Monday, November 28, 2005

Pyramids and more!

Well, we finally made it. The pyramids! Not just any old Giza pyramids either, but older and less visited (supposedly) pyramids too.
We started off our Saturday at Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt. The city no longer exists, having been moved and the stones reused and whatnot. Now there's a "museum" of sorts, consisting mostly of large stone things (statues, tablets, etc) outside. The sun was in exactly the wrong place for photos, so most of the pics aren't good, but check them out anyway. Heiroglyphics, huge statues of Ramses II, even a sphinx! Also, I learned that:

conspicuous consumption is not new!

It turns out that nobles often had a sarcophagus carved out of granite--a months-long labor for a craftsman and a very expensive thing to have done--only to look at it and discard it without ever using it, requiring a new one to be carved instead. Some of these empty and unused sarcophagi have been found. Maybe he didn't like the color, or shape, or decoration, or size. hmm.

We moved on from Memphis to Sakkara, just across the road and up/down a little way. Sakkara is the site of a bunch of tombs, some really old pyramids that are now little more than piles of rubble, and the Step Pyramid, which is, I think, thought to be the first time stone masonry was practiced--that is, the first time stones were cut to shape and purposefully placed rather than random rocks being piled up. It turns out that you can no longer go into that pyramid--not even archaeologists--because it's not safe anymore. That's right--after 5,000 + years, it's no longer safe. Why, you ask? Well, three words:

Aswan High Dam

That's right, the big engineering wonder. The water table has risen like crazy, and continues to rise, meaning that formerly stable land is no longer stable, and formerly stable rock piles (like pyramids, like ancient churches, etc) are falling apart. Also, the weather has changed significantly in the past few years because of the rising water table. Apparently humidity is relatively new in Egypt, and the haze we've been experiencing this week has more to do with humidity than pollution, though the pollution is HUGE. The humidity just means that the nasty pollution looks more solid in the air. It was the worst I've ever seen it, actually, on Saturday. The humidity is ruining thousands-of-years-old paint on tomb walls, icons in churches, and buildings everywhere. In addition to all that, of course the Nile no longer floods so there are no more rich silt deposits in the farm land, which means that now farmers need fertilizer. Fertilizer is expensive, and it contains all kinds of chemicals that the land here never needed before and has not known. And where are the chemicals going? Into the rising water table and the already polluted Nile. Who thought this dam was a good idea? Many Egyptians are calling it "that damn dam." Amen to that. you can kind of see the haze in the photo--the grey haze near the horizon...and this is fairly far outside the city.

So anyway, we didn't get to go inside the Step Pyramid. But we did get to go inside a tomb that's thousands of years old and inside the Pyramid of Titi. I don't know who that is, but it was cool. Apparently (just learned this just now--not while we were there, duh!) the the first-discovered full-text of the Book of the Dead is inscribed inside. It was a fun excursion down a narrow and very low slanted tunnel. It was interesting too because above ground the pyramid looks like a pile of rubble.

Moving on from Sakkara, we went to Giza--the place everyone goes. Literally. The place was packed. Anyway, we first went to the "panoramic"--the little plateau where you can see all three pyramids at once. It was so hazy you could barely see them all, actually, but that's okay. We took a group photo of us making a pyramid there--hilarious, especially since it was Jen, our "top" was a little off center and we became the Bent Pyramid!

From there we avoided the camel men and the men offering to take our pictures and headed back down to the pyramids themselves. You can drive right along the edge--literally within meters of the edges of the pyramids. We parked and walked around a little, taking silly photos of us "walking like an egyptian", etc. Then Jason, Stephen, and I went into the Solar Boat museum--the place where archaeologists found a boat made of cedar that was designed to carry the pharaoh in the tomb into the sun/afterlife. It was very cool. (good thing it wasn't supposed to be seagoing, though, because it was definitely not watertight.) Anyway, the boat was neat.

After a walk around the base of a pyramid, and a wonderful photo op lounging up against one of the massive stones of the pyramid,

we headed back to the bus just in time to visit the Sphinx for a few minutes before closing time. And, as promised, Egypt the land of contrast did in fact strike there, with a Pizza Hut/KFC just across the street from the Sphinx. I think you could actually gaze on the pyramids and sphinx from the pizza hut dining room. So bizarre.

So anyway, that was our trip to the pyramids. You can see the photos by clicking the link to the left. You'll see there some pictures of a stop at a carpet place--a place where children "learn" to make carpets. It wasn't clear to me we were being told the truth about how much the children work, and even if we were I'm sure there are many worse conditions at one of the other dozen or so "carpet schools" we saw along the same road. In any case, it was disturbing that we were taken around to view child labor making the carpets so many people covet. Beware those rugs you buy from Middle Eastern countries--who knows how old the person was who made them. Maybe 9.

I think that's enough for today. I'm tired--still a little jet-lagged--so it's my bedtime now. happy monday/tuesday to all.

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