Journal: Friday 19 November 2004
Because of the long day yesterday we didn’t get down to breakfast until quite late today. A coach full of German tourists had arrived overnight and so there wasn’t much food left on the buffet when we got to the dining room. Sam and I decided to do the first of our ‘Islamic walks’ today as Friday is Abdul’s day off when he goes to the mosque. We took a taxi to Sultan Hassan Mosque and getting out at the foot of the Citadel, we walked around the huge walls looking for the remains of the medieval amphitheatre wall that we had read about. I think we found it, but it was a building site with no more than a couple of short courses of stone blocks left so we couldn’t be certain. It was here where the great Sultans and Pashas used to have their games and horse races and train their armies.
Sam and I walked on southwards, towards Sayyida Aisha Mosque. Being Friday there were crowds of people here in the square under the Salah Salim flyover. We wanted to investigate the tombs and mausoleums in the southern end of the ‘City of the Dead’, known as the Southern Qarafa. During the last few visits to Cairo we have become fascinated by Islamic architecture and history – something most tourists ignore, but it makes a wonderful contrast to the ancient Egyptian monuments. Neither Sam or I are particularly interested in the Pyramids, which we have seen many times, preferring the ancient temples and tombs, so Islamic Cairo is a good alternative. We went up a little side street and were invited to go into the cemetery by an old woman, so guessed it must be OK. We found ourselves in the complex of Qawsun (14th century), with its domes and minarets and by the Northern minaret of al-Sultaniya we followed the path through to the tomb of Ali Badr al-Dinal-Qarafi. We had to be careful not to step on graves all around the area. Some women asked us if we needed the key to enter some of the mausoleums, which we politely refused, but took some photographs before leaving. This felt much better than some of the more threatening areas of the Qarafa we have been in, but I’m never very comfortable about being here, where many of Cairo’s poorest people live in make-shift houses among the tombs.
Back out to the main road and walked down from Sayyida Aisha Mosque to Sayyida Nafisa Mosque. There were many Friday crowds here too, both inside and outside the mosques. We found it amusing to watch the women waiting for their men outside their section of the mosque (they have separate entrances) and the women were giggling and standing on tiptoe peering through the high windows trying to catch a glimpse of the men inside – very reverential I thought!
We found ourselves in yet another cemetery so turned around to walk down Sharia al-Khalifa, past the huge almost derelict domes of al-Ashraf al-Khalil, Fatima Khatun, Sayyida Ruqayya, Shagaret al-Durr and down to the Mosque of Sayyida Sukayna. There are many women commemorated in this street. We were not bothered by anyone – sometimes in the past I have felt quite out of place because tourists do not usually enter these areas, but today it was surprisingly peaceful and hassle-free.
The street came out near the big Ibn Tulun mosque which we have visited before, so we got a taxi over to the Nile Hilton for a late lunch and wandered around the shopping arcade for a while. Later we went back to our hotel to download and sort out pictures I’ve taken so far – it’s surprising how time-consuming this is. We were both fairly tired so decided to eat in the hotel and sat talking in the bar over a bottle of wine until about 1.00am.