Photo Of The Day: Egyptian Sphinx

Thanksgiving is a holiday that embraces traditions. It only seemed appropriate then to close out this long holiday weekend with an image of that most-iconic of Egyptian historical landmarks: the Sphinx. This image was taken by Flickr user robert vaccaro. I like the shot’s side-profile perspective and the nice contrast of sandy rock with clean, blue sky. It’s a simple yet classic image that’s well framed and eye-catching.

Taken any great photos on your trip to Egypt? Or maybe just during your visit to Cairo, Illinois? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user robert vaccaro]

The Last Pyramids Of Egypt

pyramids
They just don’t make pyramids like they used to.

The pyramids of Egypt have fascinated people ever since they were built. The Step Pyramid at Saqqara started things off around 2650 B.C. Later came the iconic pyramids of Giza. What’s often forgotten, however, is that pyramid construction continued for more than a thousand years and there are at least 138 built to house the remains of pharaohs and queens. More are still being discovered. Last year, satellite imagery revealed seventeen previously unknown pyramids.

The later pyramids of Egypt tend to be overlooked, and it’s easy to see why considering the sad state of most of them. Just take a look at this photo of the pyramid of Senusret II (ruled 1895-1878 B.C.) and photographed by Jon Bodsworth. Like a lot of later pyramids, it was made of mud bricks instead of stone blocks to save money, and that’s why it’s a giant sad lump today – an interesting lump, though.

The interior tunnels are still intact and archaeologists discovered the nearby village where the workmen lived. Contrary to popular belief, slaves didn’t construct the pyramids. Actually, it was trained craftsmen and farmers who didn’t have any other work to do when their fields were underwater during the annual flooding of the Nile.

Senusret II was part of the 12th Dynasty, a high point in Egyptian power and civilization. It’s strange then that pyramids were in decline. You can see several of these pyramids at Dahsur, not far from Saqqara and an easy day trip from Cairo. One is the Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III (ruled 1842-1797 B.C.). It started to collapse almost immediately so he had to build a second one at the Faiyum Oasis near a giant temple to the crocodile god Sobek. This site reopened last year.

%Gallery-155699%The experimentation with cheaper building methods may have started with Senusret I (ruled 1962-1928 B.C.). Instead of a solid geometric shape, the builders first constructed a network of walls crisscrossing each other and dividing the pyramid into 32 parts. These were then filled with loose stone. A smooth limestone facing was put over the whole thing. It sounded good in theory, but it’s another sad lump today.

Perhaps as a compensation for the cheap building styles, the later pyramids had elaborate tricks to stop tomb robbers: dead end tunnels sealed with thick stones; interior chambers made of quartzite, the hardest substance worked in Ancient Egypt; elaborately sealed rooms that contained nothing; and sarcophagi as big as the rooms that held them in order to deny robbers room to work.

Sadly, none of these tricks worked and the pharaohs eventually resorted to hidden underground tombs in places like the Valley of the Kings. After the 12th and 13th dynasties, pyramids went out of fashion. Many of the 13th dynasty rulers didn’t bother building one at all. Only a few were made by later dynasties. The last pyramid made for a pharaoh was for Ahmose I around 1525 B.C. It’s a pile of rubble now that barely measures 30 feet high. Much later, pyramids briefly became fashionable in the Sudan.

The pyramid was dead, and last year, so was Egypt’s tourism industry. It’s been gradually rebuilding itself, though. Cruise lines are returning, as are independent travelers. The tourist sights remained mostly unaffected by the unrest and there’s not much trouble outside of a few spots in Cairo.

Visitors will have more to see with six tombs at Giza having reopened and Egyptologists hard at work uncovering more ancient wonders. Many of the later pyramids haven’t been excavated and while all the ones that have been explored were plundered by tomb robbers centuries ago, there’s always a chance that the treasure of a pharaoh remains hidden inside one of them.

Video: Visiting The Pyramids of Sudan


Sudan is near the top of my list of countries I haven’t been to that I want to explore. One of the main things I’m aching to see are the pyramids of Meroë. This site has dozens of pyramids built starting around 720 BC.

Meroë was one of the capitals of the Nubian Empire, which at times rivaled its more famous northern neighbor, Egypt. As archaeologists continue to excavate in the Sudan, they’re finding that it had more influence on ancient Egyptian culture than previously thought. The Nubians even took over Egypt and installed their own dynasty there, ruling from 760-656 BC before the Egyptians kicked them out.

The pyramids at Meroë are a two-and-a-half hour drive north of the modern capital Khartoum. This video takes us on that journey, with a classic soundtrack to get us in the mood. The camel crossing reminds me of a similar holdup I experienced in Ethiopia’s Somali region!

Tourist Attractions Around The World: Fact vs. Fiction

The wonders of the modern world define our travels. Whether we admit it or not, there’s something heroic about standing on top of the Great Wall of China or hiking up to the crest above Machu Pichu for the trademark photograph. It’s those photos that fuel our travels and that convince our friends and families to make the same trips. It’s also those photos that define our perceptions of a destination and, in a way, cloud them.

What’s missing in most destination photos, though, is context. The Taj Mahal is a celebration of architecture and beauty in northern India, but the surrounding neighborhoods have developed an economy that is known for taking advantage of tourists. The Mona Lisa, shown above, is often buried by eager tourists.

To illustrate this contrast we put together a series of destination images before and after – as we see them on postcards and then in real life. At worst, the photos show how crowded and hectic some of the world’s destinations can sometimes be. But we prefer to think of them in a different light: they’re the destinations in real life, complete with tourist, busker and hawker. In a way, it’s a more complete story.

Next: The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France >>

[flickr image via thms.nl]

Sacred ship from ancient Egypt is undergoing restoration

ancient Egypt, solar boatA sacred boat that lay hidden in the sands of the Sahara for 4,500 years will be restored and put on display, Egyptian authorities say.

The boat is one of a pair discovered buried next to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu at Giza, also known as the Great Pyramid. They rested in long, stone-covered pits.

The first boat, shown here in this photo courtesy Berthold Werner, was excavated in 1954 and is already on display at the Solar Boat Museum at Giza. It’s considered one of the most remarkable finds from ancient Egypt and is similar in design to the feluccas that still ply the Nile today.

Japanese and Egyptian archaeologists are working together to gather samples of the second boat’s wood in order to understand how best to restore and preserve it. The current project to uncover and analyze the second boat has been going on since 1992. Last summer the painstaking task of excavating and removing the boat from its pit was completed.

According to tests, the boat is made of Lebanon cedar and is actually a little older than the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu, who ruled from 2551-2528 BC, according to the Japanese team. His name has been found inscribed on the boat.

It’s not certain that the two vessels were actually used, and may have only been symbolic boats to carry the pharaoh across the sky with the sun god Ra in the afterlife. Egyptians were often buried with little statues of servants, animals, soldiers, and even entire farms to serve them in the hereafter.