HIGHER THAN PYRAMIDS!
If there is a beautiful activity to be done in a city, this one is going up to a high point from where we can enjoy excellent views. The Cairo Tower is the best point to watch the city of Egypt from the high.
Egyptians call it Borg El-Quhira, and despite not being so young, it is the most modern construction of Cairo. It is located on the beautiful Gezira Island. With a height of 187 meters, it is the highest structure in Egypt and all of North Africa. It was the tallest Tower in Africa from its construction till 1,971, when the Hillbrow Tower was inaugurated in Johannesburg in South Africa.
It has 90 floors and is 14 meters in diameter. Despite being one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city, its primary function is for observation and telecommunication. The Tower is 43 meters higher than Keops Pyramid, and not only its base and its main stair were constructed in polished granite stone brought from Aswan as so many other monuments of Ancient Egypt. The Tower itself is built in reinforced concrete, protected from the elements at its exterior by a layer of eight million small mosaics. Its lotus flower shape rising to the sky also wants to emulate the ancients´ symbol to Upper Egypt.
It was in the 60´ after the construction of the Tower was finished when president Gamal Abdel Nasser made a statement announcing that the United States had tried to win his favour bribing him with a personal present of six million dollars to take an active part at the end of the fight of the Algerian independentists against the French occupation and that as a sample of his incorruptibility and as a symbol of the Arab resistance to colonialism, he had given all this money for the Tower construction. Curiously the embassy of the United States was placed at the other side of the river where the Tower was erected.
The architect was Naoum Chebib, and the Tower started to be co structured in 1,954, being inaugurated April 11th, 1,961. However, the works were interrupted for the three years following the outbreak of the Suez Crisis. With 35 million Egyptian pounds, restoration works took place between 2,004 and 2,009.
The Tower is crowned by a circular observation platform and a rotary restaurant which gives a complete tour of the city every seventy minutes. Although our main objective will be arriving at the top to see the impressive views, we must not leave without admiring the circular lobby of the entrance and its mosaic´s mural representing the milestones of the United Arab Republic, that was the political union between Egypt and Syria between 1,958 and 1,971.
Indications: The Cairo Tower is located in Al Borg, Zamalek, Giza Governorate.
The ticket costs 60 EGP and is free for children under six.
It opens every day from 8 AM till 1 AM.
The best moments to visit it are at the end of the morning when fog is gone or at night to see Cairo illuminated.
THE QUEEN´S PRESENT FOR HER PEOPLE, WITH A HOMICIDE IN BETWEEN
We will suggest a delicious dessert you cannot skip tasting if you visit Egypt. Om Ali ir Umm Ali. This delightful sweet might be consumed warm or cold, hiding a curious story after its name. Can you imagine a baked puff pastry with almonds, chestnuts, coconut, milk, cream and sugar? Well, this is Om Ali. Doesn´t your mouth makes water just thinking about it?
Om Ali or Umm Ali is considered one of Egypt´s most delicious desserts. It has a characteristic scent and flavour, easy to do as its elaboration process is fast. We only need the essential ingredients.
Are you interested? Let´s go ahead! We explain the recipe, and after that, we will tell the curious storey hidden at the back of its name.
To prepare a good Om Ali, we need:
- 12 slices of phyllo dough or puff pastry.
- ½ cup of grated coconut
- 4 cups of crushed almonds
- 4 cups of liquid milk
- 4 cups of crushed cashew nuts
- 4 cups of milk powder
- ½ cup of vanilla
- A box of whipping cream.
We have to put the phyllo dough or puff pastry in a tray and put it inside a hot oven till it gets a golden colour. We bring it out from the range and break it into medium pieces leaving it in the oven with some coconut.
In a frying pan on the fire, we put almonds and cashew nuts until they are roasted when we place them on the dough. We set the liquid, powdered milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla on a pot at low heat, stirring well and leaving it boiling.
We place everything over the dough and place the tray again in the hot oven till it is golden. Om Ali will be ready to be served.
We can have it warm, accompanied by ice cream.
