BY: JANET STEINBERG
who has not seen Cairo,” said a traveler of old, “has not seen the world. Her soil is gold, her Nile is a marvel, her
women are as the Damsels of paradise, her houses are palaces, and her soil is
soft, sweet-smelling as aloes, refreshing the heart…and how can Cairo be
otherwise when she is the Mother of the World?”
and crowded, noisy and exciting, Cairo is one of the most exotic capitals in
the world. The largest city on the
African continent, Cairo is so vibrantly alive that even the most jaded
traveler must yield to its magic.
in Cairo is like falling through the looking glass and ending up in
history. Although the West has
definitely made a huge impact on modern Cairo, its over-all flavor is still
very much that of the Middle East.
Egyptians in their flowing galabeyas and traditional black robes,
bear an uncanny resemblance to their ancestors depicted so graphically in the
paintings and frescoes of the Pharaohs’ tombs. Indeed, Egyptians are still
vehemently Pharaonic. Their past often
seems more vividly alive than their present.
often called the city of a thousand minarets, abounds in all that represents Islamic
architecture. The Citadel of Saladin,
(or Salah Ed-Din as he is known in Arabic) and the alabaster Mohammad Ali
Mosque dominate the Cairo skyline.
you’ve arrived at Giza, the Pyramids of Giza exude an excitement just by
the very virtue of being there. They
have been considered to be the greatest of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the
World…that they alone would survive the passing of time. Little wonder then, that Egyptian officials
were outraged when the search for the New Seven Wonders of the World was to
begin. They felt the Pyramids should not
be put to a vote. Thus the Pyramids were
withdrawn from the competition and given an “Honorary Wonder” status.
|A PYRAMID AT GIZA
this awesome sight has been marred by commercialism, even the most
sophisticated of tourists give in to the myriad of camel drivers hustling to
take their picture on the mangy-looking beasts.
Tacky as it may seem at the time, once you get home it becomes a
| A PHOTO ON A CAMEL IS
Great Pyramid of Cheops has fascinated archaeologists and mathematicians
throughout the ages. It was first
believed that the pyramid had been constructed as a tomb for the Pharaoh, but
it has since been proved that the pyramid is an incredibly sophisticated
astronomical and mathematical monument.
it is standing on higher ground than that of Cheops, the Pyramid of Chephren is
a bit shorter than the one of his father Cheops. Standing less than half the height of the
Great Pyramid of Cheops is the third of Giza’s famed trio, the Pyramid of
Mykerinos, Chephren’s son. There are
actually nine pyramids at Giza. A short
ride into the adjacent desert affords a view of all nine, if you don’t
encounter a sandstorm.
in mystery, and staring unblinkingly into the desert, sits the colossal statue
of the Great Sphinx. With the
head of Chephren, and the body of a lion, the Sphinx represents the Pharaoh as
a vivid image of the Sun God.
THE GREAT SPHINX
Thutmose IV of the 18th dynasty carried out the first excavation and
restoration of the Sphinx. This event is
related on a large red granite stele, erected between its outstretched
paws, which records a dream of that prince before his accession to the throne.
the prince was sleeping the Sphinx appeared to him. It promised him the throne of Egypt if he
would clear away the sand that nearly covered its body. The God’s wish was fulfilled and the prince
was rewarded with the crown of Egypt.
ochre-colored Egyptian Museum of Antiquities reveals corridors
overflowing with gold and gem-encrusted relics that testified to the talents of
the Egyptians. There you will find the
beautiful statues of Thutmose III and an endearing, eerie, mummy collection. However, surpassing them all, are the
3000-plus priceless treasures of King Tutankhamen, including his innermost
coffin made from 244 pounds of solid gold.
spots of note in Fostat (Old Cairo)are the historic Ben Ezra Synagogue
and the famous Khan el Khalili Souk.
in 882 on the remains of a Coptic church, the Ben Ezra Synagogue is the
place where Maimonides worshipped when he lived in Cairo. When the synagogue
underwent a restoration in the 1890s, a medieval geniza (hiding place)
with thousands of sacred books and scrolls was discovered. This historical synagogue, restored again in
the 1980s, is one of the most visited sites in Cairo.
Cairo’s 600-year old Oriental bazaar is in the very center of the Old City of
Cairo. Tiny, narrow, winding alleyways
are aglow with gold, silver and copper goods.
From swinging incense-burners, the heady scent of musk and sandalwood
permeates the air. Outside the cafes, men in their flowing galabeyas smoke
exotic aroma of a lamb roasting on the spit wafts its way through the
passage. Oblivious to it all, zaftig
Egyptian ladies with Cleopatra-like, kohl-lined eyes, haggle with their
|A MODERN EGYPTIAN WOMAN
is de rigueur in The Khan (pronounced like a guttural chan). Offer one-half (or slightly less) of the
asking price. Screams of disbelief, and
violent gyrations, will soon give way to more realistic dickering. You may even have to walk out of the souk
(shop). If your bid is anywhere
within the selling range, the proprietor will rush out and make you another
to buy in the Khan can be mind-boggling.
Inexpensive purchases might include native garb, perfumes, (new) mummy
beads, and kohl eye-liner. Rugs (kilims),
tapestries (gobelins), and amulets (charms often worn around the neck as
a protection against evil), are among the more pricy souvenirs. The most popular of these amulets are scarabs
(khepr), the Key of Life (ankh), the sacred Eye of Horus (uzat),
and the cartouche, a silver or gold charm that bears a name in
hieroglyphics. Khan el Khalili is a
world apart from modern Cairo.
|TAKE HOME A CAMEL
el Khalili is a “lesson of life in miniature”.
And, as in life itself, certain precautions must be taken. First, as in any bazaar any where in the
world, watch your purse or wallet.
Losing it will definitely kill your shopping spree. Secondly, beware of fakes in both the
people and the merchandise.
“Thousand-year old antiques, often made last week and stealthily wrapped
in yesterday’s newspaper, appear wherever there is a sucker. With its rare
cloths, jewelry, and vividly colored wares, the Khan pulsates with the true
spirit of the Orient.
has a tendency to over stimulate, and a time-out from history and the demands
of this teeming city is necessary to avoid culture shock.
Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.