Would you prefer to see the pyramids or the royal mummies? An insider's perspective.
I've seen them both after living for more than 20 years in Egypt. Given the choice of one or the other I'd definitely choose the pyramids. I found gazing down on the remains of someone who lived and ruled over 3,500 years ago macabre. Don't get me wrong, I understand the fascination but as an empath all I could think about was the people they'd been, and the respect they were due in death.
Despite living right next to the Egyptian museum and visiting it at least every two weeks for over a year, somehow I'd managed to avoid gazing upon the faces of these great Pharaohs and Queens of Egypt until my godson visited. He was around 10 years old and really wanted to see them and, as the dutiful godparent I am, I had no choice other than to accompany him. The mummies were housed in an exhibit within the Egyptian museum and you needed to buy another ticket to gain entrance to them, or you did then. The queue was immense.
The Egyptian Museum is a beautiful building, but it wasn't built with modern conveniences like air-conditioning and it was a roasting Cairo day, the kind of heat that stews you from the inside out. We queued for what felt like hours, sweating like a hog roast on a spit. Eventually we got in and there were the royal mummies in all their pared down splendour. A little sweaty hand slid into mine and grasped me as if life itself depended on it. We shuffled closer to the glass cases and stared down at the dark leathered skin, long nails and intricate braids of Queen Tiye. Little did I know that in twenty years' time I would write about her in House of Resurrection. If I had, maybe I would have paid more attention. My godson thought he saw her hair move, which frightened him, and with just a cursory glance around at the rest of the gathered royalty, we scuttled out in search of an ice-cream and soda. I didn't see the hair move but I like to imagine my Lady, Queen Tiye, was gesturing for my attention.
Oh, how I love the pyramids. From the flat roof of my villa you could see the step pyramid in one direction and the tips of the Giza pyramids in the other. There is something so incredibly romantic about the pyramids yet if you really analyse them subjectively, they are the epitome of egomania. Built for a single person to lord over their people even in death. I prefer to focus on the romantic view.
Every brick in the base of the pyramid is taller than me and about the length of a car.
The pyramid's normally get two distinct responses:
1. Wow - they are so much bigger than I imagined OR
2. Wow - they are so much smaller than I imagined.
I must have taken more than 30 people to visit them over the years and not one said "they are exactly as I imagined". I fall firmly into the first category, and no matter how often I visited them or saw them in the distance (which was every day on my way home from work), I never failed to be utterly awestruck. When you stand next to one of the vast stone blocks and it towers over you, and yet it is just one of the thousands of bricks that make up the pyramid, it puts their size into perspective. There's a reason they are one of the seven wonders of the world.
When you arrive at the plateau, you will notice a couple of things - firstly that Cairo has crawled up to the mighty structures, wrapping its suburbs' streets within just a few hundred metres. That shocked me when I first visited - somehow, I imagined them to be in the depths of the desert. Secondly, you'll notice the hawkers - Egyptians are natural born salesmen. They have the banter and they're not afraid to use it. I speak Arabic - like a small child, but enough to be understood. When I took people to visit, I would try to capture the attention of the salespeople to give my visitors some respite to enjoy their surroundings.
If you visit without me shielding you, you'll find people offering carriage rides, camel rides, pictures with aforementioned creatures, all sorts of tourist junk and tat and these items will be offered at ludicrous prices that should make the hair on your head curl. You'll be surrounded by people desperate for your attention and foreign wallet. But remember, these poor souls live in a country with no healthcare or support system and a cost of living that is rising beyond the capability of the average family to pay. Your purchase may be the item that allows them to pay for a sight saving surgery for their mother, or to pay for an incubator for their newborn child (both real-life examples I've witnessed). So be patient and embrace the glorious banter of these chaps as part of the pyramid experience. If you can afford it, buy something and consider it a charitable donation.
One oddity that I used to find mind blowing was that you could sit in a Pizza Hut, or it may have been a KFC, just outside the complexes’ gate and have probably one of the best views in the world with the Sphinx guarding the entrance to the pyramids. That seemed so wrong. I wish the government had licenced that space to a truly fantastic Egyptian restaurant because true Egyptian food is glorious, and that's what you should eat while gazing upon the face of the Sphinx.
I attended a lot of concerts at the Pyramids both in my working role as head of Marketing Communications for the largest mobile operator and later fixed operator, and as a paying attendee. One event we sponsored was Sting, the former lead singer of Police. He was being supported by a famous Egyptian singer who failed to turn up by the time Sting was due on stage. Sting, quite rightly, ordered the support singer's set to be taken down so he could go on stage as advertised. When the Egyptian singer turned up, he was furious and tried to get Egyptians to leave the concert to support him. I don't think anyone did - they'd paid to see Sting after all. Lateness is an art-form in Egypt - sadly one my husband hasn't adopted. I, by contrast, fitted in perfectly, as I've always been terminally late everywhere.
I also saw the opera Aida, which is set in Egypt and was truly awe-inspiring with the backdrop of the pyramids lit up against the night stars. My favourite concert was Andrea Bocelli, his music seemed to perfectly suit that setting. I took the same godson, he of the mummies incident, to see that concert and he was completely underwhelmed and oblivious of the huge ticket fee I'd shelled out to bore him to death all night. If you get a chance to attend a concert at the pyramids - jump at it - they are always spectacular.
So, pyramids or mummies? Which would you prefer to visit? Please let me know.
If you'd like to know more about my life in Egypt and my lifelong love affair with the country, read on here.
I hope after reading this my preference for writing fantasy adventure series set in Egypt makes a little more sense.
Bye for now and happy reading x
Hazel's written two interlinking fantasy adventure series based in Egypt, House of Scarabs and Kiya Shorts to see more click here.