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The Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Egypt

The Pyramids and The Great Sphinx

The Pyramids and The Great Sphinx

For many, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Sphinx is the ultimate travel bucket list item. Shrouded in mystery and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the pyramids are synonymous with Egypt. Likewise, their human-headed neighbor and the black body are one of the first features that come to mind when you think of the land of the Pharaohs.

I had dreamed of visiting Egypt for years just to stand in the shadow of some of the oldest known structures on the planet. Their history - known and unknown - has fascinated Adam and me and led to many discussions about what it would be like to visit the pyramid complex in person. For me, the pyramids and the Sphinx were on par with standing in front of Moi Island on Easter Island, the Great Wall of China, or on the ice in Antarctica.

The Pyramids and the Great Sphinx lived up to the hype you've made over the years? Below is an overview of what we learned, and what we thought during our visit to the famous Giza sites - and how you can make the most of your visit!

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

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The Pyramids of Giza are one of the oldest man-made buildings. Built around 2500 BC, it is located just south of bustling Cairo and about five miles (nine kilometers) west of the Nile. Today, like all these centuries ago, 95 percent of the Egyptian population lives near the Nile. The pyramids were built on the Giza Plateau, while most people know the three largest pyramids - including the Great Pyramid - there are six other structures that are part of the complex and were built around the same time. The construction probably took nearly 100 years, meaning that five different pharaohs supervised the work and there were between 15,000 and 40,000 workers actively involved in the project at any given time.

The Great Pyramid

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There are still many questions about how the pyramids were designed, the building techniques needed to construct them, and how the materials were acquired. While there are some questions that we may not have answers to, we do know more about the origin of the pyramids thanks to the records found throughout the country. It is worth noting that in 2013 archaeologists discovered many papyrus scrolls hundreds of miles away that explain in detail how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. The manuscripts are written primarily in hieroglyphs now known as the Mir Diaries, how 200 workers traveled more than 500 miles (850 meters) to Aswan in the southern part of the country to obtain red granite, which was then floated in the Nile and used to build the Great Pyramid.

Astronomy played a big role in ancient Egypt, and the pyramids of Giza may also be rooted in somewhat religious worship in the sky. Each of the three pyramids - Khufu, Khafir and Menkawar - heads neatly to the north, south, east, and west, as if the workers had used a compass to position them. The three pyramids are closely related to the three stars in the constellation Orion, specifically in its belt. Orion is associated with the Egyptian god Osiris, the god of the afterlife and renaissance, which may link the purpose of the pyramid complex.

The pyramids of Giza are interesting in comparison to other structures found throughout the country. While the pyramids were often used as tombs for the kings and queens of Egypt, no tombs, mummies, or human remains were found in the pyramid complex in Giza. In addition, the interior space is almost empty of hieroglyphs that adorn tombs in Luxor, Aswan and other sites in Egypt. Some theories suggest that tombs were raided centuries ago, and corpses and valuables were removed at that time, and others indicated that the pyramids were once covered with limestone that carried hieroglyphics but were removed long ago. As more than 4,000 years pass from its initial construction to today's theories, these mysteries may remain for some time.

Six additional pyramids are behind the pyramids of Khufu, Khafir, and Menkawer. Three of them are known as the Queen's Pyramids, which belonged to Umm Khufu, the mother of Khafir, and the wife of Khufu. Others served as temples or cemeteries. The pyramid complex includes two vast tombs to the east and west of the pyramid of Khufu, where a number of kings are buried.

The Sphinx

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The Giza Plateau is also home to the Great Sphinx, the famous neighbor of the pyramids.
Although Sphinx is looming alongside the massive pyramids just a few hundred meters away, the questions of how it appears and why it appears appear larger. The most widely held theory suggests that the Sphinx was built simultaneously with the pyramids and is proud of the face of the Pharaoh sentry. There are many other theories, though some say that the face may be a khufu instead, while some indicate that the head was not intended to be a human but rather a dog or anubis, who was the god of the Egyptian dead.

