One teenager’s daredevil stunt to procure aerial photographs and video of the Egyptian desert has earned him a lifelong ban from the country. Two weeks ago, 18-year-old German tourist Andrej Ciesielski scaled the Great Pyramid of Giza, where he snapped sweeping views of the city from a height of 455 feet, including a stunning shot of the Pyramid of Khafre. Unfortunately, while the Munich-based video editor completed his journey unscathed, Egyptian authorities detained him when he touched ground, releasing him after questioning. One hopes Ciesielski’s climb and his images that quickly went viral were worth the trouble: Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty this week sent official notice to the German Embassy in Cairo that Ciesielski may never return to Egypt, as Egyptian Streets first reported.
The Egyptian government has forbidden pyramid-scaling since 1951, with those who break the law facing up to three years in prison, but authorities apparently rarely enforced it until 1973. Ciesielski, who has pulled similar stunts in Dubai and in Hong Kong, is one of the many photographers testing such trespassing laws through the global trend of “rooftopping,” which has grown in recent years. His most recent climb followed a day of scrambling up buildings in central Cairo to photograph Tahrir Square and Talaat Harb Square from above, as he related in a blog post from January 25. In that same post, he recounts his epic climb up the ancient pyramid, noting that he faced little security as he started what seems to have been a pretty casual and carefree ascent.
“When I started climbing, a street seller was standing behind me, but I didn’t care about him,” Ciesielski wrote. “I turned around, he laughed, and I continued climbing. At the [halfway mark] some people got attention on me and looked up. That’s how the police spotted me. They shouted something in Arabic, I think, but I didn’t care and kept going while listening to music.”
Ciesielski claims he scaled the pyramid in just eight minutes and took 20 minutes to climb down. According to Ahram Online, although antiquities and tourism police initially arrested the teen, they released him because he was reportedly unaware of the law and had promised to never do it again. They also confiscated his photographs and video, but he still managed to share the material on Facebook, where they still reside.
As the Pyramid of Cheops is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, preserving it is one reason why the ban exists; another is simply because scaling it — as Ciesielski’s video footage emphasizes — is incredibly dangerous. A number of such daredevils have actually fallen to their deaths in the past. Ciesielski was much more fortunate — albeit not as lucky as the Russian photographers who beat him to the stunt. In 2013, a lens-toting trio made a nighttime climb to the peak of the same pyramid; although they dodged a run-in with the authorities, their photographs sparked international outrage for their disrespect of the regulations, leading them to later apologize for the deed. And lest we forget, Mark Twain made one (legal) journey up the pyramid in 1867, although his detailed written account describes a process much more exhausting, involving being “dragged up” by local guides each step that was “as high as a dinner-table.”