however. Theoriginal entrance is higher up flanked by angled stones.
Security check was there, guarded by 3-4 men. Again, the man at the entrance gestured a baksheesh demand but I ignored it and just say “Later…”
To reach one of the chambers (only the King’s chamber is open while the Queen’s chamber and subterranean chamber are closed) we would need to navigate a narrow, but level tunnel (we can notice the rough nature of this tunnelling, while the original passageways and chambers inside the pyramid are smooth and finished) and then modern steps. These steps lead us to a ramp that goes around the blocks and then the Ascending Passage including the Grand Gallery. The gallery is basically a grand corbelled hall, 8.6m high and 47m long with wide starting 2m to 1m at the end.
The King’s Chamber is, contrary to what one might expect, nothing than an empty roughly 10x5m2 space 6m high, with original damaged coffer and CCTV 🙂
This dark, humid, and hot ascending walk to find an empty chamber might disappoint you, but it’s still an experience I never forget.
“…some people give 200 tips, some give 300”, he started his trick when we arrived back at camel ride site. “Since you are good people you will give me good tips..” “If you are happy, I am happy”
I gave good tips but not the amount he tried to fool me. “Listen! I’ve been to many countries, there is no such tip equivalent or more than the cost itself.” Then I gave him total price plus tips and walk away.
Prior to that, while we were busy with taking pictures, one man approached us stealthily, opened cold soft drinks, handed over to my kids who reluctantly accepted them (as they have been pre-warned by me not to accept anything from a vendor) and asked to drink them. At the end, he demanded exorbitant price. Though I managed to bring the price down, the feeling of being cheated was a pain especially when you know you don’t want them.
A trip to Egypt is best done with a guided group. Though we were with our private guide who helped but still did not keep these tricks totally at bay. It seems that tourists make every tout or tourism worker see dollar signs when they walk in? Sorry to generalize but reality bites.
Once we finished with the Pyramid of Khufu, we were escorted by Yusuf to see boat pits, and two tombs (prepare 10EGP baksheesh) on the east side of the pyramid. We then go back to our van and continue to the camel ride site in-between the Pyramid of Khufu and the Pyramid of Khafre. A 30-40min camel ride would drop us to a place where we could have all three pyramids in one line as a good photo background.
Before we went down to Saqqara and Dahshur, Yusuf had us visited a papyrus factory. It was interesting to see how papyrus paper is made from the pith of papyrus. In this factory, examples of papyrus paper artwork were on display from a small A5-size paper to large paper of 1 x 2 m or more. The prices are ranging from 100 to thousands EGP. Expensive? Genuine? I don’t know. The factory claimed that it’s genuine and it’d give a certificate of authenticity for each product.
I googled and found that some ‘papyrus’ are made from banana leaves or some other materials including corn husks, potatoes, eggplant, carrot and a few other materials. True papyrus is usually heavier in weight, strong, difficult to tear and somewhat retain their “memory” when crushed.
Anyway, I bought one piece of artwork (A4 size) at a cost of 200EGP (later I found a similar artwork at Khan el-Khalili at 50EGP after bargain. “They’re different ….” “Mine is genuine….” I try to vindicate my purchase.
The last three pyramids we visited after a papyrus tour were Step Pyramid, Bent Pyramid, and Red Pyramid. They are the first three pyramids constructed in Egypt.
The Step Pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, is located in the Saqqara necropolis, Egypt, 22km southeast of Giza. It was built during the 27th century BC for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser.
The Step Pyramid, is the central feature of a vast mortuary complex in an enormous courtyard surrounded by ceremonial structures and decoration.
This first Egyptian pyramid consisted of six mastabas (of decreasing size) built atop one another in what were clearly revisions and developments of the original plan. The pyramid originally stood 62 metres (203 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 125 m (358 ft × 410 ft) and was clad in polished white limestone (wikipedia).
The Bent Pyramid is an ancient Egyptian pyramid located at the royal necropolis of Dahshur, approximately 15 kilometres south of the Step Pyramid, built under the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Sneferu (c. 2600 BC). A unique example of early pyramid development in Egypt, this was the second pyramid built by Sneferu.
The lower part of the pyramid rises from the desert at a 54-degree inclination, but the top section is built at the shallower angle of 43 degrees, lending the pyramid its very obvious ‘bent’ appearance.
Archaeologists now believe that the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form between step-sided and smooth-sided pyramids. It has been suggested that due to the steepness of the original angle of inclination the structure may have begun to show signs of instability during construction, forcing the builders to adopt a shallower angle to avert the structure’s collapse.This theory appears to be borne out by the fact that the adjacent Red Pyramid, built immediately afterwards by the same Pharaoh, was constructed at an angle of 43 degrees from its base (wikipedia).
Note that the entrance tickets to all pyramids in Saqqara and Dahshur entitled you to enter into inside the pyramids. We didn’t opt to. We thought one for the Great pyramid is enough.
Before Yusuf and Mohammed from the Guardian Tour dropped us off at Novotel El Borg Hotel at the end of this full-day pyramid tour, they offered us a lunch at Saqqara Restaurant which we found excellent despite pricey.
A perfume factory tour was actually offered by Yusuf to conclude the day, and as we’re not interested and didn’t want to fall into a unnecessary pricey purchase, we politely declined, although that was after we arrived on site.
Be able to see, visit, enter inside the pyramids and learn such a rich history is an unforgettable experience.
Unfortunately , the touts, hagglers and the cheaters around the Pyramids take the “wow” out of the experience of actually witnessing such an awe inspiring site.