The Pyramids

I don’t keep a list of places I plan to visit before I die, but if I did I imagine the Pyramids of Giza would be on it. And after what happened to me in Cairo (see post of 9.12) perhaps it’s good that I’m making progress on the non-existant list!

Was I inspired? Was I let down? Some mundane thoughts on the Pyramids, compared to what I knew about them before coming to Egypt:

1. You can go inside. They allow tourists to go inside the two bigger of the three main Giza pyramids, albeit for extra fees. Given the somewhat steep charges, the hot and grueling climbs in (as we were told by others) and no availability for the biggest Pyramid of Khufu, we did not go into any of the pyramids at Giza. We did later go into the Red Pyramid of Dahshur (more below) and another, smaller pyramid located in the Saqqara complex. Inside is, as you might expect, a series of shafts and small chambers.

Inside the Red Pyramid

2. You cannot climb up. I had thought that the pyramids were unclimbable because I imagined that the pyramids were smoothly surfaced, covered in bricks cut at the angle of the incline. Actually, those blocks are mostly gone now (except at the top of the second largest pyramid), and so the pyramids are not smooth at all, and the blocks form more/less climbable “steps.” In fact, climbing to the top used to be an essential part of a 19th/early 20th century Pyramids visit–but it is no longer allowed.

Pyramid of Menkaure–note the jagged “steps” at the bottom and the smooth original near top

“Casing stones” remaining near the top of the Pyramid of Menkaure

3. They are about as big as you might imagine. The Sphinx is somewhat smaller than it appears to be in most pictures, but certainly not a letdown. The Pyramids are in fact huge, although their geometric simplicity makes their size hard to grasp from medium range. Seen from downtown Cairo or up close, the Great Pyramid looks every bit of its 140 or so meters height.

From Cairo’s Citadel

4. They were all built in a surprisingly brief historical “window.” The world’s first monumental stone structure, according to the guidebooks, was the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, built by Djoser (2667-2648 BC). His successor Sneferu (2613-2589 BC) followed with the Bent and Red Pyramids of Dahshur, and then came, in direct lineal succession, Khufu (2589-2566 BC), Khafre (2558-2532 BC) and Menkaure (2532-2504 BC). The era of great pyramid building was thus over in six or so generations!

Step Pyramid, Saqqara

Bent Pyramid, Dahshur

Red Pyramid, Dahshur

5. One of the most amazing things to behold at the Pyramids of Giza is not made of stone but of wood. The barge of Khufu, known as the “solar barque,” was buried alongside the Great Pyramid over 4500 years ago, but has been incredibly well-preserved, its size and condition nearly unbelievable. It has been re-assembled and is available for viewing in a custom-built museum on the site of its burial.

One thought on “The Pyramids

  1. Thank you for your wonderful perspective. I always wanted to climb to the top, it’s unfortunate that we’re no longer allowed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *