Cairo is, of course, the place from which you will see the famous three pyramids of Gizeh, but first a word about the practicalities.
Most tourists arrive in Cairo by air and unless you are travelling with a tour group, you are then faced with the joy of getting from the airport to your hotel. The most practical way is by taxi and there is a large taxi rank outside the airport terminal. There is a police post at the rank and although the police will not help you find a taxi or intervene in the negotiations over price, they will take down the number of the taxi as it leaves, so you have some guarantee against being robbed or cheated on the way. On the whole Cairo taxi drivers are at least as honest as those elsewhere and probably more so than some I have heard of in Britain and other Western countries.
Beware of touts at the airport offering to arrange hotel accommodation, taxis, tours, guides, etc. Some are crooks, some are honest, but all will charge a commission for their services. I have used such a person to book a cheap hotel when I didn't have one pre-booked and he gave good service - but then, I have been travelling to Egypt for many years and knew most of the scams to avoid. There is no point in getting an agent to arrange your taxi when you can do it for yourself outside the airport.
It would be good to have some idea of where your hotel is and the distance involved so that you can keep a check on the route as you are driven into Cairo. On the other hand, you may prefer to keep your eyes firmly closed as your taxi weaves in and out of traffic, zooms up onto overpasses and as suddenly down again, scrapes past buses, other taxis, donkey carts and whistle-blowing traffic policemen. You will be grateful that you have good travel insurance!
Do not even think about hiring a car in Cairo. The traffic is a nightmare, the lack of roadsigns is a nightmare, finding parking at your destination is a nightmare. Use taxis, bargain for every trip (rather than rely on the meter) and you should have no problems. Taxis can be hired by the destination, the hour or the day.
Once installed in your hotel, you may wish to get an introduction to Egypt, in which case you can do no better than visit the Pharaonic Village where you will find a host of somewhat crude replicas of ancient Egyptian statues. The visit starts with a boat trip along a canal, passing tableaux depicting a mummification workshop, a potter, a papyrus workshop and scribe, baby Moses in the bulrushes, and so on. Then you are landed next to a replica temple, after which you are free to explore the various exhibits, which include a small pool containing crocodiles, a museum containing models showing the Battle of the Nile and how pyramids were built, some amazingly dexterous women making delicious pastries, and - what makes the whole experience worthwhile - a replica of the tomb of Tutankhamun as it was when Howard Carter first opened it.
There used to be a tram that ran across twelve miles of desert between Cairo and Gizeh. Alas, the tram no longer runs and the desert has disappeared under a wave of concrete as Cairo has grown. Now your taxi will battle the traffic all the way to Gizeh. Unless you have hired the driver by the day, you should pay him off at the ticket office, as there are plenty of taxis to take you back to your hotel.
There are two ticket offices, one down in the plain close to the Sphinx, the other up to the right and close to the Great Pyramid. If possible, try to get your taxi to take you to this upper entrance. If you can't, then you will have to walk up to the Great Pyramid to start this tour. At the ticket office, enquire about entrance to the Great Pyramid. At one time this was available to all, but now entrance is restricted to around 400 a day and the queue for tickets is long and starts early. Find out where the ticket off is, and when the tickets go on sale, then plan on being outside the office 90-120 minutes before that time. There is a morning sale and an afternoon sale, so pick your time.
Please be aware that inside the pyramid it is hot and humid, the passageways are approximately 3'1" high and 3'4" wide, they slope steeply up and the presence of others makes the trip crowded and intermittent. If you suffer at all from claustrophobia, then you would be better advised not to attempt to enter the pyramid. Let someone else have your place. It is selfish to buy a ticket, thereby depriving someone else of the chance to enter, and then get halfway up the first passage and decide that you can't stand it and come out.
Entrance to the Great Pyramid of Khufu is via the robbers' tunnel in the north face of the pyramid. This is quite a wide and high tunnel which curves sharply to the left at the end, as the robbers realised that the passageways they were seeking lay in that direction. At the end of the robbers' tunnel note the huge sloping blocks which were slid down the Ascending Passage to block it.
From this point it is possible to enter the Descending Passage and go down to the subterranean chamber, but unfortunately this is almost always closed. We have only once been able to get down there (and probably shouldn't have). Ask if you can go down: you will probably be told that it is "Mamnoo" - forbidden - but if enough people show an interest it may be opened up for future travellers.
