Islamic Cairo

Wow! How to put into words today’s adventure to Cairo’s old Islamic center? Otherworldly? Steps into the past? Alien? We were the ones visiting another world. We were the ones stepping into the past. We were the aliens. It was incredible.

Cairo has roots in Islam dating back to the 7th century AD. In AD 640 an Islamic army rode into Babylon (Coptic Cairo) and forced the Roman military out of the area. Instead of taking over Babylon, these Muslim settlers set up a tent city to the north in what is now Islamic Cairo.

Getting a little more adjusted to Cairo time, we haled a taxi around 9:30 am and wove our way through traffic into the heart of Islamic Cairo. Think of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and you will have a pretty good idea of what it was like.

As soon as we got out of the taxi we were lost. Not knowing where to go or where exactly we were, we headed straight for the largest building in sight, straight across the square to the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein. Megan, our friend Grace, and the girls were shooed away; it turns out women are not allowed in this mosque. Sam and I were invited inside so we shed our shoes, gave them to the cleric inside the door, and wandered around. It was absolutely HUGE inside, plenty of room for the 2000 plus men who pray here every day. We were there between prayer times so the few men inside were, praying, reading the Koran, chatting quietly, or snoring on the floor. We took a few pictures and left. Turns out that officially, not only are women not permitted inside, but neither are non-Muslims. Cool…

Next we entered into the Khan al-Kahlili bazaar. It started out as a small caravan of shops in 1382 and now covers two square kilometers of swap meet shopping mania. Most merchants live upstairs of their shops and represent generations of family Kahn al-Kahili vendors. You can buy anything here from truly hideous tourist junk to groceries, pots, and pans. Glass bobbles, hammered tin, powdered spices, tacky tee shirts, fly covered veggies, and stuffed animal camels all share the same marketplace. It is sensory overload. Top it off with a cup of Turkish coffee from Fishawi’s (Open 24 hours a day for the last 200 years!) and you have experienced the Khan.

After wandering the Kahn for a couple of hours we found ourselves faced with the al-Azhar mosque and university. It was founded in AD 970 and is the oldest university in the world. All of us were allowed into this mosque and after taking off our shoes we reverently walked about the inner courtyard and inside the house of prayer. All but Emma that is. She ran around in this massive tiled courtyard with her hands outstretched like she was singing “The Sound of Music.” At least she was quiet. As we were leaving we noticed a small group coming out from what appeared to be the locked door at the base of the mosque’s tallest minaret. We were all filled with a lust to climb the steps to the top, and the cleric at the door was ever so willing to grant our wish (for 40EGP) so up we all went. Dark, steep, gravelly, and dangerously high, and yeah, Emma climbed it too. Amazing views of all of Cairo even through the smoggy, smoky haze of a late afternoon.

The visit was topped off with a wild taxi ride home. Hopefully our YouTube link will work.

It is difficult to process this journey so far. Yesterday and today were so different. Tranquil Coptic Cairo and busy Islamic Cairo. Deep, history, life changing roots in both places.


laura said...

Hi Robertson's,
Sounds very interesting and reminds me of Turkey. What a different world! I'm so envious of you, but I'm so grateful that you're sharing your trip this way.
I look forward to watching your wild ride. Did you already try to set up a link? I didn't see it.
I'm praying for you all. Let me know any specific ways you'd like to be prayed for!
Much love to all of you!

Dixon Family said...

Very cool to get to climb into the minaret. Emma 'Andrews' has a good ring to it - I can easy picture her twirling around.

Jim Pigato said...

hey guys (and Laura and Dixons)--

So Marty and Megan, I created a blog just so I could post to this. My guess is that I didn't need to go to all that trouble, but it seemed like a fun thing anyway.

I think my favorite part about the Cairo post is checking your shoes at the door. Is it exactly like a coat check, but with shoes? Do you get a shoe check ticket to claim your shoes at the end?


linnie said...

I had the same question as Jim. I bet the "shoe room" can get pretty odorous. (Do they have right of refusal?! I can just imagine Sarah Jane's and Emma's response to not being allowed into the mosque, and I am sure Sam really gets into the camel spitting. What a fun time we are having visiting Egypt with you this way. We are so jealous and are getting the travel bug. Hugs to all of you.

Perry Hamilton said...

I was jealous when you biked Europe when we were in college... now I'm jealous again.

Danell said...

Your family must be having the most amazing adventure. Your pictures look like postcards. I agree with Linnie, the traveling bug is biting.
Danell Hurtado

linnie said...

Hey all you blog commentators: I don't know if you know, but if you click on the photos themselves you'll get an 11x14 view that really shows the beautiful detail of the architecture and people.

*Ronda* said...

Hi all!
Thank you for preparing our weekly history lessons. Sounds fabulous! Keep it coming. You are in our prayers. Ronda

Greig Family said...

Hi Robertson Family,
- Looks like you are having alot of fun! Stacia
- We sure miss you all. Marty, can I apply to be a sixth grader in your class next year? Maja
- Can't wait to see you in Greece/Itlay! Peter
- (Steve's at work, earning our trip to see you :-)

Marty Robertson said...

Thank you commentators. We are having a blast! Although I'm not sure that we can keep up this pace. Our adventure seems to just get wilder every day. Every day seems very dream-like, and I don't think it's just from sleep deprivation. More later. We miss you all very much.

Michelle said...

thats a pretty cool veiw!!!!!!!!!!PRETTY HIGH TO