Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Tourist in Egypt

A previous post alluded to plans for an odyssey of exploration through Egypt’s fascinating and profuse historic monuments and artefacts. My sister joined us for the Cairo leg before returning to her east-end dwarves and we went on to Luxor for a cruise down to Aswan. I thought it would be interesting just to list some of the places and things we visited and a factoid or two.

Khan al-Khalili – A bazaar made more famous in recent times by Naguib Mahfouz’s writings originates from 1328 and was historically dominated by the foreign merchant classes of Jewish, Armenian, Persian and non Egyptian Arabs . Now a tourist trap extraordinaire but quite good fun if you start haggling with a good-natured trader. While I am quite a good haggler, I hate shopping so I left the ladies to go shopping by themselves and ended up just shaking my head at the prices they paid. But I’m amazed at the prices that some of the real tourist end up paying for pointless nick naks.

Opposite Khan al-Khalil is the Al-Azhar mosque. Originally a university, one of the first in the world, this is an impressive example of Islamic architecture. Thousands of students from all around the world still come to study at Al-Azhar university which is now based near us in Madinat Nasser and is one of the premier places for Islamic learning and knowledge. You can still see some classes being taught in circles within annexes to the mosque as has been the case for over a millennia. We prayed Jumma prayers there before going on to Cairo Tower.

A visit to the Cairo Tower is normally remembered for its unrivalled view of the city including the pyramids of Giza in the distance and mediocre dinner in a revolving restaurant. Unfortunately we will remember if for the horrific beating of an alleged thief by police and under cover agents on the grounds. The man was literally beaten unconscious by about four or five policemen and whilst the camcorder was rolling at the time it was turned off and there is no Rodney King style evidence of this event. It’s a reminder of the precarious balance of a police state.

Pyramids of Giza truly are impressive structures and serve as reminders of the rise and fall of bygone empires. The genius, vision, complexity and sheer scale of effort of building the pyramids themselves really have to be seen to be believed. The huge blocks of chiselled granite were transported hundreds of miles from quarries in Aswan from Upper Egypt. Of course the best thing about a visit to the pyramids is the obligatory ride on camels and gallop on a horse on the edge of the Sahara. My horse unfortunately was a little on the small size and it just looked a little silly. The other unfortunate thing is that Mrs C is very very very allergic to horses and suffered the most horrendous reaction and it took a couple of day for her eyes to go back to normal.

The Egyptian Museum is one of those places that just have to be seen. As well as housing the infamous Tutankhamen collection, mummies (human and animals), statutes, models and hieroglyphics the layout is to say the least confusing and the labelling atrocious. You definitely need a guide and the touts outside must make a fortune. One of the mummies is alleged to be Mernetepah (son of Ramses) who was the Pharoh of the Biblical Exodus and is recorded in the Quran as being preserved as a sign for future generations (10.90- 92). To this day, no-one is sure of the mummification process which keeps the bodies so well preserved.

The Citadel and the Mosque of Mohammed Ali is one of the more dramatic and dominant features of the Cairo skyline. The Citadel or fortress was founded by the famous Salah al-Din Ayyubi in 1176 and was the centre of governance and rule for nearly every leader since till 1874. Mohammed Ali’s mosque built in 1833 acknowledges and defies the Ottoman Empire in style and scale. The gingerbread clock from Louis Philipe of France in exchange for the obelisk removed from Luxor Palace and now in Place de la Concorde in Paris has famously never worked except perhaps for the journey to Egypt. This place is definitely worth a visit for the views of the city alone.

That’s it for tourist Cairo although there are other things to see and do. I’ll put up pictures and write about the Nile cruise another time.


Blogger fudgebumpkin said...

Oh My Days!!

Dies of boredom...

Lol. Sorry Mr C, but that was dry!

9:50 pm  
Anonymous sleepy said...

wow boz you married Lord Buxted, Edward Yardley and the Jamaican guy in Grand Sophy all rolled into one!(Though it's tempered by a dash of Cardross I admit)

1:19 pm  
Blogger Pink said...


4:44 am  
Blogger bouquetofdreams said...

aww don't pick on him!

12:03 pm  
Blogger tails of a mad cow said...

i actually found that extremely useful seeing as everyone is sodding off to England and leaving me by myself, it means less time rummaging through the Rough Guide.

Ta Mr C

1:35 pm  
Anonymous peanut said...

I remembered his name it's Lord Bromford. And I told Ray all about this disgraceful dullness :) sorry

4:50 pm  
Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said...

You lot are Mean!

7:00 pm  
Anonymous Little Miss C said...

I thought it was very cool and interesting..:)

5:53 pm  

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