Now the story: Umm Ali in Arabic means "the Mother of Ali ´´. According to legend, the Queen of Egypt married Sultan Ezz El-Din Aibek, who later was married to Om Ali. Om Ali wanted to take revenge on the Queen for inevitable conflicts, arriving to kill her, presenting this dessert to the people to celebrate her revenge and convert her son Ali into Sultan of Egypt. Another version says that Om Ali was the first wife of the Sultan and not the second.
Om Ali dessert became famous and traditional in Egypt, being exported to the other Arab countries where it is also consumed.
Indications: Practically, we can find it in all the restaurants of Egypt. Also, we will find it in many pastries. Ask before, anyway.
Enjoy this delicacy!
THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
Well, the moment we were waiting for arrived already, going shopping in an exotic country like Egypt and such a significant capital as Cairo. If it is about shopping, the ideal place is Jan el-Jalili or Khan el Khalili market, known by English-speaking people. If you are looking for a place where you can find anything you can imagine buying, this is the right place. In a delicious walk, you´ll be able to find any trinket shops, workshops of goldsmiths of various metals making plates, bowls or trays, works in wood as square or circular boxes with hippo bone or ivory inlays, chess boards, fine gold or silver jewellery, locals with carpets and kilims coming from every corner of Egypt and the Middle East, shops with antiquities you have to observe to see if they are what the shellers are saying, camel leather workshops with bags, backpacks, belts or hats, dyed basketry in different colours, and of course, let yourself go with to kind of fragrances: one of them will open your appetite, we are talking about spices: clove, saffron, Curcuma, cumin, cinnamon...another one perfumes, smell flower essences that alone or mixed will be the delicacy of the most sensitive smells. And all of this in an excellent local atmosphere surrounded by great tranquillity achieved by traders after tens of generations of artisans passing their knowledge from parents to sons and grandsons. Let yourself be taken without course by this labyrinth of locals.
Do it calmly, without a fixed route, unless you already have something specific to be bought. You will be able to capture the essence of this marvellous country with several millennia of traditions.
Let your painful feet rest while entering to have tea at any of the many coffees you will find in this bazaar. Try the tea with mint, which is very refreshing during the warmer months of the year or a red karkade made from hibiscus flower, called "Jamaica" in some Hispanic American countries where it is taken cold. In Egypt, it is usually taken warm. Enjoy a guava juice if you want to vitaminize.
The origins of Khan el Khalili or Jan el-Jalili bazaar or souk go back to 1,382-1,399. It was created to help the recovery of Cairo after the terrible epidemic of the black plague that took place between the XIIIth and the XIVth centuries. During these years, Emir Dyaharks el Jalili built a great caravanserai, corn exchange or inn for traders. They had stored their merchandise and stables for their animals, such as camels and horses. All this was built at the place of the tomb of Za´afran that should have been the graveyard for the Egyptian Fatimid governors. The works took place during the rule of Sultan Barquq. Despite its many transformations, the bazaar still preserves domes from ancient times.
This market, still alive after more than 600 years, is a labyrinth, but you will always get out if you keep walking in the same direction.
Visit the coffee shop Fishawi in its interior, open continuously during the last 200 years, making it the oldest Cairo and Egypt. Try also arriving at the Midaq alley, set of the novel "The Alley of Miracles" written by Naguib Mahfuz, Nobel Prize of Literature in 1,988.
Indications: This bazaar is between the narrow Sikka Jan el-Jalili street and Badestan.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun was built between 876 and 879. The mosque´s original inscription dates back to the year 265 of the Hegira. This last date of 879 will be one of its finalizations in the West. This date makes it the oldest of Cairo, preserving its original characteristics. It was renovated in 1,267 AC.
The minaret was built in 1,296 as a unique independent structure as it has a staircase surrounding it in the exterior. It is also the most extensive temple in the city. Climbing up its peculiar minaret, we will have the best bird´s eye views, with the possibility to contemplate the daily life of this city from above. I assure you that you could stay there for hours watching how the city breathes, and the photos you could make will be magnificent, being selfies or not.
A beautiful feature of this mosque of massive proportions is the tranquillity of the large courtyard that surrounds it. Away from the hustle and bustle of the streets of this city, which are out there just as you leave it, it is an oasis of peace.
The patio is 90 meters long, and porticos around a central fountain surround it. The mosque has a tremendous Eastern influence, counting many arches and domes.
