Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Last Two Weeks in Cairo

At long last, a new journal entry…

Teri was kind enough to take me to some Islamic sites of interest in Cairo before we left. Back in February my grandmother passed away and I returned to the U.S. for her funeral. While I was away the YAV group went on a tour of Islamic Cairo so I missed out on that bit of education. I was really interested in seeing some Islamic sites before leaving Cairo, so we went to the Khan EL Khalili once more (I won’t lie… I also used this trip as an opportunity to buy some souvenirs for friends and family at home) and saw several mosques. We also went to the Citadel of Salah El Din (AKA Saladin) to see the large sprawling mosque of Muhammad Ali. The mosque is enormous and has some five gleaming metal domes. Though the Citadel was built in the Middle Ages when the Christians were crusading, the mosque wasn’t built until the 1800’s and is the only mosque that I have seen that was influenced by Western cultures. This one was influenced specifically by French architecture. It has lavish decorations in some areas, but the main prayer space is typically sparse. I was impressed by how the mosque was lit. Suspended above the wide-open area was a large metal ring, perhaps fifty feet in diameter, with glass-globed lamps that were hung every few feet.

We also went to a military museum that is within the walls of the Citadel. We stepped into the museum and immediately found one of the chariots from King Tut’s tomb. Then we jumped forward a few thousand years to the medieval Islamic period and saw mannequins riding fake horses, dressed in the military garb of the day. They had some pretty wicked looking swords and knives. Then we moved on to artifacts from more recent military campaigns. We saw canons and even a mangled tail fin from an Israeli fighter jet. My favorite item in the museum was a painting depicting Jimmy Carter (former U.S. president and fellow Georgian) witnessing the 1978 peace accords between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.

We found another mosque within the walls of the Citadel that was much older than the mosque of Muhammad Ali. The Muslim guide asked us to remove our shoes (as we had done at the Muhammad Ali mosque) and then led us to a pillar with a Christian cross near the top. In order to build the mosque, the builders used some materials from churches they had demolished. The cross was evidence of this. You can see a picture of this in my photos section in the album dated July 19th.

Upon finishing our tour of Islamic Cairo, Teri and I agreed that we had enough time to go to Coptic Cairo to go to the newly reopened Coptic Museum. We had been told at the beginning of our year in Egypt (in September) that the museum was being refurbished and it would be open in March. Everyone I knew in Cairo was very excited because the museum had been under renovations for several years and they were eager to visit it once again. March came and went and the museum was still not open. Every time we went we were told, “One more month.” Finally the museum reopened during our last two weeks.

We saw beautiful crosses that were carved into stone alongside carved ankhs, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life, paintings of various saints and sculptures. One thing I found very interesting was a symbol that is closely associated with Islam, a square with another square turned at a 45 degree angle, was originally a Coptic Christian symbol. The museum had one example of the symbol that dated back to the 4th century, long before Islam began.

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