egypt 10: a guide to islamic cairo

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Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo’s oldest surviving mosque, and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali

Islam was introduced into Egypt by Amr ibn el-As in 639 AD and Egypt changed forever after that. Islam is based on the recitations of the Prophet Muhammad who was born in 570 AD in Mecca, Arabia. At the age of 40 he received the word of God through Gabriel, the archangel and for 22 years, thereafter, he recited his revelations to his followers. Islam rests on the Quran (el-Quran means the recitation). In the quest of spreading this message, the converted Arab armies led by his followers in Baghdad, conquered the Byzantine and Persian empires.

If there is time to see only one mosque in Cairo, it has to be the Ibn Tulun Mosque. Built in the 9th Century by Ahmed ibn Tulun, it is the oldest surviving mosque in Cairo. The edifice is impressive both for its large scale and minimalist classical lines. The vast courtyard is covered with pebbles, the pointed arches made of brickwork and stucco, and the spiral minaret seems to have been borrowed out of a fairytale. A 2-kilometer long wooden frieze inscribed by one-fifteenth of the Quran runs below the ceiling. Continue reading

egypt 9: a guide to the egyptian museum and coptic cairo

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Cairo, the largest city in Africa and the Middle East since the 13th Century, is the meeting point not only of past and present but East and West. Five thousand years of history blend harmoniously into each other in this large metropolitan, cosmopolitan, historical, yet modern city.

Egyptian Museum

Cairo’s most famous and priceless treasure is the Egyptian Museum in the heart of the city. Founded by the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette in 1858, it contains some of the world’s most extraordinary antiques. At least two days are needed to get a grasp of the masterpieces which range from across the millennia: the Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BC), Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC), New Kingdom (1550-1080 BC), the Amarna Period and the subsequent Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Continue reading

egypt 8: alexander the great’s alexandria and coptic wadi-el-natrun

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Fairytale Qaytbay Fort, built from the stones of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse

Alexandria, ancient capital of culture and learning

Built by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Alexandria was intended to be the port which would link the old worlds of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. Following Alexander’s death, Alexandria became a world city under the rule of the Ptolemies, the dynasty founded by his Greek General, Ptolemy. The Ptolemies used their resources to develop knowledge, art and culture and establish the city as a centre for science, religious thought and literature. It was within the complex of libraries, parks and halls of the fabled Mouseion that stood in the centre of the city that Euclid wrote his ‘Elements’, Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, Herophilus pioneered the study of anatomy, and the ‘Julian’ calendar, based on the ancient Egyptian solar calendar, was devised. Continue reading

egypt 7: majestic karnak and valley of kings—luxor

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The unforgettable ‘stone forest’ at Karnak

Luxor: East Bank

Initially a modest shrine dating back to the 12th Dynasty (1991–1778 BC), Karnak surpasses every other pharaonic temple in scale with over 100 acres dedicated to the Egyptian gods. As the empire expanded and gratitude towards Amon deepened, successive pharaohs right down to the time of the Greeks, added pylons, courts, shrines and statues to the magnificent temple complex. Continue reading

egypt 6: waset, hundred-gated thebes, al-uqsor—luxor

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“Never did a city receive so many offerings
in gold, silver, ivory, colossal statues,
and in obelisks made of a single stone.”

~ Diodorus Siculus (60 BC)

The ancient Egyptians knew it as Waset, the Greeks named it the hundred-gated Thebes and the Arabs called it Al-Uqsor, the Palaces, a name which has been corrupted to what we know the city as today, Luxor.

Capital of the New Kingdom for 500 glorious years, and spiritual centre for much longer, Luxor contains the crowning achievements of Egyptian civilisation. Its temples and tombs are amongst the most extraordinary monuments ever built through time. The East Bank of the Nile, like elsewhere throughout the valley was the site for temples and prosperity. The West Bank signified death, burial grounds and tombs. Continue reading

egypt 5: temples of philae, kom ombo and edfu on the nile

Temple of Isis, Philae

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Trajan’s Kiosk at the Temple of Isis, Philae

Surrounded by the Nile River and granite boulders, the Temple of Isis at Philae was the last functioning temple of the ancient Egyptian religion and closed down in 551 AD. Built over a period of 700 years by Ptolemaic and Roman rulers who wanted to identify themselves with the Osiris and Isis cult, the temple is a magnificent blend of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman architecture. Continue reading