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[Entry 7] Pyramids!

07 December 201004:27AMepic-triptravel

So we went to the Pyramids today. Initial reaction... meh. The most awesome thing about the pyramids is the culture surrounding them. They've totally eroded any sense of actual history from the area and filled the vacuum it left with an irritating mix of bureaucracy and wares-hawking. I preferred the other ones at Sakkara, actually. Slightly less touristed, but mostly because of the Pyramdids themselves. The ones at Giza have no writing in the tombs, no sarcophagi left inside, nothing drawn on the walls- they're basically just big piles of rock. Really big, really old piles of rock, but still just piles of rock. So it was basically a really nice photo opportunity.

Obligatory, this one.

Also obligatory, I sphinx. groan

There are a couple of quirks at these Egyptian sites. For starters, at a lot of them, like the museum and the interior of the pyramids, you aren't allowed cameras. Not no flashes, just no cameras whatsoever. I can't work out why this is, except maybe so they can sell permission to use your camera seperately, but nobody's tried to upsell that option to us. You'd think that they'd want you to take photos to encourage tourism. Weird. They also seem to complain a lot about artefacts being out of the country, either on loan or as being 'stolen'- which is a fair enough sentiment, until you go to their museum and look at the shocking labelling and cataloguing and the fact that the majority of their antiquities are gathering dust in the basement and realise that they're probably kept much better where they are, at least until the Egyptians get their act together. Better people see something like the Rosetta stone (in the British museum) and understand it than to have it in a corner labelled in two lines in broken English. Then again, that kind of counterintuitive thinking seems to come with the territory- who builds a giant pile of rocks to mark where their grave is and then gets upset when it's robbed, amirite?

A rarity in Egypt: A photo with no tourists in it. Except us, of course.

Here's another thing I don't get: How do they know how to pronounce hieroglyphs? The Rosetta stone translated, not transcribed, the language, and there haven't been any living speakers for thousands of years. So how do we know how to say Tutankamun? The entire system of sounds we've attached to hieroglyphics could be totally arbitrary and bear no resemblance to the actual language, especially since it's one of those weird ones which is not all phonetic, but part ideogrammatic as well.

My favourite recurring motif in Egyptian tombs and things is the 'false door', which is this sort of arch shaped structure which looks like a door but isn't. They're always on the inside of the burial chamber and often inside the sarcophagus too, which makes identifying the room where the corpse will be easy for archaeologists (in one case, it was not where they expected- later tombs had fake burial chambers, often with traps to catch tomb robbers, and the real burial room is somewhere else with a false door. The idea is that the spirit can pass through the door (sometimes there's a matching one on the outside) to find the body- clearly Egyptian spirits have limitations and can't pass through walls unless they're door shaped and covered in spells. Anyway, they're both culturally interesting and archaeologically useful, so that's sort of why I like them.

(I totally made a list of things to write about today while we were out and I'm just working down it... you can totally tell.)

There's a lot of hokum surrounding this kind of stuff still. Our guide told us that if we got into the burial chamber in one of the pyramids we could feel an 'energy field' and want to jump in the sarcophagus, and that the letters of your name in hieroglyphs tell you about your personality. The foreign and exotic always attracts this to a degree, but for some reason I find this particular brand of it more annoying, probably because with even the slightest knowledge of the actual mythology you'd realise that most of it bears little resemblance to history and is just crystal healing and star signs painted Egyptian to give it an air of legitimacy.

The Egyptian Museum is definitely somewhere you need to go with a guide (this time round was shorter but way more engaging with someone to explain the significance of what we were seeing. There's still something to be said for wandering around on your own though. It'd be a great place to get lost. Because it's so disorganised, and because most of the tour leaders stick to a fairly standard Old kingdom-Middle kingdom-New-kingdom-up the stairs to tutankhamun-mummy room with maybe a few side rooms on the way, you can turn a corner and end up in a room with nobody else in it, filled entirely with model boats or brass bowls or a hundred identical blue ankhs, and just wander around and look, and wonder what it was all for.

Okay. List over. We're catching the train to Luxor tonight, but not until 9 (it's currently about 7). And everyone's in our room cause dad volunteered it as the day room for everyone to hang out in until we get on the train. And we're outta internet, natch, and I doubt they have it on the train, and even the boat will be doubtful, so it could be a while before this one sees the light of day. Still.

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