Peddler-free Pyramids?

In the future, when you visit the Giza Pyramids, you can do so in peace and quiet. No hawkers selling you trinkets or trying to persuade you to ride a camel. None of the cacophony one expects from anything in the proximity of bustling Cairo. You can expect nothing but pyramids, peace, and quiet – and a cafeteria, a visitors’ center, a bookshop, and maybe even an electric golf cart to drive you around…

Oh, and you can also expect a 12-mile-long chain-link fence, complete with security cameras, motion detectors, and alarms to monitor the pyramid grounds and keep local peddlers out.

All of this is in store for the Giza Pyramids, according to an article in USA Today. It’s all part of a plan to make the attraction more tourist-friendly. It also seems to be connected to Zahi Hawass’s (Hawass is head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities) plan to manage and conserve the Giza Plateau, which mentions the electric vehicles and tourist facilities as well as maintenance and preservation plans.

Taking steps to preserve and protect the pyramids makes perfect sense to me. Obviously it isn’t helpful for archaeologists to have tourists tromping through their excavation sites. And cracking down on tourists inclined to climb on the pyramids (apparently that was a problem a few years back) was clearly a good move. But there is something about this massive fence (13 feet tall at some points) and about cutting the local population out of the picture that bothers me.

In college, I took an anthropology class that examined the dynamics between tourism, archaeology, local populations, and looting. By the end of the semester, I had a new appreciation for projects that really get the local community involved. Not only do such projects improve the local economy by providing jobs; they also strengthen local appreciation of antiquity and cultural heritage (which has a domino effect on looting versus the desire to preserve and protect that heritage, but that is a whole other can of worms).

This got me thinking. There must be another way to make visiting the pyramids more enjoyable for tourists — one that includes local population. 

So, I emailed my former professor, Dr. David Freidel, at Southern Methodist University. His work in Maya archaeology has been featured in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. He advocates a more progressive solution to the peddler predicament. He suggested reforming the hawkers’ tactics and providing them with a specific area in which to sell goods rather than cutting them off from tourists completely.

“Putting a craft market near the gateway into the plateau would allow tourists and sellers to meet in a controlled locality,” he says.

It would take a serious and well-organized effort, but teaching locals better ways to interact with foreign visitors could actually change the buying culture near the pyramids. Once the hawkers see that they can make a better living by treating tourists as guests rather than pestering them, the horror stories of inescapable, nagging peddlers could become a thing of the past.   

“It would also make a difference if local people were given the chance to peddle merchandise that tourists would actually find interesting as souvenirs. That would be well-made traditional craft goods rather than T-shirts,” says Freidel, “It would be a great showcase for Egypt and the city, as well as a real contribution to the local quality of life.”

Such initiatives require cooperation and ingenuity from all sides, but success is definitely possible. Promoting quality local goods made by local people over junky souvenirs seems like a win-win situation. Travelers leave with an authentic memory of their trip and locals make a living by practicing the skills that make their culture unique.

Let us know what you think. Is this high tech, peddler-free system going to improve visitor’s pyramid experiences? Or, are there other options that should be considered?

Photo: “Sfinge e Piramide di Chefren” via ••FLUK••‘s flickr.