This is Part 2 in my series on Cairo. For the rest, continue reading via the links below!
The Great Pyramids of Giza are one of the 7 Great Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one on that list still remaining today. They’re magnificent, humbling, and unreal to witness in person. It’s easy to lapse into hyperbole when describing any famous landmark or historical site, but the Great Pyramids are one of those rare cases where all of the hype is justified. They really are that amazing, and spending an entire day exploring them was an incredible experience.
The day started with coffee on the verandah of my room at Mena House, which looked out directly towards the pyramids I’d be exploring later that day. After a light breakfast, I met my guides from Memphis Tours, who took me on the very short drive to the Pyramids (that’s another benefit of staying at Mena House – you’re practically right around the corner!). Along the way, they explained the fascinating history of the Pyramids, and described the incredible feats of engineering needed to construct each one of them.
We pulled up at the base of the Pyramids, and had about 30 minutes to walk around, learn more about their history, and even climb up a few meters’ worth of stones (but not all the way up, as this intrepid explorer did a couple of years back). For some reason I’d pictured the Pyramids as being made up of smaller slabs of stone, but many of the hand-hewn stones used in the Pyramids were nearly as tall as I am! Pretty impressive, and even more so when one considers that each one was manually hauled up to ever-higher levels during the building process.
After a while, we drove a bit further out into the desert, and met up with a group of camel herders on the outskirts of Giza. There, I bargained with one of the locals to take me on a camel ride around the back of the Great Pyramids complex, and all the way down to where the Great Sphinx is located. Out of all of the experiences I had in Egypt, this one was probably my favorite. There were hardly any tourists around early in the morning, and it was a surreal experience riding alone across the fringes of the Sahara Desert, gazing in awe at these regal monuments that had been around for centuries. It made me think a lot about Egyptian society, and whether the fires that once fueled its sophisticated culture and creativity would one day be rekindled. I don’t think that day is imminent based on current events, but I remain hopeful that a brighter future is ahead for Egypt in the long-term.
After spending the morning at the Pyramids, I went with my guides for a traditional Egyptian lunch at a local cafe on the outskirts of Cairo. I’ll cover Egyptian cuisine in its entirety in a subsequent post, but suffice to say that the lunch was delicious, hearty, and much-needed after sitting on the back of a camel for 3 hours.
Next, it was time for a drive to Saqqara, home to some of the oldest stone buildings in the world and the former necropolis of Memphis, Egypt’s ancient capital. Saqqara is located about 30 minutes’ drive south of Cairo, and on the way there I learned more from my guides about Saqqara’s history. The pyramids here, though diminutive compared with their more famous cousins in Giza, are some of the oldest stone buildings ever constructed. The first “stepped pyramid” was erected all the way back in 2667 BC – standing there and realizing it has been around over 4,000 years was just incredible.
While in Saqqara, we also visited some of the ancient temples at Memphis, and at one point even explored inside one of the stepped pyramids. There’s not much to see inside, but I highly recommend going inside one of these pyramids if you can because it’ll allow you to see many hieroglyphics up close (the Great Pyramids, by contrast, hardly have any to examine at close range).
After exploring Saqqara and the temples at Memphis for a few hours, it was time to brave the rush hour traffic and head back to Cairo. Along the way, we stopped off at a local eatery for a much-needed dinner, and resumed our drive back to Mena House once the traffic had died down a bit.
It had been a full day of exploring, but at the end of the day, I was ready for more. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long, as I’d be exploring Cairo’s old town the next day.