Mr. Sladen found that Cairo included a glorious mediaeval city of the Arabian Nights, with innumerable monuments of medieval Arab architecture and unspoiled native life. To this he strives to call attention in a book that he hopes to make "chatty and interesting." And he unquestionably succeeds. Mr. Sladen at his best is easily capable of writing. By reading the book the toursit will learn "How to Shop in Cairo," as well as how to enjoy the "Humors of the Esbekiya" and countless other entertaining features of this variegated modern capital. He will even know the "Artist's Bits in Cairo," and will receive explicit directions how to find them. In other words, he need no longer be a "tame tourist" in the hands of a masterful dragoman.
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The City of the Arabian Nights
DOUGLAS B. W. SLADEN
Oriental Cairo, D. B. W. Sladen
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Availability: Publicly available via the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) through the following Creative Commons attribution license: “You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.” (Status: unknown)
Page referrals inside this book refer to the original edition and may mot work properly inside this volume.
I. TO THE READER.. 2
II. CAIRO THE SCENE OF THE “ARABIAN NIGHTS”. 6
III. THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE BOOK.. 7
DIRECTIONS FOR A DRIVE ROUND CAIRO.. 8
II.—ORIENTAL CAIRO.. 10
PART I. THE CITY OF “THE ARABIAN NIGHTS”. 25
PART II COUNTRY LIFE ROUND CAIRO.. 170
APPENDIX I. Ways of getting to Egypt, Cost, etc.194
APPENDIX II. Cairo was the Real Scene of the “Arabian Nights”. 195
APPENDIX III. Artists' Bits in Cairo. 199
APPENDIX IV. Mr. Roosevelt's Speech on Egypt at the Guildhall203
I have to thank my friend Stanley Lane-Poole, Professor of Arabic at Trinity College, Dublin, and Messrs. J. M. Dent & Co., for the permission to print at the end of my book Prof. Lane-Poole's admirable Chronological Table of the Rulers and Monuments of Mediaeval Cairo which appeared in his indispensable little volume, The Story of Cairo in Dent's Mediaeval Towns Series. It will be found most useful, because it gives a summary of the chief mediaeval buildings of Cairo.
The list of Artists' Bits in Cairo, with directions how to find them, on p. 361, will, I hope, be found helpful by painters and the great army of kodakers. The illustrations for this book are all of them enlargements of photographs taken by myself with a No. 1 a folding kodak.
And many people will, I think, be grateful for my pointing out to them the new facilities for getting to Egypt afforded by the combination of Thomas Cook & Son with the P. and O. Company, which I have tabulated on p. 351.
The types described in my various chapters on street life in Cairo are depicted inimitably in Mr. Lance Thackeray's new book, The People of Egypt, published by A. & C. Black, too late for me to mention it in the text of my book. They could not have fitted my text more completely if they had been executed for it. No one ever caught the humours of the Egyptian life so faithfully as Mr. Thackeray, and now we have him in the streets of Cairo as we had him before in Upper Egypt.
The water-carrier, the arbaghi who drives your cab, the policeman, the Egyptian boy, the peep-show man, the sellers of cakes and vegetables and syrups, the boy with the monkey, the donkey-boy, the dragoman, and many others, with just the sort of tourists looking at them who would be looking at them, and the scenery of time-worn Cairo in the background—they are all there, painted in the most life-like colours, and with a wonderful intuition, into form and expression.
WISDOM IS JUSTIFIED OF HER DEFORMED CHILDREN is the reflection, with which I console myself when I am scolded by critics, chiefly in superior papers, for the views I have expressed about Egyptians.
A very great paper—I think it must have been The Daily News—scolded me dreadfully for giving absurd examples in my Queer Things About Egypt, of “English as she is wrote by the Egyptians.” How, it asked, would Mr. Sladen like his own mistakes in Italian to be held up for ridicule?
To show how glad I should be to provide innocent amusement in this way I will tell a story against myself which has never appeared in print.
The padrone of a hotel in Sicily, to which I was in the habit of going, was a handsome young engineer who was notorious for his conquests among the fair sex. His wife, who was very devoted to him, met me at the door on my return to their hotel after an absence of some years. When I had asked about her own health, I continued, “And how is your husband, the Ingannatore?” I could not have said a more unfortunate thing, for Ingannatore means not an engineer but a deceiver. I should have said Ingegnere. The lady coloured painfully, but she knew what I meant and was equal to the occasion.
After this I hope that in a book, which has the saving grace of making no political comment upon Egyptians, I may be allowed to print a bouquet of the finest flowers of Egyptian English which have ever been collected on one sheet of notepaper. It was addressed to the Secretary of one of the most important companies in Cairo, who vouches for the authenticity of the entire document.
That your honour's servant is poor man in agricultural behaviour which depends on season for the staff of life, therefore he proposes that you will be pitiful upon and take him into your sacred service, that he may have some permanent labour for the support of his soul and family. Whereupon he falls upon his family's bended knees, and implores to you on your merciful consideration to a damnable miserable like your honour's unfortunate petitioner.
That Your Lordship's honour's servant was too much poorly during the last years and was resusitated by much medecines which made magnificent excavations in coffers of your honourable servant whose means are circumcised by his large family consisting of five female women and three masculines, the last of which are still taking milk from mother's chest, and are damnable noiseful through pulmonary catastrophy in their interior abdomens besides the above named an additional birth is through the grace of God shortly coming to my beloved of bosom.
That your honour's damnable servant was officiating in several passages during all his generations becoming too much old for absorbing hard labour in this time of faded life, but was not drunkard nor fornicator nor thief nor swindler nor any of this kind but was always pious, affectionate to his numerous family consisting of the aforesaid five female women and three males the last of whom are still milking the parental mother.