The Ascending Passage is much smaller and you will be climbing steeply while bent double. This is not comfortable. Fortunately after what seems like forever you arrive at the Grand Gallery and can stand upright. On your right notice a square hole covered by chicken wire: this is the entrance to the roughly cut shaft by which the workmen who sealed the pyramid with those blocks of stone escaped.
In front of you there is a Horizontal Passage leading to the Queen's Chamber. This is not always open, so hurry along it if you can, noting two metal pipes protruding from the wall on the left about half-way along. These lead down to two sand-filled spaces in the stonework, discovered by a Japanese team that x-rayed the Great Pyramid a few years ago. No satisfactory explanation for these spaces has been devised yet.
The Queen's Chamber is a small room with a corbelled roof. On the left is a niche which probably once held a statue of Pharaoh Khufu. The roughly cut hole in the niche was made by treasure seekers. In opposite walls there are small square holes leading to the famous "air shafts", up which Rudolph Gantenbrink sent a robot and discovered what may be a sliding stone door with bronze handles. Finding that the world was fascinated by Gantenbrink's discovery, the obnoxious Zahi Hawass promptly banned him from working in Egypt, waited a few years and then mulcted the National Geographic vast sums to be allowed to send another robot up - provided all the glory went to Zahi.
Climb up the Grand Gallery. At the top, lost in the shadows near the roof on the right is a small hole by which Victorian explorers gained access (in one case using black blasting powder) to the chambers above the King's Chamber.
Inside the King's Chamber you will find more "air shafts", one of which is occupied by an extractor fan. These shafts were proven to link to the exterior of the pyramid by Colonel Vyse, who rolled a small canonball down one of them, to the immense peril of an unfortunate tourist who happened to be inside at the time and had to leap frantically to avoid the missile as it ricochetted off the granite floor, walls and ceiling. The sarcophagus has a corner broken off by a guide who pounded it with a lump of rock in order to demonstrate how it rang like a bell (and is claimed still to ring like a bell if you hit it with your fist). Examine it carefully and you may be able to detect how rough-cut it is, a sorry contrast to the fine stonework of the tomb chamber, where you cannot fit your entrance ticket between the stone blocks.
For further information about this pyramid, visit Wikipedia where the article on the Great Pyramid is largely written by myself.
Outside the pyramid walk clockwise round it and note the boat pits, the area of black basalt paving which is all that remains of the Pyramid Temple, and look out for the shaft tomb of Queen Hetepheres, Khufu's mother. This was discovered when a photographer's tripod sank into what appeared to be solid rock, but proved to be plaster covering the pit. At the bottom of the carefully blocked pit there was a complete royal tomb, but to the disappointment and bewilderment of the archaeologists, the sarcophagus was empty!
Note also the small Queens' Pyramids. Three have been known since antiquity, but a few years ago a fourth, which is little more than foundations, was discovered. It is usually possible to enter one or more of these pyramids, a steeply sloping ramp leading down to a small burial chamber.
Continue round until you come to the Pharaoh's Boat museum, for which a separate ticket is required. Inside note that pit from which the boat came, the model of the boat used by Haj Ahmed Yusuf, an Egyptian boat builder, who made exact replicas of each piece of timber adn then spent three years fiddling with them until he was satisfied that he knew how to put them together to rebuild the boat. The results on display upstairs are vastly impressive, particularly when you realise a) that all the wood came from the Lebanon, and b) the whole thing is held together with rope - there's not a nail or a peg in the while ship!
There is a tin shed beyond the Boat Museum. This covers a second boat pit which contains a dis-assembled wooden boat, probably identical to the one on display. It has not been opened yet and initial plans were to delay opening it for a century or more so that the more advanced techniques of the future can be applied to investigating its contents. Recently, however, Zahi Hawass - who cares only about his personal publicity and not a jot about Egypt's antiquities - announced plans to open it in the near future. This has to be deplored.
From there proceed to the Pyramid of Khafre, the only one of the three to retain a significant part of its original casing. The Pyramid Temple is largely destroyed, but you can trace the causeway that once linked it with the Valley Temple, beside which stood the Sphinx. Leave that for now. See if you can get into the pyramid, which is not always open. There are two entrances, only one of which is in use. A simple horizontal passage leads into the tomb chamber, which was opened by the Italian Belzoni using blasting powder. He wrote his name with soot on the wall of the chamber.
