Monday, March 19, 2007

Explorations in Cairo

Cairo was an overwhelming, astonishing city. While I knew geographically where Cairo was, I didn't expect it to feel so strongly like I was in Northern Africa. I particularly liked how in the midst of the most insane traffic I have seen on any continent I've visited, suddenly a donkey and cart would appear and hold everything up.

I was really looking forward to visiting Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo, as this area of the city dates back to the 6th century BC. The history of the city is contained in this small area - you can still see remains of a fortress that the Romans built when they were present, and then when Christianity spread through Egypt, the most beautiful churches were built here and still stand today. I visited the Church of Abu Serga, the oldest remaining Christian monument in Cairo, which is supposedly where Jesus and his family hid during their flight to Egypt. The Hanging Church (photos of exterior and its gorgeous wall mosaics) is Cairo's most famous church and dates from the 7th century, named because it was built atop of Roman walls and hung over the rest of Coptic Cairo.

But perhaps the most thrilling part of my journey around Old Cairo was a visit to the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The story goes that it was in this very place that Moses was found in the bullrushes. This tributary of the Nile has subsequently dried up, but the keeper of the synagogue took me to this well-type structure behind the building and threw stones down it to show me that there was once water here.

The photograph above is taken inside the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, which was just gorgeous. (My photos of the mosque exterior and courtyard.)

One last highlight was the Khan el-Khalili souq - a bustling, dirty, aromatic market in the heart of the city. I adore places like this and spent a lot of time standing to the side just soaking up everything that was going on around me. The photograph below is of a man pushing this huge cart with a blazing fire inside of it, roasting sweet potatoes as he wandered through the souq. The smell was incredible and I love this shot - it sums up the Khan el-Khalili, and Cairo, perfectly.

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