So that you know a little of its history, Ahmad Tulun was an enslaved Turkish. He knew how to climb positions to become the founder of the Tuluni Dynasty. When he arrived in power, he founded the city of Qata´i and charged the construction of this mosque which has his name.
Although the city was destroyed when Ahmad was overthrown, it was preserved although suffering several years of abandonment.
So, we suggest this precious historic jewel for its singular history and beauty, but especially for taking excellent photographs of the vibrating city of Cairo from the top of its distinct and imposing minaret.
Shar a Tulun Bay
It opens every day from 8 AM till 6 PM.
The prize is 60 Egyptian pounds for adults and 30 for accredited students.
MUSIC BY THE NILE
The Island of Gezira, in Zamalek district, located in the centre of the Nile at its pass by Cairo, is the scenery of a green oasis in this city punished by pollution and super population. From all the beauties we can find in it, we can contemplate the river´s water coming from Sudan and Ethiopia if we go to its Southern side. We will see an extraordinary and suggestive monument, something different from the topics of the pharaonic ruins, mosques and bazaars full of stents, people and colourful lights. We refer to a pretty modern monument that will surprise us: The Cairo Opera.
Already in 1,869, with the motivation of the inauguration of the famous and practical Suez Canal joining the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, opening the door for the ships to move to and from the Indian Ocean without the need to border the South of the African continent, Egyptian ruler Khedive Ismail the Magnificent, charged Italian architects the construction of the Royal Khedivial Opera House of Egypt, becoming the first one in the African continent to embrace great operatic shows. Unfortunately, this dream of art and culture was burnt when a terrible fire ended in 1,971. But fortunately, in 1,988, a new building was opened thanks to the economic aid of Prince Tomohito of Japan, brother of the Emperor of the nation of the Raising Sun, after a visit of the Egyptian president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak to his country. The new Opera is in the Southern part of the Island of Gezira, less than five minutes from the spectacular Cairo Tower. And its design was changed to a Japanese architect who gave it Islamic forms.
The Cairo Opera is a marvellous architectural work embracing seven theatre halls in its interior. Only the main one allows 1,200 people to enjoy the shows, from four-seat levels, having the most advanced technology of Africa. The Opera also has workshops, a Roman amphitheatre, an Institute of Arabic Music and a Museum of Egyptian Modern Art. It has precious marble corridors. It also has charming gardens to enjoy the greenery and the freshness of plants.
It is undoubtedly a lovely place. If you love Opera, don´t miss to check the Facebook page of Cairo Opera to see if there is a show taking place during your stay in the Egyptian capital. If there is no one, at least you can go to this place to enjoy its architecture and the beauty of its gardens, contemplating perhaps a beautiful sunset at dusk.
Indications: Ard El Opera. Gezira Island. Zamalek.
+20 2 27390132
Timetable: From 10 till 23 every day.
THE CITY OF THE DEAD
It is something not everyone will dare to do. It may not be advisable if you are not full of energy and determination. Still, we propose you approach an uncanny place where the people alive live over the dead… Zombies? No! It is about the Arafa cemetery, at the feet of Mokattam mountain. This dry and hostile place was filled by refugees displaced during the Israeli Arab War in 1,967 coming from the area of the Suez Canal.
The inmigration of people here has not stopped in a socially imbalanced city where twenty million people live in neighbourhoods usually crowded.
This place is a succession of crypts where thousands of families find shelter and live in situations that sometimes are dramatic. Even the light and water intakes are stolen by the ones established there. Despite all this, this curious neighbourhood of the dead bustles with life and functions as a city in itself. At its corners, we find mechanical workshops, goldsmith businesses, grocery stores, coffees, building companies, and of course, funeral parlours and gravedigger shops. But this small town inside the big city also lacks minimum services for these thousands of families, such as schools or clinics. Several years ago, there was a project to change the aspect of the cemetery, taking out the tombs to the exterior of Cairo, giving decent housing to their inhabitants and creating a green lung to oxygenate this dusty and polluted city. But all this disappeared with the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Sometimes plans resurrect at electoral times to disappear again after the elections.
