Egypt

Map of Egypt

Capital:          Cairo

1867 – Independence from Ottoman Empire.

1922 – End of protectorate with UK.

Area:              1 002 450km²

Population: 79 089 650

GDP: US$ 490 604 Billion

Annual Per Capita Income: US$ 6 200 – Nr 137 out of 230

Egypt is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and the Islamic world .Egypt is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.

Egypt is one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East. The great majority of its estimated 79 million people live near the banks of the Nile River, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometers, where the only arable land is found. The large areas of the Sahara Desert are sparsely inhabited. About half of Egypt’s residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centers of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.

Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization, with famous monuments such as the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx. Its ancient ruins, such as those of Memphis, Thebes, and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings outside Luxor, are a significant focus of archaeological study. The tourism and the Red Sea Riviera employ about 12% of Egypt’s workforce.

The economy of Egypt is one of the most developed and diversified in the Middle East, with sectors such as tourism, agriculture, industry and service at almost equal production levels.

Egypt enjoys a deep-rooted civilization which began when the ancient Egyptians established on the bank of the River Nile the first central state. Throughout centuries, the Egyptians interacted with other civilizations and peoples.

Yet, Egypt kept its cultural peculiarity which historians divide into Pharaonic Era which lasted for 3000 years, Greek Era which also lasted for 3000 years, Roman Era which interacted with Coptic Era after Christianity entered Egypt, and finally the Islamic Conquest of Egypt and the Ottoman Rule till the Modern Era launched by Mohamed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt.

History of Egypt

Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, forming the Sahara. Early tribal peoples migrated to the Nile River where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society.

The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions appeared during the predynastic period on Naqada III pottery vessels, dated to about 3200 BC.

The Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, built during the Old Kingdom, are modern national icons that are at the heart of Egypt’s thriving tourism industry.

Apart from the Nile Valley, the majority of Egypt’s landscape is desert. Winds create prolific sand dunes that peak at more than 100 feet (30 m) high. Egypt includes parts of the Sahara Desert and of the Libyan Desert. These deserts that protected the Kingdom of the Pharaohs from western threats were referred to as the “red land” in ancient Egypt.

Politics

Egypt was the first Arab state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, with the signing of the treaty. Despite the peace treaty, Israel is still largely considered an enemy country within Egypt. Egypt has historically played an important role as a mediator in resolving disputes between various Arab states, and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Egypt is a major ally of the United States.

In January 2011, a popular protest began against the Mubarak government, consisting of a wide range of class demographics. The objective of the protest was for the removal of Mubarak from power. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak has stepped down as President of Egypt as a result of the popular protests starting January 25.On February 13, 2011, the high level military command of Egypt has announced that both the constitution and the parliament of Egypt has been dissolved. The parliamentary election will be held in September.

Climate

Most of Egypt’s rain falls in the winter months. South of Cairo, rainfall averages only around 2 to 5 mm per year and at intervals of many years. On a very thin strip of the northern coast the rainfall can be as high as 410 mm mostly between October and March. Snow falls on Sinai’s mountains and some of the north coastal cities such as Damietta, Baltim, Sidi Barrany, etc. and rarely in Alexandria. Frost is also known in mid-Sinai and mid-Egypt.

A steady wind from the northwest helps lower temperatures near the Mediterranean coast. The Khamaseen is a wind that blows from the south in spring, bringing sand and dust, and sometimes raises the temperature in the desert to more than 38 °C.

Prior to the construction of the Aswan Dam, the Nile flooded annually (colloquially The Gift of the Nile) replenishing Egypt’s soil. This gave the country consistent harvest throughout the years.

Economy

Economy of Egypt Egypt’s economy depends mainly on agriculture, media, petroleum exports, and tourism; there are also more than three million Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf and Europe. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population, limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress the economy.

Suez Canal BridgeThe government has invested in communications and physical infrastructure. Egypt has received U.S. foreign aid (since 1979, an average of $2.2 billion per year) and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States following the Iraq war. Its main revenues however come from tourism as well as traffic that goes through the Suez Canal.

An estimated 2.7 million Egyptians abroad contribute actively to the development of their country through remittances (US$ 7.8 billion in 2009), as well as circulation of human and social capital and investment.

Before you get to Aswan there is a place called Abu Simbel – it is worth seeing

The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbors. However, the complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.

The relocation of the temples was necessary to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. Abu Simbel remains one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions. Please try to see it!

ASWAN.

Aswan, Egypt’s southernmost city sits on the banks of a particularly beautiful stretch of the Associated with the Nubian people, a distinct ethnic group with their own language and Nile, decorated with palm-fringed islands and flotillas of white-sailed feluccas. The town is more African in character than the cities of the north.

Elephantine Island

Elephantine Island is the site of ancient Abu (meaning both elephant and ivory in ancient Egyptian), both names a reminder of the island’s once important ivory trade. At the beginning of the 1st dynasty (about 3000 BC) a fortress was built on the island to establish Egypt’s southern frontier. Abu soon became an important customs point and trading centre.

Northern Quarries

In the Northern Quarries is a huge discarded obelisk. Three sides of the shaft, which is nearly 42m long, were completed except for the inscriptions. At 1168 tons, the completed obelisk would have been the single heaviest piece of stone the Egyptians ever fashioned. However, a flaw appeared in the rock at a late stage in the process. So it lies where the disappointed stonemasons abandoned it, still partly attached to the parent rock, with no indication of what it was intended for.

Nubia Museum

The Nubia Museum is a showcase of the history, art and culture of Nubia and is a real treat. Established in 1997, in cooperation with Unesco, the museum is a reminder of the history and culture of the Nubians, much of which was lost when Lake Nasser flooded their land after the building of the dams. Exhibits are beautifully displayed in huge halls, where clearly written explanations take you from 4500 BC through to the present day. As it is not on the tour-group circuit, the museum is little visited.

Nubian Villages

Sandwiched between the ruins of Abu and the Mövenpick are two colourful Nubian Villages, Siou and Koti. Strolling through their shady alleys and gardens is a wonderful way to experience life on modern Elephantines.

A north-south path across the middle of the island links the two villages and about halfway along is the Nubian Café, with a shady garden beside a traditional Nubian house. The wonderful Hamdi, who often hangs out here, loves to tell people about his culture. Beware that several readers have warned about locals pretending to be Hamdi and trying to sell excursions or souvenirs.

Aswan Day Tour

Tour Itinerary

Your guide for the Aswan day tour will pick you up and begin your guided tour with a visit by “nile cruise felucca” (local sailing boat) or Launch to Elephantine Island see the Mausoleum of Agha-Khan from the Nile and visit the Botanical Gardens.

Our next stop is a visit to a traditional Nubian Village.

The remainder of the day is free for leisure. We suggest you visit to the Unfinished Obelisk in the ancient granite quarries, the High Dam, and the romantic temple of Philae.

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LUXOR

PLEASE DO AN ORGANISED DAY TOUR OF LUXOR – it is impossible to see everything on your own.

Luxor

Tour Itinerary

Your Egyptologist tour leader will pick you up and start your tour. Transfer you across the Nile River to the West Bank to visit the famous Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings actually has two components – the East Valley and the West Valley. It is the East Valley which most tourists visit and where most of the tombs of the New Kingdom Pharaohs are located.

Following is a visit to the Valley of the Queens, also known as Biban El Harim. These belonged to the queens of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. There are between 75 to 80 tombs in the Valley of the Queens.

The tour ends with a visit to the Temple of Hatshepsut named Deir El Bahari, one of the most beautiful of the royal mortuary temples and Colossi of Memnon.

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LUXOR

Built around the 4000-year-old site of Thebes, the ancient capital of the New Kingdom, contemporary Luxor is an eccentric combination of provincial town and staggering ancient splendour. The concentration of monuments is extraordinary: they tower incongruously above the buzz of everyday life and make this a most compelling destination.

Karnak

More than a temple, Karnak is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Theban gods and the greater glory of pharaohs. Everything is on a gigantic scale: the site covers over 2 sq km, large enough to contain about 10 cathedrals, while its main structure, the Temple of Amun, is the largest religious building ever built. This was where the god lived on earth, surrounded by the houses of his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu, two other huge temple complexes on this site. Built, added to, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated over nearly 1500 years, Karnak was the most important place of worship in Egypt during the New Kingdom. It was called Ipet-Sut, meaning ‘The Most Esteemed of Places’; Karnak is its Arabic name meaning ‘fortified settlement’. New Kingdom records show that the priests of the Temple of Amun had 81,000 people working in or for the temple, owned 421,000 head of cattle, 65 cities, 83 ships and 276,400 hectares of agricultural land, giving an idea of its economic, as well as spiritual, significance.

