Around 3100 BC, a unified kingdom was founded by King Menes. Since then, Egypt had been ruled by a series of dynasties for about 3000 years until the last ruler Cleopatra VII, who was committed suicide after the defeat in the battle against Rome in 30 BC. Rome took control of Egypt and annexed it. After the Emperor Constantine I transferred its capital to Byzantium (Constantinople) on the Bosphorus, Egypt played an important role to support the Byzantine Empire with its abundant grain production. The Islamic Empire conquered Egypt in 639 AD, and it ruled Egypt until the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517. The French invasion of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 and the expulsion of the French by Ottoman in 1801 led Egypt into chaos. In 1805, Muhammad Ali, the commander of Albanian regiment, took the power and established a dynasty to rule Egypt, modernizing its economy and military. But the rapid modernization led to the intervention of European powers and eventually the economic subordination to them. Suez Canal, built in partnership with France, was completed in 1869, but Egypt owed an enormous debt to European banks, which allowed the British and the French to dominate Egyptian government. Crushing the anti-British movement known as Orabi Revolution in 1882, Britain occupied Egypt. Britain placed Egypt under the protectorate in 1914 when Britain fought the war against Ottoman Empire, detaching Egypt from Ottoman Empire. The nationalist movements against Britain and for independence became much fiercer after the war, leading Britain to declare Egypt’s independence in 1923. In 1952, a military coup occurred against the background of the blistering discontent over the Egyptian monarchy seen as corrupted and pro-British, which led to the establishment of Egyptian Republic in 1953. Now, Egypt has one of the most developed and diversified economies in the Middle East, with sectors such as tourism, agriculture, industry and service.
I landed on Egypt again. Our ship entered the port of Portside, the city on the side of the Mediterranean Sea, after about 10 hours of sailing through the 160km-long Suez Canal. Portside, the entrance of the Suez Canal on the side of the Mediterranean Sea, is much more urbanized compared to Safaga. The city was densely packed with buildings. I saw many high-rise buildings there. The transit fee of the Suez Canal was the biggest source of revenue for Egypt, followed by tourism and the oil export in third.
I joined the sightseeing tour to Cairo. It took about three hours by bus. Again, a tour police boarded the bus and the bus tour started in a convoy. There were less rocky mountains there than in Safaga and much desert-like scenery. I thought it was because that the area was located in the delta area near the mouth of the river.
We first visited the step pyramid in Saqqara. This step pyramid is considered to be the prototype of the Egyptian pyramids. Originally, this pyramid was smaller than what we see today. But the pharaoh wanted a larger pyramid and it was extended at the base and the upper layers were added to have six tiers. According to our tour guide, it was constructed in the form of step pyramids because the architectural technology was not developed enough to build a large pyramid at that time. Many sites in the Djoser’s Step Pyramid complex were still under excavation. The Step Pyramid complex was gradually buried by sands over an extended time period.
The enclosure wall of the Step Pyramid was made of marble stones. They were beautifully polished and shiny, and its finishing touch was very smooth. Immediate after I entered the colonnade corridor, it became cooler with soft sunlight. I was puzzled whether I was indoor or outdoor. It was really uncanny feeling.
*DMC-ZS10/TZ20 records images in max.14-megapixel and DMC-ZS7/TZ10 in max.12-megapixel.
The next destination was the three great pyramids at Giza, the highlight of the tour of Egypt. The silhouettes of these pyramids were seen at every turn in Cairo.
The Pyramid of Khufu is 238 meters high. Again, it was so huge! When I came close to the Pyramid, I realized it was too huge to fit in a frame of camera. I could not capture the Pyramid as a triangle.
A great number of stone blocks, each weighing as heavy as one ton, were heaped up. When seen from a distance, the Pyramid appeared to be made of small bricks due to the enormous size of the Pyramid. When I took a close look at the stones, each stone block was far taller than me. They were granite stones and smoother than what I thought it would be. Though each stone block was different in size, they were rightly built up.
The temperature was 45C˚ under the blazing sun. “It is gigantic but is unexpectedly dilapidated. I want to go back to the cooler place as soon as possible.” These were all I thought at the site. But later, I realized how an immense amount of labor was required to carry an enormous number of granite stone blocks all the way from Aswan and that how advanced technology the ancient Egyptians had for building up such a huge quadrangular pyramid, almost all of which were made of granite stone blocks. They made stages by a huge amount of sand to lift the stone blocks to the top, had to heap up the stone blocks considering the finished parts buried by the sand stages, and removed sand after completing the construction, under the condition that they had neither heavy construction machinery nor accurate survey equipments. I could not help being impressed by these facts.
Passing by the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, we moved to a hill top which overlooked the three great pyramids. There still remained the polished granite casing stones on the top layers of the Pyramid of Khafre. The polished covering stones on the lower layers were lost. I did not know how much surface area was covered with polished casing stones, but if whole surface area had been covered with them, it must have been unbelievably beautiful in ancient times.
From the picture of the three great pyramids taken from a distance, you may think that these pyramids suddenly appeared amid the desert. In fact, it was more like a gravelly field than desert. The soil was grainy and the ground was hard. I almost lost balance when I walked on deep sand in Wadi Rum, but it did not happen here.
We visited the Sphinx next. I had thought that the Sphinx was built just beside the pyramid, but it was not. It was situated a couple of kilometers away from the pyramid. Unexpectedly, it had a long body. Its face got weathered and was losing features.
I preferred the scenery from the city side, the opposite side of the observatory on the hill top. The three great pyramids were aligned beautifully and I felt an essence of the contemporary Egypt in the scene.
My tour to the Middle East ended. One of the fun things was the shopping with local merchants and crafts venders, sometimes being overcharged, sometimes almost taken in, which made me excited and nervous, but they were joyful experience for me.