Difference between revisions of "Cairo/Giza"
Revision as of 21:12, 29 January 2009
Giza (الجيزة al-Gīza) is an important western district of the Egyptian capital Cairo - a city in its own right, but for a long time now absorbed as part of the heavily-populated and sprawling Cairo metropolis. Giza is best known as that part of Cairo closest to the world-famous Pyramids of Giza, situated high on the desert plateau immediately to the west of the urban district, itself located in the valley and centred around the Pyramids Road, linking central Cairo with the ancient wonders. One of the premier attractions of Egypt, if not the world, the Pyramids of Giza represent the archetypal pyramid structures of ancient Egyptian civilisation and - together with the Sphinx at the base of the Giza plateau - are the iconic image of Egypt.
The city / district of Giza is important as a secondary - and increasingly popular - option for travellers for food, accommodation and entertainment beyond central Cairo. Most of these services are concentrated along the local transport artery, the Pyramids Road.
The desert plateau of Giza, adjacent to the Pyramids, will eventually form the site of the Grand Museum of Egypt  (the competition-winning design conceived by an Irish architectural team led by Shih-Fu Peng), the long-awaited primary replacement for the long-standing Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. Completion has been projected for 2012.
Not much more than a century ago, the Pyramids Road existed as little more than a dusty carriage track amongst irrigated fields, leading out from the city to the then small peasant village of Giza adjoining the pyramid field. Given the rapidly increasing population of Cairo in the 20th century, and the obvious tourist opportunities that the Pyramids provided, Giza has now been transformed beyond recognition to those pioneering Western travellers of the late 19th century. Major arterial roads, apartment blocks, retail strips, restaurants and night clubs now replace what used to be palm-fringed farmers' fields, and the city has now spread to the very limit of the desert plateau. Such rapid development, of course, has not been without its costs - social, economic and aesthetic - and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is now making some efforts to control and channel future (re)development in areas closest to the Pyramids themselves.
The three main Pyramids of Giza are the focal point of the Giza necropolis, or cemetery, that served the elite of the Old Kingdom capital of Egypt at nearby Memphis during the mid to late 4th Dynasty (late 3rd millennium BCE). Three pharaohs were buried here in turn - Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure - their astounding burials attracting a number of surrounding associated burials of their queens, family members and nobility.
Metro Line 2 now runs from Cairo into Giza, although it doesn't go all the way to the Pyramids. Get off at Giza station (not the terminus!) and ask around for minibuses for the remaining 10 km, 15-20 min trip to the Pyramids (al-ahram).
It's possible to negotiate a taxi to take to you out to the Pyramids from any of the traveller-frequented parts of central Cairo - don't forget to haggle however. Taxi drivers will nearly always want to take you to see their "brother's" perfume shop, or their "father's" carpet warehouse on the way - if you don't want to waste time doing this, and being put on the spot to make a purchase - just make it very clear that you only want to see the antiquities.
Fortunately there is another Taxi option which is the Yellow ones, these are metered and air conditioned. You will save yourself the hassle with the black and white taxies mentioned above, and almost the same cost.
From central Cairo, the optimum way to get to the Giza Pyramids using public mass transit options is by bus routes 355 or 357 - a large white, air-conditioned coach with CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) on the side. Travelling every 20 minutes from the airport and Heliopolis, the bus stops (or doesn't - you may have to flag it down!) at the Abdel Menem Riyad Station in Midan Tahrir, next to the Egyptian Museum, before continuing out to Giza and the Pyramids. Tickets costs LE 2 - a bargain!
Even cheaper and more interesting is taking the ordinary buses 990 or 997, costing 50 piastres, from the big central bus station close to the museum, ask people to find the correct lane. Be careful when about getting down, most people will be honest and help you, but you may encounter scammers who take you to their camels instead of to the pyramids. For 997, the correct spot is along a long avenue, after you're spotted the Pyramids and the bus has done a U-turn and then turned left — get off when you a see a blue sign for the Light and Sound show.
All the worthwhile attractions within the Giza area are concentrated on the Giza Plateau at the end of Pyramids Road. Some people are shocked to travel down a street in Giza and see the tip of a Pyramid rise up over the golden arches of a McDonalds with a sign in Arabic - your idea of pyramids rising up out of an empty desert might not match the reality.
There are two ticket offices: the first is near the main entrace, the second - near Sphinx, in the eastern part of the Plateau. If use use the second one in the morning you will avoid crowds of tourists and will have a possibility to explore the Sphinx area all alone in silence. Entry to the site is LE 50, and to enter the pyramids themselves costs another LE 20 for the Pyramid of Menkaure and LE 100 for the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Student ids will come in handy, giving you a 50% discount. The interior of the pyramids is hot, humid and somewhat claustrophobic, with the passeges steep, dusty and hard to move through, and those with any heart or lung issues or a physical handicap will want to steer clear. For those willing to brave these conditions, however, it may be an interesting and educational experience. Personally witnessing the interior walls and passage ways of the pyramids gives one an even deeper appreciation of the tremendous achievement accomplished by the builders of these ancient structures. The folks checking tickets at entry will state no cameras allowed, but a small tip will usually result in them allowing it.
Not all the Pyramids are equally accessible for interior exploration, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities closing them to the public at least one at a time for conservation and renovation measures.
Climbing the Pyramids, although once a popular tourist activity, is both now officially forbidden and extremely dangerous - several tourists have met an untimely death attempting to. Some Pyramid guards have been known to turn a blind eye in return for baksheesh in less frequented areas, but this practice has a very negative impact on the pyramids and is strongly discouraged.
It's wise to arrive at the Pyramids at the moment they open, as tour bus activity and (in the summer) the heat quickly make the attractions overrun and difficult to fully enjoy.
Do not give up your ticket to anyone outside of the gate checkpoints. You will need to show it to enter through the metal detectors at the entrance to the Pyramids area, Sphinx area, and to enter the Pyramid if you choose to pay for that ticket. There are many folks who will walk up and claim (true or false?) to work for the government and ask to see the ticket, then take it and try to start a tour for you. They want to explain things at a fast pace, and then demand a tip. Do not give up your ticket and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and refuse tip. If you want a tour, better ones can be booked in advance and will offer more accurate details of what you are seeing. (A favorite place for them to lurk is beside the tombs outside the Great Pyramid.)
If you eat at the Pizza Hut restaurant just outside the entrance to the Sound and Light Show, there's a good chance you'll be offered to watch the show from the roof of the restaurant for a small tip. While it's not as good as watching it from a front row seat inside the fences, it's excellent value for money.
A number of Western fast food options exist immediately opposite the main ticket gates to the Pyramid enclosure, Pizza Hut and KFC included, so you can munch on a Tower burger and sip on a coke in air-conditioned comfort whilst gazing on the 4,000+ year-old Sphinx across the road! (Many travellers might prefer a more authentic experience....)
General accommodation options are somewhat limited within the Giza district - most travellers tend to stay in and around central Cairo itself and travel out to the Pyramids for at least part of the day. For people determined to stay in close vicinity and / or for whom cost is no issue, there are a number of very comfortable options: