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Exploring Egyptian Pyramids

Explore Pyramids of Egypt With Your Personal Egyptologist

The ancient sights you've come to see are often smack-dab in the middle of contemporary Egypt. It can jar you. We took off for our visit to the Great Pyramids of Giza expecting to find them lone silhouettes in the desert. Instead, they sit at the edge of the modern city. The Temple of Luxor is situated alongside the highway through town; a guard rail runs along its one edge.

Ancient Egyptian Monuments

Don't think, though, that, because these ancient monuments are so accessible, you might as well explore them on your own. We're not tour group types, so we wanted to travel independently. But we engaged the services of private guides for each leg of the trip. We ventured off only twice on our own, and, looking back, I wish we'd had the guides with us those days, too.

The great blocks of stone, still standing these centuries later, are impressive, no doubt. But if you have a good guide, they become more than engineering and architectural feats. They become mystical.

And the stories surrounding Egypt pyramids help introduce you to a group of people who seem to have been extraordinarily adept at figuring things out. The list of what the ancient Egyptians accomplished, developed, constructed, and invented is long.

Large pyramids in Egypt

These ancient temples even today offer unexplained mysteries and inspire awe
from visitors to Egypt.
 (Image by

Egypt Pyramids Local Guide

And maybe embellished. One evening, touring the Temple of Kom Obo after dark, our guide interrupted his interpretations of the hieroglyphs we were walking past to call up a photo on his cell phone. The tiny image showed a wall of hieroglyphics in another temple.

"What do you see?" asked Mohmoud.

No question, the image on the phone's screen showed reliefs of a helicopter, a military plane, and a submarine. Mohmoud had seen them for himself on the wall of this other temple, he explained.

These weren't ancient drawings that kind of resembled a helicopter and a sub if you looked at them at certain angles. The images were clear and undeniable. Mohmoud says tests were done to determine the age and authenticity of these raised carvings, which were proven to date from the same time as the others surrounding them.

What to make of this? I don't know.

Egyptians were forward thinkers

Even if they didn't imagine 20th-century military paraphernalia, though, these Egyptians from five, six, and seven millennia ago were forward-thinkers. They performed surgery, including cosmetic surgery. Hieroglyphics and drawings show that Cleopatra (the Cleopatra; there were seven) had her nose improved at this Temple of Kom Obo we were exploring by lamplight.

"We believe they used something similar to hashish as anesthetic," Mohmoud offered.

They used Nilometers to measure the rise and fall of the river, thus predicting the annual harvest and projecting the yearly tax revenues, which were based on yield. They carved 1,000-ton obelisks from single blocks of granite in Aswan, then maneuvered the 150-foot creations onto boats to be carried down the Nile to Luxor and from there distributed throughout the country.

Ancient Temples

The ancient Egyptians constructed temples on colossal scales, carved and painted miles of underground tombs, and, over 4,000 years, refined their practice of mummification to a level that 21st-century scientists can't match.

They measured the 24 hours in each day using water buckets and tracked their 10-day weeks and four-month seasons with the help of gargantuan calendars etched into temple walls. They built the world's first lighthouse, on the Mediterranean at Alexandria, and its first stone monument, too, still standing tall at Memphis. They played a game like chess, made wine, kept pets, and mapped the stars.

One thing they didn't do was discover electricity. How, then, did they light the pyramid tunnels, tombs, and catacombs they so beautifully adorned? Torches would have smoked the walls black. One day, at the Valley of the Nobles, one of the tomb guides gave us the answer. As we descended belowground, he positioned a mirror against a rock at the entrance so that it reflected the North African sun to follow us. As we moved from chamber to chamber, the guide walked behind us with another mirror, which he used to catch the light and reflect it again in the directions we gazed. The rooms and corridors brightened in turn with noontime sun.

Kathleen Peddicord
Publisher, International Living

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