It’s impossible to visit Cairo and not feel the presence of the pyramids outside the city in Giza.
They are synonymous with everything we learned in school about ancient Egypt. They dance into sight with a glimpse from the high floor of a building. Drive up a small hill anywhere in the city: There they are. They’ve defined the landscape, and what humanity is capable of, for thousands of years.
Seeing the pyramids in person is an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately it’s an experience that fewer people are enjoying today as Egypt slips into lawlessness under the new regime.
Tourists are already avoiding the country and unless things take a turn for the better soon, it might be a long while until tourists can once again safely experience the necropolis at Giza without a proper guide.
If you’re not put off by the current unrest in Egypt, you must make sure to find a trustworthy and reliable tour guide. Luckily for us, we found our guide, Walid Ibraheem, through the Cairo Downtown Hotel.
Walid followed us into places he didn’t want to go, let us know what was safe, and made sure we never got ripped off. We trusted him with gear that is near priceless in Egypt as well as our safety, and he came through in both regards.
From nearly 20 miles away, this Cairo plateau is just one spot in the city to catch a glimpse of the 4,500-year-old Pyramids at Giza.
The view may be one reason the Muslim Brotherhood built their Cairo headquarters here (red circle), and the police station guarding them (blue circle) has a direct view.
The pyramids once sat far out in the desert. In 1867 it took Mark Twain the better part of a day to reach them from Cairo via boat and on donkeys.
With their ability to survive on very little water, and carry riders across the Sahara, camels have always been a part of life here.
However, all of that: the danger in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood, the fence, the camel rides — matters surprisingly little once you're here at the Great Pyramid.
This oldest pyramid was built for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, better known under his Greek name Cheops.
Construction of Khufu's pyramid began in 2560 BC and despite what many believe, there were no slaves involved at all.
Rather a workforce from 40,000 to 100,000 Egyptians from the time, like this Bedouin in Giza today, spent 10 to 20 years finalising the Great Pyramid.
The Pyramid of Khafre (left), is the second-largest pyramid in Giza, though sitting on 33 feet of bedrock it appears taller than Khufu's.
Built with stones weighing up to 4,000 pounds apiece, Khafre's pyramid is in far better condition than his father Khufu's pyramid.
The very top of Khafre — the pyramidion — is missing, but in the years following its construction it would have been covered in gold or the silver/gold alloy, electrum.
The casing stones remain, however, and are made of better quality limestone than the lower portion of the pyramid.
The casing stones were dazzling at the time of construction — the effect made possible by keeping joints between stones as small as possible, and likely filling gaps with mortar.
The third large pyramid here is Menkaure's — the grandson of Khufu — the last pharaoh represented in the lineage. Menkaure is said to have been the kindest of the three kings.
Rough stones at the base of the pyramid suggest construction was halted before completion — likely due to the Pharaoh's death.
Great effort was taken at the end of the twelfth century to demolish Menkaure's pyramid, and for eight months workers toiled at the task.
Only able to remove one or two stones per day, they determined the task too costly as well as too large to complete.
Not even the attempted destruction tarnishes the overall impact of Menkaure's Pyramid, which sits alongside the three smaller structures called the Queen's Pyramids.
The Queen's Pyramids, named for Khentkaus I, who may have been the daughter of Menkaure, are much smaller, and speculation still remains about their exact purpose.
Something else unknown and still filled with as much speculation, slips into view beyond the Queen's Pyramids, back toward Giza.
The oldest known monumental sculpture in the world, the Sphinx is a mythical creature with a lion's body and human head constructed somewhere around 2500 BC.
Just that the 3-foot-wide nose and beard are missing, pried off with long rods or chisels. rumours that Napoleon's cannonball caused the damage are not true.
Buried up to its neck for centuries, the Sphinx was only excavated completely in 1936 — 77 years ago.
In those decades this courtyard near the Sphinx's paws have been filled with locals selling trinkets to tourists to make ends meet in a country well-visited by the world.
This is about all the tourist market bears now, along with many selling cold beverages out of coolers.
Taken all together in one on-the-ground viewing is something that should be experienced, if at all possible.
Visiting the necropolis at Giza isn't as safe as it was before the Muslim Brotherhood assumed power in June of 2012.
But neither a low tolerance to hot weather or the Muslim Brotherhood should prevent anyone from making the 20-mile drive to Giza.
Just hire the right guide, like Walid here, who not only ensured our safety but added a bit of fun to the trip as well.
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