The 3km-long paved avenue of human-headed sphinxes that once linked the great Temple of Amun at Karnak with Luxor Temple, is now again being cleared.

Luxor Temple

Largely built by the pharaohs Amenhotep III (1380-1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), the Luxor Temple is a strikingly graceful monument in the heart of the modern town. Visit during the day, perhaps later afternoon, but make sure to return at night when the temple is lit up, creating an eerie spectacle as shadow and light play off the reliefs and colonnades.

Valley of the Kings

Once called the Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh, or the Place of Truth, the Valley of the Kings has 63 magnificent royal tombs from the New Kingdom period (1550–1069 BC), all very different from each other. The West Bank had been the site of royal burials from the First Intermediate Period (2160–2025 BC) onwards. At least three 11th-dynasty rulers built their tombs near the modern village of Taref, northeast of the Valley of the Kings. The 18th-dynasty pharaohs, however, chose the isolated valley dominated by the pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al-Qurn (The Horn)

Tomb of Tutankhamen

Only one tomb, the Tomb of Tutankhamen, found in 1922 by Howard Carter, has so far been discovered intact. If you’ve seen Tutankhamen’s treasures in the Cairo Museum, a visit to the simple tomb of this minor pharaoh helps indicate what unimaginable riches once attended the tombs of more illustrious pharaohs such as Tuthmosis I or Ramses II. The corridors and antechambers of the tombs of Sethos I and Ramses IX have some of the best wall paintings, while the tomb of Amenophis II, hidden in the escarpment, is the most exciting to visit. Many tombs are regrettably closed.

Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut

The eyes first focus on the dramatic rugged limestone cliffs that rise nearly 300 m above the desert plain, a monument made by Nature, only to realize that at the foot of all this immense beauty, lies a man-made monument even more extraordinary, the dazzling Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut. The almost modern looking temple blends in beautifully with the cliffs from which it is partly cut, it is a marriage made in heaven.

Continuous excavation and restoration since 1891 have revealed one of ancient Egypt’s finest monuments, but it must have been even more stunning in the days of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC.

Mummification Museum

Housed in the former visitors centre on Luxor’s Corniche, the small Mummification Museum has well-presented exhibits explaining the art of mummification. On display are the well-preserved mummy of a 21st-dynasty high priest of Amun, Maserharti, and a host of mummified animals. Vitrines show the tools and materials used in the mummification process – check out the small spoon and metal spatula used for scraping the brain out of the skull. Several artefacts that were crucial to the mummy’s journey to the afterlife have also been included, as well as some picturesque painted coffins. Presiding over the entrance is a beautiful little statue of the jackal god, Anubis.

RED SEA:

Max. length 2,250 km

Max. width 355 km

Surface area 438,000 km2

Average depth 490 m

Max. depth 2,211 m

Water volume 233,000 km3

The Red Sea (alternatively “Arabian Gulf” is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. Occupying a part of the Great Rift Valley, the Red Sea has a surface area of roughly 438,000 km²  Average depth is about 490 m however, there are also extensive shallow shelves, noted for their marine life and corals. The sea is the habitat of over 1,000 invertebrate species, and 200 soft and hard corals. It is the world’s northernmost tropical sea.

The name of the sea may signify the seasonal blooms of the red-coloured Trichodesmium erythraeum near the water’s surface.Another hypothesis is that the name comes from the Himyarite, a local group whose own name means red.

A theory favored by some modern scholars is that the name red is referring to the direction South, just as the Black Sea’s name may refer to North. The basis of this theory is that some Asiatic languages used color words to refer to the cardinal directions. Herodotus on one occasion uses Red Sea and Southern Sea interchangeably.

It is theorized that it was named so because it borders the Egyptian Desert, which the ancient Egyptians called the Dashret or “red land”; therefore it would have been the sea of the red land.

