Posts tagged Pyramid
Most people have the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx on their travel bucket list. We certainly did, so when the opportunity arose for us to have a brief stop-over in Cairo on the way back from a European holiday, my partner and I jumped at the chance.
We calculated that 2 nights would be sufficient to see the major sights and sounds and, through our local travel agent, we found ourselves booked into the Oasis Hotel in Cairo, a mere 10 minutes drive (even in Cairo traffic) from the Pyramids. Included in our booking was a guided tour of the Pyramids, Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities with our own personal transportation and tour guide.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?
The Oasis Hotel is one of the more popular hotels amongst Westerners and at a first glance, it’s easy to see why. It is set amongst beautiful lush and land-scaped gardens, a far cry from the hustle, bustle and dust of the main road outside the hotel. Rooms are laid out in a resort-style and the hotel boasts a tennis court, a swimming pool and 8 restaurants and bars. The only problem is that with the exception of the Italian restaurant, they all serve off an identical menu. Bar and restaurant service is, to say the least, somewhat lacking.
The biggest limiting factor for us was that the Oasis Hotel is so far removed from central Cairo that it is almost impossible to get out and explore the night-life of Cairo, which we were just dying to do. Unfortunately the limited Oasis Hotel shuttle service, the crowded roads, opportunistic taxi drivers and the sheer safety factor of being two women meant we missed out on our own exploration of night-time Cairo. The Oasis Hotel is convenient for visits to the Pyramid and Sphinx only.
The Pyramids of Giza
The only remaining wonder of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza were built over a period of 20 years, using only 3 months each year during the wet season. Although the three pyamids at Giza are the most famous and the most visited ones, there are currently 119 exposed pyramids in Egypt. The Giza pyramids comprise the Great Pyramid (or the Pyramid of Cheops), which currently stands 137m high (originally 147m prior to losing it’s original casing), the smaller Pyramid of Khafre and the smallest of the three pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure.
Whilst the pyramids are certainly impressive from an architectural perspective, we were left feeling massively underwhelmed by the experience. Maybe it was the hundreds of buses and thousands of tourists, all milling around the front of the Pyramid of Cheops. Perhaps it was the aggressive whistle-blowing of the policemen as they frantically yelled at the tourists who dared to climb up the first step. Or it may have been the ever-present touts and salesmen, following you around and shoving t-shirts, fake papyrus and trinkets under your nose.
Eventually, in an attempt to escape the maddening crowds, we moved away from the front of the pyramid, where everybody congregates and made our way round the side. It was a different world – far less people, sun in a perfect spot for photographs and it allowed us to get up close to the pyramid without a whistle being blown in our ears. Irrespective of which side you walk to though, you’ll never escape the camel-ride salesmen. Talk to them at your peril.
By now it was clear to us that our tour guide was really just running through the motions and wasn’t really too interested in what was on the agenda. It’s a short drive from the pyramids to the Sphinx and, once we had parked we joined the queue of tourists slowly making their way towards the entrance to the Sphinx, taking care to side-step the sales touts once more. The Sphinx has been made out of sandstone, the oldest geological rock in the area and, as history has it the Sphinx was carved to represent the best possible combination of man and beast; the strength of a lion and the wisdom of a man.
The block of sandstone from which the Sphinx was carved was not large enough for the entire 23m height of the monolith, so the head of the Sphinx has been carved from limestone. A protective beard was carved to shield the neck of the Sphinx from the brutal desert winds (bearing in mind that the neck was the vulnerable join between the resistant sandstone and the eroding limestone), but this was supposedly removed by the British at some stage.
Like the pyramids, the Sphinx is characterised by a constant stream of tourists, queueing to get their photo taken in front of the Sphinx, jostling as they attempt to be photographed with no other tourists blighting their shot. There is a constant stream of people rushing up, having their photo taken, and then being hustled off to the next stop on their tour. ?Never in our lives have we felt like such cattle, being shuffled from one photographic opportunity to the next.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
It was at the Egyptian Museum that the photographic opportunities eventually dried up. No photographs are allowed to be taken inside the museum and indeed, I was reprimanded by a policeman for attempting to take photographs of some of the artefacts in the museum grounds. This is where our disillusionment with Cairo really set in – we were stopping at displays that were of interest to us, reading the limited information provided on an artefact when our tour guide, who was marching ahead of us, abruptly turned round and informed us that “this is no way to see the museum” and that we had to hurry up if we had any chance of seeing what we had to see.
And, in that sentence, we can summarise our issues with guided tours – you get to see what the tour guide wants you to see; not what you want to see. Egypt, unfortunately, is one of those places where you are best with an English-speaking organised tour, rather than attempting to negotiate language, costs, traffic and corrupt police officials on your own. However, an organised tour comes with it’s own pitfalls.
Yes, we saw the artefacts recovered from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, including the famous gold mask, ornate jewellery and other items. Yes, we paid an extra 100 Egyptian Pounds to enter the Royal Mummy Room, where 9 mummies are currently on display. But we were left with an overall feeling of disappointmet, almost like Egypt has sold it’s soul for the sake of tourism. Tour guides rattle off facts in a rote manner and show very little interest in what you, the paying traveller, wishes to see.
Thus, by the end of our first day in Cairo, we were starting to feel a little disillusioned. We’d been shuffled from pillar to post like cattle and we were beginning to wonder just what all the fuss about Egypt was about. Had we left Cairo after our first 24 hours, we could happily have never thought about returning. Our next blog post will tell you just what changed our minds.
The great Pyramids of Giza are well known to be the last remaining wonder of the ancient world and millions of tourists flock to Egypt each year to gaze at the massive structures. The impact of ancient Egyptian culture has spread far and wide and, thanks to the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30BC, even Rome has its own pyramid.
Roman magistrate Caius Cestius was one of the many administrators and soldiers who descended on Egypt during the Roman conquest and he was so impressed by the pyramidal tombs built for Egyptian Pharoahs that he demanded his own pyramidal burial tomb in Rome.
Built between 18BC-12BC, the Pyramid of Cestius is faced in slabs of white marble and is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome, thanks mainly to its incorporation into Rome’s city walls. Measuring 100 Roman feet (29.6m) square at its base and 37m high, it forms a wonderfully unusual land-mark amongst the typical Roman architecture and buildings.
An inscription on both the east and west flanks of the pyramid dedicates this land mark to “Caius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the gens Pobilia, member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones”. The interior burial chamber of the tomb was discovered in 1660, and was found to be decorated with frecoes, but no visitors are allowed inside the tomb.
Bordering the Protestant Cemetry (or non-Catholic Cemetry) in south-central Rome, near Porta San Paulo, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius is easily accessible by travelling to the Piramide station on the “B” (blue) Metro line. Just two Metro stops past the Colosseum, at Piazzale Ostiense, it can easily be incorporated into a sight-seeing tour on the same day you visit the Colosseum.
The non-Catholic Cemetry is accesible via the entrance on Via Caio Cestio and entrance is free, but donations are appreciated upon leaving. We recommend visiting the Cemetry to get the full view of the Pyramid and the inscriptions and to get some great photographs of one of the world’s non-Egyptian pyramids.