Something about Cairo:
Along with Mesopotamia, Egypt was one of the three early civilizations of the Old World dated back to 3150 to 30 BC. Located on the banks of the Nile, the Egyptian civilization has the oldest and richest cultural heritages that left the modern-day travelers in wonder about the lives of people over 5 thousand years ago. The ancient Egyptians are known for their prodigious culture, the ever-standing pyramids and the sphinx – the once majestic civilization was the most advanced and developed. How mummies were made, how the pyramids were built, and how they developed their sophisticated culture and social system is fascinating to me.
How to get there:
To dive into the spiritual journey of Egyptian’s past, Cairo is a good place to start. The capital of Egypt is the transportation hub connecting to the rest of the world, more, this is where some of the most iconic sights are located. The following is an essential 3-day itinerary to cover some major highlights in the city before moving on to the next travel destinations in the countries.
Day 1: Egyptian Museum
As I have already shared in my previous post, the Egyptian Museum is the best place to kick off. The history museum features a collection of 120,000 items in ancient Egypt, which is perfect for any foreigner to get some knowledge of what they about to see.
Egyptian Museum is divided into sections according to ancient Egypt’s timeline from Early Dynastic, Old Kingdom, First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, New Kingdom, to Third Intermediate Period and so on. Each section showcased valuable artifacts and treasures from important people and events in each period. Many royal treasures can only be seen in Egypt. To me, it was fascinating to learn a few stories about pharaohs from Menes, Djoser, Khufu, Achthoes, Mentuhotep, Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen, Rameses (I, II, and III), Shoshenk I, to Nephrites I. These figures had also laid down the groundwork for many achievements in Egypt: Hieroglyphic writings were developed, Memphis was built, papyrus was invented, pyramids were erected, mummification was applied, Book of the Dead was created… Eventually, the empire was invaded by Libyans and Assyrians and then conquered by Persians and Alexander the Great for Greece in 332BC.
One of the most interesting displays is the Rosetta Stone. While what is now showing in the museum is a replica, the stone is an important source for experts to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Furthermore, check out the Gold Mask of Tutankhamun, Limestone Statue of Djoser, Wooden Statue of Ka-Aper, Triad of Menhaure, Statue of Amenhotep IV, Limestone Head of Hatshepsut, Statue of Khafre, and Pharaoh’s mummies.
While mummies could be found in other exhibitions all over the world, no Pharaoh’s mummy was ever shipped overseas. I was deeply impressed as the bodies were so well-preserved and I could see the pharaoh’s hair, nails, and teeth! The hair might turn yellow from the chemicals, or skin might turn white from salt. Some of them are carefully manicured; some of them died young, and some of them reached the age of 60.
After visiting the museum, explore the other major sights like Cairo Tower, Al-Azhar Mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, Museum of Islamic Art, Coptic Cairo, Coptic Museum, or have a shopping spree in Middle Eastern souq (bazaar). Lastly, take a dinner cruise on the Nile River before heading back and take a good rest for the next day!
Day 2: Great Pyramid of Giza
Without a doubt that the Pyramids of Giza is Egypt’s number one tourist attractions and the symbol of the country. Not to mention that the Giza pyramid complex is the oldest of the Seven Wonder of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain (at least largely intact).
It is a must-do attraction on everyone’s itinerary. Right on the edge of the city, on the Giza Plateau, these funerary temples (built in the 4th dynasty) have been not only a vision to visitors but also an unsolved question mark to historians and experts. Despite the heat, the dust, and the hustle, no one should miss a visit there.
The complex is comprised of three major pyramids with the Sphinx, temples, tombs, and more. The largest pyramid is the Pyramid of Khufu, standing 139m in height, allows visitors to explore through its narrow passages to its interior. There isn’t that much to see, except a plain tomb chamber with an empty sarcophagus. However, it is a unique experience to enter one of the most mysterious architecture in the world, and still, there are a million unknowns left to scientists and historians. Like the death of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, the hidden chamber, the Dendera light, the disappearance of Queen Nefertiti, where is the lost land of Punt and so many more… it’s up to you to explore the site and find the answers.
