Pharaonic Cairo - explore the monuments of ancient Egypt



Description:

Cairo was founded by the Arabs in the Seventh Century, but the ancient Egyptians had been living in this area for thousands of years. The capital of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and still hugely significant throughout the rest of the pharaonic period, was Memphis (about 20 km south of the centre of Cairo). Although Memphis is reduced to a shadow of its former glory, many pharaonic monuments still remain in or near Cairo. The most famous are, of course, the Pyramids of Giza, and the collection of the Egyptian museum. However, there are loads more to discover for the traveller who really wants to get to grips with pharaonic Cairo. This trip will lead you through the most important pharaonic monuments left in Cairo (and will also take you out of the city), as well as a couple of institutions that are famous for promoting knowledge about ancient Egypt. Note that it is assumed you will stay in one of the hotels near to the Pyramids themselves, although you could just as well stay in Downtown. Either way, you will need to hire a taxi to take you around each day (except for day 4). Your hotel will be able to help you out with this. There’s going to be lots of driving, but discovering pharaonic Cairo will be great fun! Note that Egypt is a traditional country, and so it is sensible and respectful to dress conservatively. This is not so important at the tourist sites, but is good practice nonetheless. Finally, you will be on your feet for most of each day, so comfortable footwear is a must. Always carry a bottle of water with you.

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Author: Nicholas Rowlands


Day 1 - Cairo


Start early and aim to get to the Pyramids before 9 am, in order to beat the crowds and the heat. The easiest way to get there is to hire a taxi for the day. Your hotel will be able to help with this, though it would be cheaper to arrange it yourself. Just make sure your driver speaks enough English, and negotiate a fair price in advance. Once at the Pyramids, take the time to explore the site fully. If you aren’t claustrophobic, it’s well worth paying the small extra fee to enter one of the pyramids. There isn’t really anything to see, but the sensation of being inside such a vast mass of rock is incredible. Make sure you also allow enough time to visit the Solar Boat Museum. Once you are done, drive to the Great Sphinx (included in the Pyramids ticket), stopping at the pyramids viewing point along the way. Have fun playing with perspective when taking photos of the Sphinx: if you get your positioning right, you can appear to be patting him on the head, and even kissing him! Before leaving, it’s probably wise to arrange your sunset camel ride for tomorrow. Ask your taxi driver if he can recommend a stables. If not, there are loads of stables that offer camel and horse rides in to the desert surrounding the Pyramids. Touts who work with them hang around the Sphinx, so just ask around. Make sure to visit the stables first, and that you are comfortable with the people who run it. Negotiate over the price: an hour’s camel ride at sunset should cost less than 50 LE per person. Be very clear about what time you need to arrive in order to catch sunset in the desert, so you can plan your timing for the day. Grab some lunch at the nearby Felfela restaurant, before driving to the Egyptian Museum. Be warned that the Egyptian Museum is huge, but not very well set out or labelled. It might be worth hiring a guide to help you navigate your way around all that history. Whether you do or not, make sure not to miss the diorite statue of Chephren on the ground floor, the collection of bizarre Amarna Art, and of course Tutankhamen’s treasure trove on the first floor. Have dinner Downtown – perhaps at Estoril bar and restaurant just off Talaat Harb Street.


1

Giza Plateau

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Location:

Sh. Al Ahram Road
Old town of Giza, 5 miles into the desert
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 385 0259


2

The Great Pyramid

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Location:

Giza Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


3

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


4

Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus)

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


5

Solar Boat Museum

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


6

The Sphinx

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


7

Felfela

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Location:

Talaat Harb Street
11111 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 2392 2833


9

Estoril

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Location:

12 Talaat Harb Street
11111 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 25743102


Day 2 - Memphis, Cairo


Long day today, so make sure you leave early! Memphis was where it all began, the original capital of ancient Egypt, and would have been a spectacular city in it’s day. Unfortunately there is not much to see here now, but it’s worth visiting for a sense of completeness. You won’t want any more than an hour here, and once you are done, it’s a short drive to get to Saqqara.

You’re going to want a good few hours at Saqqara, because it’s a huge site: home to the first pyramid ever built, and a number of tombs and other monuments. In contrast with the Giza Plateau, relatively few tourists visit Saqqara, so the site is a very atmospheric place to wander around. Make sure you take sun protection and plenty of water though, because there isn’t much shade.

