Egypt, April 13, 2007
Mycerinus is always hiding behind Pizza Hut
The Great Pyramids are human scale. That's the first thing I noticed as the taxi drove along the Giza Plateau. The three Great Pyramids of Giza, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, while majestic and impressive, are still man-sized when you are up close and personal with them.Now that doesn't mean they are small, or the size of a man. Hell no! They are magnificent in their ancient grandeur and grand proportions. But when you are close, each stone block, all 2.5 tones, still look like they can be moved with enough time, will, and people.
If you've seen the Great Wall of China, or visited Machu Picchu you'll know what I mean. While big blocks of stone may impress us today, when we cannot imagine moving them without machinery, back in the day, they moved mountains, literally, one rock at a time.
Yes, it took time, a lifetime for the pyramids, but before TV or Internet, when stone plow farming was the lifestyle, people had time, plenty of time, to roll blocks of stone up a hill, onto a plateau, and build a monument for their god. In doubt? Then visit a cathedral.
And today I did the same, I wandered up a hill to see monuments to gods. I walked among the Great Pyramids of Egypt, humble on the sand below their great spires. In awe of the effort, the genius of man's construction. Both the pyramids before me and the city of Cairo behind me.
That city is also quite near the pyramids too. You don't see it from the tourist photos, but Cairo comes right to the base of the monuments, homes, businesses, modern city life. In fact the Sphinx spies not tranquil desert but modern urban chaos.
The Sphinx is also rather small. Carved from stone, like the churches of Lalibela, it rises from the base of a limestone causeway leading to the Pyramid of Chephren and frames all three pyramids if you stand back far enough.
If you stand back farther still, then the pyramids become urban background, invisible to Cairenes, just like the Capitol Building or White House is invisible to Washingtonians. I stood on a far street corner, pyramids plain to anyone who looked, and yet no one did. Which is why you can understand the state they are in.
Each pyramid is stripped of its once-gleaming limestone sheath, lost to the greed of those who wanted cheap limestone for their palaces or building blocks for their homes and saw no problem with taking a few stones from the monuments. Seen by a needy builder, they are an endless quarry of pre-carved blocks, perfect for a cornerstone or courtyard centerpiece.
Strewn around the base of each pyramid are large blocks that fell off over the years, exposing soft limestone underneath that is now, ever so slowly, melting from the thrice-annual rains. Rains acid from Cairo pollution.
But do not fret, the pyramids will be here for you to see, for your children to see, and for your children's children. Even if they are on a human scale, they aren't going anywhere anytime soon, no matter how many humans, touts, tourists, and camel jockeys swirl at their base.