Then walk across the desert to the smallest of the three pyramids, that of Menkaure. The gash in the side was the work of Caliph Malik al-Aziz Othman, son of Saladin, in a fit of Islamic fervour, attempted to destroy the pyramids. A thousand men laboured for eight months and then the project was abandoned. We can be very grateful that so many Egyptian antiquities are preserved safely in Christian lands; it's just a shame that the pyramids are too large to be moved, for if the Muslim Brotherhood ever comes to power in Egypt they will probably try again - but with modern explosives they will, like the Taliban in Bamiyan, succeed.
Notice that the pyramid was intended to be faced with granite, but we presume Menkaure died young and his pyramid was never finished. Inside, however, you find a couple of store rooms, several tomb chambers, from one of which you can look down on the stones that form the roof of the actual burial chamber.
Behind the pyramid are three smaller pyramids known as "Queens' Pyramids"; more likely they served as canopic containers for the royal viscera. If there are no guards around it is possible to climb one of these pyramids - or, indeed, from the back to climb the Menkaure Pyramid, from which you get a grand view of the causeway and the Pyramid Temple, which is the best preserved of the three pyramids. Don't expose yourself on the skyline, however, unless you want to get into trouble with the guardians of the place.
Note that I do not recommend climbing the pyramids. Every so often someone misjudges their step and falls down, killing or badly injuring themselves in the process. However if you simply must climb a pyramid, this is where to do it.
If you walk down the causeway and then veer off to the right, you will find a cyclopaean stone wall and eventually a tunnel/gate through it. Outside that gate is the village of the workmen excavated by Mark Lehner. There is little to be seen apart from a few mud-brick foundations and a couple of tombs excavated into the rock by the overseers. In the desert above the village is the quarry from which some of the stone for the pyramids was excavated.
Make your way towards the Sphinx, noting the rows of chairs from which tourists can enjoy the son et lumiere sound and light show in the evening. It is a fascinating experience to hear the great booming voice of the Sphinx telling the story of the pyramids as different coloured lights pick them out against the dark sky. If you are inspired to take photographs of the show, for pity's sake turn your flash off. In the first place your flash has an effective distance of 12 feet and you are sitting a quarter of a mile from the nearest pyramid. In the second place, only a total moron will attempt to photograph artistic spotlighting by flooding the scene with the brilliant white light of a flash! Alas, this world is full of morons, to judge from the constant flicker of flashguns throughout the performance.
Go up the road (or down the road if you are coming straight from the pyramids) beside the Sphinx and notice a small square hole at ground level in his hindquarters. A more than usually nutty mystic and spiritualist by the name of Edgar Cayce claimed that beneath the Gizeh Plateau there was a "Chamber of Secrets" in which all the wisdom of the ancients had been preserved. Thousands of gullible people wait with bated breath for this chamber to be discovered and when sand was cleared a few years ago to reveal this hole, they thought they had found it. When the hole was cleared, there was indeed a tunnel - about twelve feet long, a dead end, at the bottom of which there was an ancient shoe. So much for Cayce's spirit guide!
In front of the Sphinx, between its paws, is the Dream Stele, erected by Tutmosis IV, tells how he lay down in the shade cast by the Sphinx and in a dream the Sphinx spoke to him, complaining that he was oppressed by the sand that covered him and promising to reward the prince if he would clear the sand. Tut IV cleared the sand and duly came to the throne, even though he was not the heir to the throne - presumably his older brothers died young.
Beside the Sphinx is the Valley Temple. Inside the doorway there is a pit in the floor; Khafre put 52 life-size statues of himself in the temple to act as magical substitutes for his body if his mummy should be destroyed. Not content with this precaution, he buried a final statue in this pit. It was well for him that he was so cautious because, like all the other pyramid builders, his mummy was indeed destroyed and so were the 52 statues, so today his ka would be homeless without this final statue, which is in the Cairo Museum.
Exit via the lower gate and find a taxi to take you back to your hotel or on to the next destination.
An interesting excursion from Gizeh is to Abu Roash, where the son of Pharaoh Khufu chose to build his pyramid. The structure was largely demolished by stone robbers during Muslim times, but recent excavations have uncovered a surprising amount of the pyramid's below-ground structure and the foundations of the buildings that surrounded it. The site is on the hills overlooking the village and you may have to encourage your taxi driver to venture off-road and up some dodgy dirt tracks in order to find it.
