We departed from Athens and after less than 2 hours of flight we landed in a whole different world. Cairo is a massive city seeming to stretch on and on in the same color as the sand. Both Cairo and Alexandria are part of Lower Egypt because the Nile River flows from Lake Victoria North to the Mediterranean so Northern Egypt is on the lower part of the Nile and therefore called Lower Egypt. Due to some safety concerns around Egypt we booked a fully guided tour and our local guide, Fadar from Memphis Tours, proved his helpfulness right away by fast-tracking our visas and entry.
We arrived at our hotel and it was definitely a little surprising to see barriers, security, and a bomb sniffing dog search the car before we were given entry. Our luggage also had to go through x-ray scanners and we had to walk through metal detectors – this was something that we got very used to as every monument and museum we went to required the same. It was well worth it though because our hotel had an absolutely beautiful pool with views of the Great Pyramids from it!
After taking a dip in the pool we went to the Pyramid Sound and Light show which basically goes over the history of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx while lightening them up against the night sky.
The next morning we met our Cairo guide, Ahmed, who has a Ph.D. in Egyptian History and is a professor at Ain Shams University. He took us to the Great Pyramids of Giza and was incredibly knowledgeable on the history, building, and use of the surrounding area. Each large pyramid also had three smaller pyramids for the family of the King or Pharaoh, a temple for the preparation of the body (mummification), a causeway from the Nile, and boats that were used to transport the Pharaoh’s body.
We drove to a plateau where we saw all three Great Pyramids in one view, from far away they look small, and up close they are HUGE, and can fit any of the massive cathedrals we’ve seen inside of them! We are now extremely proficient camel riders because we took another camel ride from the plateau to the pyramids – I guess I forgot how tall camels are because it was another scary experience going up! It was our first time to gallop on a camel – one that I’d be ok not to repeat but was kinda neat.
Our last tour in the Great Pyramid complex was of the Pharoah Khafre’s mummification temple and of the Sphinx that was made with his likeness. Khafre was buried in the second largest pyramid (the only one that still has some of its beautiful casing) next to his father’s pyramid, which is the largest.
After the Great Pyramids we were taken to a couple of different workshops. The first was a papyrus manufacturer where they showed us how ancient Egyptians made papyrus – they were incredibly patient people! The second was a bazar where various metal, stone, and mother of pearl objects are created. The final one was one of the most interesting and it was the Egyptian rug manufacturing school. They showed us the difference between camel wool, sheep wool, Egyptian cotton and silk. The amount of effort and skill that goes into making a hand made rug is astounding and gave us a great appreciation of the art.
In the afternoon we went to Sakara where the large ‘stepped’ temple or pyramid is. There are lots of other ruins there and we learned about some interesting Pharaoh rituals and saw the largest intact causeway to a pyramid but my favorite part was venturing into a pyramid. It was a steep and small walkway down but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a burial chamber with original hieroglyphics and a tomb intact. The ceilings of the tomb are a wonder of themselves.
After making the climb back up we went into a burial temple of a non-royal ancient Egyptian and the hieroglyphics are incredibly intact. It was hard to remember that this amazing art and incredible feats of engineering are over 4,000 years old, especially given that prior to this everything we’d seen was A.D. or a couple hundred years B.C.
Our last stop of the day was at Memphis, the capital of Lower Ancient Egypt, where the second largest Sphinx was found and an astounding massive sculpture of Pharaoh Ramesses II.
The second day started with some religious history of Egypt. We saw the Hanging Church, which was built on top of a Roman fortress as retaliation for the persecution that Christians received from Romans. Next we saw the Cavern Church and we went down into the crypt where it is believed that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were given asylum.
Next, we toured an old synagogue that was very ornately decorated in mother of pearl and was converted from a church. It is very sacred in Egypt because it is believed Moses was found in the well as a baby.
We made our way to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din, the highest point in Cairo, and saw the oldest mosque in Egypt on the way, although the only original piece of the mosque is the floor. Inside the citadel we got the opportunity to enter our first mosque, which was modeled after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It is very impressive and thanks to the use of marble in the building it was also nice and cool.
The Citadel was originally built as a fortress but now is primarily museums. We visited several of them. The most memorial one for us was the crime museum because it prominently featured San Diego. There was a kit of various drugs (used to help authorities identify them) and it was actually provided by San Diego – such a small world.
Our next stop was the local Cairo market. Having been to so many markets on this trip I wasn’t expecting a new experience but it was interesting in many ways. We saw vendors selling drinks from bags with straws out of them, men carrying large jugs on their stomachs and pouring other drinks from them, and the alleys were even smaller and more crowded than in Marrakech! The highlight of the trip though was that I was able to haggle a shop owner down and get a good price on a small trinket – even our tour guide was impressed!
The final stop of the day was the Egyptian museum. After going to the Louvre and the British museum and seeing all the absolutely amazing Egyptian antiquities there (the Louvre practically has the inside of a pyramid re-constructed) we were curious if there would be anything left here in Egypt but boy were we wrong! The Ancient Egyptian Museum is absolutely filled to the brim with cool artifacts. We spent hours in there so it would be to hard to explain everything we saw but there are thousands of tombs and mummies – even ones of animals! We saw mummies of cats, dogs, snakes, rams, and even giant alligators. We saw the only statue of the Pharaoh of the Giant Pyramid and with such a large pyramid you’d think his statue would be large but it is tiny! We saw lots of statues of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian queen, who ruled as pharaoh and did so by essentially saying she was the spirit of man and portraying herself as a man in statues and writing.
For the second time in our lives we saw King Tut’s (aka Tutankhamun) tomb (not pictured), sarcophagus, and jars for his organs. We saw them before on a traveling exhibit. We also saw some unique statues of King Tut’s father who completely changed ancient Egyptian religion by declaring one god and that he was the only median between people and god. To represent that he was the only median he wanted to be portrayed as half woman and half man so all the paintings and statues of him have very large or womanly hips.
You can’t help but be overwhelmed with awe by the age, largeness, and shear number of Egyptian antiquities. It was a short but amazing trip to Lower Egypt!