Cairo Museum and sailing a Nubian felucca on the Nile


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Africa » Egypt » Lower Egypt » Cairo
October 14th 2017
Published: October 14th 2017
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Day 2. Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square, a felucca ride then a cruise with dining on the Nile.

Honestly I was dead tired. But gotta go so I did.

But first to stare out my bedroom window for the millionth time, eyeballing Khufu and the Great Pyramid. I never tired of that privileged view. Other Pyramids are there but the two main ones command attention. Even the Sphinx is dwarfed, peering from behind a tree, its face disfigured.

Who did that? Some said the Roman conquerors back 2000 years, others said the French recently, in disbelief that faces obviously African, could be revered and exalted, so they smashed the features out of the faces. Others said Christians in their zeal to convert hearts and cleanse temples into becoming churches. Kind of Daesh tactics. So we don't know who did it. But there are clear signs that deliberate destruction and defacing was widespread, some of it dates more than 4,000 years ago.

It happened to Hatshupset the Pharaoh who was a woman (that's not allowed) on her death her step son Tuthmosis (the rightful heir, denied while she ruled ) had his revenge by obliterating her face from every personal depiction in her considerable structures. She ruled for 22 years and was revered so he had his work of defacing her memory cut out for him.

Set off after breakfast at the rooftop Cafe at the Great Pyramid Inn (with the worst internet connection possible. Even worse than the krikring krikring krrrr dial up days. Frustrating. It seems that area of Cairo was having connectivity issues said Galael my guide)

Battling our way through the traffic we finally arrived at the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Tahrir Square. Designed and built by Europeans, clearly, this was the world's first custom built museum. 1902. By next year there will be another dedicated museum building to house one single famous collection! The Tutankhamen treasures, personal belongings of an un - remarkable 19 year old boy Pharaoh.

Pharaohs began ruling 5,100 years ago. They were family dynasties, 31 of them, who united Lower Egypt (in the south) and Upper Egypt (of the north) holding it together against all enemies until the Greek conquest 230 years before Christ. That's three thousand years! In the 2,000 years since then much of the Pharaonic legacy was buried under the desert sand, the memories lost. And then some chance discoveries brought them back to prominence, revealing a phenomenal abundance of works of incredible art, architecture, stunning wealth and sophisticated knowledge. The scale of Pharaonic civilization is truly unbelievable.

To complete the narrative, the Greeks who governed Egypt bore the title Ptolemy, hence the Ptolemaic period. With Cleopatra VII becoming only the 2nd woman ever to rule Egypt. Her for husbands were her half brother, then Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Richard Burton. She committed suicide by wrapping herself in a carpet with a deadly snake, the asp, rather than be defeated. Enter the Roman conquerors 20BC ending 3,000 years of Egyptian civilization.

Decoding the Rosetta stone fragment of ancient texts written in 3 early languages, including hieroglyphics, opened the door to understanding the extensive writings and drawings on the temples and tombs of the Pharaohs. At last we could read and understand the ages old stories of Egypt. Thus Frenchman Jean Francois Champollion became the father of Egyptology.

Among the interesting exhibits on display at the Cairo Museum, there is a teeny weeny ivory carving of a man. About as tall as a teacup. That is the ONLY surviving portrayal of Pharaoh Khufu, builder of the greatest of all Pyramids. The Great Pyramid at Gizeh. He moved over 2 million blocks of stone each weighing between 2 to 15 tons, building a structure 147 meters tall, a design which til today cannot be replicated. He refused to have portrayals of himself made this today all we have to know what he looks like is a piece of ivory as big as a thumb. Irony.

Unlike Tutankhamun, who became pharaoh at age 9, did nothing remarkable at all, then died at age 19. So insignificant was he that his tomb was soon buried under rubble of later tomb buildings, it's location lost, his memory obscured. His obscurity is what saved his burial chamber from millenia of tomb raiders. No one remembered he ever existed or where he was buried. He lived at a time of massive wealth in the dynasty therefore his funeral items, personal belongings and accoutrement were opulent.

Still, nothing compared with what a major Pharaoh like Ramsis or Hatshepsut or Tuthmosis would have been buried with. Which leaves us even more spellbound to realize that Tutankhamun's renowned treasure was actually 'nothing to brag about' . That 25lb solid gold funerary mask. A trifle. Those 4 gold leaf covered shrine boxes, fitting one inside the other. Insignificant. That golden diadem, those gold leaf sarcophagi .... nothing really. Not when compared with what a powerful Pharaoh would have taken on their journey to the after life. But since none of the tombs of the 200 other Pharaohs was ever discovered intact we are left to marvel at his insignificance. We take what we are given! Soon, next year, an entire museum building will house the whole treasure of this inconsequential boy king.

Pharaohs were buried with all their possessions. The successor Pharoah will not use them. Plus they are necessary for the deceased to be recognized in their journey after death and the trials of crossing the underworld. So nothing of the past ruler is kept, instead everything was buried in the store rooms in the Pyramids and burial sites. Pyramids were built for the burial of Pharaohs. And their families.

Hatshepsut, the one woman who dared break the established male order of succession, is recognized in the museum too. Her portrayals as a sphinx was left intact, the sphinx being a god. Her personal portrayals in statues and columns were broken and disfigured by Tuthmosis her step son. He denied her in every way he could by obliterating or burying every record of her person or her name but not messing with her portrayals in god form. That could be pushing his luck.

Stepping out from the museum, to set foot in Tahrir Square where in 2011, the wider world was spectator to what Egyptians today call the Revolution. It's a bustling open square, an area busy with traffic and pedestrians, surrounded by high rise office and commercial buildings. There is nothing to see but one can imagine the scenes. So far of the 5 Egyptians I've asked about the revolution, only one says life is better now, the other 4 don't think so.

From Tahrir it's a long stroll to the departure point on the banks of the River Nile where the felucca sail boats offer journeys. It was pleasant walking there, sidewalks lined with sycamore and small ficus, breezy and uncrowded. There isn't much activity on the river though many boats of different kinds are tied up along the way. Many are multiple deck tourist vessels offering cruises on the Nile. But I'm headed for the old traditional Nubian sail boat, as old as Egyptian history, the felucca. Apparently it needs a fair breeze to get the sails going, but after a wait of several minutes the breeze picked up and off we sailed. A gentle, quiet relaxing experience, on the water looking out at the skyline of high rises and minarets, and boats tied up along shore. The Marine police were out keeping an eye on us. We sailed in a zigzag fashion criss crossing from one bank to the next. My captain looked every inch the way I imagine the boatmen of old to have looked. The journey was totally relaxing, uneventful, and reminded me how much I needed sleep.

Got back to the Great Pyramid Inn, ogled the Great Pyramid again, peered at the street life below... then tried to catch a short rest before heading back to Cairo and the Nile for a dinner cruise. I should have stayed home, I shouldn't have agreed, I should have said no, I kept saying to myself ... Too late.

The dinner cruise was nice enough, a belly dancer performed then came to each table to be photographed (you buy the picture later) then a comical but good whirling dervish did his bit, photos likewise. The best part was a coincidence... An Egyptian group were celebrating an engagement and they took over the small dance area! As a Trini I was proud of them. They were clapping and stamping and singing, and wining. They brought the house down and kept me awake.

By the end of 2 hours my eyes were struggling to stay open. In fact I fell asleep in the bus on the drive home. But all was safe and well on my personal bus with my personal driver and Guide.

I dropped like led into the bed.


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14th October 2017

Busy days!
I had no idea Tutenkamen was so young and lived and ruled for such a short period of time. Neither did I know he was 'insignificant'.

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