Memphis and Saqqara
Memphis, once the capital of Egypt, is somewhat disappointing. You will be taken to a small building inside of which is a statue of Rameses II lying on its back. You can climb up to a viewing gallery and look down on him, then go outside to look at an alabaster sphinx, one side of which is pristine, the other badly weathered. There are several other stelae and statues lying around, and that is it. In the Bible God declared, "I will destroy the images of Noph" and He certainly seems to have done a pretty thorough job of it.
Memphis is in the valley of the Nile. A short distance away, up on the plateau that flanks the Nile Valley, is the necropolis of Memphis, known as Saqqara. The ticket office to the area is at the foot of the plateau and when you stop to buy your tickets, notice the start of the causeway to the pyramid of Unas on the left-hand side of the road.
After the ticket office the road turns sharp right and climbs up onto the plateau, which is dominated by the huge mortuary complex for Pharaoh Zoser (also spelled Djoser). This was the first monumental building in stone in Egypt and was designed by the architect Imhotep. Some claim that he was inspired by the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and point to the Biblical story of Abraham in Egypt as evidence of commerce between the two areas. While this is not impossible, it should be pointed out that ziggurats are platforms to support temples, whereas the Step Pyramid is a tomb. Note that the stonework uses small blocks of stone (about the size of a mud brick!) and the stone has been carved to represent woodwork, the medium with which the builders were most familiar.
You enter the complex through a much-restored entrance hall whose roof is supported by pillars - but Imhotep was so uncertain of building stone pillars that he in fact put the pillars at the end of short walls! This is the only real building on site, all the rest are dummy buildings, as you can quickly find if you try entering any of the doorways. There is a short passage and then a dead end. Where the building has fallen away, you can clearly see that the body of the building consists simply of rubble fill.
We believe that the complex resembles the royal palace in Memphis and the different buildings are copies of the different buildings of the palace. However because they were intended for the royal ka or spirit, there was no need to make them actual buildings, for the ka can pass through solid earth as easily as the next ghost.
The large central courtyard was probably intended for the celebration of the Heb-sed festival, when the pharaoh was expected to demonstrate his continuing fitness to rule by performing several physical feats such as running between two points, pulling a djed pillar upright, and so on. There is a suspicion that elderly pharaohs received surreptitious help by hollowing out the pillar and moving the race markers closer together!
Turn right and head towards the pyramid. Like all the pyramids, this one has been stripped of the fine white Tura limestone that once covered it. In doing so the stone robbers exposed the stages in the pyramid's construction. It would seem that Imhotep originally built a perfectly normal mastaba which he then enlarged and then decorated by building a slightly smaller mastaba on top. That gave him the idea of enlarging the structure further and making a wedding cake arrangement of four mastabas and then, with the bit thoroughly between his teeth, making the whole thing even bigger and adding another two mastabas. At each stage the structure was finished off with polished stone before the next layer was thought of and added.
Walk anti-clockwise around the pyramid and on your left notice two pieces of scaffolding wood projecting from the side of the pyramid. These have been stuck there since the original builders packed up and went away.
It is not possible to enter the Step Pyramid, as the underground passageways are too dangerous. However they have been thoroughly explored and you can find a plan of them in any good guide book. On the north side of the pyramid you will find the entrance shaft and also a stone box (known as a serdab) in the front of which are two small holes. Peek in through those holes and you will find yourself eyeball to eyeball with Djoser himself!
Now retrace your steps to the far end of the courtyard and you will find a deep excavation leading down to a tomb, probably of one of Djoser's wives. Its present appearance is thanks to the work of archaeologists, who did not want to expose the original entrance shaft as that would have involved demolishing a large section of the perimeter wall of Djoser's complex. The stone staircase that you see is modern; it is not the means by which Joseph's workmen carried grain down to be stored in the pit. See below on the stupidity of Ron Wyatt et al.
You can climb up and over the perimeter wall and enter the vast necropolis that surround the Step Pyramid complex. Imhotep was regarded as divine and so was Djoser, so many people wanted to be buried near the two. Looking slightly to your right you can see the badly ruined pyramid of Unas, built of a fine stone casing over a rubble core - when the casing was removed, the core collapsed, leaving the mess you see today.
