My first view of the Pyramids was out the window of our hotel room, the famous Mena House, In Cairo. I had wanted to go to Egypt as long as I could remember. When I was just about 10 or so, I even wanted to be an archaeologist, probably from reading Agatha Christie’s famous mystery novel featuring her Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, “Death on the Nile,” which also featured the Mena House. I didn’t become an archaeologist, but I’ve always loved Egypt and ancient culture and many years later was finally able to travel to Egypt.
Once we reached Cairo, the Pyramids were forever in view, but they never lost their magic quality. We could see them from our breakfast table. We could see them from the gardens outside, from the bus that toured the narrow streets of the city. When we finally reached the summit and the three pyramids of Giza – Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure – I was stunned. I was unprepared for how enormous they really were. I had seen films of people climbing them (which is no longer allowed), but when one is standing next to Khufu, or Cheops, as it is also known, just one of the stones comes up to a person’s waist – to climb to the top would be an incredibly daunting prospect.
The surface of the stone is now rough and weathered – the Great Pyramid is the oldest of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. At the very top of the pyramid, if you can stand far enough away to see it, there are still some of the limestone casing stones, which would have once given the entire pyramid a smooth surface. The very top of the pyramid was supposed to have been gilded in gold. It is unknown if any of the rest of the pyramids were painted, or left the color of the original white limestone. But on our travels we soon learned that all of the relief sculptures in temples were once decorated, painted bright colors. A far cry from the natural stone we have become used to associating with ancient monuments. There are still, after over 3,000 years, some traces of paint on many of the temples.
We saw the entrance of the Pyramid, but were unable to enter, as they had reached the quota for visitors for the day. Our guide did take us into another pyramid, another day, near Saqqara, so we had the experience of entering a pyramid. It was a long, narow climb down, with only a rope to hold onto and a rickety, wooden, sloping plank stairway.
At Giza, we walked all around the base of the Great Pyramid and I still couldn’t get over how huge they were. As I stepped back from the monument and the group to get a beter look I was immediatey grabbed by two guys trying to hustle me into a camel ride. As much as it might have been fun, I wasn’t really sure how long the tour was supposed to be at the Pyramids and I didn’t want to get separated from the group. I somehow managed to get my picture taken with them and the camel without having to pay for it or a ride, so I must have said something right to appease them.
That evening we attended the sound and light show, son et lumiere, at the foot of the Sphinx and watched the lights play on the surfaces of the monuments while a tape recording of famous English actors like Derek Jacobi and John Hurt read appropriate texts with the bombastic music sounding at intervals. There are stray dogs everywhere in Egypt, and one of them settled at my feet for the entire performance. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Great Pyramid. It was just as impressive as my first sighting. I was really here.
We left Cairo the next day to tour the Nile and visit Abu Simbel, but I was happy to know that we would be passing through Cairo on our way back to the States, for a visit to the Cairo Museum and one last look at the Pyramids.
Veronica Hackethal, Literary Traveler, “Death & Life on the Nile, Agatha Christie’s Egypt,”