Visiting the Pyramids and The Sphinx in Giza, Cairo

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Visiting the Pyramids of Giza and The Sphinx

The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids at Giza are certainly most famous attraction in Egypt and one of the most well known around the world. Indeed the Great Pyramid of Giza is apparently the only one of the seven ancient wonders of the world that are left standing. There are 3 main Pyramids that stand close together although there are some smaller ones in less good condition close by.

A top tip for visiting the Pyramids is certainly to get there early. There are three good reasons for this. Firstly if you want to go inside the Pyramids (which you need to pay extra for: we paid 100 Egyptian Pounds each to go inside one of them). There are only a limited number of tickets available every day so if you're not their early, you'll miss out. We were there in the low tourist season (August - because it is so hot!) and we got their about 9am. By which time the tickets for the Great Pyramid had already been sold although we did manage to get tickets to the second, smaller pyramid. In high season I imagine they run out very quickly.

Secondly, getting their early apparently avoids the crowds although at low season this was definitely not an issue. It was busy but we didn't have to wait or queue. And thirdly - the heat. This applies of course to practically anywhere you go in Egypt, especially in the height of summer.

Visiting the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops)

Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt GizaThe first impressions of the Pyramids are definitely the size. Driving towards them they don't look that big, surrounded as they are by other buildings but when you get up close you realise just how big they really are. There literally millions of stone blocks making up the Great Pyramid and you have to ask yourself how they managed to get the top ones on!

You're not allowed to climb on the Great Pyramid but there are a few steps leading up a few levels and its well worth walking up to get a sense of the scale. The lower blocks are more than a metre high and again you have to marvel at how the workers who constructed them moved them into position. I read in one of our many guides that if you calculated the number of blocks and the time taken to construct the Pyramid then they had to be laying a block every two minutes!

Around the Great Pyramid you have to be aware of people trying to "help you". One man approached me and asked me for my ticket. When I said we were not going into the Pyramid, it became apparent that he wasn't an official and he changed tack, trying to "advise me" about others who might try and cheat me and eventually resorted to offering (actually insisting!) that he take our photo. I was not entirely happy about handing of the camera but did so and there was no issue. The reality seems that most of the "helpers" we encounted in Egypt were friendly and harmless. Yes they were looking to extract a little money in return for their help but they were not out and out crooks. Still, in general we refused the help and were very glad that we had our guide so we didn't have to rely on others help.

Entering the Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren)

The slightly smaller Pyramid (which ironically is the one in the middle of the three and looks bigger but its just build on higher ground) is also an impressive sight. The blocks used to make the pyramid are smaller and the remains of the limestone casing which once would have covered the whole pyramid remains in place at the top.

Entering the Pyramid is a difficult affair. The are 25 metres of steps leading down, a short corridor before anther 25 meters or so leading up again into the heart of the Pyramid. Sounds easy? The complication is that the ceiling above the steps leading down (by the way they're not really steps but wooden rungs laid on the smoth stone slope downwards) is only a metre high. This means you have to bend double all the way down and up again. Apparently you need to bow when entering the presence of the King even when he's dead! The final difficulty is the number of people doing it at the same time means there are people ahead and behind (and people going up while you're going down) so no opportunity for a rest!

Inside the room is surprisingly small but with high ceilings it makes a very square impression. There is not much left in the Pyramid, just the outer casing of the sarcophagus and the required wall engravings. Still in my view it was still worth the effort.

The Sphinx

After visiting the pyramids and after a quick stop to spot on the hill to get some great pictures of all three pyramids together (including the obligatory photos that use perspective to make it look like ou're touching the top of the pyramid!) we make our way to the Sphinx.

There seems to be a lot of mystery surrounding the origination of the Sphinx and who if anyone it is intended to represent so I won't step into that controversy. But arriving at the Sphinx is a memorable experience. The image of the Sphinx is so familiar from photos in books and online but seeing it in reality, with the Pyramids standing in the background is a truly impressive site.

You don't really need much time there, there is not a lot to actually see, but it is worth soaking in the image of the Sphinx from various angles. It never ceases to impress me. As with everywhere in Egypt there are stalls trying to sell you things and people walking along with you trying to interest you in their wares. They are persistent but not unfriendly. While advice is to simply ignore them (as seeming to polite appears to be taken as a mild expression of interest!), we always said no thanks (pretty much on principle) and eventually they did give up.