February 8th, 2022
EGYPT – a really hard country to write a brief history about!
Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and the southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip (Palestine) and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west. Cairo is the country’s capital and largest city.
Egypt has one of the longest histories of any country in the worl, tracing its heritage along the Nile Delta back to the 6th–4th millennia BCE. Considered a cradle of civilization, Ancient Egypt, saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanization, organized religion and central government. Iconic monuments such as its Great Sphinx, as well the ruins of Karnak and the Valley of Kings, reflect this legacy and remain a significant focus of scientific and popular interest. Egypt was an early and important centre of Christianity but was largely Islamized in the seventh century and remains a predominantly Muslim country, albeit with a significant Christian minority.
The story of Egypt has been long and wealthy, due to the flow of the Nile River with its fertile banks and delta as well as the accomplishments of Egypt’s native inhabitants and outside influence. Much of Egypt’s ancient history was a mystery until Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered with the discovery and help of the Rosetta stone. Among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Ancient Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first king of the First Dynasty, Narmer. Predominantly native Egyptian rule lasted until the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century BC.
In 332 BC, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great, conquered Egypt as he toppled the Achaemenids and established the short-lived Macedonian Empire, which gave rise to the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Kingdom, founded in 305 BC by one of Alexander’s former generals, Ptolemy I Soter. The Ptolemies had to fight native rebellions and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its final annexation by Rome. The death of Cleopatra ended the nominal independence of Egypt, resulting in Egypt’s becoming one of the provinces of the Roman Empire.
Roman rule in Egypt (including Byzantine) lasted from 30 BC to 641 AD, with a brief interlude of control by the Sasanian Empire between 619 and 629, known as Sasanian Egypt. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, parts of Egypt became provinces of successive Caliphates and other Muslim dynasties. Sultan Selim I captured Cairo, absorbing Egypt into the Ottoman Empire.
Egypt remained entirely Ottoman until 1867, except during the French occupation from 1798 to 1801. Starting in 1867, Egypt became a nominally autonomous tributary state called the Khedivate of Egypt. However, it fell under British control in 1882 following the Anglo-Egyptian War. After the end of World War I and following the Egyptian revolution of 1919, the Kingdom of Egypt was established.
Modern Egypt dates back to 1922, when it gained independence from the British Empire as a monarchy. Following the 1952 revolution, Egypt declared itself a republic, and in 1958 it merged with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, which dissolved in 1961. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Egypt endured social and religious strife and political instability, fighting several armed conflicts with Israel and occupying the Gaza Strip intermittently. In 1978, Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, officially withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and recognizing Israel. The country continues to face challenges, from political unrest, including the recent 2011 revolution and its aftermath, to terrorism and major economic underdevelopment. Egypt’s current government, a semi-presidential republic led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been described by a number of watchdogs as authoritarian or heading an authoritarian regime, responsible for perpetuating the country’s problematic human rights record.
Islam is the official religion of Egypt and Arabic is its official language. With over 100 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Arab world, as well as the third-most populous in Africa (after Nigeria and Ethiopia). The great majority of its people live near the banks of the Nile River, an area of about 40,000 square kilometres (15,000 square mi), where the only arable land is found. The large regions of the Sahara desert which constitute most of Egypt’s territory are sparsely inhabited.
WE KNOW THAT WAS A LONG SHPEEL BUT THERE IS NO TEST AT THE END!
Currency: Egyptian pound – .064 LE to a USD; .081 to CAD
Gas Price: 9.25 LE pounds per litre – 2.29 USD a gallon
Beer: Stella and Sakkara
The flag of Egypt is a tricolour consisting of the three equal horizontal red, white, and black bands of the Egyptian revolutionary flag dating back to the 1952 Egyptian Revolution. The flag bears Egypt’s national emblem, the Egyptian eagle of Saladin centered in the white band.
Our flight to Cairo landed a little early (1:15 am not 1:30 am) and after some confusion at the airport, we got through immigration. As we had booked our flights so late, we were not able to get visas for Egypt online; they require 7 days but we read you can also get it at kiosks in the airport.
We did not see any kiosks but did see banks and understand banks are where you pay for the visas but we were unsure where you apply for them. We walked directly over to the Immigration line to learn yes, we had to get the visa and he just pointed “over there”. We saw two non-Egyptian men, and asked them; they told us to fill in the same card they were completing and go to the bank to pay $25 each. No one looked at the form, he just stamped our card and we went back to the immigration officer. He took our photos, no questions asked and we went to baggage to get our luggage.
It took a long time but finally all our bags came down onto the carousel and we walked out of the baggage area to find an ATM before meeting the driver from the hotel that we’d booked. We managed to get some cash and went outside to find Mohammed. While driving he told us about some tours he could do for us and the prices were good (turned out to good to be true as he never got back to us the next day!). He really gave us a hard sell on his services.
