One of my favorite sayings to live by is “work to live” – it’s really what I tried to follow while living and working in NYC. Quite frankly – I worked my ass of so that I could have this year + of travel…the epitome of “work to live”. There are so many people that I know who “live to work” – I’ve never really understood those people…and probably never will. However, even stranger, I have determined that the ancient Egyptian motto was “live to die”. That’s really how they lived their life…constantly thinking and preparing for the afterlife. After all, they believed that the afterlife was really where the fun was….and they were going to take everything with them that they needed…jewels, beds, clothes, pets, and wives. If I lived in this time, I think I would take my sleep sheet, my blow up travel pillow, a good hat, my camera, my laptop, and my ipod to the afterlife. That seems to be all that I need to live these days – and I certainly can’t imagine living without them anymore! In order to house all of these possessions they wanted to take with them to the afterworld – they needed a big place to store all of this loot…and that’s how the tombs of the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings came to be.
Photo: Colossi of Memnon
My first exposure to the tombs of the Egyptian Kings was near Luxor at Valley of the Kings. Basically this was a secret location, hidden deep in a valley outside of Luxor where the various Kings were buried with all of their loot. Valleys always make me think about the 1980’s and the era of the Valley Girl. I think I even had a book on how to talk like a valley girl…however I don’t think I was too convincing in Peoria Illinois. Even though the Valley of Kings was like totally awesome, I didn’t see one mall there…totally disapointing…I am sooo sure! As we neared the royal valley, we were first greeted by the Colossi of Memnon – two huge statues that were moved to dry ground when the Nile started flooding. They were impressive and cut out of one piece of rock. We arrived at the tombs and this was my first time to really understand what I was about to see…underground tombs that had been preserved for thousands of years. There was a bitchin’ model of the tombs at the visitor center – it displayed a 3D image of the valley topography and underneath the topography it displayed the myriad of tunnels/tombs dug deep into the valley floor. We were to see 3 tombs that day for our entry fee.
Photo: Me in front of King Tut’s tomb
We learned that all of the tombs here had been raided years ago – yes, think Tomb Raider or Raiders of the Lost Arc. The only one that remained a secret was King Tut’s tomb – one of the smallest in the valley. The treasure in King Tut’s tomb has since been safely preserved and is on display at various museums. The Egyptian tombs were really the first concept of buried treasure. The Kings tried to keep the location of the tombs secret as they needed to ensure that their treasures would stay with them so they could have them in the afterlife. They couldn’t just show up to the afterlife with nothing…after all, they had to sleep somewhere and they didn’t have the ability to charge a new bed on a heavenly credit card! In order to protect their treasures they had a small, trusted group of people working on constructing the tombs – about 50 people over multiple years. These workers were treated well, as the King didn’t want any unhappy employees building his tomb…as they would be more likely to give up the location to the treasure.
The tombs were so well preserved they didn’t look real. As I walked through the first one I really couldn’t comprehend how the colors could be so vibrant for thousands of years. It just goes to show why we should wear sun screen every day. The tunnels/tombs are colorfully in tact because they haven’t been exposed to the sun, rain, wind or other elements. Colorful hieroglyphics line the tomb walls and ceilings for meters and meters deep into the core of the tomb. Besides a colorful resting place, there is one other perk to this ‘live to die’ lifestyle – plaster surgery. Our guide described how the Kings would build their sarcofigices/tombs in the form of how hey wanted to be seen in the afterlife. If they were short, they might have made a very tall sarcofigice, if they had a big nose, maybe they made their sarcofigice nose small. As the guide was describing this – one of the men from our group, Archie, said, “Oh, it’s like plaster surgery.”…perfect…I loved the comment so much that I had to use it! I guess even thousands of years ago the grass was always greener…go figure. I had an image float across my mind about my potential sarcofigice – one that had big boobs and thick wavy hair. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go visit the Valley of Kings yourself though as no pictures were allowed inside – but you’ll have to take my word for it – the hyroglyphics were amazing…this means a lot coming from me as I don’t even like old temples normally! I’d rather gag myself with a spoon than visit ancient temples…but the tombs in this valley were like totally worth it!
