Everyone of us, some 25 interns, were walking outside, yet we were all quiet. We were walking in the middle of the street, with the hot midday sun right above our heads. Tanks were lined up on both ends of the street for at least one hundred metres, each one with a soldier on top of it, watching us closely. No pictures allowed. The only sound breaking the deafening silence were chopper blades slicing the air, sometimes faint, sometimes right above our heads, and whizzing by. We were right next to Tahrir Square and felt intimidated. The atmosphere was tense. Not so far away, the charred remains of the National Democratic party’s political headquarters, the burnt office of former president Mubarak, torched during the 2011 revolution. I imagined it still burning, its black smoke still darkening Tahrir Square, and wondered whether or not Egyptians were nostalgic of the time when the building was white, not black.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, or Museum of Cairo, has a very impressive façade. Grand and majestic, it encourages you to visit the ancient relics and artefacts of what was once mankind’s greatest civilization. Yet façades can be misleading, as I found the actual museum to be disappointing. Not because of what is stored inside, as I am sure every artefact has significant historical value, but rather because of the way it is stored. The museum houses 120,000 items in a relatively small area, which gives it a bloated feeling, as if you come back from a family party after having eaten too much. Artefacts are stacked close to each other and lack order, as well as English information. You walk around rather pointlessly and look at objects without any context, except perhaps the era the objects were from. The most exciting relics of the museum are the mummies stored inside, yet you need to pay an extra 30 Egyptian pound to see those, as if you pay to go to the movies and have to pay the exact same amount to see the best part of the movie. I had expected more from Egypt’s supposedly most famous museum.
The day before, we had visited the oldest Ancient Wonder, and the only one still standing. The Pyramids of Giza have stood the test of time for up to 4500 years and, up until today, still radiate power like nothing else, with their mythical shape dominating Cairo’s skyline from afar. The Ancient Gods seem to be embodied in their architecture, as if Ra and Osiris are watching us from the top, with their menacing eyes. The Pyramids are guarded by the largest and oldest monolith statue in the world, which towers over its humble visitors with its massive lion’s body and human head: The Great Sphinx of Giza. I was in awe the moment I saw the Pyramids looming through the bus window. There were hardly any tourists, which made the experience only better, as if we were the first to discover this strange structure, built seemingly in the middle of sandy nowhere.
Most of us started our discovery on horse carriage, where we protected ourselves against the sun while the guides scrambled for more camels. Before long, a Pakistani friend and I were on a camel. Getting on a camel is quite an experience, as they are very tall, quite a bit taller than a horse, and raise their hind legs before their front legs. Make sure you’re holding something when your camel tries to stand up, or you might come into contact with the ground. I always thought of camels as goofy animals, with their clumsy way of standing up and their way of walking (I mean, just look at the picture above), but because of their large hoofs, they can efficiently cover quite a lot of ground when walking in sand, making them indispensable desert animals. Still, I found it hard to imagine a herd of camels storming down a dune, with a warrior sitting on every camel, yelling ‘lalalalala’ in a high-pitched voice while making circular waving motions with a sabre. Anyway.
We had passed the Great Pyramid of Khufu, with its 139 metres the tallest Pyramid in the world, and were standing in front of the Pyramid of Khafre. Its top was still covered with the casing stones that give it a smooth outer surface and make this Pyramid different from the other two. It was also the Pyramid we entered to visit the tomb of Pharaoh Khafre. The corridor towards the tomb went steeply downhill and was very dark. In the tomb chamber, there was an Italian inscription “Scoperta da G. Belzoni il 2. mar. 1818” (discovered by G. Belzoni the 2nd of March 1818). The open tomb was the only thing left in the chamber, as all the treasures and valuables were probably lost or brought to a museum. Most of us, including me, decided to lie down in it, probably the most heretic act an ancient Egyptian could imagine. If I suddenly get struck by lightning or get hit by a meteor, this is probably why. We then exited, took a group photo under ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that were at least 4000 years old, shown in the picture underneath, and traveled on our camels or horses to the Pyramid of Menkaure, which lies a bit further away. Even though Cairo was still visible behind us, it seemed as if we were far away and all alone in the desert. The third pyramid has a long vertical gap in one side, which was made by workmen that had been given the order to destroy the Pyramids at the end of the twelfth century. However, this proved to be so difficult the gash in the third pyramid was the only damage they could do. After having watched the pyramid, we decided to turn back. I decided to join the horse team and climbed on a horse. I feel privileged being able to say my first horse ride was next to the Pyramids of Giza in the desert. It went surprisingly smooth and we even did a horse race, which was very fun. This was, next to my trip to the Siwa oasis, an absolute highlight of my six weeks in Egypt and I would definitely recommend everyone, when the country is more stable, to visit this Ancient Wonder, marvel of the world still.