As it was now 1:45 in the morning there was virtually no traffic and we were at the hotel fairly quickly and got settled – luckily, even at that time of the day, we had plenty of help with our bags. The hotel was not as nice as we expected but it was clean if not a little worn looking. We did have a view of the Nile and the city and they had great Wi-Fi, the price was good and included that airport pick up.
We went straight to bed and were up around 8 am the next day. We had some tea, eggs and bread (rather bland) in the hotel and went wandering. First stop was to get SIM cards and we did that fairly easily at Vodafone, where they spoke decent English and were super friendly – they even gave us Egyptian flags as a gift.
Then Fran wanted to get her glasses looked at as the left screw kept coming loose (it may have been stripped) but we had no luck on that front; the one place we stopped, he “played with it” a bit and seemed to actually make it worse before telling us to come back after 2. We walked over to the Nile River and crossed the bridge where we met a man who chatted us up and (naturally) he was a guide and he gave us good prices for a couple of things we wanted to go see.
We told Sayed that we were waiting to hear from our airport pick up driver, Mohammed, but by the end of the day we had not heard so we made some plans with Sayed.
On our walk that day, we visited El Tahrir Square which has a obelisk monument in the centre of the roundabout that is flanked by four original ram statues from Luxor; it has at least four security who walk the perimeter and you are not allowed on it.
some other city shots:
We took an Uber to visit the Citadel on our own that afternoon. It was rather confusing as there was very little signage and not a great deal of English. Sad to say it was underwhelming to us (a lot of military and police things in the two museums) but the two mosques were interesting.
There was a panoramic view of the city from the outside walls but as the air was quite hazy, it wasn’t the best and that hazy air determined for us it was not worth later visiting the Cairo Tower for more views.
We returned to our hotel after picking up some food and beer and spent a quiet although rather cool evening. The temperatures here were low 20’sC / mid 70’s F but at night it goes quite cool and of course, there’s no central heating.
Since we never heard back from Mohammed by dinner, we reached out to Sayed and set up a tour to the pyramids for the next day.
Wednesday morning, Sayed picked us up in his car and we went to visit the Great Pyramid of Giza! What a surreal experience. We paid the entrance fees and paid to allow Sayed to bring in his car and drive us around. That was SO worth it as they are quite spread out – there are a total of three pyramids in Giza. This day was fantastic and it was amazing how much we fit into one day. It wasn’t the best weather, rather cool and windy but that didn’t matter – it was a surreal experience.
The Giza pyramid complex, also called the Giza necropolis, is the site on the Giza Plateau outside Cairo that includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza. All were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, between 2600 and 2500 BC. The site also includes several cemeteries and the remains of a workers village.
The site is at the edges of the Western Desert, approximately 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) west of the Nile River in the city of Giza, and about 13 kilometres (8 mi) southwest of the city centre of Cairo. The site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
The Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre are the largest pyramids built in ancient Egypt and they have historically been common as emblems of Ancient Egypt in the Western imagination. They were popularized in Hellenistic times, when the Great Pyramid was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is by far the oldest of the Ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence.
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering present-day Giza. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.
Egyptologists conclude that the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu and estimate that it was built in the 26th century BC during a period of around 27 years.
Initially standing at 146.5 metres (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. Over time, most of the smooth white limestone casing was removed, which lowered the pyramid’s height to the present 138.5 metres (454.4 ft). What is seen today is the underlying core structure. The base was measured to be about 230.3 metres (755.6 ft) square, giving a volume of roughly 2.6 million cubic metres (92 million cubic feet), which includes an internal hillock.
The dimensions of the pyramid were 280 royal cubits (146.7 m; 481.4 ft) high, a base length of 440 cubits (230.6 m; 756.4 ft), with a slope of 51°50’40”. Over thirty THOUSAND labourers worked on this site.
The Great Pyramid was built by quarrying an estimated 2.3 million large blocks weighing 6 million tons total. The majority of stones are not uniform in size or shape and are only roughly dressed. The outside layers were bound together by mortar. Primarily local limestone from the Giza Plateau was used. Other blocks were imported by boat down the Nile: White limestone from Tura for the casing, and granite blocks from Aswan, weighing up to 80 tons, for the King’s Chamber structure.
The funerary complex around the pyramid consisted of two mortuary temples connected by a causeway (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), tombs for the immediate family and court of Khufu, including three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s wives, an even smaller “satellite pyramid” and five buried solar barges.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a man, and the body of a lion. Facing directly from west to east, the face of the Sphinx appears to represent the pharaoh Khafre.
Cut from the bedrock, the original shape of the Sphinx has been restored with layers of limestone blocks. It measures 73 m (240 ft) long from paw to tail, 20 m (66 ft) high from the base to the top of the head and 19 m (62 ft) wide at its rear haunches. Its nose was broken off for unknown reasons between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD.
The Sphinx is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt and one of the most recognizable statues in the world. The archaeological evidence suggests that it was created by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of Khafre (c. 2558–2532 BC).