The neighbourhood has historic tombs of princes and princesses as ancient as the Fatimid dynasty from the 10th to the 12th centuries or the Mamluk dynasty from the 13th till the 16th. But despite so much history, its alive dwellers drag the stigma of living in a marginal and degraded settlement that many people of Cairo associate with crime, delinquency and drug traffic.
Perhaps all this will demotivate you from visiting this neighbourhood. Still, although you don´t want to enter its darker corners, there are two exciting places to be seen inside the enclosure. One of them is the Palace complex of Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaytbay, a jewel of the Mamluk time of the XV th century located at the middle of the necropolis and where from some time ago the European Union has been working for its restoration and where European artists offer courses and workshops during their stay. A small change in the neighbourhood crossed by a road that politicians pass without stopping here, as, for many of them, the people alive are as if they were dead.
The second place would be the Mausoleum of Mohamed Ali, an abandoned home full of spiderwebs but perfectly preserved. There is a guardian taking care of the complex who maybe would let you access inside this great place if you give him a tip. Don´t forget that this tip is about daring with an adventure.
Indications: 7 Branshed, Al Soultan Ahmed, El-Darb El-Ahmar, Monsha Et al Nasser.
You can get there by taxi. They are cheap. It is advisable to have a guide with you to feel more secure.
THE ARM RAISED BY RAMESSES II´ MUMMY
With so many years of history, Egypt has many legends and anecdotes. Here we will tell you about an event that resulted in more than one person running inside the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.
It was in 1,870 when the mummy of this important pharaoh was discovered. It was in a hiding place of Deir el-Bahari, together with many other mummies of other pharaohs, where the Egyptian priests had gathered together many years before to preserve them from the attack of the grave robbers who knew very well how to do their job. In 1,886, the mummy of the megalomaniac and eccentric pharaoh was unwrapped and recognized as the one of Ramesses II by the general director of the Antique Service, the French Gastin Maspero, thanks to an inscription. The priests also knew the three transfers the mummy suffered because of other descriptions. The mummy was in good condition, and it was placed under a glass cover in a particular room. In 1,902, the Egyptian Museum of Cairo was inaugurated. The mummy was carried to the first floor together with other royal mummies. They were not exposed to the general public but only to illustrious visitors such as Pierre Loti or Vicente Blasco Ibañez.
At that time, there were talks of the magic of mummies and its possible maledictions, and novels were edited with stories of evil mummies who came back to life, scaring people. Loti and Ibañez were impressed when they heard an event that happened with the mummy of Ramesses II that the writer from Valencia mentioned in his work "Tour of the World of a Novelist".
The thing is that the mummy, not losing its immobility, raised one of its hands, beating the glass cover.
The guardians of the museum, who had not lost sight of the character from its arrival with certain resentment caused by old fears, ran to escape, terrified as crazy when they felt its awakening. Some of them suffered wounds after jumping through the glasses of the windows. They had to be assisted medically after falling into the garden.
Although the fact seems accurate, the most standard explanation would be that not being in the ambient of controlled temperature and humidity at that moment, an abrupt change of temperature could have made the arm tendons contract spontaneously as the same Blasco Ibañez tells in its previously mentioned work.
On the day of the event, British scientific Sir Graham Elliot Smith studied and took photos of the mummy. His assistant was removing the bandages. This way, the fibres that had been compressed for centuries contracted. The pharaoh waved his arm in a gesture that seemed to be giving an order! Those present, who withdrew with a start, though: could this be the real thing? Perhaps, as the Egyptologist John Romer would say years later, what the pharaoh wanted was to indicate that he wanted to be returned to his abode in the hills of Thebes. Everything has an explanation, but...
Indications: 15 Meret Basha
Times: From Monday to Wednesday from 9 till 19. Thursdays and Sundays from 9 till 21. Fridays and Saturdays from 9 till 16.
As of its Coptic neighbourhood and some Jewish synagogues, Cairo is a Muslim city, having marvellous mosques everywhere. Still, here we will propose you a fascinating tour taking us to know some well-known mosques in a neighbourhood not much known by tourists—the most important Muhammad Ali, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, Al Azhar or Al Husein.
With this purpose, we will take Bab Zuweila Gate as a starting point, with its two minarets, one of the three gates remaining from the walls of the Old City of Cairo. It is the last one standing from the South walls of Fatimid Cairo.
