As we ventured out this morning we found ourselves driving on the wrong side of the road to pass up slow traffic. This seems to be normal practice in Egypt. We also have a guest in the bus with us today, a Tourism Policeman. They seem to pay close attention to making us feel safe while we are visiting their country.
The traffic here is unbelievable, not only cars and their usual problems but turn the corner and there may well be a donkey cart, goats, camels or a horse drawn cart in the road. The new and old seem to blend well.
The Citadel is one of Cairo's most popular attractions (after the pyramids, of course). It is visible from much of the city and the view from the citadel is great. Salah al-din fortified the Citadel against the Crusaders in 1176 and it has had a military presence ever since.
Mohammad Ali Pasha is known as the "Builder of Modern Egypt," around 1805. The Mohammad Ali Mosque is his tomb and is known as the Alabaster Mosque. Alabaster was frequently used in this Mosque. It has two 270-foot minarets that are only found at this Mosque in Cairo. Inside is a solar clock to show the times of prayer. Moslems are called to prayer 5 times a day. Shoes must be removed at the entrance. The Mosque has no furnishings, just rugs on the floor.
We went into the room where Mohammad Ali invited the Mamelukes for a special dinner. His secret intention was to eliminate the Mamelukes, who were in power at that time. Only the leaders were allowed into the dining hall; guards remained outside. When they entered the dining hall, the doors were closed. Mohammad Ali's men were hiding in secret compartments in the benches along the walls. They were successful in killing all of the leaders. Not your typical dinner party.
The next three sites we visited we all within walking distance of each other, in one of the oldest areas of Cairo. The streets were only about eight feet wide, and dusty but reasonable clean. These streets were just like the streets Jesus would have walked and there are still donkeys present. The vendors stand by their stands or at the front of their store and call to the passersby to "come and look."
The Hanging Church is built on a tower gate of the 98 A.D. "Babylon Fortress." It is a small church with a large staircase leading up to it. It was destroyed in the 9th century and then rebuilt. In 1039 a Coptic Patriarch was seated in the church. It has three altars: right for John the Baptist, center for Christ, and the left for St. George. Above each alter the ceiling is vaulted. The walls are dark wood and the carpeting is also in heavy dark colors.
St. Sergius Church is a 5th century church. it is built over a crypt which was the sanctuary long ago but is now closed because of flooding. The crypt is said to be where Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus lived when they fled to Egypt. We were not able to see the crypt.
Ben Ezra Synagogue is inside of what was a 4th century church. The building is small in size. There are benches along the outside wall, in the center is a raised pulpit. The Ben Ezra Synagogue is where a large number of ancient Hebrew writings were found in a long forgotten storage area about 100 years ago. On the walk back to the bus Gary purchased the soon-to-be-famous cane. He didn't even stop to make the purchase. The vendor rejected Gary's offer of $5 but then chased after him to make the deal.
We then crossed back over the Nile to visit the Carpet School. Young children are nimbly tying thousands of knots to make the carpets. David tried to complete one knot under seven seconds, and almost made it. The children are much faster. After seeing how they were made we went upstairs to the showroom. I can't help thinking we were shown the kids first so we wouldn't mind paying the expensive prices for these beautiful carpets. They said that the kids came from area villages and were educated, housed and fed at the school in exchange for learning a trade.
The Pharaonic Village showed us how people lived in ancient times. We rode on a boat around the village to watch their actors in their presentations. It was good to see but would have been better if the actors didn't seem so bored. I liked the models that showed two methods that may have been used to build the pyramids. We also walked through a model house. Gordon bought a magic pitcher which accidentally got dropped and became a puzzle of shards. And we still couldn't figure out how it worked.
In the evening we went to the Cave Church. The church is located under a large overhang on the mountainside and seats 20,000 people. We could see the night sky behind us as Michael tried to translate the sermon for us. As interesting as the church was, the route there was even more so. We drove through a section of town inhabited by garbage collectors. The dirt streets were very narrow but our driver did very well. He didn't even hardly stop to ask directions. They shops were very small, including shops that butchered animals right at the edge of the street. How humbling. You see the world differently when you are in something so old.
Finally Michael took us to the Khan El Khalili bazaar. The streets here were even narrower, and the shops even smaller. There are sidewalk cafes where people are smoking their waterpipes. It's a great place to just watch people but we were cautioned to watch our wallets. David and Laura were bartering and decided they didn't want to make a purchase. The vendor followed us all the way back to the bus. But our Tourist Policeman and another nearby officer helped us get on our way.
It's really hard to describe what we saw in Cairo. It is an unforgettable experience. You have to ride a camel and go into a pyramid; you must experience what Egypt is. And don't forget to shop.