The earliest known exploration of the Red Sea was conducted by Ancient Egyptians, as they attempted to establish commercial routes to Punt. One such expedition took place around 2500 BC, and another around 1500 BC ( by Hatshepsut ). Both involved long voyages down the Red Sea.

The Red Sea was favored for Roman trade with India starting with the reign of Augustus, when the Roman Empire gained control over the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the northern Red Sea. The route had been used by previous states but grew in the volume of traffic under the Romans. From Indian ports goods from China were introduced to the Roman world. Contact between Rome and China depended on the Red Sea, but the route was broken by the Aksumite Empire around the 3rd century AD.

During the Middle Ages, the Red Sea was an important part of the Spice trade route.

The Suez Canal was opened in November 1869. At the time, the British, French, and Italians shared the trading posts. The posts were gradually dismantled following the First World War. After the Second World War, the Americans and Soviets exerted their influence whilst the volume of oil tanker traffic intensified. However, the Six Day War culminated in the closure of the Suez Canal from 1967 to 1975. Today, in spite of patrols by the major maritime fleets in the waters of the Red Sea, the Suez Canal has never recovered its supremacy over the Cape route, which is believed to be less vulnerable.

The Red Sea is one of the most saline bodies of water in the world, due to high evaporation. Salinity ranges from between ~36 ‰ in the southern part due to the effect of the Gulf of Aden water and reaches 41 ‰ in the northern part, due mainly to the Gulf of Suez water and the high evaporation. The average salinity is 40 ‰. In terms of salinity, the Red Sea is greater than the world average, approximately 4 percent. This is due to several factors:

High rate of evaporation and very little precipitation.

Lack of significant rivers or streams draining into the sea.

Limited connection with the Indian Ocean, which has lower water salinity.

A number of volcanic islands rise from the center of the sea. Most are dormant, but in 2007 Jabal al-Tair island erupted violently.

Wind is the driving force in the Red Sea for transporting the material either as suspension or as bedload. Wind induced currents play an important role in the Red Sea in initiating the process of resuspension of bottom sediments and transfer of materials from sites of dumping to sites of burial in quiescent environment of deposition. Wind generated current measurement is therefore important in order to determine the sediment dispersal pattern and its role in the erosion and accretion of the coastal rock exposure and the submerged coral beds.

Dust storm over the Red SeaThe Red Sea was formed by Arabia splitting from Africa due to movement of the Red Sea Rift. This split started in the Eocene and accelerated during the Oligocene. The sea is still widening and it is considered that the sea will become an ocean in time (as proposed in the model of John Tuzo Wilson).

The Red Sea is a rich and diverse ecosystem. More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else.[14] This also includes 42 species of deepwater fish.

The rich diversity is in part due to the 2,000 km of coral reef extending along its coastline; these fringing reefs are 5000–7000 years old and are largely formed of stony acropora and porites corals. The reefs form platforms and sometimes lagoons along the coast and occasional other features such as cylinders (such as the Blue Hole (Red Sea) at Dahab). These coastal reefs are also visited by pelagic species of red sea fish, including some of the 44 species of shark.

The special biodiversity of the area is recognized by the Egyptian government, who set up the Ras Mohammed National Park in 1983. The rules and regulations governing this area protect local marine life, which has become a major draw for diving enthusiasts.

Divers and snorkellers should be aware that although most Red Sea species are innocuous, a few are hazardous to humans.Other marine habitats include sea grass beds, salt pans, mangroves and salt marshes.

The Red Sea became known as a sought-after diving destination after the expeditions of Hans Hass in the 1950s, and later by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

Tourism in the South of the Red Sea is presently considered risky because of the presence of pirates originating from uncontrolled zones of Somalia. Large vessels such as cargoes are sometimes attacked by heavily armed high-speed boats. The situation is even worse in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen.

The popular tourist beach of Sharm el-Sheikh was closed to all swimming in December 2010 due to several serious shark attacks, including one fatal one. As of December 2010, scientists are investigating the attacks and have identified, but not verified, several possible causes including over fishing which causes large sharks to hunt closer to shore, tourist boat operators who chum the waters just offshore to present shark-photo opportunities, and reports of passing ships throwing dead livestock overboard. Furthermore the geography of some parts of the Red Sea is such that large sharks can sometimes wander close to shore. This is due to the sea’s narrow width, significant depth, and sharp drop-offs, all of which combine to form a geography where large deep-water sharks can roam in hundreds of meters of water, yet be within a hundred meters of swimming areas.