Start out at the museum, to give you an overview of what you are going to see, before heading to the main site. If so inclined, you could hire a guide to help you find your way around, although this is not necessary provided you have a map of the site. Spend some time exploring the area around the Step Pyramid and Funerary Complex of Djoser, before getting your taxi to take you to the tombs towards the north of the site. Make sure not to miss the Mastaba of Ti, whose detailed reliefs have provided Egyptologists with a wealth of information about everyday life in the Old Kingdom.

Once you have had enough of Saqqara, drive to Dahshur to visit the Red and Bent Pyramids. It’s about a half an hour drive, maybe more if the traffic is bad, so you might want to get lunch before you leave. The restaurant at the Saqqara visitors’ centre is pretty good; if this doesn’t take your fancy, ask your driver to stop somewhere along the way for you to pick up some snacks.

Even fewer tourists visit Dahshur than Saqqara, and you may be lucky enough to have the site to yourself. It’s the home of the second and third pyramids ever built. They were both built by Sneferu, father of Cheops (builder of the Great Pyramid). The earlier Bent Pyramid was a partially successful attempt to build a ‘true’ pyramid, rather than a stepped one. However, the structure started showing signs of stress after being half built, so the architect reduced the angle of the slope from 54 to 43 degrees, giving the pyramid its wonky shape. Unfortunately, the police will often not let you visit the Bent Pyramid, although you can admire it from afar.

The first ‘true’ pyramid in Egypt was the Red Pyramid, so named because of the slightly red hue of its building blocks. This is the third largest pyramid in Egypt (after the Great and Second Pyramids of the Giza Plateau) and you can go inside it. Even if you’ve been inside a pyramid already, it’s still worth entering the Red Pyramid because the internal structure is a bit more interesting: there are a few ante-chambers which precede the burial chamber, which have an interesting, vaulted roof structure. A word of warning, however, entering this pyramid is quite physically demanding: for Indiana-Jones wannabes only! Firstly, it’s a steep climb to get to the entrance (over 100 steep steps), and the interior passages are very cramped. Also, it sometimes has a very acrid smell, almost like ammonia, which can make breathing difficult. However, if this doesn’t put you off, you should certainly visit.

Make sure you leave Dahshur in plenty of time to get to the camel stables for your camel ride. Sunset is a magical time to be in the desert. It’s even better when you are riding a camel, and better still when you can view the ancient Pyramids in the changing light. Experiencing the sunset Call to Prayer from the Giza Plateau is also special – it seems almost as though every mosque in Cairo is playing just to you.

Take dinner near to your hotel. If you don’t fancy local cuisine, but you do want exquisite food and great service, a good option is the sumptuous Moghul Rooms restaurant, at the Mena House Oberoi.


1

Memphis

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Location:

24 kilometres south of Cairo
Memphis
Memphis, Egypt


2

Memphis: Alabaster Sphinx

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Location:

Memphis
Near Colossus of Ramses II
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


3

Memphis: Sun Temples of Abu Ghurab

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Location:

North East of Sahure's Pyramid
Memphis
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


4

Step Pyramid of Saqqara

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Location:

North Saqqara
(32 kilometres south of Cairo)
12561 Cairo, Egypt


5

Saqqara: Pyramid of Unas

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Location:

Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
fax: +20 2 285 4363 (Tourist Information)


6

Saqqara: Serapeum

Location:

24 km South-West of Cairo
12561 Memphis, Egypt


7

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ti

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Location:

North East of Serapeum, Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


8

Mastaba of Ptah-Hotep and Akhti-Hotep

Location:

Between Step Pyramid and Serapeum
Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


9

Saqqara: Mastaba of Mereruka

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Location:

Step Pyramid of Djoser
Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


10

Saqqara: Mastaba of Kagemni

Location:

Beside Step Pyramid
Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)


11

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ankh-Mahor

Location:

Near by Step Pyramid
Saqqara
12561 Cairo, Egypt


12

Dahshur

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Location:

Dahshur
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: 33850259


13

Camel Ride by the Pyramids

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Location:

FB stables
Gamal Abdul Nasser St
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: 20 (0)16 5070288


14

Moghul Room at the Mena House Oberoi

Location:

Mena House Oberoi
Pyramids' Road
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: 20 2 33 77 3222


