I hope it’s been clear from my last postings:
1. I love Cairo, its architecture, people, food, and soul.
2. I love religious history and I have been inspired and awed by all I saw in Cairo.
This day’s tour with our lovely guide Doaa from Egypt Travel combined the old and the new of Cairo. The old mosques in Islamic Cairo, along with the bustling marketplace of Khal El Kalili.
Islamic Cairo sits in a walled area next to the Citadel of Cairo in the center of the city. It is one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities, with its famous mosques, madrasas, mansions, tombs, hammams, and fountains. “The new center of the Islamic world” reached its golden age in the 14th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Islamic Cairo is also the location of several important religious shrines such as the al-Hussein Mosque (whose shrine is believed to hold the head of Husayn ibn Ali), the Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi’i, the Tomb of Sayyida Ruqayya, the Mosque of Sayyida Nafisa, and others.
Here are some of my photos as I walked along the streets of this amazing place. I was awed by its beauty and grace as I toured. It was a lot of walking and Mom did ok, though she needed to rest about a quarter of the way through. She loved this place so much so that we revisited in the evening, after our tour, accompanied by friends.
One of the things that had my jaw dropping on the tour were all of the ancient doors (and doorways in general). Just look at the workmanship on these. Remember that there were no power tools!
Flooring too was just as impressive, with alabaster and other stone types being used along with beautifully woven carpets.
Many of the walls and alcoves in the mosques were decorated with amazing colors and patterns. Despite their age, their glory shines through.
Ceilings too were fabulous. The ancient lighting, domes, and ceiling paintings took my breath away.
The mosques are such a contrast to the streets they sit on. The street outside is bustling with people and commerce, rushing around to live their daily routine joined by gawking tourists. Inside the mosques, however, it is so peaceful; I could not help but feel that spiritual peace wash over me. The mosques themselves are very different in decor and design, some are very ornate and dark, while others are open and light.
During our tour, we learned how the mosques were an integral part of life in Cairo. They hosted schools for the poor children to teach them how to read and write; offered free clean water to those who had no other access to it. Fantastic! One of the fountains still runs with water.
After visiting all of the mosques and learning about the history and seeing their beauty it was time to turn to the second part of our tour; the famous Khal El Khalili. The Bazaar section is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cairo. It is filled with streets and alleys of market shops, which sell everything you can imagine. Hookah pipes, kitchen and household goods, food, clothes, and shoes. Every single small shop is a treasure trove of goodies.
Walking along this busy street of commerce we saw many ancient homes that had the traditional woodwork screens. These screens would allow women to look out into the street without revealing their modesty. It helped keep the homes cool and bugs out without making the space too dark. Look at the detail and craftsmanship with which they were made. I thought they were amazing.
One of the things to experience when you are in Cairo is the fresh juice bars; they are everywhere. Think of smoothies in the US, but thinner and made with just natural fruits. Mango became our favorite, but there are as many as you can think of. Guava, pineapple, strawberry, and the list goes on and on. One of the unusual ones we tried was raw sugar cane juice. It was very sweet, a little earthy and surprisingly thirst quenching. The one thing I never saw there was coconut milk or water.
Another traditional thing to experience is the coffee bars with a hookah pipe. Even being a serious non-smoker, I have to admit to giving it a try. The coffee isn’t so good, its served Turkish style which is like a thick sludge of coffee (not my personal favorite) however it is served in absolutely gorgeous silver filigree coffee pots and glass cups that make you feel like royalty. The tea is good though and is often enhanced by mint or hibiscus.
The Hookah pipes are basically water-filled pipes with fruit flavored tobacco to smoke. You can choose just about any flavor fruit you can imagine. Whilst I wouldn’t do it as a regular thing, it was a fun and interesting experience and left a pleasant taste in the mouth – unlike traditional tobacco.
We were so sad to leave Cairo. There is so much to do, see, and experience there. My mom was exhausted by the end but loved every second of her journey. It was amazing and I highly recommend that you visit.