Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Cairo has a population or 18 million (Egypt's population is about 85 million). Downtown streets could probably handle a population of 5 million max. Nonstop traffic from about 7:30 AM to 9 PM. There are a lot of traffic circles and most of downtown is no left turn from two way streets—you just go past the street you want to turn on by a couple blocks and make a U turn. Some motorways and flyovers downtown. Some of the flyovers rise up from narrow streets (2 lane) and you end up three stories up looking in apartments that are 10 feet away (think Chicago L but with cars).

Purple Haze:
While we are in Cairo, a constant haze of smog. Industry, cars (lots of cars stuck in traffic), and dust from the desert all contribute to it. It is obvious that this pollution is hard on the buildings—the all look dirty. Most of the surfaces that were shiny are not shiny.

Our first morning the tour included two historic mosques:

  • Mohammed Ali Mosque (1840 AD) is inside Al-Qalla (The Cidadel). Al Qalaa was founded in 1176 AD by Muslim commander Salah ad-Din (Saladin—the commander who defeated Richard the Lion Hearted in the Crusades). The Mohammed Ali Mosque was an Albanian Mercenary commander who won control in a three way contest and started the industrialization of Egypt. The mosque is beautiful but in need of significant restoration (which seems to have started). It is also called the Mosque of the five domes and is on a relatively high hill on the edge of the city. Looking out over the city, we are told that on a clear day you can see the pyramids. Today is NOT clear--a purple haze over the city.

  • Mosque of Ibn Tulun (AD 876) is the oldest mosque in Cairo. Much simpler design, less ornate. It has a simple beauty that is more powerful than the much larger and more ornate Mohammed Ali Mosque.

Khan El Kahili Market:
Lunch at a restaurant in the Khan El Khalili market. After lunch we look for souvenirs in the market. The plan is to just look around and get some prices. Bev decides she likes two stone cats. Negotiation on price starts at 1600 Egyptian Pounds for one. Merchant immediately comes down to 1200. Bev counters with 120 Pounds. I say it is way more than we want to spend. He comes down to 600 for one. I start to leave the shop. Before I'm out the door it is 600 for two cats. After about 10 minutes of this, we walk out of the shop with two cats for 300 Pounds.

When we get on the bus I ask the guide where the bombing was a month ago. She points to the coffee shops I just walked in front of. All visible damage has already been repaired. Considering the lack of maintenance on everything else—from streets and sidewalks to buildings (both public and private buildings), this quick repair is amazing—and a sign of how important the tourist industry is to Egypt.

Egypt Museum:
No pictures allowed in the Egypt museum. We go through two security check points. The museum has an amazing amount of stuff displayed—in a very haphazard way. Not a lot of organization or descriptions. Every kind of museum case is used—and many artifacts are not protected at all. It seems more a warehouse than museum. Some stone pieces outside are actually stored behind the air conditioning units, leaning against the building. It reminds me of scenes in the Indiana Jones movies. (They are building a new, larger museum that is scheduled for completion in 2010--nearer the Piramyds of Giza. If it is anything near the quality of the Biblioteca Alexandria or the Luxor museum, it will be wonderful.

In comparing the art of the major periods of ancient Egypt. (Old, Middle and New Kingdoms), what is striking is the different style between the old and new. The art of the Old Kingdom seems much more refined, much more detailed. Where they were aiming at realism, it is much more realistic. The art of the New Kingdom seems much more interested in covering the art with gold. It all seems much rougher.

Cairo City:
Cairo could be a beautiful city. It is called the City of 1000 minarets. It has the Nile. Most of the modern buildings (which is by far most of the buildings) are basic concrete apartment blocks of office towers. They all look like they are from the 1960s Soviet period. Some streets have green center boulevards but they are un-kept. Lots of trash/litter. Lots of buildings where the plaster/stucco on the outside is falling off. Lots of advertising—on everything.

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