Beside this gate, we find the Mosque Al Salih Tala´i. Its name refers to a Berber tribe of the Western desert. From there, we will descend for about 16 minutes through a medieval Muslim neighbourhood of great interest where every corner will call our attention. We will pass the market where the desert tents are made. However, there we will also find infinite shops of exciting crafts, we will give by the Mosque Mahmud al-Kurdi, the one of Prince Jani Bek, the original Egyptian-Arabic market, Ghanem Al Bahlwan, or an infinity of cloth shops, groceries, pharmacies, coffees and public baths till arriving at the Madrasa Mosque of Sultan Hasan and the one of Al Rifa´i.
These two imposing mosques are one in front of the other.
To be in the middle of both of them creates an overwhelming atmosphere for their magnificence. The one of Sultan Hasan dates between 1,336 and 1,339, being one of the biggest in the world. It dates from the time of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. Ordered to be built by An-Nasir Hassan, historian Al-Maqrizi points out several innovative constructive marvels, such as its shape, including the four schools of Sunni thought. Their ceilings are majestic.
Al Rifa´i is much more modern. It was built between 1,869 and 1,912 to glorify the ancient rulers of Egypt, renovating the city of Cairo at the same time. It was created to contemplate the one of Sultan Hasan. It has been used to give resting place to the corpses of several members of the Royal Egyptian Family, such as King Faruq, the last one who ruled the country, dying in Rome in 1.965.
We could continue walking to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, very different from the others with a substantial central patio.
The Gate of Bab Zuwayla is located in Al Moataz El-Din Allah, El Darb El-Ahmar.
Beside the Mosques of Sultan Hasan and Al Rifa´i, we find the modern square Salah El-Deen with taxis and bus stops.
A GREEN OASIS, EVEN WITH FISH
We are going to relax for a while from so much movement and such a wonderful but chaotic city at the same time. We will go to green space from the many ones the wooded island of Gezira offers in Zamalek.
Suppose we want some time to relax, escaping the frenzy of this vibrant city. In that case, we suggest visiting the Grotto Gardens Aquarium or Ismael´s Grotto Gardens, Cairo´s botanical garden located in a very centric and accessible place of the city.
This beautiful space was finished to be created in 1,867 in 5 hectares on private property. It was one of the few green spaces opened to the public to be enjoyed by Cairo inhabitants and visitors from abroad. It was created for Egyptian exotic plants and other places, hosting fish and reptiles, mainly from the Nile River and Africa. At the beginning of the XX-th century, captain Stanley introduced the fish garden adding aquariums in the old caves. These renovations gave it a rare collection of African fish, opening to the public in 1,902.
Another name this marvellous garden has is Gabalayia. It was rebuilt in 2.000, both in its botanical part and in one of the fish aquariums, always respecting the original model. The rehabilitation included the expansion of a previously existing lake in the garden that is now divided into two parts, one for ducks and geese and the other for swans. The most interesting of this place are the cave tunnels hosting a fascinating aquarium for fish.
An exciting piece of information is that indirect lights were added to this space to be visited at night.
Something marvellous is that being at the centre of the city, it is a place where we can abstract totally from the bustle of the Egyptian megalopolis, from its crowds and traffic chaos.
Students will visit the fish garden after they get out from the schools, as well as by families, so together with relaxing our view and entering in a place of tranquillity, we can enjoy observing how people of Cairo relax visiting it, in an ambience much quieter than the one existing in the streets of the city where everybody runs. It will be delightful to watch the romantic couples coming to take a walk in this beautiful place and observe the students of the Faculty of Arts painting its beautiful corners.
A luxury of a town that is mainly dusty, dry, and with little greenery except for a few places when we walk away from the island. Very near, on the Southern side of the green island of Zamalek, there are also three-sport clubs. Also, suppose we decide to go on this island. In that case, we can find and enjoy other beautiful gardens such as the Andalusian Garden going back to the Arab past in the South of Spain or the lovely parks of the Marriott chain of hotels. In addition, the Opera of the city and the Cairo Tower are on this island also, both of them, monuments with big and beautiful green spaces.
Indications: El Gabalaya, Al Gabalayah, Zamalek
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