Day 2,096 of Traveling the World | Cairo, Egypt | October 27, 2023

Eighteen. Eighteen! That is how many places in the U.S. alone that are named…CAIRO. There are 6 more places named Cairo in Colombia, Italy, and Costa Rica. But….we were at the original Cairo, the city that evokes pictures of pyramids, camels, ancient times, mosques, and exotic goods. You won’t be seeing any photos of camels or pyramids, as we visited Giza many years ago on a cruise. This time, we opted for a tour of Medieval Cairo, with visits to a mosque, synagogue, church, and bazaar. Just walking the streets was fun, experiencing it all and filling our senses with smells and images that were just beautiful. It was a grueling 3-hour bus trip each way from and to Port Said, though. It is not so bad in the morning, but it seemed that it took forever, at night, to return. We had to wait for other buses, as we formed a convoy led by a police car. We are assuming that it was for our security.

Refined scenes? That would be the religious building and the facades of the military structures we passed. The scruffy? That would be most of the ordinary neighborhoods we drove through on the bus, with everyone selling everything along the streets. The buildings are old and many are literally falling apart, but that is due to Egypt being a relatively poor country. The delicious? That would be a lunch feast we had, with baba ganoush, salad, falafel, eggplant, beef chunks, rice, and okra in thick tomato sauce, all able to be scooped up with lovely pita bread. The exotic? That would be the Old Cairo Bazaar, which felt like something out of the 15th century. Everyone wanted to sell us something. The two best lines we heard: How can I take your money today? and I don’t know what you want, but I have what you need. We laughed, as of course we can’t actually buy anything other than drinks/snacks since we have no home in which to put anything.

Cairo is known as The City of 1,000 Mosques, more than any other place in the world. As we drove all around the city, every time we glanced out, there were multiple mosques in view. At one point, counting those we could see in two blocks, there were 14! The city also has 12 remaining synagogues. The one we visited is now a museum, and is the oldest of the remaining synagogues. But sadly, in a city of 22,000,000 (!), there are – ready? – THREE Egyptian Jews. It is interesting, both that there are so few, but that they know exactly how many there are.

All in all, we liked Cairo, at least more than on our first visit in 2009. It was hot, but only about 88 degrees F, with a little breeze. It seems like fall is a good time to visit. One of the ship’s workers, Taiane, said when she was here in the summer, it was 110! We saw lots of tourists wandering around who were not part of tour groups. The old parts of the city feel really old, and so interesting. You can buy any item you are looking for at many different shops, but we don’t know how one shop distinguishes itself when several hundred shops are selling identical items at identical prices. It seems like a hard way to make a living.

Mohamad Ali Mosque. Completed in 1858, it is still breathtaking to walk inside and see the lights, chandeliers, domes, and striking details.
The glorious domes.
One of four pillars that create a Christian “cross” in the floor design. Muhamad Ali was fascinated by the Hagia Sophia, which was originally a Christian Church, so many of the features aren’t exactly Muslim in origin.
The courtyard, with a clock tower and a central ablutions structure.
The mosque’s exterior. The minarets in the rear are called Pencil Minarets, for obvious reasons.
The mosque is built in the Citadel Fortress area, and a good portion of the fortress remains.
Built into the Citadel walls is this Police Station – a beautiful entrance, to be sure.
As we drove around Cairo in a bus, we saw this military academy, as well as armories, an Air Force building, and an Army building, among others. The city is very military-oriented.
As we entered Cairo, there was a row of these apartment buildings, numbering about 30. Our tour guide noted that the sidewalk level is fronted by “world-class luxury shops.”
This is all that remains of the Babylon Fortress in Old Cairo, built by the Emperor Diocletian around 300 AD. Pretty nice “ruins,” huh?
Ben Ezra Synagogue, now a museum, is built on the site where it is believed Moses was found as a baby. Evidence points to a construction date of pre-882 AD, although the current building dates to the 1890s (that is, “yesterday,” in Egyptian building dates!)
This is a small portion of The City of the Dead, which is a vast stretch of necropolises and cemeteries that cover many city blocks on both sides of the highway. It all just looked like houses and mosques in ruins.
A beautiful mosaic of Mary surrounded by female saints, in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church.
Stunning St. Mary’s Church is Coptic Orthodox, and is also called “The Hanging Church” or “The Floating Church.” See why, in the next photo.
It is hard to see what this is – even in person! – but it is a peek through the floor down, where you can see light. This church has no foundation and you can see there is a substantial distance from the bottom of the structure to the ground below it! It is built on the ruins of the Babylon Fortress shown above, so it is “hanging,” or “floating.”
We caught this from the bus, stopped at a traffic light. It is a scooter with a cart on the back. The back tire of the cart was flat, and it was loaded with heavy bags of what looked like grain or hay. Not having a jack, the two men on the right were trying to lift the loaded cart while the man on the left removed the tire. It wasn’t working out too well.
Loving these glittery, over-the-top belly dancing outfits in the midst of dozens of mosques, with women fully covered in head scarves and hijabs shopping in the area and children leaving school (some girls with head scarves).
This photo and the next give a better idea of the “common neighborhood block” as we looked around. Most people sold fruit, veggies, and other items from tables on the street.
The buildings were old, most discolored or with chunks of concrete missing, and laundry hung from many of the windows.
A beautifully carved mosque in the Old Cairo Bazaar.
A nice display of perfume and bottles/containers in the Bazaar. Here, the vessels are as important as the fragrance.
A great slice of life in the Bazaar. Notice, above the man’s head, that the Coca Cola sign and Stella Artois sign are first inscribed with their names in Arabic.
An elegant old vessel that is about as tall as the shop ceiling.
What an array of goods, down a few steps from the main street in the Bazaar.
A pretty arch in the Bazaar, where everything was for sale.
A curious array of dial telephones, when the young generation, selling them, has never even used one! Who does???
Another scene from the Old Cairo Bazaar.
This shop felt very old, and had a matching pair of angels bearing lights.
This is part of the world’s largest flea market, which stretches in every direction for many (seemingly endless) blocks.
We passed probably 100 shops like this (no exaggeration) selling fabric from huge bolts.
Items flowing out from their shops onto the sidewalk.
Armor Officers House, one of the many military buildings as you enter Cairo.
A palace built by Baron Empain of Belgium in 1906. One daughter had a mental or physical condition that required she be locked up here, and then either his wife or daughter committed suicide in the palace, subsequently leading to claims that the place is haunted.

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