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Jasmine Dispatch

One of The Seven Wonders of the World

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It's a bird, it's a plane, NO it's a wonder of the world!
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What is it that draws thousands of tourists to Egypt, year after year? Is it the food, is it the hustle and bustle of Cairo. Hmm...well, those things are grand but there is something more! So, I decided to journey from Cairo with my friend Said (pronounced Sa-yeed) to find out what the buzz was about. We set off for Giza, a small city just outside of Central Cairo. We still had a nice drive ahead of us, about 45 minutes to go, and the anticipation was killing me. I was off to see the Pyramids of Giza!

Said laughed at my excitement, he lives in Giza and sees the pyramids from his home everyday. "Can you imagine what it's like opening your front door to a stunning view of the Pyramids of Giza," he asked. "No way!" I laughed. "I can't even begin to imagine!" I said, folded over in laughter! When Said pointed up ahead, "You don't have to imagine anymore, take a look." And as we turned onto the main street in Giza there before me was The Great Pyramid of Cheops! I couldn't believe it. In complete awe and amazement I stared, captivated by this stunning monument. It was huge, still about fifteen minutes away but I could see it standing steadfast in the distance, a thing of beauty that draws people the world over.

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The ancient Greeks considered the Great Pyramids of Giza to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World--and rightfully so. For centuries, the Great Pyramids have intrigued and puzzled visitors. Even today in the 20th century, it's impossible to stand before them and not be amazed and overwhelmed. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe, I thought I'd find the pyramids out in the desert in some remote and hidden place, or like scenes from an Indiana Jones movie, but no matter what I had in mind, not even my wildest imagination could have prepared me for the massive pyramids that stood there before me. I'd even visited the first Pyramid ever built in Saqarra just last week, which was completely awesome, but there was something different here, something I can't even begin to explain.

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Public Transportation!
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The three famous pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Pyramid of Chephren, and the Pyramid of Mycerinus (who were father, son and grandson) are all built on the same complex in Giza, along with the Sphinx and numerous other tombs, temple ruins, and cemeteries. It takes two days to visit it all if you're walking, but the secret to desert travel is one I learned way back in Mali when Kevin and I visited the Tuareg village in Timbuktu -- Take a camel!

So, after negotiating a deal with the local Rent-A-Camel sales guy, I bid Said farewell and set off on my expedition. Luckily, my camel was very well mannered and we got along just fine. We entered through the City of the Dead, the cemetery along the far east side of the central area and then went down to the Sphinx, where I parked my camel and continued on by foot for a closer look.

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Me and my man, Mr. Sphinx
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Carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone leftover from the carvings of the stones for Cheop's pyramid, the Sphinx is over 50 meters long and 22 meters high. Legends and superstitions surrounding its long-forgotten purpose are almost as intriguing as the sight of the structure itself. Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol, Father of Terror, the half-cat half-man was called Sphinx by the ancient Greeks because it resembled the mythical winged monster with a woman's head and lion's body. This creature, known for its wisdom, made a practice of proposing a riddle to the Thebians and killing all unable to guess the answer. Luckily, there was no threat of harm as I stood along side the Sphinx baffled by its unique images. If I had been asked to guess what it is, I would have been dead meat! It is still not known when the Sphinx was carved or exactly what it represents. One theory is that it was the Pharaoh Chepren who thought of shaping the rock into a lion's body (a symbol of strength), with a god's face, wearing a royal headdress of Egypt. Another theory is that it is the likeness of Chephren himself that has been staring out over the desert for so many years.

Vocabulary

Steadfast - Firmly fixed or established
Mythical - Based on or told of in traditional stories; lacking factual basis or historical validity
Headdress - An ornament worn on the head
Limestone - Rock made up of calcium carbonate or carbonate of lime
Labyrinth - A place full of intricate passageways that make it difficult to find the way from the interior to the exit

Relevant Links Take a virtual tour of the pyramids!

Find out more about the mysterious Sphinx!

Read transcripts from NOVA's special on the pyramids!

Another popular question about the Sphinx is, "What happened to his nose?" What I found was there was a period of time when these monuments weren't respected and preserved like they are today. As a matter of fact, there were numerous attempts over the years to loot and to intentionally destroy these great monuments. It was during the period of the Ottoman Empire, for example, as the Turks used the Sphinx for target practice, that its nose and beard (which are now in the British museum) fell off. Negotiations are under way to have them returned as a team of US and Egyptian archaeologists are working to restore the Sphinx.

The Pyramid of Mycerinus sustained similar damage during the 16th century when a powerful caliph, one of the Islamic rulers of that time, set out to demolish all of the pyramids. Luckily, he was unsuccessful in his attempt though he did manage to do extensive damage to the outside of the smallest of the three great pyramids. The damaged blocks of crumbled and fallen rock lay by the wayside at the base of the pyramid today.

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Seeing my 1st wonder of the world!
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Next in line was the best preserved pyramid, the Pyramid of Chephren, Mycerinus' father. At first it seems much larger than Cheop's because it stands on higher ground and its peak still has part of the original limestone casing which once covered the entire structure. The top parts of the pyramids were originally known as pyramidions, and up until recently, archaeologists believed pyramidions were coated in gold. But, inscriptions discovered in a newly opened temple in Saqarra state platinum was used.

The Pyramid of Chephren has substantial mortuary temple remains outside the pyramid to the east. Only a few of the rooms are open to visitors, but none of the columns and emptied tombs are as interesting as the causeway. This path which originally provided access for boats bringing the mummy of the dead Pharaoh in from the Nile to the valley temple, still leads from the main temple to the valley temple.

