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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Pyramid at Hawara, Off the Beaten Path

Most of our friends think that Egypt is an "off the beaten path" location. Most tourists that visit this country see a pretty standard group of sites.

  • The Pyramids at Giza near Cairo
  • The Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor and the great temples on the east bank
  • The temple of Abu Simble
  • The famous Islamic sites in old Cairo
But there is a lot more to see.

Today, we headed out into the Fayyum Oasis to see the ancient pyramid at Hawara.

The Fayyum Oasis is a large sunken area lying about ninety miles to the Southwest of Cairo. Technically, Fayyum is not an oasis since it is fed by the Nile river. But it is called an oasis and certainly looks like one. You pass through about thirty miles of serious desert without a living plant on it to get there.

As soon as you reach the oasis, the view changes remarkably. Known as the "bread basket" of Egypt in ancient days, it is still a very active agricultural area.

We have seen some of the sites in the actual town of Fayyum on a previous trip. We knew that there was an old, somewhat deteriorated, pyramid at the nearby town of Hawara and that is what we wanted to see this time. A good friend had offered to drive us and we accepted his offer.

We passed by the saltwater lake and stopped briefly to take a picture of a fishing boat and buy a shell necklace from some of the children.

When we neared Hawara, we saw the sign for the pyramid and soon saw the pyramid.

Only a couple of hundred feet tall when originally built, the pyramid is even shorter now. As you approach it, there is a display of some of the artifacts from Greek and Roman times.

The necklace pattern on this statue is recognizable in Egyptian souvenir necklaces available today.

We picked up a guide at the entrance along with a couple of Tourist police who showed us around the area. There is an entry passage that is easily visited. You can only proceed a hundred feet or so before encountering water that blocks any further progress.

The pyramid was built with mud bricks and covered in white limestone. The limestone was removed long ago. The mud bricks have held up quite well over what might be a thousand years, all things considered. Their condition probably serves as a good answer to "how often does it rain in Egypt?"

You can see the bricks on the pyramid and get a nice close up shot with a telephoto lens.

But, it is hard to judge the size until you pick up one of the fallen bricks and hold it in your hands.

That lets you take a close look at the straw in the brick too. It is amazing to see a 4200 year old brick with pieces of straw throughout.

The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote about an incredible labyrinth that also existed at this site. Nothing remains of the labyrinth site although this Youtube video presents some interesting new discoveries that relate to it.

Since there were no other cars in the parking lot, we were not surprised that we had been the first two visitors to the pyramid this day. We were surprised, though, to discover that we were the first two visitors to the pyramid since January 5th. Now, that's off the beaten path!

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