Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 7 - Churches, synagogues & mosques living peacefully together

It was another early morning, as we hurried to have breakfast before meeting Noha in the lobby. After catching up on us and the cruise, we meet our driver outside and headed into the traffic of Cairo towards Coptic Cairo in the Old Cairo section of town. It was easy to find people that have lived there for generations and the doors on the homes were stunning. It was said that when the Virgin Mary came through Egypt, she stayed in this area. The area is heavily guarded since the government doesn't want to take any chances on anything happening to the churches or synagogue that is there.

Our first stop of the day was The Hanging Church, which did not allow photography, which is too bad since it's very ornate inside and would have made for some great shots. The inside is full of icons, wood screens inlay with mother of pearl, carved stone and several pews to hold the devotees that still use the church today. The most interesting thing about the church was the wood screens. Although they had red velvet curtains embroidered with angels and other Catholic symbols, the screens themselves were carved in an Arabesque pattern. It was because when the church was being built, the workmen that were hired only knew how to make these designs. I did take a photo outside of an iron sculpture attached to a wall.

We left the church and headed for the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which was no longer in use since there are not enough Jews left in Egypt to conduct services. Again, we were not allowed inside with cameras. This building was originally a church and that is why it was very similar in design to the Coptic Church we had just visited. It had the exact same layout (with the same number of columns) and even donned the wood engraved screens. The big difference was that there were more guards surrounding this building and we had to go through a metal detector to get inside.

We left Coptic Cairo, but continued to stay in old Cairo as we drove past the Aqueduct, the tombs in the City of the Dead and the old Cairo walls as we made our way to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. No no no, not that Muhammad Ali, the other one. If it's too confusing for you, we can call it the Alabaster Mosque. How appropriate that it was built in the Ottoman era by a Turk? It was giving us a little taste of the mosques we'd be seeing in a few days. The mosque (and its complex) is very large and can be seen from various points in the city. The exterior walls are covered in alabaster, so it has a glow about it, well, everywhere except the areas where the alabaster was taken for other buildings. But I guess the early Egyptians started recycling before the rest of the world caught on. The main dome is about 135 feet x 135 feet and richly decorated in tiles and Islamic calligraphy while the height of the building is 171 feet. Outside in the courtyard was a man making fez hats using a form machine right next to a perfect panoramic view of Cairo. Nice view for a job, I must say.

Leaving the great walls of the Cairo Citadel, we again drove through the City of the Dead and the great pottery community that has survived for generations in the same community. I really wish we had stopped because I really wanted to touch those pieced. The mosaics were a bright blur of colours as we sped by. Instead we headed to the Khan el-Khalili, the most famous souk (market) in all of Cairo, which is next to the Al-Hussein Mosque. We mostly wandered around to cries of "you buy, good price" but finally settled on a pair of red and gold Egyptian styled dress shoes for S's birthday. We also bought a few other items, but our two biggest finds are two male and female wooden dolls hand painted wearing traditional Egyptian clothing. We got them from the elderly artist, who signed them, and they will go beautifully with our original Helen Zughaib in our living room. I wish I had written the artist's name down, as I can't read his signature on the bottom of the pieces.

We left the bazaar for the crème de la crème, the Egyptian Museum. Once again, no cameras were allowed, which was fine, since it was so overwhelming I wouldn't have know what to take photos of inside. For those that do not know this little tid bit of info about me: while getting my Masters in International Studies at the University of Washington, I also got a Museumology Certification. I've been in almost every major museum in the US, including some not so famous ones. Going to museums is my love, but this museum was nothing like I've ever seen before. Let me warn you if you'd ever like to visit: it's very crowded. Hundreds of people walking around, guides giving tours, high school students sitting on the grand staircase drawing crypts in their sketch pads and thousands upon thousands of items that you can't even figure out what to rest your eyes on for a moment's break. Noha gave us a few moments alone on the ground floor before she took us upstairs for a detailed tour of the Tutankhamun things that had been pulled out of his tomb.

We were taken from room to room to room to room to show the items that were found in this tomb. Some of items have travelled around the world to various museums, including our very own Seattle Art Museum in 1978 as The Treasures of Tutankhamun . But come to find out, it was only a fraction of the items. The most impressive room was the jewelry room, which houses the mummy mask. I stood for some time in front of this burial mask, trying to memorize every detail since it was so much exquisite then any picture I've ever seen of it.

We left the Museum and were taken to a perfumery before lunch. But it was just too much to take in and we were in no mood to sit and smell different scents while our stomachs were grumbling away. So Nuha took us to a very popular buffet style restaurant that was packed with locals. The food was delicious but sadly she did not stay with us. We said our goodbyes to Nuha and proceeded to gorge ourselves on rich flavorful delicacies of local cuisine.

Our driver took us back to the Marriot, where we got books and sat again by the pool, reading until the evening came upon us. I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite picture I took today: an advertisement for an upcoming movie that we kept seeing all over town:

No comments:

Post a Comment