Sunday, March 17, 2013

Egypt (Part I) - A "Somewhere Sunday" Post



Pyramids at Giza

This week we begin a two part series visiting Egypt.  In week one we'll look back in time with a visit to the Pyramids at Giza and the ancient Necropolis of Saqqara.   Next Sunday we'll take a walk around Alexandria  for a more modern day glimpse of Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians devoted tremendous energy, time and resources to making elaborate preparations for the afterlife.  For 3,000 years massive mastabas and pyramids were constructed for the 31 dynasties that ruled ancient Egypt.  While the common people probably sought the afterlife, only rulers and the most revered and wealthy Egyptians had the ability to construct these grand funeral chambers and plan for a life after death of such extravagance.   The Great Pyramid, constructed for Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 BC, took an estimated 20 years to build and required 2.3 million limestone blocks.  Enormous even by today's standards, it stood as the tallest man made structure in the world for 3800 years.  


Examples of the smooth casing stones that once covered the pyramids can be seen at the top and base.

Surface detail of the underlying limestone blocks.


Pharaoh Menkaure's Pyramid is the smallest of the big three on the Giza Plateau.
The even smaller pyramid structure beside it is one of the three Queen's Pyramids.
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The structures to the right of the pyramid are examples of mastabas or "eternal houses"
Both a forerunner and a more modest alternative to a pyramid, they too house funeral chambers.
Mastabas are constructed from either stone or bricks made of mud.


Father and son entrepreneurs offer camel rides around the pyramids.


Modern day Giza, a city of over 7 million people, lies at the foot of the pyramids.


The Great Sphinx is one of the great enigmas of ancient Egypt.  Its original name is not known - Sphinx being the name bestowed upon it 2000 years after its construction (translating to "the terrifying one" in Arabic).  Nor is anything known about its creation or its purpose. Theories abound, but the half man/half lion whose gaze is forever fixed upon the desert horizon is a mystery waiting to be solved.  Dated to 2558-2532 BC, it is carved from a single stone making it the largest monolith statue in the world.  









The Necropolis of Saqqara was the funerary complex of the rulers and elite residents of nearby Memphis, Egypt's Old Kingdom capital.  Sixteen kings are known to have constructed funeral chambers here.  The most famous structure at Saqqara is the Stepped Pyramid constructed for Pharaoh Djoser, ruler of the 2nd or 3rd dynasty.  Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the first known monumental structure made of stone and that its architect is believed to have been Imhotep - the man credited for being the first architect, engineer, and physician in early history.  A man of great intellect, he was so well respected and valued by Egypt's rulers that it is believed he has his own yet to be discovered tomb located somewhere at Saqqara.


Stepped Pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara.



Dig underway at Saqqara funerary complex.
Entrance to the tomb of Idut, grand daughter of Pharaoh Unas.


Building details at Saqqara funerary complex.