TRAVEL: Fun OF THE Pharaoh; LET CAIRO LURE YOU TO THE LAND OF KINGS AND CAMELS

The Mirror (London, England), May 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

TRAVEL: Fun OF THE Pharaoh; LET CAIRO LURE YOU TO THE LAND OF KINGS AND CAMELS


Byline: IAIN MAYHEW

IN the Thousand and One Nights stories, Cairo is described as the Mother of the World - "Its dust is gold, its Nile is a wonder."

True. But the storyteller could have added that in summer's heat its air quality is like smoking a packet of cigarettes a day and the wonder is that more people aren't killed trying to cross the road.

More than 16 million people are crammed into Cairo's teeming backstreets. That's three times the population of London in an area almost half the size.

A million Cairenes hurtle around in cars of indeterminate origin, few of which run on unleaded petrol. With the result that Cairo has become one of the most polluted cities on Earth.

For three days I sat on my balcony in the Royal Nile Tower hotel watching feluccas (traditional sailing boats) and pleasure cruisers darting under bridges and zig-zagging across the banks of a timeless waterway. Then, on the fourth day, a slight breeze brushed away the polluted air... and there were the Pyramids.

The Nile is the heart of the city, the Pyramids at Giza, a few miles to the West, its soul. Cairo's history is in its extraordinary Egyptian Museum. Take a deep breath and go back four millennia to a bustling city which always rewards those with the patience and curiosity to explore it to the full.

WHAT TO SEE

THE Pyramids at Giza are gobsmackingly impressive. I first saw them close up at night, floodlit and majestic under the desert stars. Go then or at dawn before the hawkers and camel owners turn up to make your life a hassling, hustling hell. It's the one place in Cairo where every tourist is regarded as a walking wad of dollars. And they won't take la, shukran (no thank you) for an answer.

There are three main pyramids at Giza - Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus - all mausoleums to Pharaohs who lived and died as gods. The chambers are open from 8.30am to 4pm and it costs 20 Egyptian pounds (pounds 3.50) for each one. The biggest and best is Cheops, rising almost 140 metres into the pale blue sky.

Nearby, the Sphinx is just as impressive. Known as Abu al-Hol (Father of Terror) it is still something of a mystery. No one knows why and for whom it was built, but it is thought to have been carved from the leftovers of the pyramids. The Turks, who ruled Egypt as part of the Ottoman Empire, used it for artillery target practice which is why the poor beast has lost his beard and nose.

There are three sound and light shows on the Giza Plateau every night and it's well worth the pounds 6 entrance fee, if only to experience the spooky atmosphere.

Nearby Heliopolis is worth a visit, too. Built in the early 20th century as a "garden city" for European diplomats and businessmen, it has broad avenues, parks and graceful villas. …

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