However – the granddaddy tomb of them all was the Pyramids. Due to my delay in arriving in Egypt, I had to save my trip to the Pyramids until my last day in Egypt. Rosaline and I got up early and had organized a private (air conditioned…thank god) car, and tour guide for our precious trip to one of the Great Wonders. This was it….this was the reason I had wanted to come to Egypt. As we drove through Cairo – we passed over the Nile and through downtown. I was struck by how modern Cairo really was compared to the rest of Egypt. As we drove further the modern thriving city turned into more of a dirty, gritty, apartment filled neighborhood – and all of a sudden I saw it. I could barely make it out in the heavy haze that morning, but there it was – a triangle point sticking up behind these old, ratty buildings. It seemed so out of place, to be so close to the Cairo suburb –a building 4,500 years old…talk about juxtaposition. I used to think that Boston was really unique because it had all of these old buildings amidst the modern ones – however – that thought seemed silly now as I viewed the pyramids sitting 200 meters away from a modern day Egyptian neighborhood.
Photo: Boy sitting on a stone of the pyramid…great sense of scale!
Let’s talk about the numbers. There are actually 9 pyramids in total – 3 large ones built for the Kings (grandfather, father, and son) and 6 smaller ones that belonged to the Queens. The great pyramid was the first pyramid to be built and it contained 2,300,000 stones that were brought from the south of Egypt by way of the Nile River. Each stone weighed from 2 to 15 tons. It actually took 30 years to build the Great Pyramid – the tomb for King Kyops. However, it took 200 years to develop the idea of the pyramids…meaning why they chose the shape, and how they figured out to architect it. It is believed that over 50,000 people worked on building it. These people weren’t slaves, they were regular Egyptians who had plenty of time on their hands – especially during the 4 months of the year when the Nile flooded and people were unable to work the land, instead they worked on the Pyramid.
Calling all geeks…I have a test for you! One of the coolest things that we learned was how the Egyptians actually sealed the sarcofogice/tomb inside the pyramid structure once the king had died. Think about it – the pyramid was already completed prior to the King’s death. There were only very small tunnel openings in the pyramid 1 meter by 1 meter. The King dies – he has a huge, heavy sarcofgice that needs to somehow go into the middle of the pyramid – how do you get it in there?
a. they dig another tunnel and take it in that way
b. they buried him alive
c. aliens put it in there
d. none of the above
…and the answer is…D! As they built the Pyramid they built the burial chamber room in the middle. There were 2 tunnels running out of the burial chamber that ran parallel to the ground and out to two openings at near the base of the pyramid. The tunnels were only 1 meter by 1 meter. As they built the pyramid up, they left the top open that lead to the burial chamber. They plugged the tunnel openings up with rocks and filled the burial chamber and tunnels with sand dumped in from the top of the pyramid. The sand went all the way to the top of the opening…the Pyramid was completely full. Once the King died, they mummified him (a process that took over 60 days) at the temple of the Sphinx. They then placed him in his sarcofogice, put it on top of the sand file at the top of the pyramid. They then unplugged the tunnel holes below near the ground, leaving the sand run out of the tunnel and empty out of the pyramid – slowly emptying and taking the sarcofogice with it right into the burial chamber.
Overall, I was in awe of the Pyramids…I suppose that’s exactly how one should feel when standing in front of the only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World. Let me just remind you again – the Pyramids are over 4,500 years old. It’s really mind blowing when you think of this – actually I was never really able to get my head around the age of these wonders…it just seemed impossible that I was standing here looking at something that could be that old…it made me feel small, very small. It made you appreciate how incredible the world is and the human beings who inhabit this globe are. It made me happy that I was out seeing it and following my motto of “work to live”. My life for the last 11 months has been spectacular and I wouldn’t change a single moment of it.