Annie at the Sphinx

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Egypt Day 1

Pigeeon tower

The Citadel, built to keep out the Crusaders

Muhammed Ali Mosque

Courtyard of the muhammed Ali Mosque

Interior images of Muhammed Ali Mosque

Cairo had lots of air pollution

Vew of Cairo from the boat down the Nile

Belly dancer on the boat down the Nile

The Marriott was impresive

May 21 Egypt
We were ready for our early (7:15 am) departure for our overland tour of Egypt. We got our passports back with the Egyptian visas that read “quick trip.” Angelo and Butch were on our tour. We met Hanan our guide and our bus driver. However she did not introduce us to our security man who accompanied us on the bus, guarded us at all stops, and had a gun. I called him the “nameless, faceless security guy.” The tour was in both English and German, which makes it hard on the guide as well as affording us less information. Our tour buses had army escorts at all times. There was a tremendous military presence in Egypt.
As we rode to Cairo, about three hours away, Hanan started taking orders for the souvenir from Egypt, the cartouche. It is a long oval that has a person’s name written in hieroglyphics. She also gave us an orientation to Egyptian society. She pointed out the tall pigeon towers. Pigeon is considered a dining delicacy. She commented on the number of women (almost all) who were wearing the veil. (She did not.) She said 35 years ago it was unusual for women to wear the veil. In the last year it has become ubiquitous. The women in the countryside wear black, maroon, and dark colored flowing apparel. I think it’s to show solidarity with other Middle East Muslims. It is not demanded by the Quran. She reiterated what the lecturer had said, that Egypt was divided into two kingdoms. The Lower Kingdom is south of Giza and the Upper Kingdom is north of Giza. The Nile is the only river to flow north. Modern Egypt is made up of four groups: farmers, urban people, Bedouins (nomads,) and Nubians. Eighty-five percent of the population is Muslim and fifteen percent is Christian. The biggest problem is overpopulation. Egypt grows by one million people every eleven months. It is mostly the farmers who have many children, seven to eight.
Education is compulsory for ages six through fifteen. This has put the age of marriage of girls from twelve to fifteen. They teach English starting at fourth grade at government schools and first grade at private schools. Every town has three things: a mosque, a school, and a government hospital or clinic. We passed MANY unfinished buildings. The owners don’t have to pay taxes on these homes as long as they aren’t finished. During Sadat’s rule, many Egyptians worked in Saudi Arabia. They saved their money and moved back to Egypt, but they couldn’t afford to buy a regular home so they bought land from farmers. They add stories as children get married and move in with their families.
The history from 3000-332 B.C was dominated by 30 dynasties of rulers. During this time the afterlife was much more important than this life. After death, people went below, paid for their sins, and were then reborn. This is why there is so much gold in the tombs. Buildings for this life were not well made, not like the tombs, so they have not lasted to the current age. Statues of royalty were made from very hard stones and had formal poses. Statues made of commoners had casual poses and were fashioned from limestone and sandstone. The scarab is a symbol of life and luck. It comes out at sunrise and forms eggs.
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 32 A.D. After that the Romans ruled until 700 A.D. when the Arabs took over. The Ottoman Turks took control in 1517. Napoleon invaded in 1798 and ruled until 1803.
Our first stop in Cairo was the Citadel. The first part of the fortress, the rounded turret that‘s called the “Dome of the Wind,” was built in 810 by Hatim Ibn Hartama. It was further fortifies by Salah ad-Din from 1176-1183 to keep out the Crusaders. They were defeated before it was needed. Next to the Citadel with the green dome was the An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque finished in 1355. The Muhammad Ali Mosque was built in 1850. This was not named after our prize fighter. It is in honor of the Turkish official who created a dynasty that ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1952. The last king was King Farouk. Every mosque has a minaret, a washing well, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca,) and a raised minbar (a pulpit on the side of the mihrab.)
There are five tenets of Islam:
• Shahada, profession of faith “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
• Salat, praying five times a day
• Sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan
• Zakat, Giving two and a half percent of your assets to the poor
• Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca
Women are allowed in the mosque during weekdays, but they have to make room for the men on Fridays, the holy day of the Islamic week.
We proceeded to the Nile where we boarded a boat for a lunch cruise. We had a police boat escort. The food was terrific, especially the culmi, a dessert of pastry dough, raisins, cream, and vanilla. There was Egyptian music and dancing, both by men with poles and a female belly dancer. We went up and down the Nile, seeing the city of Cairo from the windows.
It was on to the impressive Egyptian Museum. There was a small, heavily guarded entrance through a fence. We saw Ramses’ statue, mummy cases, sarcophagi, canopic jars (that held the vital organs of the mummies,) lots of jewelry, golden litters and chairs, and the King Tut exhibit. We saw the boxes within boxes that held his mummy. Some of the boxes were gold leaf on wood and others were solid gold. We saw his gold face mask and his chest ornaments.
By this time we were tired and glad to check into the very luxurious, they assured us five-star, Marriott. We rested a bit before a late dinner that was delicious with more culmi.
The traffic was horrendous to get to the laser show at the pyramids. The Egyptians eat at eleven at night and stay up until three or four in the morning. It was shocking that the pyramids are not isolated, but a few hundred yards from apartments, restaurants, and stores. The laser show at 10:30 p.m. was in French so we received headphones to listen to it in English. Lights colored the pyramids green and purple and put a real face on the Sphinx. The show told the story of how the pyramids were made. It was just amazing to see the pyramids at night.

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