There Are No Gifts at the Pyramids of Giza

posted in: Middle East 2023 | 1

Today we visited the Pyramids of Giza. In addition to getting a good dose of history, I learned something every visitor to this important site should know: there are no gifts. Nothing is free.

Some History

There are 118 pyramids, but many are in ruins. There were probably quite a few more, and some estimates say there are as many as 180. Some of these are in what is now Sudan.

The pyramids were built as tombs, mostly for pharaohs. They are mostly on the west of the Nile River, just beyond the flood plain, because the sun sets in the west (and rises again in the east, which is why the ancient Egyptians believed in reincarnation). The shape of the pyramids is thought to be designed as a “resurrection machine,” and might represent the rays of the sun. Most of the pyramids were originally faced with polished, reflective white limestone.

The oldest pyramid that is still standing is in Saqqara, about 30 kilometers south of Cairo. It belongs to Djoser, of the 3rd Dynasty. Yesterday at the Egyptian Museum we saw a sculpture of Djoser. Built almost 2700 years BCE, it is thought to be one of the oldest surviving stone structures ever built by humans.

The three main Pyramids of Giza sit on the Giza Plateau, about 20 km west of Cairo. They date from the 4th Dynasty. At the Museum yesterday we “met” the three pharaohs who built them:

  • Khufu (or Cheops)
  • Khafre
  • Menkaure

All three lived and reigned between 2600 and 2500 BCE. They each oversaw the construction of their pyramids, although it is unknown how the structures were built. Only at the top of the Pyramid of Khafre has the limestone casing survived; a small piece of it remains at the base of the Great Pyramid (of Khufu). With the casing, the Great Pyramid stood 481 feet high. It was the tallest human-made structure in the world for 3,800 years until the completion of Lincoln Cathedral in England in 1311 CE.

Today’s Visit

Imagine what it would have looked like to see the Pyramids gleaming brightly in the sun (and without the modern city in front).

The Pyramids of Giza sit on the Giza Plateau.

It was very hot, and there’s almost no shade anywhere at the Pyramid Complex. But when you come all this way to see the only surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, you wear a hat, drink lots of water, and make the best of it.

Our first stop was by the Great Pyramid. It’s possible to enter, but the line was very long, so after wandering around for a while, the air conditioned bus beckoned.

This is what remains of the polished limestone at the Great Pyramid.
The Pyramid of Khafre, with the remaining polished limestone at the top. 

Next we rode the bus to a panoramic viewpoint, where I took the photo at the top showing the three main Pyramids of Giza. And we took this group photo:

From left to right are the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The smaller pyramids at the far right are the so-called Pyramids of the Queens.

Did you think I was going to identify my fellow travelers from left to right? Sorry, but under the hats it’s hard to tell who is who. That’s Mo, our trip leader, squatting in front

I could have had a camel ride, but again, the air conditioned bus beckoned.

The Sphinx

Next the bus took us down from the plateau to the Great Sphinx.

The face of the Sphinx supposedly resembles Khafre. It probably dates from his lifetime, in the mid-26th century BCE. Originally cut from bedrock, a single piece of limestone, much of the base has been restored with layers of limestone blocks. “Sphinx” is the classical Greek name; it means “to squeeze.” The Greek sphinx squeezed anyone who failed to answer her riddle. This is not the Sphinx whose riddle Oedipus solved.

The missing nose reminds me of my trip last year to the Caucasus. Noses got chopped off of religious statues there too. This supposedly prevented the statue from performing its function, so when new beliefs replaced old ones, chopping off the noses was a way of transitioning to new religions. The absence of the nose appears in historical reports from the 15th century CE, so it happened sometime before that. Desert sand covered most of the statue, except for the head, so it wouldn’t have been too difficult to reach the nose.

No Gifts

While wandering among the pyramids, I met a nice fellow who was selling souvenirs. He asked me where I’m from. I told him I am from Mexico. Surprise! His brother’s wife is Mexican!

He then starts handing me gifts. First one of the white scarves with the band that wraps around the head. He takes it out of the plastic wrapping, takes my hat off my head, and puts it on me. All the while I am objecting. I don’t want it. But it’s a gift. Then he hands me another one “for your wife.” I say no, I don’t want it. But it’s a gift. Then he hands me a collection of three miniature pyramids. “For your children.” He takes them out of the plastic bag and puts them in my hand. No thank you, I don’t have any children. It’s a gift.

Then he says, “Now you give me a gift.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get to keep the miniature pyramids or the scarf for my wife. And he practically ripped the scarf off my head.

My interpretation of a gift is apparently incorrect.

Wandering a bit more, another lovely gentleman helped me find the best place to take a photo. It wasn’t hard to figure out on my own, but he just kept helping.

Then he said I should give him my phone so he could take a picture of me. I said no, but he insisted and practically took my phone from my hands. “Do this,” he said.

Now do this.” And he held up a rock in front of the phone.

No do a serious one.” And he wrapped a scarf around my head. “Then you can help me.”

No help, I told him, and he handed my back my phone and pulled the scarf off my head.

There are no gifts at the Pyramids of Giza.

By the way, these photos exist only here in this blog. I’ll never show them to anyone but you.

  1. Mardee Sherman

    Ha ha, glad you got so much help! When I was in Turkey and the touts got too bad, I would pretend to be German and speak in that language to anyone who approached. It usually worked. 😊

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