Most of us have seen so many photographs of the Pyramids of Giza that we may feel we know them and don’t expect any surprises when we actually see the gargantuan tombs in person. I certainly didn’t expect to have much of a reaction when I saw them on my first trip to Egypt earlier this month.
In fact, seeing the Egyptian Pyramids wasn’t even my top priority when I arrived. I wanted to see Cairo, the fabled markets and crowded streets and the legendary River Nile. Even a visit to the Red Sea ranked pretty high on my list. I figured the pyramids would be another stop on my tourist path, granted an awesome stop, but I hadn’t given them much thought beyond that.
My itinerary gave me one afternoon to wander around Cairo before flying to Sharm el-Sheik. When I returned to Cairo three days later I had a window seat on the aircraft and was awed by the desperately dry Sinai below and the sparkling Gulf of Suez, a dramatically incongruous conjoining of land and sea. A short time later my seatmate, who had been keeping up a pretty good stream of monologue while looking over my shoulder, bellowed: “The pyramids! The pyramids!”
Every soul on the plane now knew that the pyramids were visible out the left side of the aircraft. I looked and sure enough, there was a stout brown edifice rising from the desert just beyond the Nile. It was a thrill to see, but from the air it appeared less pyramidal than I expected, less impressive than I thought it would be. A moment into these thoughts I discovered why. Suddenly, a little farther north, two huge, perfect pyramids and a smaller third rose above the surrounding landscape. My breath caught.
They were gigantic. They dwarfed the crowded stretch of buildings composing modern Cairo that marched toward the Nile and then stopped, as if turned back by the grandeur of these ancient structures. The pyramids of Giza appeared to cover several square blocks, incomprehensibly vast monuments that towered above the buildings of today’s city, looking as if they could swallow whole neighborhoods without a burp.
I stared at those structures until they passed from view, contorting my body trying to keep them in sight. When they were truly gone I sat back feeling as if I’d just seen a man from Mars, proof of an afterlife, or an angel on the wing. I’d had no idea the pyramids had such power, and suddenly I knew I had to see them up close. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to underestimate the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians, and my visit to Egypt took on a whole new dimension.