After a long and fairly sleepless flight, team GnT arrived at Cairo International. Immigration was straightforward although a recent rule change meant that we had to collect our luggage rather than leaving it to be automatically transferred to our later flight to Luxor.
Moments later we were in our mini-bus and heading southwest for Saqqara. It is always interesting to watch people’s faces as they experience Cairo’s traffic for the first time. Having breakfasted at 03:30 it was time for some sustenance and a roadside stop for falafel sandwiches was most welcome.
On arrival at Saqqara we elected to first visit the Imhotep museum. Beautifully laid out, this is a must do. One tends to think of Saqqara as being an Old Kingdom necropolis, so it was good to be reminded that it featured in the New Kingdom and later. Especially interesting was the gallery devoted to Jean-Philippe Lauer who worked the Saqqara complex for so many years.
The Step Pyramid
Onto the Step Pyramid. For most of our group this was their first pyramid experience and this one never fails to impress. As you walk out into the Great Court from the entrance colonnade, you get your first full view of the Step Pyramid and realise just how big it is. A lot of work has been done since I was here last, notably the addition of the gleaming white walkway along one side. We made our way around the west side of the pyramid and along the northern edge to get to the serdab. Again, it is always fun to watch people’s reactions to seeing the King staring back at them through the small holes.
The Pyramid of Unas
We moved on to the pyramid of Unas, going down into the burial chamber where the guardian was keen to show us the images that can be discerned underneath the hieroglyphs on the wall. Both fascinating and beautiful, the torchlight picks out the blue of the first attested pyramid texts, against the gentle iridescence of the alabaster walls. From here it was a short trip to the Serapeum.
What can one say about this incredible underground complex? The sheer size of the subterranean tunnels beggars belief, and that is before you start with the sarcophagi. The precision of stonework in here is remarkable, and to stand next to one of the colossal stone sarcophagi is in some way overwhelming. One’s mind cannot help but question what sort of technologies were the masons and builders using. A truly fantastic place.
With a full itinerary it was time to move on to our next stop – Dashur and the Bent and Red Pyramids. With the clock against us, we didn’t stop at the Bent pyramid, but drove slowly around it, with a pause for photos. The Red Pyramid was a different matter. The brave among us elected to take on the steep stairway up the side of Sneferu’s third attempt at pyramid building. The climb accomplished; it is then a 200 feet long passage down to the first chamber. There are two more chambers after that. Truly magnificent and as impressive inside as the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Time to say goodbye to what the locals call the Bat Pyramid and head for the old capital Mennefer, better known as Memphis.
Although little remains of the fabled white-walled city it is still worth a visit. Perhaps the most notable thing to see is the massive statue of Rameses the Great lying on its back in its own purpose-built museum. The statue’s twin, now restored, stands in the entrance of the new Grand Egyptian Museum. Memphis was the home of the god Ptah, and it is this god’s temple, Hwt-kA-ptH, via the Greek rendition Ai-Gy-Ptos, that gave Egypt her name.
Nothing beats a quick koshari stop. We pulled over to the side of the road in Giza for a quick lunch. A bowl of one of Egypt’s national dishes, koshari, followed by another local favourite, roz bil laban, a sort of rice pudding, and then we were on our way once more. Next, the Giza plateau.
No words can ever really convey the full enormity of the Great Pyramid, you need to stand at its base, and for our first-time visitors this was a special moment. A slow walk down the hill brings you to the entrance to the Valley temple and of course the Sphinx. It is good to see crowds of tourists here once more, and one can only trust that the Egyptian economy will see the benefits. The Sphinx viewing platform was pretty full, and it took a degree of patience to get that perfect photo moment.
Exhausted but happy, it was time to get in the mini-bus and make our way across the city to the airport.
Next stop: Luxor.