November 18th, 2005 – by: skippyed
We arrived early morning in Cairo and had a whole day so a group of us decided to check out Coptic Cairo then if we had time onto Islamic Cairo. Vaughan came up with the idea of trying the metro as he heard it was efficient clean and cheap. Well he was right the metro was very modern, the tickets cost us 75 piastres compared to a taxi ride of 10 pounds! the platforms were clearly marked and it was very clean. I thought getting on the metro late morning it might be half empty but it was just as packed as the London Underground at peak hour! I forget that a city with 20 million people no transport is going to be half empty.
We were the only westerners using the metro so we got a few looks.
Christian Murals in Coptic Cairo
We arrived at Coptic Cairo with no Hassle and proceeded to explore the very compact site. We were recommended to go into the museum but it was closed for renovations so our first stop was the Hanging Church which had a service happening so we listened in on that for a while. The wide passage way leading up to the church had walls painted with Christian murals. Next stop was the Church of St George which was decorated finely with wood panelling and old Christian paintings, chandeliers and lovely candles. The churches were unlike what we had been in before these looked more Orthodox but given its now Greek its not surprising. We wondered through the Grave yard with its many Roman like tombs and into the Church of the Virgin. This Church had wonderful little nooks and crannies and even a wishing well! No sooner you wonder through one room you found steps and little doorways leading to alcoves full of Christian artefacts.
Church of St George
Our last visit via the old quarter alley ways was the Ben Ezra Synagogue and it was here we were told the story of how Moses was found in his basket by the Pharaoh's daughter at that time. We were shown outside the very spot. We had time in the afternoon so myself, Vaughan, Nat M and Sarah went to old Islamic Cairo, the others decided to go to the Citadel. We hopped onto the Metro only this time Vaughan was suddenly confronted by an angry old local women. It turned out we had got onto the women’s carriage which was OK for us girls but not Vaughan! the younger women in the carriage didn't seem to worry but we wanted to keep the peace so we went to a different carriage. We did have a good laugh over the incident though! Friday was not a good day to explore Islamic Cairo for one its very busy with locals especially teenage locals who can be very annoying wanting photo’s with you all the time.
inside Church of St George
The other was its a major praying day for Muslims and getting in to see a Mosque can be difficult. We met this friendly local chap who took us to a Mosque that we would get in and see - Al Ghuri mosque. Getting into a Mosque on your own without a guide is also difficult and they don't do it for free! Our guide first took us up the Minaret so we could get a good view of Cairo. It was pretty dark and scary getting up the steps of the Minaret but the views were worth it, we could even see the Pyramids! We then went inside to a balcony area where we could observe the locals praying. It was interesting to see that the women and children had their own praying area away from the men. It was an experience to see inside a Mosque especially during prayer time.
Inside Church of St George
Our next stop was Al-Azhar Mosque one of the most important Mosques in Cairo. We had to wait until prayers were finished before we could go inside this one. Natalie, myself and Sarah weren't quite dressed for the occasion so we were given makeshift Hijab’s to wear made from sheets. Natalie was wearing shorts so they gave her a full on sheet to wear! she looked silly and we found it hard not to laugh at her. Once again we were greeted by a guide who gave us a very good tour of the Mosque. The Mosque was very nice it had a large marble courtyard overlooked by three minarets. The prayer hall was very large with pillars every so many meters. The Mosque was built at different periods and this was reflected in the different Mihrab designs. The ceiling was ornate zig zag patterns and unlike Christian churches there were no pictures or paintings to be seen anywhere.
Tombs in the church yard
Our guide was very informative even though he stung us for 20 pounds each, and to top it off we had to pay to get our shoes back! It was getting late in the afternoon so we decided go seek out Fishawi's coffee shop in Khan el-Khalili. The market place was very busy and quite stressful to wonder through so we gave shopping a miss.