Exploring Cairo

Last day in Egypt!  The day got off to a bumpy start when our original tour guide  canceled for health reasons and we got one of the office administrators instead (he was a sweet guy but his English wasn’t as good and he was both awkward at playing host and painfully apologetic for everything).  Eventually he managed to call in a substitute guide and the visit turned out okay in the end.  Maybe not ideal, but hey, we still got to see Cairo!

First stop was the ancient Khan al Khalili market in the medieval Islamic part of town.  Even in the early morning before most shops were open and few shoppers had arrived the place was a delightful warren of narrow streets overflowing with everything imaginable.

We didn’t stay long to shop — we didn’t see any shops with the sorts of things we were looking for, and we were still with the awkward guy who didn’t really understand when we asked him.  From there we headed up to the massive medieval citadel perched on a hill overlooking the city.

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It was built by Saladin to defend the city from the European Crusaders.  Most of it was very derelict and under renovation, but we were able to visit the 19th Century mosque that was a weird mash-up of the Ottoman style of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the neoclassical style that was popular in Western Europe when it was built . . .

. . . and took in the sweeping views from the fortress walls.

We were even just barely able to discern the pyramids through the haze on the opposite side of the city!  Can you see the two shadowy triangles just left of center?

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From the Citadel we went into Coptic Cairo, referring to the Coptic Christian area.  Despite the fact that Cairo was Christian for several centuries between the conversion of Constantine and the arrival of the Muslims, today’s Christian community is very small (around 15% of the population) and the old Coptic area felt pretty isolated and tiny — mostly centered around some old churches that claim to commemorate where the Holy Family lived while they were in Egypt to escape Herod’s violence.

In addition to the church, we also saw an old synagogue (now shut down, along with all other synagogues in Cairo — the Egyptians and the Jews don’t get along well, particularly after the Egypt/Israel war), and then drove across town to a place near the pyramids where we could pay for our trip by credit card (incredibly, our travel agency hadn’t required any payment until then!) and then finished out with a delicious lunch of mezze and grilled meats.

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