Egyptian Schedule – Day 2

Provided I was able to enter the Country, on day 2 I should wake up in Cairo. Our schedule today features three main points: the Egyptian Museum; the Citadel; the Bazaar. Let’s see what it means. 1. The Egyptian Museum I’m assuming they mean the pink one, the one near the 6th October Bridge, designed […]

Provided I was able to enter the Country, on day 2 I should wake up in Cairo. Our schedule today features three main points:

  1. the Egyptian Museum;
  2. the Citadel;
  3. the Bazaar.

Let’s see what it means.

1. The Egyptian Museum

I’m assuming they mean the pink one, the one near the 6th October Bridge, designed by Marcel Dourgnon in 1902.
If this is the case, there’s a couple of people I need to meet.

The first one is Hatshepsut, Royal Wife of Pharaoh Thutmose II until he died and she decided she was going to be the fifth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty herself because if you want something done you might as well do it yourself. To clear everyone’s doubt and since there was no such thing as a Queen with equal power to a King, she always wanted to be depicted with attributes of a male pharaoh, including the false beard and ram’s horns, dressed in male clothes and with masculine traits.
The lady was one of the most prolific builders in Ancient Egypt, employing the services of an architect named Ineni who also had worked for her father. She commissioned monuments in Karnak, restored the Precinct of Mut that had been ravaged during previous times (no one likes a powerful woman even if she’s the Mother Goddess, apparently), built the famous Karnak’s Red Chapel and the Temple of Pakhet at Beni Hasan, Minya. Pakhet, in case you don’t know, was another kick-ass goddess, a synthesis between the two lionesses of war Bast and Sekhmet. Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, which I hopefully will see later on in the journey, kicks some serious asses.

The second person I long to meet is Maiherpri, lion of the battlefield, one of the most interesting evidences of the ethnic diversity and the presence of black people in Egypt during the new kingdom. You can read about it here, for instance. His tomb and his Book of the Dead should be preserved on the first floor of the museum.

The third person I’d like to meet is a poor young boy named Tutankhamun.

2. The Citadel

The Citadel of Cairo, or Citadel of Saladin, is the medieval-Islamic fort in Cairo, which was the seat of government between XIII and XIX Century. It was allegedly built by the great Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, between 1176 and 1183. Later expansions were carried out between 1310 and 1341 by An-Nasir Muhammad, 9th Mamluk sultan of the Bahri dynasty, and another set of major works was issued by Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman-Albanian governor of Egypt, between 1805 and 1848. If you paid attention yesterday, it means that the Citadel spans all three major architectural styles you can find in Cairo.

The Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad is an early 14th-century mosque from the Malmuk period, it’s a hypostyle building (meaning its roof is supported by columns) and it stands on a 63 x 57 m rectangle. The outer walls have no decorations and speak to the military nature of the setting. It was originally built in 1318 but renovated around 20 years later: the walls were made higher, the minaret was stretched and a couple of entrances were enhanced. As such, one can only wonder how the original architect might have wanted her to look like.

The Ottoman Muhammad Ali Mosque right behind her is said to be the most impressive building in the Southern Enclosure, built on the model of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul by the Turkish architect Yusuf Boshnak. The upper walls were lined with alabaster panels, hence the alternative name of Alabaster Mosque, but the marble was taken away before the building’s completion and replaced with painted wood. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Muhammad Ali himself was buried in a Carrara marble tomb in the courtyard of the mosque, but his body was later moved.
The Mosque measures 41×41 meters. Its central dome is 21 meters in diameter, surrounded by four smaller domes and four semicircular ones, following the Ottoman fashion. The whole thing is 52 meters high, around half the dome in St Peter’s Basilica, not counting the western minaret which rises to 82 meters. It’s a big fellow.

The terminal building in the Southern Enclosure is known as the Al-Gawhara Palace, commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1814 and designed by a melting pot of artisans including people from Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Its most striking characteristic is possibly the set of windows, as each person took one from home and they all arranged them on the facade. The palace is no small feat: it included barracks for the infantry, schools for every family who worked in the Citadel, an arsenal, a gunpowder factory and a mint. Everything a young boy needs.
There’s a beautiful research penned by Sayed Hemeda and Taha Abd El Moaty Atalaa from the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology featuring drawings of the palace, and you can find it on Research Gate.

The Sulayman Pasha Mosque is in the Northern Enclosure and it’s a smaller building, established in 1528 by the Ottoman Suleiman Pasha Al-Khadem. It was originally built for the exclusive usage of the janissaries, the elite infantry who was stationed in this area of the Citadel, and its plan is T-shaped. It is the first mosque established in Egypt following the Ottoman architectural style.
The interior is divided in two sections, covered by the single dome, and its walls are covered with green Qashani patterns and Kufic inscriptions. A verse from Quran 3:189-194 encircles the dome:

To God belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and of the earth; and God is powerful over everything.
Surely in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day there are signs for men possessed of minds who remember God;
Standing and sitting on their sides, And reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth:
‘Our Lord, Thou has not created this for vanity, Glory be to Thee!
Guard us against the chastisement of the Fire.
Our Lord, whomsoever Thou admittest into the Fire, Thou wilt have abased; and the evildoers shall have no helpers.
Our Lord, we have heard a caller calling us to belief, saying, “Believe you in your Lord!” And we believe.
Our Lord, forgive Thou us our sins and acquit us of our evil deeds, and take us to Thee with the pious.
Our Lord, give us what Thou has promised us by Thy Messengers, and abase us not on the Day of Resurrection:
Thou wilt not fail the tryst.

One of the things that mostly interests me in the Citadel, however, is the Salah ad-Din’s Well. As you might know, the Ottoman culture has been lightyears ahead of us when it comes to drinking water, never losing the heritage of the Roman Empire and keeping it alive alongside… well, its citizens. To supply water to the Citadel, Saladin tasked his chief eunuch and confidant Qaraqush to build an 85-metre-deep well through the hard rock of the Mokattam hills, dividing it into two sections: the upper part is surrounded by a spiral staircase going down, separated from the main shaft by a thin layer of stone, and the lower part reaches the level of the Nile. Between the two parts, a chamber for oxen to turn a wheel, thus allowing people to have water even when the river’s level was at its lowest peak.
During the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad, the population in the Citadel grew enough for the well to be insufficient, and the Mamluk sultan renovated the Ayyubid aqueduct system, originally built by the Kurdish Muslim Sultan Al-Kamil by the end of the 1100s. The new aqueduct system employed a number of water wheels pumping water from the Nile to the top of a hexagonal tower.
Another part of the water infrastructure in the Citadel is the domed Cistern of Ya’qub Shah al-Mihmandar just outside the Citadel.

3. The Bazaar

Khan el-Khalili is the most famous suq in Cairo, located North of the Citadel. It owes its name to one of its several historic caravanserais, roadside inns where travellers could rest without (much) fear of being robbed, and it was established as a centre of trade after the 14th century, during the Mamluk era.
Before that, during Fatimid times, the Caliphate had half a mind to use the area for a great palace complex, but just two buildings were finished. We believe the first place of trade was the square that resulted between these two palaces, cleverly called Bayn al-Qasrayn (“Between the Two Palaces”) so that people wouldn’t miss it.
Nowadays, this is what I’m told to expect from the bazaar.
Last time I was in a suq, it took me three days to buy a necklace. I don’t have three days.

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