We’ve completed two very full days in bustling, chaotic Cairo. We arrived on a Sunday, tired after an early departure from Petra, as in shoving off at 5 a.m. for the three-hour run to the airport. We didn’t do much our first day in Cairo other than get a quick tour of our hotel, the Cairo Marriott, and a brief walk around the neighborhood followed by an early dinner on our own at the hotel. This Marriott is on an island in the middle of the Nile. The main lobby, several restaurants and a casino are housed in a former palace, flanked by two towers where the hotel rooms are located. Each room has a balcony, and we have a view of the river, so no complaints.
Our trip on our first full day was to the Cairo Museum, home to many of the country’s trove of antiquities, at least that portion of Egypt’s holdings that haven’t been moved to the still unopened Grand Egyptian Museum. The GEM building is largely completed near the site of the pyramids in Giza. No one seems to know when the museum will open as there have been multiple deadlines, all of them missed. Next best guess according to our guide is maybe next year.
It’s a shame because part of the plan is to display all of the 5,000 objects recovered from King Tutankhamen’s tomb for the first time in one place. As it now stands, at least the famous solid gold case that shrouded his mummy, and some of the treasures from his tomb, are still visible at the Cairo Museum. Unfortunately no photography was allowed of his burial sarcophagi, but other material was OK.
Tut, for those who might not know or have forgotten, isn’t famous because he was a great king. He ascended the throne at age 9 and died at 18. He was likely sickly. Nope, he’s famous because his is the only tomb from ancient Egypt discovered to date that wasn’t stripped by grave robbers a few millennia ago. Crime has been good business for a long time it seems. When we get to the Valley of the Kings our guide said we will get a better understanding of why it was so well hidden.
The Cairo Museum was purpose-built to hold the nation’s artifacts, but that was in 1903. While kind of an interesting structure, it definitely no longer seems to adhere to modern museum display criteria. The lighting is just OK, and there are several cases of small objects protected by cheap locks that could easily be broken. That might explain why it’s the only museum I’ve visited where you have your bags scanned entering the museum – and leaving it!
But the objects it houses are impressive, for which I will let the pictures in this post tell the story. What was most interesting to those of us in our tour group was how life-like some of the statuary is. The Egyptians painted their statues so that eyes and other facial features were very realistic, unlike the statues from the later Greeks and Romans. And to think much of this stuff is up to 4,000 years old is simply mind-blowing.
Our second day was dedicated to visiting the Great Pyramid of Khufu (aka Cheops in Greek) in Giza, which is just outside of Cairo, along with the smaller nearby pyramids and the Sphinx. Cairo’s sprawl has brought the city nearly to Giza’s doorstep. Our guide, Mona, is a Cairo native and said when she was a little girl she could see the pyramids from home. Not so much anymore.
The title of this post, I will confess, comes from a statement Mona made after we finished touring the Egyptian museum, and I’ve taken it totally out of context. She meant we only had one main event for the day, but it just sounded funny to my warped ear. Her intent wasn’t to minimize the event. It’s like the off-hand way people in New York and New Jersey treat the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone has seen pictures of the pyramids at Giza, but it is something else to see them in person. It’s also something else to make the trek inside of the structure to the burial chamber of the long-dead king. Truthfully, there isn’t anything to see once you reach the the chamber after a climb up the narrow and at times very low passageway, but it’s fun to say you did it. At some points you have to crouch to creep through a passage that’s maybe four feet high. You go back the same way: one way in, one way out. We waited out a big traffic jam before going in caused by the slow decent of an individual that probably should not have made the climb. Luckily we got in and out in about 25 minutes once the logjam broke.
We also did one of those obligatory things you do as a tourist in Egypt — ride on a camel. It was amusing enough, though not something I would feel compelled to do again. But it helps some local people make a buck, so it’s not such a bad thing. Tomorrow we are on the move again, catching a flight to Aswan after a visit to two mosques.