Day 3 - Cairo


Start the day at Dr Ragab’s Pharaonic village. It’s kitsch and cheesy, but good fun, and if you have kids they will love it! Continue your tour of all things Dr Ragab by heading up the cornice and visiting the Dr Ragab Papyrus institute. While the institute exists mainly to try to sell you papyrus, you will also learn about this fascinating plant: its symbolism, how it is grown, and made into paper. The papyrus paintings here are expensive, but they are good quality. By now you should be ready for a spot of lunch. Whilst not pharaonic in any way, it would be a shame to come to Cairo and not experience the wonders of Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Have your taxi take you there, and spend an hour or so wandering around the bazaar, and haggling with the vendors for souvenirs. Whilst at the bazaar, grab a bite to eat at the Egyptian Pancake House. You can also take the weight off your legs for a while at the famous al-Fishawi coffee shop, as patronised by Naguib Mahfouz. In the afternoon, head to the zany Gayer-Anderson Museum next to Ibn Tulun Mosque. Most of the house is taken up with an eclectic collection of art and furnishings from the Near East, but is also an interesting ancient Egyptian section too. Return to your hotel to relax for a bit before going to the spectacular Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids. Note that times vary throughout the year, so you should call ahead in advance, or ask at your hotel, to confirm.


1

Dr. Ragab's Pharaonic Village

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Location:

3 El Bahr El Aazam St
(Jacob's Island, Giza)
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 571 8675
fax: +20 2 568 9266


2

Dr. Ragab's Papyrus Institute

Location:

El-Nil Street
P.O. Box 45
11211 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 336 7212 / +20 2 348 9035 / +20 2 349 9133


3

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

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Location:

Off Hussein Square
(Across from El Azhar Mosque)
11211 Cairo, Egypt


4

Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

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Location:

El-Fishawi Alley
(Khan al-Khalili)
Cairo, Egypt


5

Egyptian pancake house

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Location:

Midan Hussein
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: 2024505871


6

Gayer-Anderson Museum

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Location:

4 Maydan Ibn Tulun
Ibn Tulun Street
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 364 7822


7

Giza Pyramids: Sound and Light Show

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 386 3469 / +20 (0)2 385 2880 / +20 (0)2 285 4509 (Egyptian Tourist Authority)
fax: +20 (0)2 384 4257 / +20 (0)2 285 4363 (Egyptian Tourist Authority)


Day 4 - Cairo


Something a little different today. You are going to head to one of the most incredible, and least visited, sites in Egypt: the collapsed Pyramid of Meidum. The pyramid is about 65 km south of Saqqara, near the oasis of Fayoum, and there are two main ways to do this visit. The easiest way is simply to hire a taxi for the day from Cairo to take you down, wait, and bring you back. You should be on very good terms with your taxi driver now, and so able to organise a reasonable price! The other alternative is to take a public bus from Cairo to Fayoum, and then hire a taxi there. The Pyramid of Meidum is about 30 km from Fayoum though, so you may not even end up saving that much money. The pyramid is very atmospheric. It was the first attempt at a proper pyramid in Egypt: initially built in the same way as the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, the steps were then filled in to create a smooth pyramid … which later partially collapsed, leaving only the inner core standing! In spite of this, you can still go inside the pyramid. The burial chamber is, of course, empty, but the sensation is incredible. A word of warning: the surrounding area is lush with vegetation, and does not receive many visitors, so you must keep your eyes open for snakes. Not a problem, just tread heavily, watch where you place your feet, and don’t stick your hands into any cracks. However you choose to get to Meidum, it’s worth taking the time to explore the oasis of Fayoum. The town itself is nothing special, though it does have some pretty water wheels, but the surrounding countryside is gorgeous. For your final evening in Cairo, head to the island of Zamalek: home of expats and embassies, restaurants and bars. Try to eat at Abou el Sid if you can. It’s a traditional Egyptian restaurant that serves great quality local food, beer and shisha. It gets very busy, so it’s best to either get there early, or make a reservation. It’s the perfect place to say your goodbyes to Cairo.


2

Zamalek

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Location:

Northern tip of Gezira island
Cairo, Egypt


3

Abou el Sid

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Location:

157, 26th of July Street, just down from Diwan book store
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 2735 9640 / +20 (0)10 100 8500
fax: +20 (0)2 3748 8109


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