“After all, if they wanted a good picture of the sphinx, they needed to do it in the cool, early morning when the rising sun shone directly onto its 30-foot high face.”
That’s a short excerpt from my work-in-progress set in Egypt. And since I was following in the footsteps of my characters, I naturally had to see the sphinx when Giza opened. My sister had arranged for a car that day to take me and my husband to Giza, Saqqara and Abusir. Our driver drove us to the entrance in Nazlet as-Samaan, parked the car and pointed to the cafe where he’d wait for us. After paying 60 or 70 L.E. to get in, we found ourselves within a few hundred feet of the sphinx without another person in sight. Only a gentle hum of traffic broke the silence.
This wasn’t what I expected. Not at all. In the opening chapters of NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS, my favorite mystery author, Elizabeth Peters, had compared the tourists to crowds of locusts covering the plateau. Her main character had wondered how the photographer of her brochure had managed to “eliminate other objects from his composition” like camels, peddlers, guides and tourists. Well, I have an answer for Vicky Bliss. He must have come to the same entrance we used on a December day in the middle of the week.
So we spent some quiet time admiring the sphinx from various angles. Eventually a young French student appeared and asked us to take a picture of him. We obliged. He took one of us in return.
I knew that the global economy was in the middle of a downturn, but it seemed like there still should be more people visiting one of the wonders of the ancient world. About 20 minutes later, we discovered where they were. The tour buses disgorged their passengers just north of the Great Pyramid. When we left Giza hours later, my husband got another shot of the comparatively bustling plateau.
The moral of this story? The early bird gets the unobstructed view. We’d had a similar experience when visiting Michelangelo’s David in Florence and when roaming through the streets of Venice.