I was extremely lucky to have a paper accepted at a conference in Cairo last month. It's not every day you get the chance to go to Egypt, and get paid for it! (In fact, although the results are also going to form a key part of my final PhD thesis, I only managed to force myself to stop procrastinating and write this paper on the basis that I "could win a trip to Egypt" by it. I'm not sure if this is standard academic thought process, but I imagine it's not so uncommon.)
This was the same conference series that took me to Samos a couple of years ago, and they're always really good at arranging a cultural program to run alongside the academic presentations. Of course, in Cairo, that had to include the pyramids.
Actually, one of the most amazing things we saw on our tour of Cairo's ancient monuments wasn't a pyramid at all: it was a precursor style of tomb known as a mastaba. In this case, the mastaba of Ti. The interior of the tomb is completely covered, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, not just with heiroglyphics, but with detailed carvings depicting all kinds of scenes from everyday ancient life. It was the kind of simply mind blowing, incredible place where you want to stop and stare for hours... and I'd never even heard of it before arriving in Egypt.
The next stage in the evolution of the pyramids can be seen at Sakkara, a step pyramid developed by the ancient architect Imhotep. The step pyramid is currently undergoing extensive renovations, so it was covered in wooden scaffolding, but you can still see very clearly the developing style of pyramid construction.
Finally, of course, we come to the later and most famous pyramids, at Giza. There are actually a lot more pyramids scattered across Egypt, but these are the most well known, along with the towering figure of the Sphinx. The great pyramid at Giza is one of the traditional seven wonders of the world, and I did wonder if it would be disappointing after all the hype, but actually it joins the Great Wall of China on my mental list of massively famous landmarks that are still by no means over-hyped. Just an incredible feat of engineering.
We had the opportunity to go inside the great pyramid, which is an experience in itself: the inside of the tomb itself is plain, but the steep climb up through the pyramid's interior makes you feel like a very small creature indeed. Unfortunately photos weren't allowed inside the pyramid, so I can only share the outside views with you. If you ever get the opportunity, though, I highly recommend it.