2/17/10

Cairo, Egypt (Part 1)


back to Cairo

From Aswan, we took the overnight train back to Cairo, a distance of 879 kms. that took 12 hours. But just like our train trip to Luxor, the arctic airconditioning (this at winter time) proved too much to handle as we shivered in our seats. We all grabbed our sleeping bags from the overhead bins in the middle of the night and snored our way almost until arrival early morning the next day in Cairo's Giza Station. A van arranged by Waleed brought us back to King Hotel, our joining point for this trip where it also ends the next day.

After showering and changing into fresh clothes, our group walked for a late breakfast at Cilantro, one of Cairo's westernized version of coffeeshops in the Doqqi neighborhood. It's clean, modern, and for a millisecond, I thought I was not in Egypt. Even the menu screams western favorites like focaccia rosemary bread and New York cheese cake. While sipping our lattes and munching on pastries, four of us in our group decided to spend the day exploring more of Cairo. But since I was low on cash, I used my debit card at a nearby HSBC branch where I got crisp Egyptian bills from the ATM.

Some random taxi driver waiting for passengers outside Cilantro offered his services to us. Normally, I wouldn't go for this but Sharon and Rochelle were keen on it and so was Nabil. Ah, there goes my plan to use Cairo's subway. Never mind. Waleed negotiated and the driver agreed to drive the four of us for 160 Egyptian Pounds ($32). Our destination? Coptic Cairo and Khan Al-Khalili.

Cairo's morning traffic was a gridlock as usual but we kept our cool and got into the Coptic area - considered the oldest part of the city and Cairo's umbilical cord to Christianity. Long before Islam reached Egypt, the country was actually Christian. Here in this historic part of Egypt is where the Romans erected a fort that was called Babylon. Here is where Egyptian Christians find their ancient churches still standing within its walls. Walking along its narrow alleys, I could almost feel the tremors of religious history within my feet. At this very site was where Joseph and Mary brought an infant Jesus safe from Herod's order of persecution.

Greek Orthodox Church of St. George -
built atop a round Roman tower

ancient door leading to the Convent of St. George

an alley leading to St. Sergius Church - a church built over
a crypt in which the Holy Family lived while in Egypt

church door

The Church of the Virgin Mary is famously called
the Hanging Church (al Muallaqah in Arabic) due
to its location above a gatehouse with its
nave
suspended over a Roman passage.

Arabesque window of a Coptic church

From the Coptic area, it was just a short walk towards another historic religious building - the Amr Ibn al-As Mosque, Egypt's first and oldest mosque built in 642 A.D. Quite coincidentally, the mosque was named after the commander of the Muslim army that wrestled control of Egypt from the Romans and everything that enclosed the adjacent Roman fortress of Babylon. The mosque is open to non-believers so we took a peek inside, with Sharon and Rochelle putting on head scarves after being told by mosque care takers to do so.

interior of Amr Ibn al-As mosque

an old man sits pensively as we quietly take in the view

a stack of Holy Quran

prayer beads for sale outside the mosque

Muhammad Ali Mosque

On our way to Khan Al-Khalili, we passed by the Citadel, another great landmark in Cairo sitting above a rocky platform that today overlooks the city - that is, if the view is not obstructed by smog. One structure that stood out is Muhammad Ali Mosque, its soaring twin minarets and domes reminding me of Istanbul's Hagia Sofia. We didn't even bother going inside as we were on another mission on our last full day in Cairo: souvenir hunting at the shops in Khan Al-Khalili.

14 comments:

  1. you really saw and did a lot. can't wait for you khan al khalili pix. mine didnt turn out well and i didnt take much pix to begin with. too busy absorbing everything.

    cairo is so vibrant, so much energy, so alive.

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  2. you're more than lucky to walk where the holy family had been to thousands of years ago.
    that church door is hauntingly gorgeous!
    the photos again are just beautiful, dennis! thanks for sharing.

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  3. wow, i will surely have goosebumps upon walking on that same street where the holy family walked. baka maluha ako sa overwhelemd. lucky you.

    and they also use prayer beads pala, cool.

    re my footwear: i just use a japeks na crocs in my pinatubo and sagada trekking and caving. never let me down. mind you, the guide also uses that. haha

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  4. The city looks very religious, with several religious institutions catering to various religions. Very nice.

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  5. really enjoying ur coverage of egypt (how long were u there for?)... love the photos esp. the stack of Holy Quran...

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  6. sidney16:50:00 AM

    Your pictures are fantastic... by looking at them I just want to take the first plane to Egypt !

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  7. The Nomadic Pinoy7:10:00 PM

    I'm currently choosing photos to post, my last in the series. Will be waiting for your Cairo entries Photo Cache!

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  8. The Nomadic Pinoy7:11:00 PM

    Thanks for vicariously 'traveling' with me. Coming up soon is the finale on this trip.

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  9. The Nomadic Pinoy7:15:00 PM

    When I first saw the prayer beads in Saudi Arabia many years ago, that's when it struck me how similar those beads are in terms of purpose to the ones used by Roman Catholics.

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  10. The Nomadic Pinoy7:17:00 PM

    It is indeed Linguist! Coptic Cairo is as Christian as it can be even in predominantly Muslim Egypt. What I forgot to mention is that there's one surviving Jewish synagogue right inside the Coptic area!

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  11. The Nomadic Pinoy7:17:00 PM

    Thanks for appreciating them Lechua. Was there with a group for 10 days.

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  12. The Nomadic Pinoy7:21:00 PM

    You're well traveled yourself Sidney and I can already imagine you having a field day taking photos in Cairo, Aswan or Luxor.

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  13. I like that Arabesque window, is a piece of ancient art! The alley leading to the church looks so clean and very nice!

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  14. The Nomadic Pinoy9:17:00 PM

    The alley looks clean Micki because they maintain it well. Some areas in Cairo that sees less tourists have a predominant scruffy look.

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