The other two pyramids are the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. There is a viewpoint at the back of the complex where visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of all three pyramids with the city’s concrete jungle as the background.
Directly behind the Great Pyramid is the Solar Boat Museum, which displays one of the ceremonial solar barques unearthed in the area that has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.
Move on to Vally Temple of Khafre where the Vally Temple of Mankaure, Tomb of Queen Khentakaws, and Central Field of Mastabas and rock-cut tombs. The pharaoh-faced Sphinx, at the corner of the complex, is supposed to be the guardian of the mortuary temples.
Day 3: Saqqara and Citadel of Saladin
In the morning, we headed to the outskirt of Cairo to the Saqqara. It is a great way to get around by joining a local sightseeing tour. There’s no hassle of finding way around, dealing with aggressive touts, and having to negotiate prices. Instead, visitors can focus on enjoying the historic sights, and learn about the history and interesting stories from the tour guides.
The Saqqara Step Pyramid is not as dramatic as the Pyramid of Giza, but it’s Egypt’s oldest pyramid, built in the Third Dynasty. The step pyramid was built for Pharaoh Djoser and it’s a prototype of the pyramids.
Apart from the Step Pyramid, explore the surrounding areas like The Tomb of Mereruka, the Funerary Complex of King Teti, and Tomb of Kagemni.
Returning to the city, we visited an attraction in Cairo in the late period and had a glimpse into the Islamic culture. The Citadel of Saladin dates back to the 12th century and is now a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The citadel was originally a medieval Islamic-era fortification, built by Salah ad-Din and further developed by subsequent Egyptian rulers. Most people come to the Citadel to see the 19th-century Muhammad Ali Mosque, which is for certain the most eye-catching piece in the fortress. Commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848, this spectacular mosque was built to rival the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
Mohammad Ali of Egypt (Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas’ud ibn Agha) is an important figure and leader who is closer to the modern history of the country a few hundred years ago. He was the Ottoman governor of Egypt from 1805 to 1848. He is regarded as the founder of modern Egypt.
The mosque was designed by a Turkish architect, Yousuf Bushnak from Istanbul, and the construction began in the year of 1830. He came from Istanbul for the construction and he designed his plans based on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque) in Istanbul.
Built by Alabaster, the exterior of the mosque was supposed to be white, yet it’s now covered with sand and dust and turned muddy! Since the sand cover the mosque so fast when the frequent storm comes, the mosque is left covered with sand and now it doesn’t look white anymore. Don’t miss going inside the citadel and admire the huge chandelier hanging from the domed ceiling.
The grand terrace at the front of the mosque is also one of the best viewpoints in Cairo. With the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and od Islamic Cairo is directly below, visitors could see the Nile river and downtown Cairo that goes miles away. The Great Pyramid of Giza could also be seen on a clear day!
Day 4: Move on to Alexandria or South of Egypt! 🙂
Travel Tips in Cairo:
- US Dollars are widely used in Cairo except for public washroom and photo shooting coupons in museums.
- Pricing is random in Cairo. Hawkers (even shops or hotels) always try to set a higher price. Street vendors come to you and yell “One dollar! One dollar!” which is almost never true, except trying to stop you on the street and make a sale; all in all, this is a city to haggle. Cut the price in half is a good starting point, and use your common sense to judge what you are buying is really worth.
- The currency exchange is closed sometimes and making money exchange quite difficult. As mentioned, US Dollars are widely accepted. Get a few loose Egyptian pounds if you have a chance, and expect to spend them all, because it would be hard to change them back to any foreign currencies afterward.
- Wi-Fi connection in the country is rather unstable, I recommend getting a pre-paid sim card if you need the Internet.
- The best month visiting Cairo is from December to February. The temperature is cooler and it’s generally less rain, making the visit much more comfortable and pleasant. July and August are extremely hot. The temperature rises up to over 30 degrees Celsius.
- Like many “lay-back” developing countries, services in restaurants and hotels could be quite inefficient. In other words, when they say “one minute”, they usually take much more time than that. So, take a deep breath and be patient since they are adapted to work at their own pace; don’t forget to gently remind them after a few minutes because they simply forget.