Sunday, November 02, 2008

Egypt - day 2 : Cairo - the pyramids

Our guide whisked us away off to see the pyramids leaving with the minibus in rush hour traffic at 8 sharp (admittedly we were a little late getting up and had to nab breakfast from the table next to us ;~), well they did have croissant!!)

Whilst on the way we got a running commentary on Cairo's main sights and monuments which was very informative, just aswell as it turned out to be quite a trek taking nearly an hour to get there. The weather was a little hazy, visibility only some 500m in places (attributed to the farmers burning some crops allegedly), so when our very friendly guide said "regarde, la pyramide" we got very excited but couldnt see much before a faint skyline emerged looming above us - there it was - huge and in our faces!!

We bought our tickets and walked up to a quiet spot where we got a whole explanation on the "mastabah", or pre-pyramids, the old way of burrying pharaohs along with the whole family. As we became quite skilled at, we saw the carvings of the offerings process and lots of false doors to trick the nasty people who come to steal things!! Underneath the mastabah was made a hole/well and then a corridor leading to the burrial chamber. We also got all the history regarding pyramid construction starting with those found at Saqqara where the pyramid of Djoser started as a mastabah with a smaller mastabah on top of that, with a smaller mastabah on top of that, with a smaller mastabah on top of that, etc until it was up to 6 layers - looking like a very crude, stepped, multiple shouldered pyramid! then came the so called rhombohedral formed "pyramid" where they started with too steep a construction angle and had to change angle halfway up in order to meet at a sensible (and achievable!) height.

Thus, in Giza they found the correct angle resulting in the pyramid of Cheops, with a square base of some 230*230m and 146m high originally (its lost some 9m since as a result of limestone compression and the fact that the polished topping has been pilfered!) Each block is 155cm in height at the base of the pyramid, but only 55cm when you get to the top. As can be seen on the very top of the Chephrem pyramid, just to the south (the son of Cheops) a glittering smooth limestone finish was applied, which would have made them gleam in the sun, however, this has been weathered away and reused in other constructions so now they are predominantly bare!

To the south side of Cheops's pyramid they discovered the huge (and the oldest ever) wooden "solar" barque - sun boat - some 42m in length, burried along with Cheops in 2000BC in 1200 pieces (the all original ikea style!) as an essential tool for the afterlife.

Lieing infront of the Chephrem pyramid is the Sphynx where the natural bedrock has been carved into a huge lion, onto which the head of pharaoh Chephrem has been carved. All around the site there are small temples, all part of the burrial ritual and passage to the afterlife, of course in those days the Nile would have been much closer, but still 98% of the material is all limestone from nearby quarries, the Granite would have had to come all the way from Aswan - several hundred km south!

No comments: