Last week, I made my first visit to Egypt. I saw many wonderful things and had so many amazing experiences that I have decided to blog about them to share them with my readers and to encourage you all to go and have a taste of ‘Real Egypt’.
Having studied Egyptology for four years, I could not have been more excited about my first ever trip to Egypt. The five day stay in Cairo included an action-packed itinerary, visiting the usual sights, such as the Giza pyramid complex and the Egyptian Museum, and some more special places like the Fifth Dynasty Abu Ghurab sun temple.
The itinerary was arranged by Samir Abbass of Real Egypt Tours. Normally, I would not advertise companies on my blog, but I am in full support of what Samir is providing – his company aims to give an experience of the ‘real Egypt’ and that is just what I had. I cannot express what an amazing experience I had, and I urge you all to consider booking with Samir if you decide to visit Egypt – you certainly won’t regret it.
My trip commenced with a visit to the Imhotep Museum (a must see!) and a chronological tour of the Third and Fourth Dynasty pyramids of Saqqara and Dahshur. Beginning with the Step Pyramid of Djoser (designed by Imhotep), Samir took me through the evolution of pyramid building, including Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid. The Bent Pyramid (below) has a large amount of its casing stone still intact, and this makes it a rarity among the pyramids of the Old Kingdom.
It was fascinating to learn how the art of pyramid building evolved, and it is only by understanding this evolution and the theology behind pyramid construction that you can fully understand the Fourth Dynasty pyramids at Giza. When I arrived at the Giza complex for the first time, I was completely in awe of the sheer scale of the pyramids – I had seen many photographs of them before but this is no substitute for seeing them up close. The western side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu was completely deserted, and this was a huge shame because some treasures lay beneath the sand there – the mastaba tombs of Qar and his son Idu are absolutely breath-taking. Both of these men were responsible for taking care of the Giza pyramids during the reign of Pepi II in the Sixth Dynasty as attested by the titles listed for them in their inscriptions within the tombs. This just goes to show how the Giza pyramids were regarded as so important long after the deaths of their owners, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The tomb of Idu alone is worth a visit just to see the extraordinary false door (above right).
Another seldom visited attraction at the Giza complex is the Solar Boat Museum. Inside you can witness the splendour of the solar boat of Khufu, reconstructed from the jigsaw-like pieces recovered from one of the boat pits at Giza. The wood and rope is amazingly well-preserved considering it is over 4,500 years old!
The Giza complex itself is usually packed with tourists, so I recommend taking a camel ride around the complex. I did this and it was a magical experience – it is one of the best ways to see the whole complex away from the tourists and the souvenir-sellers, and you can get wonderful ‘postcard’ photographs like mine (below).
The most amazing experience that I had was the visit to the Fifth Dynasty pyramids of Abusir and the sun temple of Niuserre at Abu Ghurab (below). Samir arranged for us to travel by quad bike across the desert – this was the most exhilarating experience that I have ever had! Not only did I get to see the Fifth Dynasty structures, but I also had an amazing view of the Djoser pyramid at Saqqara. The temple ruins themselves (below) are absolutely stunning!
My visit to the Egyptian Museum (below) was packed with amazing artefacts including the beautiful Narmer Palette and, of course, the treasures of Tutankhamun. If you want to see everything in the museum, I would recommend spending an entire day there, at least! There is so much to see! I also visited the royal mummy rooms where I was able to come face-to-face with my favourite pharaoh, Seti I. This is an experience that I will never forget.
I also had the chance to visit the Eighteenth Dynasty Saqqara tomb of Horemheb – this stunning tomb contains some of the most beautiful artwork of the the Amarna Period that I have ever seen (below).
The tomb of Maya, a treasurer of Horemeb, is particularly beautiful inside (below). These tombs have only just been opened and yet were completely deserted and I cannot understand why tourists were not visiting them!
The same is true of the Serapeum, the burial place of the Apis bull who was considered to be the earthly embodiment of the god, Ptah. The Serapeum has only recently been re-opened after many years of restoration work, and was also deserted. It is absolutely fascinating to look around the vaults (below) – you can even see a huge granite sarcophagus that was abandoned in the corridor when the Serapeum was closed as Christianity arrived in Egypt.
Before the museum visit, we ate at a koshari restaurant in Cairo and this gave us the opportunity to sample delicious traditional food (you must try it, and also be sure to try fried tilapia fish – incredibly delicious!) and to meet the local people. It is here that I had a memorable experience of ‘Real Egypt’. A local family came over to speak with us, and their curiosity and hospitality in welcoming us to their country was so charming. The Egyptian people are some of the most hospitable people that I have ever met in my travels. A walking tour around medieval Cairo enabled me to meet more local people and to experience their warmth and sincerity. I have completely fallen in love with Egypt and its beautiful people!
There is a lot of negative media about post-revolution Cairo, but I felt safer there than I have in European cities. Tahrir Square was perfectly safe, and I urge you not to let the negative press dissuade you from visiting Egypt. Many of the tourist sites were deserted, so now is a fantastic time to visit and experience ‘Real Egypt’ without throngs of tourists. My time in Egypt was the best experience of my life so far, without a shadow of a doubt. I am forever indebted to Samir and ‘Real Egypt Tours‘ for making my visit so memorable. I am already planning my next visit!
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