If the pyramid is open, make sure that you visit it, for the inside is decorated with the first of the Pyramid Texts to be found. Until this pyramid was opened, all the known pyramids were free of decoration and the French scholar Auguste Mariette, in the dogmatic way of many Frenchmen, came up with an elaborate theory about the "pyramids are mute" and the significance of this fact. The poor chap was on his death bed when Unas was entered and unkind persons rushed to let him know about the walls full of hieroglyphics which completely demolished his life's work. They could have kept quiet for 24 hours and let him die in peace!
The interior walls of the tomb chamber are made of alabaster, a fact which may not be obvious in the awful tube lighting inside the tomb. Notice also that they are painted to resemble the facade of a palace (or the walls surrounding the Step Pyramid complex). The Pyramid Texts do not give us information about the pharaoh, they are merely a succession of spells to ensure that he makes it safely into the underworld.
When you come out of the pyramid, trace the causeway down towards the valley. This was used both to bring building materials up to the pyramid and to transport the body of the pharaoh from the landing stage down in the valley to the pyramid. In order to shield the body from the contaminating view of the peasantry, the causeway was lined with stone walls and roofed - though in order to provide illumination, the roofing slabs did not quite meet in the middle, as you can see if you follow the causeway for several hundred yards. (Note that the causeway has been demolished for a short distance by the excavators of a mastaba over which it was built.) Carvings in the walls of the causeway are supposed to depict victims of a famine.
Near the pyramid of Unas is the mastaba of Princess Idut, which is commonly open. Notice how the interior has been divided into rooms and the walls of the rooms are decorated with scenes depicting cattle being counted, tax defaulters being whipped, (both, apparently, highly enjoyable pursuits) and various other tableaux which would come to life through magic and then enjoyed by the ka. There is a stairway to the roof so that Idut could enjoy the cool breeze in the evening.
Walk back along the outside of the Step Pyramid complex and either walk beyond it or your taxi may take you beyond it towards the Serapeum. The pile of rubble at the north-east corner of the complex is the pyramid of Userkaf and further piles of rubble off to the left are the pyramids of the Sixth Dynasty pharaohs. One or more of these may be open and also contain Pyramid Texts.
There are a couple of mastabas here which are often open. One of the most famous is that of Mereruka. Note the shrine on the left outside the doorway, which is where the family would leave offerings of food and drink. Just inside the doorway on the left is a complete jewellery workshop, ensuring that Mereruka had a constant supply of jewellery for eternity. Further in you will see Mereruka emerging from a niche in the wall, you can also see his excavated tomb shaft (90' deep), and round to the left you will find further scenes that have not been finished - obviously Mereruka died before his tomb was complete.
You may have already noticed a circle of statues that look very out-of-place among all this Egyptiana, for they are Greek-style statues. The represent Imhotep, Asclepius and various other philosphers. Beyond them the path slopes down through the sand to the Serapeum where the bulls sacred to Serapus were buried when they came to the end of their lives. There are two long tunnels with several dozen large chambers opening off either side. Inside the chambers are massive black sarcophagii, large enough to hold a bull! The first excavators here claimed to have discovered a mummified bull with a stab mark in its back leg and identified this with the Serapus bull stabbed by Cambyses, but as I haven't heard any further reports of this bull, I suspect that the excavators were misinterpreting something or the reports were false.
Meidum and the Faiyyum
Continue along the road beside the canal, passing the pyramids of Abusir - little more than rubble mounds - on the way and come to the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid, both built by Pharaoh Sneferu. The Red Pyramid is usually open to tourists and is worth the visit because of the complex internal arrangements intended to defeat tomb robbers. The Bent Pyramid was not open last time I visited Egypt but there is talk of it opening soon. It has two entrances, one on the north (with a wooden stairway up to it) and one on the west. When the pyramid was first opened, it is reported that a strong breeze blew from inside the pyramid for a whole day: no one has come up with an explanation of where and why this wind originated.
A few miles further and you come to the Pyramid of Meidum, a square block of stone set on a mound. A German engineer, Kurt Mendelssohn, came up with the idea that the mound was the remains of the rest of the pyramid which had collapsed in antiquity and investigation by archaeologists appears to bear out his conclusion. You go beyond the pyramid and then turn right into the desert to reach it.
You can enter the pyramid and climb down the sloping ramp, then up a modern wooden staircase to the tomb chamber. Walk around to the valley side of the pyramid and note the Pyramid Temple with its two uninscribed stelae behind it - the inscription had not been put in place when the pyramid collapsed, burying the temple. However just inside the doorway of the temple, up on the left, there are faint traces of writing. This is a bit of graffiti left by a much later pilgrim who penned a short piece rejoicing that he had been able to visit the pyramid of Sneferu - the only indication we have that Sneferu built this pyramid as well as the Bent and Red pyramids.
