Dear Sirs and Madams,
So sorry for the delay of this letter, it was just so late last night, I wasn’t able to finish. but here it is, so please, enjoy. Today was our final day in Cairo. Tomorrow morning, we take a one hour flight to the city of Luxor, in Upper (South) Egypt (the title was given by elevation, not direction). And of course, it was packed with action. Today, we stayed inside the city limits, visiting and experiencing the modern culture of Egypt- with an exception for the Cairo Museum, of course. We saw the hustle and bustle of modern city life and how it mingles with centuries of tradition.
We started our day with a trip to the Citadel- a large fortress built by the first sultan, Saladin, on the ancient stone quarries of the city, intended to block Richard the Lion Hearted’s forced from entering Cairo. However, it was never actually used that way. Over the centuries of monarchies, kings have taken it upon themselves to add new buildings within its walls; the most well-known being the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. it is also known as the Alabaster Mosque due to the first 30 feet of the outer wall being white alabaster (currently covered in years worth of sand) and the majority of the inside also being constructed of the *cleaned* white rock.
For those of you who have never entered a mosque, you must wear more conservative clothing, but no headdress or hijab is required. You also either need to cover your shoes with a plastic cover, or just take them off. There are two main parts of a mosque, the open-air courtyard, and the inner prayer room, where the actual service takes place. Worshipers must wast their face, hands, feet, and arms up to their elbows in a fountain found at the center of the marble-floored courtyard before entering the main room.
Inside is a series of 10 beautifully decorated domes, covered in floral designs and Arabic calligraphy, stating famous passages from the Qur’an. Everything was done in rich reds and greens, all outlined in some form of gold. Four thick pillars of white alabaster held up the magnificent ceiling.
After we left the Citadel grounds, we headed for the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities- a place I have dreamed of going since I was a child. Sadly, it was not all that I had hoped. The antiquities themselves were beautiful and astonishing- how could they not be? Everything from King Tutankhamen’s full collection to ancient Egyptian wigs- it was fascinating. However, the state of the museum, and how things were displayed was very concerning. large, priceless statues would be almost completely unprotected from people – some of them were lucky enough to have a rope around them. Large pieces of temples and walls of ancient buildings were half-hazardly displayed- in a way that made it easy for them to be touched and even sat on. And then all the smaller objects were in wooden cases with glass on top- no tech involved in locking them to keep them safe. There also seemed to be little to no climate control- something that is necessary to preserve these items. The only part of the museum that seemed up to date with preservation was the main pieces of King Tut’s collection, such as the mask and the sarcophagi.
The whole experience put in perspective as to why countries with large Egypt collections such as Great Britain and France refuse to return pieces taken from the area during the colonial period – Egypt doesn’t seem have the space nor the equipment to properly care for the collections. I could be making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but it’s just because I care. I want this civilization to live on past my lifetime – for others to experience the beauty and majesty of the ancient Nile Valley. It’s just upsetting to see that it may not be there in the next few hundred years.
Anyway, after the museum, we went back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon. We grabbed lunch and took a cat nap, also packing for our early flight the next morning. For that night, we were going to Khan El Khalili- probably the oldest Bazaar in all of Cairo. The sun was setting and the 3 mosques surrounding the market were calling from the minarets for the evening prayer. You could smell every spice you could think of. nicknack stores and cafe’s lined two parallel streets- people flowing in and out and across. girls on street corners would offer henna tattoos, men would try to sell you scarves and people on motorbikes would race past with little warning. All together, it was a beautiful, chaotic symphony of culture.
MiMi and I didn’t end up purchasing anything. We just sat at a cafe with other members of our group; I ordered my first cup of Turkish coffee. I must say, it was quite good. it was thick like black tar and sickly sweet- yet still the heaviness of the coffee flavor. They had some type of spice in it that made my tongue burn and tingle.
Once we had all had enough of the bazaar, we went to a local park to have dinner. we were served kabob on the terrace of a restaurant, overlooking the citadel and the Muhammad Ali Mosque, which was lit up with bright purple lights. Dinner was wonderful, and after a short walk through the park, we got on our bus and headed to the hotel.
MiMi and I said our goodbyes to Cairo. We return for a short, final night next week, but I don’t believe we will have time to do much. Tomorrow, we fly to Luxor, then set sail for Qena. Sadly, today, there is no lesson to my story, just the story itself. 🙂