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Down into the tombs...Oooh!
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Then finally there it was, the moment I'd been waiting for--I was standing face to face with the largest, most massive structure I've ever seen. This great pyramid, the oldest at Giza and the largest in Egypt, stood 146.5 meters high, with a base that covered 13 acres when it was completed around 2600 BC. Today, after 46 centuries, its height has been reduced by only nine meters. Approximately two and a half million limestone blocks, weighing around six million tons, were used in the construction. It's said that it took 10 years to build the causeway and the massive earth ramps used as a form of scaffolding, and 20 years to raise the pyramid itself. The job was done by a highly skilled troop of masons, mathematicians, surveyors, and stonecutters as well as about 100,000 slaves who carried out the back-breaking tasks of moving and laying the stone. Each block had to be exactly placed to prevent excess pressure building up on any one point causing the whole structure to collapse.

As I climbed up the steps to the entrance, which floats high above the ground, near the center of the pyramid, I ascended into the Great Gallery, the main passageway that leads to the King's Chambers. The first thing I noticed is how precisely the blocks fit together. The main chamber, unlike the rest of the tomb, was built of red granite blocks. This room was also built so that plenty of fresh air flowed in from shafts on the north and south walls. Just as I was looking up into the ceiling, a tour group passed by and I learned that the roof of this chamber, which consists of nine huge slabs of granite, weighs more than 400 tons. But, the tour guide quickly assured everyone listening, there was nothing to fear because the weight is distributed away from the chamber by another four slabs that are strategically positioned above the first nine. WOW!

Most everything inside the tomb had been excavated years ago and is now on display in The Egyptian Museum. So, after spending quite some time wandering through the labyrinth of chambers and tombs, I made my way back down the narrow passageway toward the exit. I looked around to find my camel, all that I'd seen racing around in my head. As I rode away into the desert sunset three words came to mind, "Genius, Pure genius." Although the age of pyramids lasted only a few hundred years, the pyramids themselves have survived for four and a half millennium! These ancient structures will forever be an inspiration to generations to come; teaching us to continue to dream, to accept no limitations, and make the impossible a reality.
A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your Own Pyramid

Step 1: Don't try this at home! Pyramids tend to get a little large for the average backyard. Napoleon estimated that there would be enough stones in the three main pyramids at Giza alone to build a wall, three meters high, all around France.

Step 2: Seek professional assistance, there's nothing average about a pyramid! Imhotep's architectural genius changed the face of Egypt forever. Less than 100 years after his tribute to Zoser in Saqarra, there arose from the sands of Giza the perfection of the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

Step 3: If you haven't taken the hint, give up! It may look like a big pretty triangle, but the planning and building of the pyramid is a long, involved process. You would be better off appreciating the pyramids we already have, like everyone else.

But if you're not convinced and you feel like you're up to the challenge there are a few essential items necessary for building a well-equipped pyramid:

The Egyptians thought the Pharaoh's to be sons of god, and thus the sole receiver of the 'ka,' or life force. The ka emanated from the god they worshipped. And the ka does not stop with death. Since the Pharaoh in turn conducted this vital force to his people, the tomb was prepared with any and everything the Pharaoh might need in the after-world to continue to fulfill his responsibilities. Along with all of his household goods, clothes, treasure and yes, even his pets, the underground complex beneath the pyramid was filled with mummies, statues, and artwork that was expected to come to life and fulfill their roles in the afterlife. But before you do anything drastic, ask yourself, "How do you think Sparky would feel about that?"

Each hieroglyphic carving, painting, and statue was meant to guarantee that everything depicted in the tomb would come into the after-world. The reasoning behind these tremendous efforts was that if the mummy was destroyed the ka, could continue to survive through the likenesses of the deceased as represented in the stone and wood. In order to make this possible, priests performed a ritual in the tomb after all the carving and painting was finished, which caused everything depicted in the tomb to fulfill its purpose. What types of images would generations to come find on the walls of your pyramid - definitely a TV, a stereo, some CD's, a computer, a Sega system, a few game cartridges perhaps?

Next you would need to build a huge pit to bury your mode of transportation in the afterlife. Along the southern side of the Pyramid of Cheops, for example, are five long pits which once contained his boats, known as solar barques. The barques were 43 meters long, eight meters high and they sat in a five-meter deep pit. So, after you put a down payment on your new car, boat or truck, it's time to start digging! And remember, having enough space is essential, the base of The Great Pyramid of Cheops alone covered 13 acres.

Last but not least, you'll need an astronomy lesson or two. Probably the most amazing concept about the Pyramids, besides their massive size and superb craftsmanship, is that they are perfectly aligned with the cosmos. The entrance passageways face north towards the Pole Star, as do those in all 80 royal Pyramids found in Egypt; the tomb chambers inside face west, towards the Kingdom of the Dead, and the mortuary temples outside face east toward the rising sun.

Once the structure is complete, capped by the pyramidion, finished with a coat of limestone casing, the chambers decorated and inscribed, you've done it! You're only steps away from a pyramid of your very own! It's easy enough, and just imagine, in a couple hundred years and you'll have it all figured out.

Suggested further reading:
The Step Pyramid - One Step At A Time
"Two-thumbs up!" raved the Pyramid Press "Thrilling and insightful details about the first pyramid ever built!"


Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...worldtrekker@internettreks.org

 

Abeja - Quest for Ancient Egypt in the Midst of a Modern Day World
Kavitha - Time Travel to the New Kingdom
Kevin - Longing for My Purple Rose of Cairo
Making a Difference - The Parthenon
Making a Difference - Just Do It

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