Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Egypt - Descent into the Great Pyramid

Dedicated to Onners, Tyson, and the SLUSH

I have heard a few things about the interior of the Great Pyramid. Most people don't get to see it - after all, it is the exterior that was designed to awe untold millions of people following the death of the Pharoah Cheops. The inside is a long-term bachelor's pad never intended to hold extra guests.

Ultimately, it was the emphatic insistence of good mates in Australia that led to my return to Giza. A year or two ago several members of the Slush (a strange mob I work with in Victoria, if you aren't already familiar with them then maybe you'd better not ask) traversed the length and breadth of Egypt. Reaching the inner sanctum of the Great Pyramid was a major highlight for them, and they did not want me to miss out on this opportunity to see it for myself.

The entrance to the tomb takes you through a long and winding cave-like tunnel. It's hard to recognise the individual stone blocks at this point. It's very much like the underground cities of Cappadoccia in Turkey, with roughly worn edges and a sandy floor. After a while, you reach a fork in the cave - up or down. Down leads a long way deep into a secondary tomb, but this is locked for safety reasons. A spiralling steel staircase, recently added for tourist access, takes you a few steps up to the long crennelated chamber.

I don't know the statistics for this room offhand, but it felt about 50m long and 15m high, and just wide enough to spread out my arms without being able to touch the edges. The walls are inclined in stages to form a very steep triangular roof, and the whole room slopes up at a 45degree angle. Once climbing up the ladder-ramp, it is disorienting as to whether you are ascending or descending - there's no sensory clues apart from gravity. I was there by myself, and thumping the timber panels of the ramp made a most fantastic echo, like a deep bass heartbeart, that continued for several seconds. It is dark and shadowy, with occassional lights emanating from the floor. The air is still, warm and heavy. The smooth near-vertical walls are damp with humidity, but not glistening with moisture. It smells like dust, old human breath, and the desert outside. It feels utterly like entering a forbidden and forgotten cathedral.

At the top of this chamber, where the reverberating qualities cease due to the proximity of the terminating wall, there is a short tunnel through which you shuffle with your head bent down to your knees. There is a strange room halfway - maybe five steps - into this passage, where you can stand up easily. It has ribs running up and down several sides like galvanised iron, and the air smells fresher here. I think it was designed with a security purpose in mind, such as a heavy stone block, but could not work it out for certain while standing there.

The final tomb itself is the size of a squash court. It is almost pitch black, made from tightly-hewn granite the colour of tarmac. Even though the silence elsewhere in the pyramid was prominent, here it is palpable. The remains of part of a black granite sarcophagus lie to one end, away from the entrance, and there are two small holes in the walls wide enough to insert one's arm but too deep to tell where they end. Unlike other tombs and pyramids I have entered, there are no inscriptions or decorations of any sort.

It felt very much like a place that someone once regarded as sacred. The high ceilings, exaggerated yet oppressive acoustic qualities, utter darkness, and the challenging procedure to enter are all features I've experienced in other forms of sacred architecture. It was a timeless place, like an installation artwork, or an attempt to recreate the sense of being in a void (like outer space).

I left after fufilling a small tribute to the Slush, and I was very pleased indeed that I had been able to experience this extraordinary room firsthand - especially after seeing extensive Pharonic artifacts in museums around the country, and a few other noteworthy pyramid interiors. These chambers were not spectacular in the ostentatious sense, but they were haunting and deeply atmospheric, and I am sure to remember them for a very long time.


  • At Saturday, December 10, 2005 11:27:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, Fantastic navigational work thankyou! I am going to pass it (and your BLOG site) onto Jenna's teacher, since she has just done an assignment on Egypt. What is 'ibn saffir' Oustralya (Australia?)?
    I am looking forward to your return so I can see all the photos of your trip so far.

  • At Sunday, December 11, 2005 8:07:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Karmen, I'm not Sam, but 'Ibn Saffir Oustralya' translates to 'Son of the Australian Ambassador'

    Or so I believe.

    Keep up the amazing work Bronut!


  • At Thursday, December 15, 2005 1:40:00 pm, Anonymous Charlie said…

    Slushie Tribute, eh? Sounds kinda cultish... i hope you didn't vandalise the poor place


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