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[Entry 6] Aisle 3: Antiquities.

04 December 201011:59AMepic-triptravel

First day of our package tour today. There must've been some kind of deity reading yesterday's post because the group is all Australian, with one old guy, one thirtysomething woman, and, mother of all coincidences, another guy with a 15 year old son. Win!

The first place we visited was a place called Sakkara, which is where the first pyramids were constructed. Compared to the ones at Giza (the famous ones, that is), most of these look pretty shoddy. In fact, you can't tell them from a mound of dirt really:

I mean, really? That's just a mound!

Sakkara is interesting because it's really early in Egypt's history, so it predates a lot of the conventions of later Egyptian culture - hence the 'prototype' appearance of the pyramids, among other things. The most useful difference, historically speaking, is that the scenes depicted inside the mastabas (rectangular house-like tombs, like a step down from a pyramid in importance, for not-kings - the one we visited was for a judge, for example) aren't solely religious as later ones are - they depict more everyday scenes, like fishing and hunting and such. Sure, it had a religious purpose, basically showing off in front of the gods to show how good you've been, but it's a lot more useful than endless scenes of the tomb owner in front of depictions of the gods. I suspect the pyramids might even come from before the formal animal-headed gods which are associated with Egyptian mythology, as while I didn't see any of those, there were symbolic representations of animals fighting - a hippo (evil) and a crocodile (not evil). But that's just conjecture, I know nothing of Egyptology.

The thing that impressed me the most was the detail of these things. Everything from toenails to individual feathers on birds has been chiselled out of the walls in perfect detail, apparently without mistakes. The only imperfections was where other workers had scraped off representations of someone they disliked to deny them their eternal life (which, if you think about it, is a pretty serious attack considering the strength of their belief). The other thing I found amazing was the inside of the pyramid. While the mastaba was all coloured pictures, the inside of the pyramid was literally floor-to-ceiling writing. Even the inside of the door frames was covered. This is apparently unique to this pyramid, as later they put them on the sarcophagus and later still on papyrus, but the effect was awe-inspiring. If you'll excuse the temporary lapse into hocus-pocus, it really felt like metaphysical Serious Business(tm) had gone on down there.

This one has me playing with my hat, but in the other one I'm grimacing like The Joker. This is my life with holiday snaps. :S

A lot of the Sakkara complex is actually still unknown. They're digging up new tombs all the time, and even the interior of the famous one, the Step Pyramid, is still not entirely mapped. The Egyptians have this weird habit of 'restoring' old structures mostly using concrete and stuff, which annoys me a bit as it seems to serve the tourist industry rather than furthering any scientific knowledge. Then again, I guess there's not a lot more scientific knowledge to be gleaned from something both dilapidated and already excavated and studied. I personally still believe more in preservation than restoration, which kind of ruins the sense of awe a little for me, but I'm not trying to run a tourist industry so...

Sphinxes are cool.

The last official tour stop of the day was at Memphis, which used to be the capital of the Egyptian kingdom and is now a yard full of old artefacts. It had a cool sphinx though. And it made me realise: only in Egypt could you have 5000-year-old artefacts lying around looking essentially like junk.

Aisle 3: Sarcophagi, Statues, and Ancient Stone Tablets.

Then this evening, on our 'free time', we headed back out to the same koshari joint dad went to yesterday. It was like jumping in the deep end, culturally speaking. This place was in Downtown Cairo, sandwiched between apartment blocks, the size of a shoebox and with the sign in only Arabic, a sure signal that you're way off the tourist path, as anywhere which is remotely likely to have tourists will have an English sign somewhere. Despite all this though, nobody really even looked twice when we sat down and had koshari slapped in front of us (it's a one-meal restaurant - they had a full on production line going on behind the counter), and when we pulled out cameras and started snapping pictures we got a few grins and poses and a few 'WELCUM'-s, but otherwise we were totally accepted. Cairo, and the Egyptians in general, really are amazingly tolerant and friendly, especially considering it's a fairly conservative Muslim country. I mean, if a woman in a full-face-covering muslim thing walks into an Australian restaurant, heads would turn, but when white tourists in shorts and t-shirts walk in to a local Egyptian joint? Not a thing. (We also went to another fast-food-style-but-not-quite joint, this one with our guide. It's called Gad, and they make amazing dessert pie. Not desert pie. Dessert pie. With nuts and honey. Seriously good.)

I'm getting better at the whole self-portrait/MAHSPAYCE-photo thing.

A bit more on the traffic, cause I find it fascinating. On the way to the koshari shop, it took about 25 minutes, but on the way back it was more like 10. Why? Not because of any difference in traffic flow: it was because in order to change direction and get on a road heading into the city from one heading out, you have to drive up and down the main street turning in and out of one-way side streets and making U-turns across dual carriageways. It's probably a traffic engineer's nightmare, the network of turn-offs we had to make just to get turned around. The city just is not geared to turn traffic around and move it back the way it came in a hurry.

You can't really tell because the picture is blurry, but this man has a ute stacked to the brim with eggs. Eggs. In Cairo traffic. Madness, I say.

And that's about it. Tomorrow is Pyramids-Sphinx-Museum-Leave, so I'll probably get a post written but not posted cause they won't have internet on the train. We'll see.

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