The trip in Egypt is one of those travels that can change your vision of what it really means to travel: to relativize your beliefs, learn from what you see, change your mind about history. The trip in Egypt, in fact, more than a journey, is a life experience.
Let’s go in order. Leaving for Egypt I had the conviction of going to see a great past civilization but that, in the aftermath of history, it was a bit at a time supplanted by other more advanced civilizations that took its place in the world. I think of Greek civilization, which invented modern democracy, or of the civilization of ancient Rome, where were invented the law, roads, and aqueducts. That’s the reason why I saw the trip in Egypt as one of the many trips to discover archaeological sites, perhaps even beautiful and important. I was wrong. It’s the journey that more than anything else taught me a bunch of things.
A great civilization
Egypt is a country that lives in total symbiosis with the Nile (photo 1), that has always been considered sacred by the Egyptians. You understand it before you get there. In fact, seeing Egypt from above in flight, one can clearly see from the window of the plane the flow of water flowing along the country around the sloping green stripes on the two sides of the shore, a few hundred meters wide. The only fertile and cultivated areas in the country. Beyond these subtle green bands, for miles of square miles, there is nothing but the desert.
When we speak about Egyptians we are speaking of a civilization that left the first signs of its passage around 3500 B.C., that is to say, more than 5,500 years ago, a couple of millennia ago with respect to the Greek civilization’s apogee and almost 3000 years before Foundation of Rome. It’s not a little.
But Egyptian civilization leaves the visitor a sense of great modernity, the awareness that many millennia ago Man possessed great knowledge in the field of arts, technology, astronomy, the sensation that the modern world that now we represent, and the Industrial Revolution did not actually invent anything that the Egyptians did not already know. You can think of the deep knowledge about the constellations, or about the human body (still today the mummification techniques are covered by mystery, a kind of copyright not yet completely unveiled) or the refined construction techniques of which the Pyramids represent only the most well-known example. In this sense, the visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo becomes a crucial juncture to really understand this mysterious people. Of course, the Golden Mask of Tutankamon is probably the most celebrated and precious evidence in the collection, but what strikes are the least famous objects. The gold jewelry, for example, so well designed that would make a good show even in a jewelery atelier, so much is their modernity. And then there are many of the most commonly used objects,as the scissors, or the camp bed, used by the military in the camps but similar to the sun beds we use today on the beaches. All things that the Egyptians already knew and used several millennia ago.
Many theories on the Egyptians ….
The Egyptians were so far ahead of the axis of the history to suggest, in recent years, fascinating (though not credible) theories about building pyramids. We speak about the lost civilizations of the people of Atlantis, even of Martians of prehistory, just because the modern world is still amazed at how far this modern civilization was. One of the evidence to support these theories, suggestive but somewhat imaginative, would come from the fact that pre-Columbian civilizations have built, apart from the Ocean, architectonic structures similar to Egyptian Pyramids. Just think of the Pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico. How is it possible, one wonders, that two so far civilizations had so similar constructive techniques?
Obviously, Egypt makes the Pyramids come to mind (photo 2). And that’s right. The Giza Plain is located just outside of Cairo and is probably the most important archaeological site in the world. Cheops Pyramid, in addition to being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world according to Herodotus, the only one still existing, is probably the most important testimony of human civilization. It has been there for over 4,000 years, and it is no coincidence that an ancient Arabic saying read “Man is afraid of time, but time is fearful of the pyramids.” It’s 146 meters high, it probably took more than 10 years for the construction was not due to the use of slaves, but to regular paid workers, estimated at about 10,000.
Architectural perfection has reached its highest point in Cheops Pyramid. Much is its perfection to suggest that its construction goes back to a pre-Egyptian civilization we do not know about. Some, moreover, have seen in the Giza Plain the desire to reproduce what is represented in the sky by the Orion’s Belt (photo 3), a constellation, representative of the divinities of Isis and Osiris, formed by two stars of similar size and with each other aligned, as are the Pyramids of Cheope and Chefren, and a third star, visibly smaller and slightly misaligned than the first two, as is the Pyramid of Micerino.
The Pyramids can also be visited internally, although you do not have to suffer from claustrophobia.