Mendelssohn's reconstruction is that the Meidum Pyramid was built first and collapsed before it was completed. Work then started on the Bent Pyramid, but when it too showed signs of structural instability the angle was decreased so as to reduce the amount of stone piled up on it. However, fearing that this would not be enough of a precaution, the Red Pyramid was built entirely at this lower angle. However it is possible that Sneferu was still not satisfied and he may have been buried in the large mastaba immediately outside the Meidum Pyramid.
See if you can get into this mastaba, whose original entrance is still closed by blocks of stone slid down into it (Sneferu is the father of Khufu, who copied this idea in his own pyramid). You get in via the robbers' tunnel, which involves creeping along a low tunnel and then climbing down a ladder thoughtfully provided by the antiquities service before you tumble in through a hole in the interior wall. When cleared by Petrie, the sarcophagus contained a few human remains, possibly those of Sneferu.
Continue along the desert road, which will take you to the pyramids of Kahun and Hawwara. Kahun (or il-Lahun) is the first one you reach from this direction. The pyramid is made of mud-brick, the mud being mixed with straw and other plant material in order to bind it, for unlike clay, silt does not stick together very well when dry. Walk round behind the pyramid and note the mastabas for members of the royal court, formed by leaving blocks of stone when the surrounding stone was cut away to make a level platform for the pyramid.
If you walk along the line of those mastabas and continue into the desert for approximately half a mile (parallel to the greenery of the valley, not away from it) you will come to a low ridge in the sand which is marked by a litter of broken pottery. This is the site of the village of Kahun, inhabited by the workmen who built the pyramid. When Sir Flinders Petrie excavated the site, he discovered that the village was protected by a thick wall and divided internally into two unequal halves by a similarly thick wall. The smaller part was filled with one-room houses built side-by-side and back-to-back, whereas the large part was the site of spacious villas on the high ground where they would receive whatever breeze was blowing. His conclusion was that the workers here were slaves, many - if not all - Semitic.
Even more surprising was the fact that the workers had suddenly disappeared, leaving their tools and personal possessions behind them in the village houses. Crockery, furniture, women's jewellery and make-up boxes, tools for carpenters and stone masons, all abandoned so suddenly that the plaster's hod still had the dried plaster in it! Petrie was unable to explain this mysterious disappearance, but by the Revised Chronology promoted here, these Semitic slaves were the Israelites building - as Josephus says - mud-brick pyramids. The women abandoned their cheap costume jewellery because, in accordance with Moses' command, they had possessed themselves of the gold and precious stones of the folk in the villas! (Exodus 11:2, 3)
The Pyramid of Hawarra is another mud-brick pyramid, which contains possibly the most complicated anti-robber precautions in the whole of Egypt. Alas, having been built very close to the Bahr Yusuf, the canal which feeds the Faiyyum, the pyramid has flooded and it is impossible to enter these corridors and chambers.
Outside the pyramid is a large flat area marked by heaps of stone chips and a few blocks of white and black stone. This is the site of the famous Labyrinth, a Mortuary temple so large and complicated that Greek writers named it "Labyrinth". It was so thoroughly robbed of stone that Petrie was unable even to recover a ground plan of this fabulous structure.
It is possible to spend a relaxing day or two in the Faiyyum, staying in a hotel overlooking the lake where once crocodiles were worshipped. If you do, make a point of visiting the small but interesting Qom 'Aushim museum (pronounced 'Kom Gaushim').
I don't pretend to be an expert in Muslim Cairo - consult a good guide book (such as the Blue Guide) if this is your area of interest. However most tourists will wish to visit the Citadel. Note the deep well dug by European prisoners after the failure of the First Crusade and feel a pang for the poor wretches condemned to labour in the apalling heat with no hope of release. When you get to the middle of the Citadel, look over the edge and down to the lower gate, which is approached by a sloping, zig-zag roadway. This is where Mohammed Ali slaughtered the Mamelukes On March 1, 1811. He invited them to a feast in his palace (ostensibly to celebrate the declaration of war against the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, the same Muslim fanatics who are causing so much trouble at the present time), however when they came to leave, they found the lower gate closed, the upper gate slammed behind them, and muscateers lining the wall. Only one man escaped by forcing his horse to leap the wall. The horse was killed by the ensuing fall, but the man himself managed to scramble away into the surrounding alleys and hide.
