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Published: February 6th 2017
The Egyptian Museum
Ancient Egypt, land of the Pharaoh’s. Born from the Nile, that enigmatic life bearing river so important to its history. Since time immemorial Egyptians have lived and died by it, it has sustained them, it is the source of their greatest achievements. Without it there would have been no Pharaoh’s, no grand temples, no Pyramids, no Egypt as we know it.
Long have I wanted to visit this country. To behold the Pyramids and feel the force of history. I have come at last. And I have not been disappointed. There is so much to see here, I have hardly been able to catch my breath. From dreamy Islamic Cairo with its arched alleyways and spiraling minarets, to the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, to the beautiful icons in the Coptic quarter, and the golden death mask of Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum. And that’s just Cairo!!
Let me start with the Pyramids. Unlike what many people think, Giza’s famous Pyramids are just one of many. There are actually more than a hundred, though most are no more than a pile of rubble these days. Giza has the biggest, the one remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. But
Giza didn’t appear out of nothing. Before Giza there was Dahshur, and before Dahshur there was Saqqara.
Saqqara was first. Being first it is different. It is stepped, because building something like this had never been done before. Pharaoh Djoser commissioned it, his grand-vizier and master builder, Imhotep designed it. From scratch. From stone. Another first, before Imhotep they used mudbricks and other perishable materials for building. But something as big as a Pyramid could not be built with mudbricks. Imhotep was deified for his achievement. Rightly so, because without Imhotep there would have been no Giza for the crowds to gawk at. Speaking of crowds, Saqqara is blissfully quiet, no crowds here. It was wonderful.
Better still was the next phase of Pyramid building in Dahshur. Here the first attempt was made at creating a true Pyramid. Half way up they realised the angle was too steep, so they reduced it, and so came into being the Bent Pyramid. Learning from their mistakes the first true Pyramid was finally built, the Red Pyramid. As in Saqqara the sight is peaceful. So peaceful in fact that I had the place to myself. Perfect!!
Finally came Giza. Famous
Black schist triad, with Pharaoh Menkaure in the middle
Giza, crowded Giza. Impressive Giza that too. But the crowds are distracting. And where there are crowds there are touts. It seemed to me half the crowd consisted of touts. It was hard to avoid them. But with a bit of perseverance and a fast pace I did manage to avoid most
of them. I found myself a nice hill away from everybody else and contemplated the majesty before me. I pondered that once they were covered in smooth white polished limestone casing blocks, and realised that they would have reflected brilliantly in the sun when newly built. What a sight that must have been. Truly they deserved and still deserve to be called a Wonder of the World.
For all things Pharaonic you must visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is stacked to the brim with mummies, gilded coffins, statues big and small, sphinxes, hieroglyphs, crowns, clothes, sandals and of course the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb. By the end of it you will be dreaming of sarcophagi and mummies. I did.
And then… I started walking through Cairo’s different districts. I walked, and I walked and I walked. I walked to old Islamic Cairo. I walked
Gilded sarcophagus of Thuyu
through its atmospheric souqs, I gaped at the beautiful mosques, I climbed up minarets to get a better view, I walked through living cemeteries, I clambered up citadels. I got lost, I got dusty, I got plenty of attention, I got smiles, I even got a free tea. The Egyptians are a friendly bunch.
Still I kept on walking. I walked along the Nile and up to Coptic Cairo. I entered old Churches full of even older icons and intricate interiors. Did I mention I walked a lot? Cairo gave me sore feet!
I decided to leave my sore feet behind and left for Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great, hence the name. Cairo had Giza, Alexandria had Pharos. But the Lighthouse of Pharos toppled during an earthquake and Giza remained. Alexandria also had a famous library. Possibly the most famous of them all. But fate wasn’t kind to Alexandria. The library was burnt down a long, long time ago. And so Alexandria was left with nothing… Until now. A new library has been built. A wonderful piece of modern architecture. It is big too. A fitting replacement. And Alexandria has a great corniche for strolling along any
Alabaster chest which held Tutankhamun's internal organs
time of day.
Now, like I told you, Alexander the Great founded Alexandria. But after he founded it, he didn’t stay. He had things to do, like conquer Persia. He was, however, also a prudent man. To be certain about his prospects of conquering Persia he decided to consult the all-knowing oracle of Siwa. Siwa is an oasis. It lies in the Western Desert, near the Libyan border. Before the times of buses and roads you had a perilous desert to cross to reach Siwa and its oracle. And when I mean perilous, I mean perilous. The Persian King Cambyses lost an army of 50000 while trying to capture Siwa. It disappeared forever in the sands of time. I am serious, it was lost and nobody has ever found a trace of it.
I also wanted to consult the oracle and thus made my way to Siwa… in a bus. It is much more safe and easier than walking or taking a horse through the desert.
The oracle told me many things.
On the man who likes to Twitter, ‘like Cambyses army before you, your tweets will be lost in the sands of time.’
Various statues displayed inside the museum
the angry white men, ‘anger doesn't solve problems, it creates them.'
On the angry bearded men, ‘you cannot build a future on terror.’
On my future… ‘To ask about your future is unwise. To answer would be even more foolish.’
Ah, the oracle was wise.
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