Gunga- A Memphian visits the real Memphis

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November 2nd 2010
Published: November 2nd 2010
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Saqqara was the necropolis of the pharaohs who ruled from Memphis starting around 3,100 BC. It is the burial place for kings of the 1st. and 2nd dynasties.
The Step Pyramid is the first built in Egypt. It was built for King Djoser by the genius architect Imhotep. He was the first to build stone tombs in honor of a king. The courtyard is vast ( about the size of 4-5 football fields) with a corridor containing 40 stone columns- the first stone columns ever built! Part of a wall has a frieze of rearing cobras- to be honest- very cool.

There is a lovely small and sweet museum- well lit, air conditioned, well labeled in 3 languages, and well ordered with jaw dropping dates attached to many firsts in architecture. To be truthful I was more impressed by this museum than the Egyptian museum in Cairo which was so hot and crowded with people and with displays poorly lit and even more poorly marked. The Imhotep museum exhibits many of his 'firsts' as well as a model of the step pyramid and the court. If you ever come to Egypt don't miss it.

Many of the original pyramids on this site have collapsed but the interior tombs can still be seen. Best are those of Teti where the walls are decorated with early scenes of ancient writings and that of Meruruka. He was King Teti's son-in-law. His tomb has 33 chambers and wonderful wall paintings of hunting scenes, cattle crossing a canal, and force feeding geese ( I guess they loved pate' back then). Think of it- art going back 3-4,000 years that vividly illustrates how daily life was lived, well, at least life amongst the royals.

It is said that the tombs of Saqqara, which were only discovered in the mid 19th century, are unrivalled for the information they provide about ancient life in Egypt. It is a sad that when we visualize the pyramids we all have the same sterotypical scene and places like Saqqara often go unnoticed by visitors. I am so thankful that our tour company gave us this special place as an option.

The Pyramids and the Sphinx

Is there anyone who comes to Egypt without seeing the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx? These iconic figures are seared into children's brains in elementary school. Remember those pictures in your 5th or 6th grade Social Studies text book? And who hasn't seen pictures of their fortunate friends who have traveled to Egypt standing in front of or beside the 3 pyramids of Giza- either on or off a camel? But like so many other things we think we know, when one comes face to face with them it is jaw dropping.

For 4,000 years they were the tallest man made structures ever built. They are precisely placed aligning to true north with only 3/60th degree of error. Some internal air shafts line up perfectly with celestial constellatons. Imagine all this was done without computers, calculators, or any of the machinations of modern technology. Truly amazing. I had always thought that the pyramids were built by slaves. While there may be some truth to that it has also been learned that many common men worked on them as an honor to their king. They would come during the seasons when they were not planting or harvesting and help.

Things I didn't know: 1. How blasted BIG they are! The text book pictures or postcards are only a few inches high but the real Great Pyramid is just that- GREAT! It is 480 feet tall with each base 780 feet. It contains 6.8 MILLION tons of limestone. The individual stones are massive and weigh tons. 2. That they were once surrounded by moats or boat pits-one of which contained a perfectly preserved royal barge. Be sure youo go to the Solar Boat Museum that is behind the Great Pyramid. On display is a wooden woven boat ( they used no nails) that is at leasdt 2,500 years old. It is in the shape of an ark. They think it may have been intended to allow the pharaoh to accompany the Sun god on his daily journey across the heavens. 3. They are not smooth (as they look in pictures) but rather large irregular stone blocks. They may have once been encased wirh outer stones such as the ones still visible on the Khafre pyramid and when new would have gleamed brilliant white.

HUGE!! The sphinx is HUGE! That was another surprise. It sits inon a lower slopr a short distance from the pyramids. It is in a pit where other excavations have been carried out,. It looks lonely and out of place. It was carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau and has the body of a lion and the head of a king. It is thought to have been built by Chephren in 2558 BC as it lines up with his pyramid. Some of the facial features are now missing like his noise. There are manh theories about how it disappeared- weather, theft, and /or enemy warriors. No one really knows about the nose( sorry, that was terrible). Parts of his noble beard are also missing but they know where they are- some in the Egyptian museum in Cairo and another part in the British museum in London.

The body of the sphinx has been buried by sand many times. In 1905, the sand was cleared away to expose its full size. The paws themselves are 50 feet long and 14 feet wide. Unfortunately some layers are made of soft stone and there is now a high degree of erosion. In my opinion it needs to be inside a pavilion or some sort of covered shelter to limit its exposure to the sun and sand. Rain in not a problem- its a desert.

I hope some of this has been interesting and not boring. Really, I was not in any way expecting to see what I did. The immenseness of the scene is in and of itself mind boggling. To complete the scenerio I have to tell you that unless you get there by 8 A.M. you won't get a ticket to get inside the pyramids to see the tombs. They limit numbers to 250 per morning and 250 per afternoon. We got there right at 8 and people were already lined up. There were hundreds of cars and tour buses all jockeying for very limited parking space. There were gaily decorated camels and their masters in flowing galebeyas running across the road and parking lots trying to entice people to go for a ride or at least to have their picture taken sitting on a camel. BEWARE OF THIS SCAM: the driver quotes you one price to get on the camel and then wants double or triple that to let you off. We watched this happen repeatedly. There are men on horses holding the reins of a companion horse. They also want to get you to ride their steeds. Swirling all around the animals and thousands of visitors are salesmen who stick things in your hands or wave them in front of your face promising to give them to you or only charge you a small amount. Just keep walking and don't make eye contact. The scene is like a wild carnival with school girls wearing brightly colored scarves and long skirts giggling and asking us to take a picture with them, to dark suited security guards following their tourist charges and protecting them as surreptiously as they can (ours followed us around in a dark navy suit trying not to get his black shiny shoes full of sand). It seems that the Egyptian Tourist Ministry assigns a fully armed guard to every American and Japanese tour group. We had one with us all the time even on the boat where they had machine guns. interesting.

One more to come before leaving Egypt.


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