Cairo: city of the Pharoes
One of my favourite cities in the world to visit is Cairo, Egypt. In fact, it is one of the few cities where I could see myself living, at least for several years. Full of historical significance, this culturally-rich metropolis is the centre of one of the world’s greatest civilizations.
The most well-known site is of course, the pyramids at Giza, which date back more than four and a half thousand years. I can vividly recall the very first time I set eyes on these monolithic landmarks. I was on a flight from Athens to Cairo, after spending a week on the Greek mainland, submersed in history. The flight was delayed and I landed in Egypt’s capital around ten at night.
The door opened and we were greeted by armed soldiers who walked us individually from the plane onto the tarmac. They had set up a desk with several soldiers around it, looking as passengers deplaned. I was one of the first off and walked up to the heavyset guard who eyed me from top to bottom. I smiled and glanced at the gun bearing guards next to him, and decided this would not be a time for levity.
I handed my passport and was told to wait until all the passengers had gone through the checkpoint. Our luggage had been taken from the plane and was piled in a big heap on the tarmac. Next, we were instructed to get our bags and board a bus. From there we went through normal immigration and out into the busy streets of Cairo.
I was amazed at the hustle and bustle of the city at 1 AM. I was certain that all 13 million inhabitants were out and about. Donkeys pulling carts crossed where buses and taxis drove, while bicycles tried to maneuver a safe passage between the mixes.
I hailed a cab and made my way to Giza, where I had the pleasure of staying in the 130 year old Mena House Hotel, definitely one of the best properties in Cairo. After a harried 45 minute drive I arrived, checked in and headed straight for bed. My biggest and one of the best surprises of my life came the next morning.
I woke early and opened the curtains. I stared in disbelief and felt a tear well up in my eye. There, directly across the street stood the famous Sphinx, staring at me as if to welcome me to his city. A bit further stood the three pyramids, the largest, the tomb of Khufu topped the other two majestically.
I wasted no time and headed across the street to a camel compound (not to be referred to as a camel-lot, so I was told) and made a deal to take one of the beasts up close to the giant tombs of the pharaohs. A few minutes later I was saddled up and ready to go. I learned quickly that camels tend to turn their heads toward you and spit at your legs. Using the reins properly solved that problem, but not until I had experienced a true Egyptian baptism.
The sheer majesty of the pyramids cannot be fathomed unless you witness it. It took 30,000 workers (not slaves) 20 years to build each tomb. The 3 million blocks of limestone each weigh 2.5 tonnes each and were hauled from a quarry near the Nile, about 12 KM away. These labourers laid 800 stones a day, working 7 days a week 52 weeks a year.
My next stop in Cairo was the Egyptian Museum and its collection of King Tutankhamun’s interment antiquities. The treasure was discovered in 1922 and consists of artifacts buried with the young king, many of which are made of gold. The mask alone is worth 650 million dollars, not accounting for its historical and artistic value. I was pleased to see the other exhibits in the Museum, many of which were looted from tombs and temples and have since been returned to their rightful country.
Another stop, not to be missed is the stepped pyramid of Saqqara. The site is the necropolis or burial ground for the ancient Egyptian capitol of Memphis. There are nearly 20 tombs built by pharaohs, most of which are in various stages of restoration.
One can easily spend months visiting this beautiful city in one of the most historic countries on earth. Even if it is only for a short time, Cairo is a must for anyone with a sense of adventure.