Egyptian Visit Fulfills Dream, Brings Memories

Courtesy photo
AUTHOR AND FRIENDS: On Architecture author Roger Coffey, left, poses with friends he met on the Egyptian tour with friendly camels. In the background is the Giza Pyramid Complex, also called the Giza Necropolis, the site on the Giza Plateau in Greater Cairo, Egypt that includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes and the Great Sphinx of Giza.

I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream and accomplished an item high on my bucket list. I went on a tour of Egypt for two weeks and visited its famous archeological sites. To explain my fascination with ancient Egypt, travel back with me over sixty years ago to a writing assignment I was given at age 12 in the 7th grade: I was asked to write a paper about the Egyptian pyramids. This was the same year I read my first Agatha Christie mystery book, Death on the Nile. These stimulated an interest in ancient Egypt which continued to grow year by year.
My senior year in high school, in an ancient and medieval history class, I was exposed to even more information about this distinctive culture. At Oklahoma State University, the curriculum for an architectural degree included seven required semesters of architectural history taught by a professor with a flat Arkansas monotone voice. He would speak in our darkened lecture hall accompanying a series of 35 mm slides. Each civilization was discussed in detail. Students were expected to become familiar with the main buildings and monuments of every era. Many of my classmates slept through these lectures. When Professor Chamberlain focused on ancient Egypt I was fascinated with every slide and every word.
I interned one summer for an architect who gave me a job because my mother played bridge with his wife. He mentored me for a few years afterwards and when he later made a trip to Egypt he shared his excellent slides of the trip with me. If I had not been hooked on this civilization before, I was then.
As a young father, when the Ramses the Great exhibit arrived at Fair Park in Dallas, I piled my wife and sons into our station wagon and caravanned with another couple to see those one of a kind artifacts. A few years later when my boys were off at school, my wife and I drove to Dallas again to see the King Tut exhibit. Soon after I attended a lecture at the University of Tulsa about the New Egyptian Antiquities Museum located in Alexandria, Egypt. A few years later, on a trip to London (with chills on my spine), I got to see the Rosetta Stone (which unlocked the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics). I was also lucky later to have seen the Egyptian collections at the Smithsonian, MOMA, and the Chicago Art Institute.
Throughout the years, friends who traveled to Egypt and family frequently gifted me with Egyptian items. My house is littered with coffee table books on ancient Egypt, a small blue ceramic hippo (copy of a tomb artifact), a clay votive figure (said to be ancient) and a collection of small scarabs. On my walls are two antique maps of ancient Egypt, a poster from the Ramses the Great Exhibit and numerous prints of Karnak, Abu Simbel, the pyramids, the Sphinx and Edfu.
All of the above leads me to a night in early February when I was playing bridge with a group of friends. A member of the group announced that she had signed up for a tour of ancient Egyptian sites. A light magically switched on; I made the decision to go also. I had two weeks to prepare. My wife had passed away two years earlier. My three sons were all busy with their careers and raising their children. My bridge club friend helped me get sighed on. I made plane reservations, got some shots and updated my passport. I put a hold on my newspaper and mail. My in-town son kept my dog and I was off on the trip.
The male dominated Egyptian culture is a different world. The tour began in Cairo, at 25 million people, the third largest city in the world. My first evening was a nighttime light show at the Giza Pyramids and of course the Sphinx, my first time to actually see them. The tour was packed with travel to various sites which included the Egyptian Museum (sadly the old one) temples at Luxor and Karnak, Valleys of the Kings and Queens and Hatshepsut’s terraced temple. The trip concluded with the Abu Simbel Temple and the Temple of Philae. Along the way was boat and sailboat travel on the Nile and visits to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, an alabaster carving work shop and a rug weaving school.
What can I say about the ancient architecture I saw from a civilization that lasted three times as long as that of the Greeks or Romans (approximately 3,500 years) and predated them? The massive scale of Egyptian monuments, staggering in their permanence, but also in their simplicity is mind blowing. The subtle craftsmanship of this post and beam construction achieved with the most primitive tools leaves one with a simple engineering question. How did they do it?
I arrived home with a t-shirt embellished with a hieroglyphic graphic, a handful of small carved alabaster camels (for my grandkids) and 250 digital photographs. I had the time of my life. Sometimes I have a hard time believing I went, but when I look at the photo of me astride a braying camel (yes, I had a 10-minute camel ride) I know it really happened.