At one point the Sphinx was both a nose and a beard, but today both are missing. Although the preferred theory suggests that Napoleon's army launch an artillery shell at the nose of the Sphinx (a theory that was refuted by the meaningless descriptions that proceeded Napoleon's time in Egypt), there is a more accepted theory that tells how the nose was destroyed in the 1970s from the last century. Who was dismayed by the people who made offerings to the Sphinx and worship as if it might be a God? There may be some truth to this idea; the Sphinx has a lion's body associated with sun worship and the Leo constellation.

Napoleon in the Great Sphinx of the nineteenth century

Among Sphinx's tentacles is a more modern addition:

Dream Stele.

Image result for Dream SteleDream Stele is a large stone slab installed by the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tuthmosis IV. The inscriptions are not fully translated, but through prose, it tells a story indicating that the sun god Ra was given by the pharaoh. According to Dream Stele, Prince Tuthmosis went to the Great Sphinx in the middle of the day and slept while sleeping in the shadow of the Sphinx. Then the Sphinx spoke directly to him and promised him ownership on the ground if he would discover the sphinx's body by removing the sand that had buried it to the neck for generations.

Although Dream Stele can't get close to seeing it up close, it's clearly visible from any viewing platform where you can see Sphinx.

The Step Pyramid of Memphis

The Step Pyramid of Memphis

Not far from Giza in the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis is the ancient Saqqara (or Saqqara) cemetery. Among the country's oldest tombs are the oldest pyramids in Egypt: the Pyramid of Djoser or the Step Pyramid. It was built in the twenty-seventh century BC and is more than two thousand years old from the pyramids of Giza. The pyramid was really innovative at the time, and it was the first Egyptian pyramid to use the mastaite in this way. The mastaba was translated into the eternal house in the ancient Egyptian, and was usually rectangular structures with flat clay surfaces. The step pyramid, made of stone, consists of six spans above each other with the smallest mouth at the top. The importance of this structure is evident: with multiple “eternal homes”, Pharaoh Zoser built his path to an eternal revival and was not reunited with the sun god Ra.

Saqqara Pyramid (or Saqqara)

Image result for Saqqara Pyramid (of Saqqara)The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is a great structure for visiting. The entrance contains forty limestone pillars and a limestone roof that opens onto the southern court overlooking both the Southern Cemetery and the Step Pyramid. The southern tomb may have ended before the pyramid, and although it is not possible to enter any of the two structures, the southern cemetery shares similar colors and signs. It should also be noted that the architect of Step Pyramid of Sakkara was Imhotep, a consultant to Pharaoh Djoser and possibly the first person to use stone pillars to construct and support the building.

Knowing that the step pyramids can be found all over the world - including places we visited like Chichen Itza in Mexico and Borobudur in Indonesia - it was especially impressive to see the oldest of these structures with our own eyes.

Visiting the Pyramids and the Sphinx: Tips for Your Visit

Prepare For the Weather

We visited on a very warm day in Giza, when temperatures rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). We each took two bottles of water and drank most of them; do not reduce the amount of dehydration that could befall you after a short period of hot, sunny weather! We also wore long pants, breathable, short sleeve shirts, which made us somewhat relaxed and protected us well from the sun. The solar screen and hat are a must when preparing to spend any time outside of exploration.

Expect Crowds, But Not Tourists

Egypt has been struggling to rebuild its tourist numbers since the 2011 revolution, but we were surprised by the low number of travelers that we saw in the most popular tourist attractions in the country. However, we were often surrounded by people, mostly men who were directing souvenirs in our direction or begging us to buy something from them. This sometimes affected our experience because it was difficult to stand quietly and indulge in the greatness of the moment we were constantly offering products to buy. Saying "No" was enough for most of the sales team, but some of them were more steadfast and would watch with us in a long way in the hope that we would be influenced to buy something.

