Plan : Ibn Tulun mosque and Citadel
Taxi to Citadel
Mohammed Ali Mosque
Out and taken back into Islamic Cairo
Back to Bab
Out but taken back in again
We are free of immigration today! No more walking to Tahrir Sq. This is a blessing, as the last few days have not been hard, but a bit of a trial. Now we can do some proper sight seeing of Cairo. Thinking the easiest way was to take a taxi, we jumped in one, negotiated our price and off we went. Our first destination was to be a mosque, and from there walk to the Citadel. However the driver took us a weird way, and as we were driving past the Citadel we asked to get out there, as it would save us walking back up the hill.
I wanted to take Anna to the Alabaster Mosque (Mosque of Mohammed Ali built in 1830 and taking about 20 years!). This is one of my fondest memories of Cairo from 15 years ago, as it was stunning with light streaming through the top. Unfortunately, you should never go back to places you like. They are never as good as you remember. Mohammed Ali was originally an Albanian in the Ottoman army. He rose up to overthrow the Ottomans and Mamluks to take control of Egypt in the early 1800’s. To an extent he was a moderniser, but mainly for the military. However he did a lot of social work as well. Public education, better irrigation and similar.
He took a lot of inspiration from Europe at the time, and this is reflected in the Mosque. High domed ceilings, low hanging massive chandeliers (now just circles of light bulbs) and intricate decorations common in Europe at the time. However it still has a Turkish feel to it as well, with the archways and and construction style. The Mosque lies within the Citadel. This was created by Saladin and the seat of Islamic power within the country for over 700 years. The guidebook got this right, in saying it is one of the most popular tourist attractions, and overpriced whilst being unimpressive. Still, we liked it. The citadel walls give fantastic views out over the smog laden city. Unfortunately you can only see a few blocks away today before everything blends into the prevailing yellow horizon. What we could see was tall buildings, busy streets, minarets sticking up into the sky and very occasionally a palm tree.
There were people wandering around trying to sell papyrus bookmarks (made from banana leaves in china) pens and other trinkets, but they were not pushy at all. Then there are people giving out information on Islam. Not pushing the subject, but trying to educate people interested in the religion. We collected a few of their pamphlets (a bit similar to watchtower and its ilk) before heading onto the several museums in the complex. Having paid L.E.60 each to get in, we had better get our moneys worth.
Unfortunately the Egyptians thought they had already gotten their money and didn’t care. Most of the museums were closed. The only one open now was the military museum. Oh well, we had better check it out. This museum is quite interesting in a monotonous way. It traces the history of war in Egypt from the early Islamic days to before the revolution (soon needing a new section). To start with: Our main gripe is that there are a lot of rooms that seem interesting, but are roped off and we cannot look in them. They have been set out well, and it was a shame.
The building is a magnificent old 19th century palace, and would not be out of place in Prague or Paris. There was plenty of information in English, however the translations left a lot to be desired, and we were scratching our heads many times trying to work out what they meant. The whole 7 day war with Israel was missing as if it never happened. The section on where the Egyptians did a surprise attack on Israel to reclaim Sinai was well represented taking up just as much space as the rest of the museum. Outside are a few fighter jets and some artillery. If we had had to pay extra, it would not have been worth it, and the information is probably clearer on Wikipeadia. The citadel was basically done now.
We stopped off in another Mosque for a quick look at its columned walls, and intricate brickwork before calling the complex done. A little disappointed that this was all we could see, we left and walked down the hill.
From here we wanted to go to another Mosque. Well, that was the plan. We ended up at a bus station with all the green and white mini buses lined up and jockeying for places. In one section they were three deep and looked as if they were about to start a street race with 9 or 12 of them raring to go. It had been a fair walk from the citadel to here, so we stopped off for tea. This caused quite a stir. In a good way. Everyone was fascinated to see us there, and we couldn’t move for photos and hellos! Long after the tea was gone, we managed to extract ourselves, and started walking down a narrow street to get to some minarets sticking up past the buildings. As we could see them, they must be big!
The street turned out to be a marble and stone working street. We stopped to look at some of the massive blocks of marble outside the workshops, and that was it. We had to be invited in to look at all the work. The inlay pieces that were metres wide, and polished to within a hair of being absolutely smooth (you can only just feel the difference between pieces of different coloured marble). This trend continued down the street. People with circular saws would stop their work to let us have a look at what they were cutting, and clear off the dust to check the quality of stone. We had to refuse too many cups of tea, as we could have consumed half the Nile in 200 metres! It was a bonus for us that word gets around, and they knew we had just had tea and were not offended.
We made it to the Mosques below the minarets we had seen, and pulled out our guide book to work out where we were. Before we could find it on the map, a friendly man came up, and wanted to take us to a better cheaper mosque. Still not knowing how to politely decline, we ended up following him. This took us back to the centre of Islamic Cairo, and while we were happy before, now we were taken to another mosque that was supposed to have a tall minaret that we could go up. On arrival, it was a beautiful old mosque, and we were looking forward to having a proper look around. However it came with a price. L.E.40 each! Yeah right. Now that the hands were up, we knew how to deal with it and left. This left us with the problem that we were now somewhere in Islamic Cairo, and we had no idea where. Oh well, if we wander enough we will find our way out. Or we could catch a taxi. No worries. We did find our way back to the big gates that marked one of the main entrances, and could take longer to look around than last time. When we started heading back to the hotel, we were again asked if we wanted help. Saying that we were right was not enough, and the guy carrying a large carpet went out of his way to show us the right direction. My internal compass is not too bad, and as we were walking, I felt that we were going the wrong way. But hay. What do I know. I am not from here, and most likely wrong. He eventually led us to an area we recognised, and knew was back the way we had come. Stopping him, we discovered that he was taking us to the big souk. We had said we wanted to go to Tahrir Sq. On the other side of the city… His English was not that bad that he would have misunderstood us? Was it? Thanking him, we decided to use my compass and make our own way back. Before we had been going in the right direction, just on streets we had not yet walked (what is the point of always going over the same ground). Now we just wanted to get back, and walked the way we knew. The Egyptian people are great, but it can be hard sometimes, as they do want to be helpful, just not it the way we would like. I know this sounds bad, but twice today we had been taken by friendly people to places we did not want to go. Still, we are seeing a lot of the city this way.