The only other place that most tourists wish to see is the Grand Bazaar, a grid of narrow alleys lined with tiny shops that sell nothing but highly priced rubbish. If your idea of a good time is to force your way through crowded alleys while being harrassed without a break by people urging you to come and look, come and buy, and then, if something catches your eye, to spend half an hour bargaining, then the Grand Bazaar is for you. Herbs and spices, perfume, glassware, belly dance costumes (nylon, not authentic), pottery and ceramics, shoddy shoes and shoddier t-shirts, Arab sweetmeats and tawdry jewellery, it is all here.
One place that you should not miss is Babylon, the Roman fortress whose fall marked the end of resistance to the Arab armies. Its walls and towers still stand virtually to full height, and inside you find a maze of narrow streets and half a dozen dark and grubby Coptic churches.
The Copts are the last remnants of the original Egyptians, for Muslim Egyptians are a mixture of Egyptian, Arab, Albanian, Sudanese and goodness knows what else. The Coptic language is the language of the hieroglyphs, mutated by time. The Coptic religion is Christianity as it was in the 7th century AD. The Copts have survived persecution and discrimination (which continue to this day) and yet are still a thriving community that provide much of the intellectual life of Egypt.
Consult a good guide book for details of the churches. I would merely like to point out the Ben Ezra Synagogue, now a museum. Visitors are only allowed in the women's gallery, which is entered via a ramp and bridge from the side of the building. Turn left inside the doorway and follow the gallery round till you are facing forwards and you will see in the wall in front of you a square opening high up in the wall. This is the entrance to the famous Cairo geniza.
Jews were (and are) unwilling to throw worn-out religious books out with the rubbish. Instead they place them in a special room in the synagogue, called a geniza and leave time, mildew and mice to deal with them. In the late 1800s a British Jew called Solomon Schechter obtained permission to investigate this repository and spent some time removing 280,000 decaying manuscripts from it. (The mildew got into his lungs and eventually caused his death!) The result was the discovery of a number of significant ancient manuscripts of the Bible, a copy of the "Damascus Document" which was subsequently also found at Qumran, as well as a treasure trove of documents relating to the history of Jews in Egypt.
After visiting the synagogue and the churches inside the walls, be sure to visit the Coptic Museum just outside the walls, which contains a rich collection of ancient manuscripts, carved wood and stone, stained glass from private homes and monasteries, and a host of other objects. (The most interesting for me were the prayer staves on which monks would lean during their hours of prayer!)
dextrous women They are also very beautiful women, for Cleopatra must have passed on her genes to the entire female population of Egypt. Unfortunately, all these women have been mutilated by the barbaric practice of female circumcision, usually carried out with a rusty razor by the village midwife, without such tomfooleries as anasthetic. The few feeble attempts by the government to outlaw the practice founder on the rock of Islam, where the male mullahs are emphatic that this is the only way to preserve female purity.
Alas, this is just the most vicious of the many ways in which Egyptian women are oppressed. It makes my blood boil to see a man in short-sleeved shirt and light trousers fanning himself and complaining about the weather while his wife labours behind him, swathed from head to toe in heavy black garments and only her sweaty eyes visible. I would love to force some of these bigots to wear an overcoat and balaclava for a couple of days: they might feel a bit more sympathetic towards their womenfolk afterwards! Return
short walls Ron Wyatt and the idiots who carry on his work claim that the complex was Joseph's granaries and clerks supervising the collection of grain sat in the small rooms formed by these short walls. Even by the most extreme version of a Revised Chronology, Imhotep and Zoser lived in the time of Abraham, not Joseph. The various buildings in the courtyard are not granaries, but solid imitations of palace buildings. Alas, there is no limit to the gullibility of the ignorant. Return
mastaba The Arabic word means "bench": allegedly these tombs look like the mud benches outside many native homes. In fact a mastaba was an imitation house, often - as you will see later on - complete with rooms and doorways and even a staircase to the roof. The owner was buried at the bottom of a deep shaft, but his ka could ascend through the earth and inhabit the house, enjoying the scenes carved on its walls (which by magic came to life) and being fed by the food offerings left inside the house by the mortuary priests. Return