MALLAWI

Mallawi is a town in Egypt, located in the governorate of Minya.Situated in a farm area, the town produces textiles and handicrafts.The total area of the city is about 3 acres (12,000 m2). The southern limit is Allah Mansion (possibly a religious structure?), the northern limit is a television transmitter, the eastern border is the Nile, and the western boundary is Dirotiah Lake. The city contains many ancient Egyptian artifacts.

CAIRO

Please do an organised one day tour of Cairo.

Cairo Classic city tour

Tour Itinerary

Your guide for the day will pick you up and begin your guided tour in Giza to visit the legendary majestic Pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mykerionos – also known as the Great Pyramids of Giza. You will see firsthand d why these spectacular man-made monuments are known as one of the seven wonders of the world. While visiting the Pyramids, (Optional: this is a perfect time to ride a camel and capture your experience in a photograph!).

When we finish exploring the Great Pyramids our next stop is a visit to the Sphinx monument; guarding the royal burial chambers and temple of Cheops.

NOTE: Before going to the Egyptian museum this is the best time to take a break for lunch (not included in price) or visit one of the following (included in tour price):

Papyrus Gallery

Gold Factory

Perfume Factory

In the afternoon we will visit the Egyptian museum of antiquities, which was established in 1902 near the city center in Cairo. On display is a rare collection of 5000 years of art — the largest most precious collection of Egyptian art in the world. Over 250,000 genuine artifacts are presented, including an exhibit dedicated to the Tut-Ankh-Amon collection of treasures, gold, and jewelry, as it was enclosed in his tomb for over 3,500 years before it was discovered in the 1920’s when his tomb was excavated.

At the end of the tour, the driver will transfer you back to your hotel.

Tour rates are per person in US Dollars – Click here for currency converter

14.- 20 + persons 08.-13 persons 04.-07 persons 02.-03 persons 01person

$40.- $45.- $50.- $55.- $75.-

These rates available until the end of 2010

CAIRO

Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, is Africa‘s largest city and has been renowned for centuries as a center of learning, culture and commerce. Egypt has the highest number of Nobel Laureates in Africa and the Arab World.

Upon arrival, the choreographed chaos here hits you like a ton of bricks. It doesn’t take long, however, to acclimatize to Cairo’s wall of noise, snarl of traffic, cry of hawkers and blanket of smog, and get drawn into the hypnotizing charm of this pulsating metropolis.

Known to its nearly 20 million residents as Um ad-Dunya (Mother of the World), modern Cairo is a hotchpotch of recent growth barely superimposed on a dense bed of history. Wander down to Islamic Cairo and you’ll be sucked in through the looking glass to a bygone medieval era. Head out west to Giza’s famed pyramids and the time warp sets you back a full 4000 years.

Stretching along the banks of the River Nile, Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is a vast city where ancient traditions still hold up against the onslaught of modern life. A city of numerous districts, Cairo is a unique mix of medieval buildings and skyscrapers, bazaars and modern shopping malls, museums packed with ancient relics and stunning new bridges.

Cairo’s main square is Midan Tahrir, at the centre of Cairo and home to the Egyptian Museum, with downtown Cairo, the busy commercial district, to the north-east bordered by the River Nile. Gezirah Island, connected to downtown by three bridges, houses the Cairo Tower and the Cairo Opera House. East of downtown is Islamic Cairo, the medieval heart of the city. Coptic Cairo, the seat of the Christian Coptic community, lies at the heart of Old Cairo, which is also home to Cairo’s Jewish community. West of the Nile is Giza, about 18 kilometers south-west of the centre of Cairo, with the magnificent Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

Egyptian Museum

With so much to see in the Egyptian Museum, trying to get around everything in one go is liable to induce chronic ‘Pharaonic phatigue’. The best strategy is to make at least two visits, maybe tackling one floor at a time. Unfortunately, there’s no best time to visit as the museum is packed throughout the day. Please do an organised day tour.

Without doubt, the exhibit that outshines everything else is the treasure of the young New Kingdom pharaoh Tutankhamun – don’t miss the astonishing solid-gold death mask.