Not far from the Pyramids there is the Sphinx (photo 4), a colossal building made up of a lion’s body and a human head that tradition associates with the figure of Pharaoh Chefren. Also on the Sphinx, unconventional theories were developed, according to which the Sphinx would be up to 10,000 B.C. This dating is done by considering the signs of erosion on the body of the statue, similar to those typically left by a long exposure to the rain and starting from the assumption that the last rains in the Giza region came to the end of the last glaciation. It is also considered that, due to the earth’s precession, in 10500 B.C. The Sphinx, on the day of the spring equinox and at the time of the rise of the Sun, was faced with the constellation of the Lion, which, according to some scholars, was precisely its representation. According to this theory, Pharaoh Chefen’s head would only be sculpted later to replace the lion’s head: in this theory, it would be obvious, the disproportion between the size of the Sphinx’s body and those of his head.
The Pyramids of the Giza Plain are not the only ones present in the country, as you might think. Just think of Pharaoh Zoser’s Step Pyramid (picture 5), located on the plain of Saqqara, one of the oldest in Egypt. Designed by architect Imhotep, considered to be the father (or inventor) of Egyptian pyramids, it is probably the first example of Egyptian Pyramid, a kind of prototype that, in subsequent centuries, has been gradually refined until Reach the absolute perfection of the Giza Pyramids. It dates back to 2600 B.C., so it is about 4600 years ago. Rome was still far beyond coming.
Not just pyramids
Egypt, however, is not just the Pyramids.
Of great interest is the Temple of Abu Simbel (photo 6), in Nubian territory, about seventy kilometers from the Sudan border. Dedicated to the God Amon-Ra, the Temple originates mainly to glorify the great Pharaoh Ramses II and is carved into a single rock piece about 40 meters high.
The facade is enriched by the presence of four giants depicting the Pharaoh, 20 meters high each. In the Temple takes place the “Sun miracle”. Twice a year, in the spring and fall equinox, a ray of sunshine penetrated in the Temple, flooding the Amon-Ra’s shoulder, disappearing after about twenty minutes. Ptah, the god of darkness, significantly, is never hit by light. For centuries the Temple has been under the Nile. However, in the 60s of the last century, following the construction of the Aswan Dam, there was the concrete danger that the Temple could disappear under the waters of the river. A partisan work disassembly of the temple was made necessary for a piece and subsequent replacement on a higher plateau, safe from the waters of the Nile. Just in time, since in the summer of 1965 the Nile’s waters began to penetrate inexorably into the deserted empty caves. And the “miracle of the Sun”, fortunately, continues to occur even in the new temple placement.
The Karnak complex features a spectacular access driveway flanked by ram sphinxes (photo 7). Next, the giant hypostyle room with its enormous columns with paper capitals. A true “forest of columns” whose capitals, at the top, have a circumference of almost fifteen meters, enough to accommodate fifty people.
In the vast plain stretching around Tebe, between the Nile and the Valley of the Kings, you can admire the remains of the Temple of Amon. Of the temples, almost completely disappeared, there were the giants of Memnon (photo 8), two giant 20 meter high statues. Only feet measure two feet in length.
The Edfu Temple (photo 9), accessible from the Nile through cute and choreographic carriages, is one of the best preserved in Egypt. The Temple, probably the most important after Karnak, is consecrated to the god Horus.
File Temple (photo 10) is located on the same island. In the early 1900s it was completely submerged by the waters for almost the whole year, re-emerging only in August during the summer dry season of the Nile.
After building the Aswan Dam, to prevent the temple from being destroyed by water, it was dismantled piece by piece and rebuilt 150 meters further north where it was restored in the same identical way.
Egypt does not end there. Just think of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, a burial site of Pharaohs; the unfinished Obelisk, which represents an illuminating example of the constructive techniques of these important monuments; the Temple of Nefertari, right next to the Abu Simbel Temple; the Temple of Luxor, the ancient Tebe; the Temple of Kom Ombo, devoted to two different gods, Shobek, the crocodile god, and Horus, the Hawk god; The Aswan Dam, a gigantic fundamental work for energy production that has given birth to the great Nasser Lake, an artificial water mirror about 500 kilometers long.