Cairo Journals

Conquering Al-Qahira: a Walk Through Old Cairo

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An October 2007 trip to Cairo by Liam Hetherington

South to the Citadel Photo, Cairo, Egypt More Photos
Quote: Known in Arabic as 'al-Qahira', 'The Conqueror', Cairo is a daunting experience for the first-time visitor. This journal charts my walk through its Islamic core.

Conquering Al-Qahira: a Walk Through Islamic Cairo

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Overview

South to the Citadel Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
The Arabic invaders named the city 'al-Qahira', 'The Conqueror', in commemoration of Islam's victory in the tenth century. Indeed, it has seen victorious regimes throughout its history - Pharoanic, Sudanese, Macedonian, Roman, Islamic, French and British to name but some. As a lone traveller however, the odds are pretty much stacked against you.Cairo can be an intimidating place. Downtown is a multi-layered maelstrom of concrete, flyovers, speeding cars and blaring horns. Attempting to cross the streams of vehicles without the help of traffic lights or traffic policemen is thoroughly intimidating - I froze and got stranded in the middle of the Corniche for ten minutes! Further...Read More

Ibn Tulun Mosque

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Attraction | "1. Mosque of Ibn Tulun "

Ibn Tulun Mosque Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is an appropriate place to start any exploration of Islamic Cairo, as it is the earliest surviving mosque in Egypt. Ahmed Ibn Tulun was appointed governor of the settlement of Fustat in 868 by the Iraqi Abassids. In turn Ibn Tulun declared his independence, and his Tulunid dynasty ruled his new city of al-Qitai until 905. This mosque, based upon that of Samarra in Iraq, was the devotional heart of his regime. South of the Citadel, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun seems rarely visited by the tourist swarms that clog the arteries of Khan el-Khalili. Indeed, my ta...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Ibn Tulun Mosque
Midan Ahmed Ibn Tulun
Cairo, Egypt

Gayer Anderson House

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Attraction | "2. Gayer-Anderson Museum"

Gayer Anderson House Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
Exiting the Ibn Tulun Mosque turn right before you exit the ziyada. A narrow stepped passage leads through to the Gayer Anderson-Museum (LE30). This a superbly beautiful evocation of a long-vanished Cairo and I would really encourage a visit. Formerly known as Beit al-Kritiliya, "the House of the Cretan Woman", the museum is actually composed of two houses abutting the mosque. One dates from the sixteenth century, the other from the eighteenth. Major Gayer-Anderson settled in Cairo after his retirement from military service. He seems to have been one of that breed of educated Bri...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Gayer Anderson House
next to Ibn Tulum Mosque
Cairo, Egypt

Citadel Complex

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Attraction | "3. The Citadel"

Citadel Complex Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
The Citadel really is the crown of Old Cairo. Fortified in the twelfth-century by Salah al-Din (known in the west as Saladin, of Crusades fame), the walled compound perches atop a rocky outcrop just off the western edge of the arid Muqqatam Hills that have long provided a natural eastern limit to Cairo's expansion (and which now bristle with military equipment). A visit treats you to an awesome view over the dun huddle of Islamic Cairo, minarets piercing the smog. It also holds two mosques of particular interest - the ostentatious Mosque of Mohammed Ali that towers over the city, and the smaller and prettier Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir.The close-packed eastern section of Cairo is devo...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Citadel Complex
Salah Salem Highway
Cairo, Egypt
20 2 512 9619

4. Mosque of al-Maridani: SCAM ALERT!

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Attraction

Mosque of al-Maridani Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
Retracing my steps around the base of the Citadel to Midan Salah al-Din, in the words of Elvis Presley, I got stung. A smart young man came up and introduced himself to me. Was I going to the Citadel? No, I had already been there - I thought I would check out the Mosque of Sultan Hassan across the square. No good, came the reply, it was closed for worship. However, if I wanted to go the same way as him he would take me to an equally nice mosque in his neighbourhood, in the heart of Islamic Cairo. I suppose alarm bells should have rung as he lead me away from Midan Salah al-Din down Sharia Bab al-Gadid, but he certainly seemed unthreatening. He spoke good English, and we chatted about foo...Read More

Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

5. Bab Zwayla

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Attraction

Bab Zwayla Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
If it would have cost me LE50 to climb the minaret at the Mosque of al-Maridani, the LE10 I paid at Bab Zwayla must count as one of Cairo's best bargains. It seems odd that, after heading north from Ibn Tulun for about three hours i had finally reached Cairo's southern gatehouse. The entire area to the north, taking in the Al-Azhar mosque, Midan el-Hussein, Khan el-Khalili, and the mosque of al-Hakim, all the way up to Bab al-Futuh and Bab al-Nasr would have been walled, and provided the heart of Islamic Cairo, a seething sea of activity and trade. As late as the nineteenth-century the gates were still closed and barred at night, even though the city sprawled far beyond the walled b...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

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Attraction | "6. Khan el-Khalili Bazaar"

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
Heading north up the Sharia al-Muizz from Bab Zwayla, you eventually emerge by the Ghuriya complex (where there are often free exhibitions of Sufi dancing on a Saturday evening). Ahead the Sharia al-Azhar surges across your path, a brutal flyover carved into the heart of Cairo's souks. There are two places here I can recommend for a meal - Gad to the right and on the same side of Sharia al-Azhar, or el-Dahan across the road and up towards Midan el-Hussein. For now bear right and you will find an overpass that will take you over the river of whizzing taxis. There are two main routes you can take fr...Read More

Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

Cairo, Egypt 11211

7. Beit al-Suhaymi

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Attraction

Balconies Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
Darb al-Asfur, to the right off Sharia al-Muizz and stretching all the way to Sharia Gamaliya, is a much restored street obviously designed to show off the community aspects of Khan el-Khalili. It seem to work: an elderly man rested on a bench and a group of small boys played football. This part of old Cairo is clearly more than just tourists, touts and hawkers.On the nothern edge of the street is the Beit al-Suhaymi, or House of Suhaymi, a restored complex of three traditional houses. They are open daily 9am - 5pm, and entrance is LE25 (look for the man sat just back from the r...Read More

Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

8. Mosque of al-Hakim

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Attraction

The Open Gate Photo, Cairo, Egypt
Quote:
Mohammed Ali could have learnt a lot from his eleventh-century predecessor Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. This precocious youth blazed a trail of cruelty of quite remarkable proportions. At age 15 he had his tutor murdered. He banned the manufacture of women's shoes to prevent them setting foot outside their homes; one group of noisy women he had boiled alive in a public bath. He personally carved up a butcher with his own cleaver, though he only stood by to watch as dishonest merchants were buggered by his Nubian slave. Chess was banned, and all the dogs of Cairo were put down to stop their barking keeping the caliph awake. Like a latter-day Nero he watched from the hills as the Fustat district went u...Read More

Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

El-Dahan

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Restaurant

Quote:
El-Dahan is a perfectly decent no frills place on the eastern end of the maelstrom that is the Muski, near Midan el-Hussein. Considering its location you'd think it would be a nightmare. In actual fact its pretty sedate. Fans waft cool air and there are several areas for seating - the ground floor where the grill and range is located, the mezzanine where I sat overlooking the lower level, and a higher floor which I did not venture up to - I have a feeling it might have been an open-air terrace. Though to be honest after trudging through Cairo for five hours I was quite grateful for the cool shade, even if the inside was a little smoky from the grilling meat. My first drink I think I downed in o...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Gad

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Restaurant

Quote:
Gad is located not far from the crossroads of the pedestrian Sharia al-Muizz which cuts through Cairo's bazaars, and the heavily trafficked Sharia al-Azhar. Set at an angle on a corner it looks a bit grimy from the outside; inside however it is lovely.The ground floor of Gad is mainly a take-away with a few tables. Trios of women seem to stop here for fruit juice and pastries; workmen come just to pick up grub. If you are here for a meal, you will be directed upstairs, to a conservatory-type affair - a full-length uPVC window looks down over the lower level. The door is carefully shut to preserve the benefits of the air conditioning.The food is slightly more expensive th...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 3, 2008

Koshary

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Story/Tip

Quote:
Egypt has a vast selection of street foods. You might opt for a plain baked potato served from an oven on back of a cart, followed by a sticky pastry from the vendor to his right. Or you might head over to a store front to pick up a shawarma - the local variant of gyros or donner kebab, strips of meat shaved off into a pitta and topped with tahina. There are plenty of impromptu juice bars around to supply you with a fresh orange to slake your thirst. One meal that rapidly became a favourite with me and my friends was koshary (or kushari). This was not something that I had ever come across before, but proved to be cheap, filling, and tasty. It is also free of meat... though whether that means...Read More