Pyramid Power

The Great Pyramid of Giza

When I was a kid, my uncle tried to convince me to put a pyramid under my bed at night so that good energies would transfer into my body while I slept. He had a pyramid of his own, which he had meticulously crafted using white cardboard and glue. My uncle thought it was crucial to make the measurements as close to perfect as possible in order to obtain the full benefits a pyramid could offer a person. I thought my uncle was a bit whacked in the head. That turned out to be true, though I’ll leave that sordid family tale out of this blog.

The powers of the Great Pyramid don’t seem to be helping this camel. (Don’t worry. The poor creature was just sleeping.)

While I don’t believe in spooky pyramid power, it’s hard to argue that pyramids do possess a mystique that nudges them towards the supernatural realm. For example, while Egyptologists are reasonably certain the Great Pyramid was built about 4,600 years ago by a 4th Dynasty pharaoh named Khufu (better known as Cheops), they still don’t know exactly how the ancient Egyptians managed to erect such a massive structure, or what they were hoping to accomplish by doing so. It’s largely assumed that the pyramid was intended to be Cheops’s final resting place, but it’s hard to know for sure. No definitive tombs have ever been found inside, and only a single, empty sarcophagus was discovered in one of its chambers.

The ancient pyramids may not be a source of power, but they’re definitely a source of income for touts like this guy.

All the mystery surrounding the pyramids creates opportunities for both myth-building and outright nonsense. Some people claim the ancient Egyptians didn’t build the pyramids themselves, or that if they did, someone else showed them how to. (Aliens, cough, cough, aliens.) Of course it’s possible that the true origin of the pyramids involved some super intelligence we don’t understand. But just because we can’t disprove such theories doesn’t mean we should embrace them either.

The pyramids at Giza do look almost other-worldly at times.

The most likely explanation is simply that the ancient Egyptians developed some clever engineering techniques we haven’t figured out yet. Although the passage of time has allowed us to create technologies the ancients could never have dreamed of, the reverse could also be true, at least to some extent. But whatever specialized knowledge those old Egyptians may have possessed, it seems they decided to keep it to themselves. No explanatory writings have ever been found.

This figurine in the Egyptian Museum says, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”

So much remains unknown about ancient Egypt that a whole branch of academic science exists just to study it. I’m guessing a career in Egyptology isn’t the most lucrative way to make a living, but it’s probably a lot of fun.

On the other hand, I’ve heard that papyrologists make huge gobs of money.
Or maybe not. Turns out “papyrology” is the study of ancient manuscripts, not an advanced medical specialty. The Egyptians were the first people to make papyrus and use it as writing paper. So why the hell didn’t they write everything down?

We also don’t know a lot about the Sphinx that resides alongside the Giza Pyramids. It was most likely built by Khafre, the son of Cheops. But again, the details are murky. As for the mangled nose, evidence suggests it was broken deliberately sometime between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD. But by whom and why remain a mystery.

Some say the Sphinx stands guard at the pyramids, but in fact the lazy beast is facing away from them – and reclining.
The head of a man on the body of a lion. Were those Egyptians writing on papyrus or smoking it?
I don’t recommend smoking papyrus in modern Egypt. Well-armed police are present at all the tourist attractions, hotels, and just about everywhere else.

Besides the pyramids at Giza, the other top destination in Cairo is the Egyptian Museum. The new one is almost ready, but for now the old one is still open.

A showcase in the Egyptian Museum depicting what King Tut might have looked like.

A lot of the things on display at the museum were taken from the empty temples and tombs we’d already visited. It’s so chock full of stolen stuff that it overflows into the basement. And I’m still not sure when it became acceptable to move people’s remains around like department store mannequins.

A mummy inside its not very private glass tomb.
This funerary mask looks way too happy. Dude, you’re dead!
These kids look pretty happy too. But hey, they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them.

There are a couple of other pyramids worth visiting in the Cairo area. Just a short drive away is Dahshur, where you can see the first pyramid that was completed with the same graceful lines and geometry as the pyramids at Giza. The one at Dahshur was built by King Sneferu, the father of Cheops. I didn’t bother to include a picture of it because it looks so similar to the Great Pyramid, only smaller. But Dahshur is also where you can see the “Bent Pyramid” – an earlier attempt by Sneferu that didn’t go quite as well.

Trying to figure out what went wrong here.

At Saqqara, you can see a different pyramid design altogether.

Who came up with this concept? The scholars say it was Imhotep, a 3rd Dynasty chancellor who eventually became a god in Egyptian culture. Did a future god really create this thing, or was the source even more ethereal? (Aliens, cough, cough, aliens.)

The ruins at Memphis feature a gigantic statue of our old pal Ramses II. That dude just would not stop making images of himself. But to our disappointment, we didn’t come across any images of Elvis.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Back in Cairo, we visited Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, which is better known as the “Hanging Church” because it was built on top of a gatehouse in the old Babylon Fortress, with part of the church suspended over a passageway.

The floor of the nave features a small glass inset that allows you to see how the church “hangs” above the passage below.
A relief fragment from the Coptic Museum. It appears this fellow was happy during his life. Now he’s dead too.
A wall painting in the Coptic Museum. Saints never look happy.

We also took a look inside the Mosque of Muhammed Ali, which is part of the Saladin Citadel, a medieval Islamic fortress.

The Mosque of Muhammed Ali is also known as the “Alabaster Mosque” because of the namesake stone that covers the lower portion.
Inside the mosque. Nowadays it is only used for worship on Fridays.
Family photo time in the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, another mosque in the Saladin Citadel.

But at the end of the day, none of Cairo’s other tourist attractions can compete with the pyramids. Even if they don’t have any special powers, they are unquestionably Egypt’s face to the world, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or New York’s Statue of Liberty. The pyramids beckon to us all our lives, inviting us to come and experience their ancient wonder for ourselves. As our travel gang’s awesome tour of Egypt concluded, I considered myself fortunate for having done just that.

You have to try very hard not to step in the ubiquitous piles of camel dung that inhabit the ground around the pyramids. Especially if you have big feet like those ancient Egyptians!
Hey guy, I didn’t mean to insult you with that camel dung comment. But you have to admit, you and your friends do tend to shit all over the place.
The face of Egypt…on the body of a lion. Pass me some of that papyrus.
Modern Egyptians may be inclined to take their pyramids for granted. Especially those who get to see them during their daily commute.
These jars are part of the “Treasures of Tanis” collection in the Egyptian Museum. You aren’t allowed to take pictures in those rooms, but I didn’t know that until someone yelled at me. But hey, at least I didn’t steal any dead people’s stuff.
I did get permission to take this guy’s picture, as evidenced by his “thumbs up” of approval. However, for the courtesy of him posing for me, I also had to give him a small tip (known as “baksheesh” in Egypt).
Most public bathrooms in Egypt have attendants who also expect a little baksheesh when you use their facilities. But this restroom was unattended, so someone was thoughtful enough to include instructions.
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