Giza Pyramids

The sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza still live up to more than 4000 years of hype. Their extraordinary shape, geometry and age render them somehow alien constructions; they seem to rise out of the desert and pose the ever-fascinating question, ‘How were we built, and why?’

Centuries of research have given us parts of the answer to this double-barreled question. We know they were massive tombs constructed on the orders of the pharaohs by teams of workers tens-of-thousands strong. This is supported by the discovery of a pyramid-builders’ settlement, complete with areas for large-scale food production and medical facilities. Ongoing excavations on the Giza Plateau are providing more and more evidence that the workers were not the slaves of Hollywood tradition, but a highly organised workforce of Egyptian farmers. During the season of the inundation, when the annual Nile flood covered their fields and made farm work impossible, the same farmers could have been redeployed by the highly structured bureaucracy to work on the pharaoh’s tomb. The Pyramids can almost be seen as an ancient job-creation scheme, with the flood waters also making it easier to transport building stone to the site.

Lonely Planet review for Great Pyramid of Khufu

The oldest pyramid in Giza and the largest in Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Khufu stood 146m high when it was completed around 2570 BC. After 46 windy centuries, its height has been reduced by 9m. About 2.3 million limestone blocks, reckoned to weigh about 2.5 tonnes each, were used in the construction.

Lonely Planet review for Pyramid of Khafre

Southwest of the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre seems larger than that of his father, Khufu. At just 136m high, it’s not, but it stands on higher ground and its peak is still capped with a limestone casing. Originally all three pyramids were totally encased with polished white stone, which would have made them gleam in the sun. Over the centuries, this casing has been stripped for use in palaces and mosques, exposing the softer inner-core stones to the elements.

Lonely Planet review for Pyramid of Menkaure

At 62m (originally 66.5m), the Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the trio. A gash in the north face is the result of an attempt by Saladin’s son Malek Abdel Aziz to dismantle the pyramid in AD 1186. He gave up after eight months, having achieved little. Outside the pyramid you’ll see the excavated remains of Menkaure’s funerary temple and, further east, the ruins of his valley temple, less excavated.

Visitors are no longer allowed inside the pyramid, and it’s a long slog out here – you’re excused if you skip it.

Lonely Planet review for Sphinx

Legends and superstitions abound about the Sphinx, and the mystery surrounding its long-forgotten purpose is almost as intriguing as its appearance. On seeing it for the first time, many visitors agree with the sentiments expressed by English playwright Alan Bennett, who noted in his diary that seeing the Sphinx is like meeting a TV personality in the flesh – always smaller than had been imagined.

Lonely Planet review for Step Pyramid

In the year 2650 BC, Imhotep, the pharaoh’s chief architect (later deified), built the Step Pyramid for Zoser. It is Egypt’s (and the world’s) earliest stone monument, and its significance cannot be overstated. Previously, temples were made of perishable materials, while royal tombs were usually underground rooms topped with mud-brick mastabas. However, Imhotep developed the mastaba into a pyramid and built it in hewn stone. From this flowed Egypt’s later architectural achievements.

The pyramid was transformed from mastaba into pyramid through six separate stages of construction and alteration. With each stage, the builders gained confidence in their use of the new medium and mastered the techniques required to move, place and secure the huge blocks. This first pyramid rose in six steps to a height of 60m, and was encased in fine white limestone.

The Step Pyramid is surrounded by a vast funerary complex, enclosed by a 1645m-long panelled limestone wall, and covering 15 hectares. Part of the enclosure wall survives today at a height of about 5m, and a section near the entrance was restored to its original 10m height. Fourteen false doors, formerly of wood but now carved from stone and painted to resemble real wood, hinges and sockets, allowed the pharaoh’s ka, or attendant spirit, to come and go at will.

The complex is entered at the southeastern corner via a vestibule and along a colonnaded corridor into the broad hypostyle hall. The 40 pillars in the corridor are the original ‘bundle columns’, ribbed to resemble a bundle of palm or papyrus stems. The walls have been restored, but the protective ceiling is modern concrete. The roof of the hypostyle hall is supported by four impressive columns and there’s a large, false, half-open kadoor.

Lots of organized day tours available – check Internet or your hotel in Cairo.

Most of the information comes from Wikipedia, Wikitravel and Lonely Planet.

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