Consider- And Reconsider- A Carriage Ride

There is an incredible view of the entire Giza Plateau from a group of sand dunes just outside of it, and our guide recommended that we take the opportunity to go there to get some great pictures. She offered us an opportunity to ride a camel or ride a shuttle to get there. I remember my under star performance on beauty in Morocco, we chose to take the shuttle. Unfortunately, the shuttle was not a medium like our described guide; it was a horse and cart. We have some serious concerns about animal welfare and its treatment in tourist sites like this, and we made the decision to take the transport trip only because the horse that was assigned to him was in good condition at the time. While we were happy with the pictures we got, we feel some regret about riding in transportation and supporting the industry. There are many reports about animals receiving poor care and treatment, and we both hope we will have better information on what the "shuttle" was before its ride - verbally or financially. Any animal transport is not included in the entrance fee, and we recommend negotiating directly with the locals who provide the service if you plan to visit the view. We let our guide give us a price, and we later found that we paid more than one person more than we would have done if we negotiated directly with the locals.

You’ll Only Need A Few Hours

The pyramids and the Sphinx are incredible, but they are mainly appreciated from the outside and do not require much time. We spent about two hours in Giza and another hour in Haram Steps, and this felt like enough time for us. We did not go inside any of the structures; there are additional fees to enter the Great Pyramid, and our guide denied us entry because there is not much to see (something we have no objection to losing, because the Valley of the Kings in Luxor satisfies everything we wanted from that kind of experience). It is possible to enter one of the Queen's pyramids as part of the admission fee, but the entrance is very small and very steep. This requires you to kneel down and walk back down a narrow ladder-type tunnel, and when we found out we discovered many nails coming out of the wood. We decided to skip it. You may want to do the same.

There Are Two Entrances

If you visit the pyramids without a guide, ask the taxi driver to take you to the car entrance instead of the pedestrian entrance near the Sphinx. The trip would be a little longer, but there were incredible numbers of street vendors and people trying to sell products at the pedestrian entrance. There are far fewer people at the entrance to the car, and you can walk in from there. You can usually rent a guide (there was plenty available) or camel rides if this is your intention as well. We got inside the car entrance and found it quieter than the pedestrian entrance, which we made on our way back from Giza.

Consider A Guide

Although we usually prefer to visit websites on our own, we used a targeted service throughout our visit to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. This means we don't need to worry about transportation, and we've been able to take advantage of some information and explanations about what we saw. Guides can be arranged in advance - either before you arrive in Egypt or through most hotels - or a qualified guide can be found right at the entrance. If your plans are to take you to both Giza and the Step Pyramid of Memphis, you may want to consider a half-day or full-day tour.

Where to Stay

While most visitors find a hotel in Cairo, we stayed at Barcelo in Giza. Overall, we were satisfied with our stay there; we had a nice, spacious room and felt comfortable and safe while we were there. Giza, like Cairo, is noisy, and we heard the traffic outside our window on each of the nights that we were there, but we were happy with all that in all aspects of our stay. The big breakfast buffet was fun the whole day before exploring, and we really enjoyed our dinner at the hotel's restaurant. The lounge on the top floor of the hotel has a wonderful view of the city. Among the surprises we encountered was the Atin Bazaar, the gift shop, which presented the best souvenirs that we found in Giza at really competitive prices. We were just as happy to meet its owner, a great man with a lot of historical knowledge about his homeland. We enjoyed our conversations with him and were glad to have some wonderful souvenirs at our home to remember our trip.

Enjoy The Pyramids and The Sphinx!

Visiting the pyramids and the Great Sphinx was an incredible experience and we will not forget. Standing in front of these huge structures and thinking about the manpower and planning required, long before helping modern technology, is puzzling and humble. If seeing the pyramids and sphinx is included in your collection list - or if you are ready to immerse yourself in an incredible culture - then this will be a lifetime vacation. Please let us know if Giza is in your travel plans, and let us know about the tips that you have to share!

Related Article:

Facts about the Great Pyramid of Giza

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