Trip Start Dec 14, 2005
Trip End Dec 29, 2005

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cairo Itself

First and foremost, we loved Cairo. Cairo is not a place for the faint hearted (not if you want to ride in a taxi anyway!); it's busy, polluted, ugly in places with a tax system that incentivates unfinished buildings and it is huge (15-20mil people live there). However, the sights are fantastic, the people are very helpful (contrary to what I had been led to expect) and there is so much to see and do...including some great bars & of course wonderful Lebanese food.

Cairo Museum

A huge, fascinating museum containing over 120 thousand items (according to my guidebook at least!). Contains exhibits right through the ages, but as our first port of call, have to say we didn't take full advantage since we had very little understanding of the significance of so many of the items. However, one thing that certainly strikes you is that the ancient Egyptians were up to some pretty incredible stuff while us Europeans were running round in caves! We didn't bother with a guide (were happy just to wander armed with guidebook), but perhaps would have been worthwhile.

Two key attractions are the treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb (including 2 of the Russian doll style burial caskets & his solid gold headgear) and the mummy room (including Ramesses II, the most reknown of all the pharoahs).

Pyramids of Giza

About a half-hour drive from Cairo lies the Sphinx (sans beard which is in London's British Museum & the nose which was never found after the Mamluk's blew them off with cannon fire), the Great Pyramid of Kufu (the last remaining ancient wonder of the world), the Pyramid of Khafre & the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure as well as various mastabas and Khafre's solar boat in its own museum.

Pyramids of Saqarra

The oldest of the pyramids, including the c.3000BC (isn't that just mind boggling?) Step Pyramid and various Mastabas (burial tombs for nobles, etc.) including the mataba of Mereruka. Far less tourists than the Pyramids of Giza.

Coptic Cairo

Five old Christian churches, the Coptic Museum and the Ben Ezra synagogue (believed to have originally been a Coptic Church) form a walled compound with narrow streets. Compound gates date back to 1st century AD. We took the metro to Mar Girgis, and from there you cannot miss it.

Hanging Church (Late 7th century BC, largely rebuilt 10th century) named for its nave suspended above the passage sits atop the southern tower gate.

Church of St. George Immediately visible from the Metro station, the monastery & round church of St. George is clearly distinguishable for the image of the saint, mounted on horseback fighting a dragon.

Church of St. Sergius & St. Bacchus (5th century BC& restored in the 8th). Believed to have been built where Joseph, Mary & the infant Christ rested at the end of their journey into Egypt, such a holy sight is hardly reflected in its external appearance. Appearing more like a side door into a basement than the entrance to the oldest church in Egypt, this small church is where many of the patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected until the 11th Century, when a schism saw the Hanging Church takeover.

To the rear of the relatively simple church lies a staircase (inaccessible when we visited) to the crypt which contains the remains of the original church, where the holy family were believed to have rested.

Church of St. Barbara (Could date back to 4th century AD; restored in the 11th century & beginning of 20th) Dedicated to St. Barbara who was tortured and martyred for refusing to denounce her faith.

Islamic Cairo (including the Citadel)

Built in the early 13th Century the imposing landmark that is the Citadel contains the Mosque of Mohammed Ali with its beautiful interior & the clock which Mohammed Ali received in return from the French for one of the two obelisque's in Luxor Temple (which has never worked). Views from here stretch all the way to the Pyramids at Giza.

In the nearby area stretches a huge concentration of Mosques, which lead north to the southern entrance to the old city, the Bab Zuwaylah (with fantastic views over the ciry from its two towers) and then on to Khan Al-Khalili (the great bazaar), which we walked. We visited the mosque of Sultan Hassam, right round the corner from the Citadel (12 LE entrance).

Cairo Tower

Stunning views over the city. You can also eat up there, but understand hardly luxury cuisine.
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