September 09, 2004

On Dahshur and Giza

I knew if we kept looking eventually we'd bump into some pyramids around here :) After taking an overnight train from Aswan, we arrived in Giza early this morning. Our first stop was the quieter and less touristy pyramids of Dahshur.

Egypt's first true pyramid was built here by Pharaoh Sneferu (2600 BC!!). The first attempt is still standing and aptly named the 'Bent Pyramid.' When the the builders were about 75m through the project (or halfway to the 150m plans), they realized the angle they were working with was unstable (whoops!) so they switched it about 10 degrees. Thus, producing a sort of 'bent' look to the thing.

Look Mom! It's bent!

You are able to walk inside this pyramid - although I use the word 'walk' loosely. Rather, you are able to crawl through narrow and steep passageways inside this pyramid. It's worth the effort though to see the original ancient scaffolding of cedar beams which were used to offset the internal instability.

Learning from the mistakes of the 'Bent Pyramid' the first 'successful' one, the 'Red Pyramid' stands near. There are a few schools of thought regarding why it is called the Red Pyramid. One holds that it is for the weathered look of the limestone giving it a 'red' appearance; the other says it was named after the red painted graffiti and construction marks scribbled on the masonry during ancient times.

The more famous pyramids at Giza are the oldest tourist attraction on the planet and the sole survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The largest and oldest is the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Completed in 2570 BC (!!), it stood 146 meters high at completion. Not so different than us humans, the pyramid has lost some height as it aged and now stands at about 137 meters. It is a sight to behold - consisting of over 2 million limestone blocks weighing over 2 tonnes a piece!

The small one is really the big one and the big one is really the small one

The second pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre looks bigger than the Great Pyramid only because it is built on higher ground (clever work from the son of Khufu who knew he couldn't build a pyramid that was actually bigger than his father's). The original limestone casing is still intact on the pyramid's peak which helps you get an idea of what the pyramid looked like in ancient times. According to our guide, all the sides of the pyramid would have been white and smooth, the peak would have been a gold and silver alloy that would magnificently reflect the sun's rays and the lower perimeter would have been painted with scenes from the King's life.

Can you see me in dere?

At the bottom of the causeway of the Pyramid of Khafre lies the Sphinx. Carved right from the natural bedrock, the Sphinx (known as Abu al-Hol in Arabic, or Father of Terror) is believed to have portrayed the Pharoah Khafre's features in the face with, of course, the body of a lion. The nose is missing and there are multiple theories as to why. If you believe Lonely Planet, it was hammered off sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries. Although there was also a 'Egyptian Legend' that Napoleon used the Sphinx for target practice. Our guide believes it is the natural process of erosion that has resulted in the damage.

According to 'experts' the Sphinx days may be numbered. It is apparently suffering from the stone equivalent of cancer and is being eaten away from the inside. Unfortunately, attempts to restore have hurt more than helped :(

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