Monday, September 15, 2008
Round 1: Ira vs. the Sphinx
Guess who won?
On Saturday, AUC organized a bus trip to the Giza Pyramids. It is the first in a series of programs that the university arranges for new faculty members. It is really great because they supply transportation, subsidize the costs, and provide an expert guide (usually a member of the faculty).
It was my fourth time.
During my 1996 trip to Egypt, I visited the pyramids at Giza twice. I went there on the day I arrived. I thought I was being clever by taking the public bus (this was before the train line ran there), but got hoodwinked, of course, into overpaying for a horseback ride. I went back there and to Saqqara toward the end of my trip when my stay was extended by a few days after Tarom Romanian Air refused to allow me to board my ticketed flight (something about an illegal layover in Bucharest that required the US Embassy’s intervention to get me on the next flight later in the week).
And two weeks ago we went back for an evening laser show narrated by Omar Sharif.
Saturday’s trip was outstanding because the guide did a great job of explaining the history of the period and the excavation. I could go on about the details of everything I learned, but won’t….
A couple of comments on the experience. You can see how the top of the Khafre pyramid is different than the rest. Apparently the entire pyramid was similar to the smooth limestone, but apparently the limestone was taken from the pyramids for various constructions, including the Citadel.
The sites include a small mortuary temple, which would have been used for one of the Pharaoh’s aides, beside the pyramid. We were able to enter one of these. There is also the Solar Boat Museum, which houses a boat that was buried with the Pharaoh to take him to the afterlife. The boat was excavated in 1954.
One of the things that most surprised me in 1996—and that commonly surprises visitors—is how close to Cairo the Pyramids are. You can get there by car from where I live in 30 minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more depending on traffic. Last week on the bus ride home from campus, I could see the pyramids from the bus (it was a relatively clear day). The pyramids are in the desert, but they are increasingly being encroached upon by the massive sprawl that characterizes so much of the desert area surrounding Cairo. The increase in development in the area surrounding the pyramids is one change that I have noticed since 1996. Also, as one of the world’s best-known tourist sties, the pyramids are known for having tons of hawkers selling postcards, miniature pyramids, camel rides/photo ops. Only last month, the ministry of antiquities began a crackdown, though there are still lots of businessmen (almost all are men) in the area. It can be annoying to be hassled, but tourism is still a major industry and source of income for what remains an overwhelmingly poor country.