There are not that many people and it was a pretty nice day but a good deal cooler than yesterday.
Before leaving the Giza town, Sayed took us to the Papyrus Institute where we were given a demonstration of how paper was made from this plant that was so abundant along the Nile.
She took us into a room of papyrus art including some that glowed with a different picture under UV lights.
Enroute to our next stop, we stopped and tried our first Egyptian falafel today – fried beans – quite tasty.
Next on the itinerary was visiting Saqqar – where the first pyramid was built in a “step formation”.
Saqqara (also spelled Sakkara in English) is an Egyptian village south of Giza that contains ancient burial grounds of Egyptian royalty, serving as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara spans 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history and contains numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb, and a number of tombs. The Southern Tomb is considered to be the oldest stone building in the world and contains many, many corridors, some with false doorways.
The burial tomb under the step pyramid lies 28 metres below the ground. The complex is surrounded by a ten metre high wall and had in impressive main gate containing a colonnade entrance in which the columns represent bundles of papyrus or palm trees.
A general view among Egyptologists is that the step pyramid of Djoser is deemed the oldest stone structure of its size in the world. The 4,700-year-old step pyramid, was built in the 27th century B.C. for third dynasty pharaoh Djoser whose was the brilliant Imhoptep, who held many titles including Advisor to the King. The design represents a giant staircase for the King to join the sun god Ra in the heavens.
It is a 6-tier, 4-sided structure that went through several revisions and redevelopments of the original plan. The pyramid originally stood 62.5 m (205 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 121 m (358 ft × 397 ft) and was clad in polished white limestone. It was first entered by Europeans in 1821 and excavated between 1924 and 1935.
Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. These are the first pyramids to be adorned with text inside to protect the king on his journey into the afterlife.
Here we saw many tombs and understand that they keep discovering more! It’s quite exceptional that so much of the colour on the paintings has withstood the test of time. This was our first look at hieroglyphics, etchings and painted drawings.
Around the back side, there is a large stone door with two holes in it; our guide told us to peek inside and lo and behold there was a statue of a pharaoh – a nice note to complete that visit.
Today’s final stop was to the pyramids at Dashur.
The Dahshur pyramids were an extremely important learning experience for the Egyptians. It provided them with the knowledge and know-how to transition from step-sided pyramids to smooth-sided pyramids. Ultimately their breadth of experience would allow them to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The first of the Dahshur pyramids was the Bent Pyramid (2613–2589 BC), built under the rule of King Sneferu. The Bent Pyramid was the first attempt at building a smooth sided pyramid, but proved to be an unsuccessful build due to the miscalculations made on the structural weight that was being placed onto the soft ground (sand, gravel, and clay), which had a tendency to subside. Other calculations that were proven to be erroneous were that the blocks being used were cut in such a manner that when placed onto the pyramid their weight was not distributed appropriately, causing the angle of the pyramid to be off and achieving the name “the Bent Pyramid”.
Realizing his shortcomings and learning from his mistakes, King Sneferu ordered the building of the second pyramid of Dahshur, the largest called the Red Pyramid (due to the reddish hue of the limestone and looks redder at sunset). Once completed, the pyramid was considered to be a success, as it was a fully constructed, smooth sided, and a free standing pyramid rising to a height of 341 feet (104 meters), with an angle of 43 degrees. This pyramid is believed to be the resting place of King Sneferu.
The Red Pyramid, also called the North Pyramid, is the largest of the pyramids located in Dashur. It is the third largest Egyptian pyramid, after those of Khufu and Khafre at Giza. It is also believed to be Egypt’s first successful attempt at constructing a “true” smooth-sided pyramid. This pyramid was not always red. It used to be cased with white Tura limestone (and known as the white pyramid), but only a few of these stones now remain at the pyramid’s base, at the corner. During the Middle Ages much of the white Tura limestone was taken for buildings in Cairo, revealing the red limestone beneath.
The Black Pyramid was built in (r. c. 1860 BC-c. 1814 BC) during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt). It is one of the five remaining pyramids of the original eleven pyramids built here. Originally named Amenemhet is Mighty, the pyramid earned the name Black Pyramid for its dark, decaying appearance as a rubble mound. The Black Pyramid was the first to house both the deceased pharaoh and his queens.
Here we were able to go inside the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid. In the later after going down, down, down a long rang bent over the whole time, you could then climb up a large number of stairs. Only Doug went up those.
We are still pinching ourselves that we are here at this place; it’s hard to comprehend and the sense of awe continues past the day you are reading this!
Before returning to the big city, Sayed took us to a little plot of land he bought recently and hopes to build on one day. There he made and fire and some tea and we sat with him for a while.
We returned to Cairo where we hit awful traffic through the city as can be expected in the late afternoon; it’s not Mumbai traffic but it’s ever so slow. We had Sayed drop us off about a half kilometre from our hotel and walked the rest of the way.