Pyramids hold a significant part in Egyptian civilization. Prominent pyramids are in Giza area in Cairo, capital of Egypt. Depending on flow direction of Nile River this area falls under ancient lower Nile region. The Old Kingdom which spanned from 2575 BC to 2150 BC (Before Christ) is sometimes referred to as the “Age of Pyramids.” During that period capital city was in Memphis.
I could visit this place with four of my colleagues during November 2010. On a sunny morning we started from Cairo towards Giza. This City is located on the west bank of the Nile, 5 km southwest of central Cairo. Giza is most famous for Giza Plateau, ancient royal mortuary, sacred structures, Great Sphinx, Great Pyramids, and a number of other temples. This area served as the necropolis of several pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt, during the 2nd millennium BC. This is the only structure from the list of ancient Seven Wonders of the World that still exists. In fact, it is not only the largest stone monument in the world but also the earliest. First glimpse of the pyramids induced a distinct feeling of vertigo in me as I had been dreaming to see them from my childhood. Many enjoy approaching towards the Pyramids riding on a camel.
Here three pyramids are the tombs of pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, also known as Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus, respectively. Kings and queens in Egypt were called pharaohs. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built for the fourth dynasty pharaoh Khufu. The pyramid was constructed out of stone blocks, each weighing at least 2 tons. It consists of some 2.3 million vast stone blocks. Its present height is around 449.5 ft. How the pyramid was constructed has always been the subject of very passionate debate by scholars. There are theories suggesting that multiple men together maneuvered each block over a ramp that encircled the structure, or that scaffolding was used. Of course, there are the ideas that aliens built the pyramids. The stones reflected the Sun’s light so well that the Egyptians called the Pyramid ‘Ikhet’, meaning the ‘Glorious Light’. The Pyramid of Chephren or Khafre sits 160 meters to the southwest from the Great Pyramid. The smallest is the Pyramid of Mycerinus or Menkaure. Common to all pyramids were the entrance on the north side and the mortuary temple on the east side. Another wonder is that dividing result of half of the perimeter of the Great Pyramid’s base by its height equals very close to (π = 3.14).
Egyptians believed that pharaohs were gods. When the pharaohs died, they were mummified and buried in pyramids. They believed that the soul still needed the body in the afterlife. In Mummification firstly the brain and contents of the abdomen were removed. The abdominal cavity was then rinsed with palm wine and spices. The body was dehydrated by covering it with natural natron salt for seventy days. Then the body was washed and wrapped in linen. A sticky resin was applied to make sure the bandages adhered to the body. Then the mummy was placed inside a coffin. The Egyptians believed that mummies need food, money, tools, pet animals and even slaves in the afterlife. So, many treasures and required mummies were left inside Pyramids. For this different chambers and internal passages were kept inside pyramids.
I descended a steep staircase in a narrow passageway to a short horizontal passageway. At the bottom I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But there is a thrill in being inside. This is thought to be the king’s burial chamber. Grave robbers, explorers, and museum officials already have taken things of interest out of the tomb.
Sphinx is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion. Ancient people believed it had ferocious strength to guard the Pyramids. It is situated on the southeast of the pyramids and facing east. The word sphinx comes from the Greek word meaning “to squeeze” or “to tighten up”. As in Greek mythology, The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, asking a riddle to travellers to allow them passage. It was “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby. Gradually walks on two feet as an adult and then uses a walking stick in old age”. By some accounts there was a second riddle, “There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?” The answer is “day and night”. Myth says that during French occupation a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s soldiers hit the nose and caused it to break off. In fact, the Sphinx’s nose was gone long before Napoleon and his troops arrived in Egypt. As per historian al-Maqrīzī, the nose was actually destroyed by a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr in 1378. He was outraged by devotion of peasants’ offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of controlling the flood cycle, which would result in a successful harvest.
Next we visited Saqarra which is the royal necropolis site during the Old Kingdom, located south of Giza. The ancient burial ground is filled with buildings, monuments, and tombs. The most famous structure here is 205 feet tall Step Pyramid of King Djoser. It was the first pyramid ever built during the era of third Pharaonic Dynasty (2667—2448 BC). It rises in six mastabas or truncated of decreasing size. Scattered around the area of Djoser’s Step Pyramid are more than ten other pyramids and a large number of tombs and burial temples from throughout the Pharaonic and Greek Periods. Saqqara houses the Djoser funerary complex, the oldest stone building in history. The complex begins with this colonnade with columns carved to look like bundles of plant stems. Inside many notifications found inscribed in hieroglyphs. Saqqara Necropolis is also home to the largest complex of animal cemeteries and cult buildings. The huge site hosts burials dating from before the beginning of the Old Kingdom up through the Greek Period of Egyptian history. Archeologist still discover new tombs here.
Our next stop was the ruins of Memphis. It became the capital of Ancient Egypt for over eight consecutive dynasties during the Old Kingdom. It is located 20 km south of Giza. In the Bible, Memphis is called Moph or Noph. The city was founded around 3100 BC and was abandoned around 641 BC. It used to be ruled by Persia from 525 BC. The Hout-ka-Ptah dedicated to worship god Ptah, was the largest and most important temple in ancient Memphis. The name Hut-Ka-Ptah was translated by the Greeks as ‘Aegyptus’ and word ‘Egypt’ originated successively. There’s a small central building, but most of the area is an open-air museum of Egyptian carvings and sculptures. It was pretty much empty when we were there. I noticed sculptures of goddess Hathor, alabaster Sphinx, Ramesses II and many other prominent statues. The goddess Hathor symbolized love, motherhood, and music. Mummification Bed and sarcophagus were also placed there. The centerpiece of the complex is a 30 feet tall red granite statue of Ramses II which lies on the ground. The area running from Giza to Dahshur has been used as a necropolis by the inhabitants of Memphis at different times, and it has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
After sunset we reached the Pyramid site to enjoy sound and light show. We purchased tickets by our travel agent. This show takes place every evening. Booming voices, eerie music and carefully choreographed lighting effects are used to give visitors an insight into the ancient world of the pharaohs. Visitors sit together in theatres style seating in the area beneath the Sphinx, as the mighty monument narrates the story. This show of one hour is pre-recorded and features no live actors or musicians. Audio of this show can be enjoyed in a multitude of languages by headphone. Spectators are transported back to ancient times through the dramatic music with 3D visual display and stunning audio effects. The show also explains the story of great and famous kings of Ancient Egypt like Akhnaten, Thutmosis IV, Nefertiti and Tut Ankh Amon. After the show was over we returned to Cairo City. Really the day was filled with excitement and discovering marvels.
Most ancient royal necropolis lies along western bank of Nile River. It symbolizes sun setting theme with eternal journey of life. Stars had a significant impact in life of ancient Egyptians and their rulers. Another awe-inspiring fact is resemblances of few structures with the constellation. Like, Pyramid complex at Saqqara with Andromeda galaxy and Great Pyramid of Giza with the Constellation of Orion.
The Ancient Egyptians knew a lot about maths, medicine and farming. They also made their own paper out of reeds called papyrus, and wrote using pictures called hieroglyphics. There are over 100 recorded pyramids in Egypt. Saqqara is a vast ancient burial ground. The pyramids with their colossal scale, perfect symmetry, lofty perch and myths are really wonders. Every Egyptian we met welcomed us warmly. For tourists’ accommodation, fooding, leisure and amusement Cairo has lot to offer. Egypt attracts tourists for centuries with its antiquities, history, culture, recreational tourism, sacred sites and many more.
Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman Niaz is a civil Engineer and a serving Military Officer.