That your Gracious honour's Lordship's servant was entreated to the Magistrate for employment in Municipality to remove filth etc., but was not granted the petition; therefore your Generous Lordship will give me some easy work in the department or something of this sort apart which act of kindness your honourable lordship's servant will as in duty bound pray for your longevity and procreativeness.
I have etc.
Having made this protest I will not detain the reader with further examples, but proceed to set forth my reason for writing yet another book upon Egypt.
Egypt is an inexhaustible subject. When I saw that if I included in my Queer Things About Egypt the chapters I was preparing upon the glorious mediaeval Arab city at Cairo and its unspoiled native life, half the book would have to be devoted to them, I decided to omit the descriptions of Oriental Cairo altogether and to make them the subject of a separate book.
I was confirmed in this intention by the fact that nine out of ten English visitors who go to Egypt spend their entire time in Cairo and its vicinity. A book on Oriental Cairo seemed badly wanted, for there has been no adequate book which attempted to conduct the reader round the sights of the native city,1 and the innumerable monuments of mediaeval Arab architecture, which were in existence in Cairo when it supplied the local colour for the Arabian Nights, and still exist. It is computed that of ancient mosques and shrines alone there are nearly five hundred.
1 Mr. Lane-Poole's “The Story of Cairo ” is historical rather than topographical.
Few visitors to Cairo ever see them, and I felt that there were many who would love to wander about them if they had their attention drawn to them in a chatty and interesting book. This is what I have tried to achieve in my “Oriental Cairo, the City of the Arabian Nights.”
It is the custom of the swallows of London Society, who go to Cairo for the season, and spend their entire time between the hotels, the Turf Club, and Ghezira, to complain that Cairo is almost as European as London or Paris. You would gather from their conversation that the one thing they really yearned for in Egypt was to see unspoiled native life, and that Cairo was inhabited entirely by the unlovely effendi in his cheap, ill-fitting parodies of European clothes tempered by the use of a tarbüish.
But beyond the excursion with a dragoman to the Turkish Bazar they never think of going into the native city, which is as Oriental as Granada was in the days of the Moors, and not totally different to the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights.
It was as a city which still maintains the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights that Cairo appealed most to me; and while I was there I converted here a gay officer, there a society butterfly into an ardent mosque-hunter or an enthusiastic observer of the mediaeval life in the Arab city.
The kodak certainly played no small part in the conversion of most of them, for there are few well-off people who go to Egypt without a camera, and they were fascinated with the photographs I took for the production of the illustrations of this book. When my converts were once bitten with the mania for photographing in the Arab city, they generally went there every day, regardless of the bargaining in the bazars and the fleas of the Market of the Afternoon.
I often had to go alone when I had exhausted the enthusiasms or the muscles of all my friends. But I never felt lonely, even if I was in the wrong part of the city for Ali my faithful guide to find me and accompany me. Nothing could induce Ali to come to the hotel for me when I wanted him in some other direction than the Babes-Zuweyla. Two or three times he made appointments to come when I pressed him. But as he never kept them I understood that he had some reason, which he would not disclose, for objecting, such as Ramidge's servant had against taking him to a native theatre.
But I never, if I could help it, went inside a mosque alone. It was so difficult to get any atmosphere without the sympathetic society of others interested in its art and its romance. The attendants and the worshippers in the mosques never seem to think about these aspects. To them, even a mosque like El-Merdani is nothing but a place of worship and a club, a building in which they could not understand a Christian's wishing to enter for any purpose except the assertion of the right to intrude. Yet the mosques of Cairo are among the flowers of the earth. They are as rich in colour and variety as the blossoms of the garden and the field. They look as if they might have been grown and not been built by hands; they are full of fine curves and gracious flourishes; and all through the Arab city they spring beside one's path.
I do not know how many mosques I have entered and perused in Cairo. It must be fifty, it may be a hundred or two hundred. I know them as familiarly as men and women. I scan their gentle and lovable features like the faces of friends. They seem to pass the time of day to me whenever I am in their neighbourhood.
Few types of the world's architecture are as irrespective of age as the mosques of Cairo. I know mosques that were building when Louis Quinze was king, in the golden sunset of France, which look as old as fifteenth-century Gothic. The mosque builders did not lose their grip of style, their ideals did not fail. The mosque of El-Bordeini has not lost the magic of Kait Bey's architecture, though it was built two centuries later. It may justly be compared to the delightful Stuart Gothic at Oxford, built two centuries after mediaeval Gothic passed with the feudal chivalry of England in the Wars of the Roses. In the array of mosques marshalled before the eyes of the observer in Cairo, he can compare the glories of a thousand years.
In El-Azhar itself, the University of the Mohammedan world, there are inscriptions that declare the handiwork of Gohar, the General of the Fatimides who conquered Egypt, and, listening to the crafty son of Tallis, founded the Oxford of the East ten stormy centuries ago.
The mosque of El-Amr is almost as old as Islam itself, though hardly one of Amr's stones is standing on another, and the stately colonnades of its fifteenth-century restorer are half of them lying, like images of the Pharaohs, in the sand.
The minarets of El-Hakim, another of the primitive mosques, rise like the pylons of Edfu in the midst of mediaeval Cairo. They have the solid simplicity of the temples of ancient Egypt; and religion has left them as lonely. No pageant of faith ever brightens the liwân of El-Hakim's mosque. For a while, as a museum, it was the shrine of Arabian art, now it is but the storehouse of the great old-fashioned lanterns used in the illuminations of the Faithful. But it keeps company worthily with the Gate of Victory and the Gate of Conquests and city walls as old as our Norman castles.
Ibn-Tulun's mosque is tremendous; its huge courts, the grandest spaces in Cairo, are a thousand years old as they stand. The story of its building is a romance. The plaster tracery of its innumerable windows is still unmatched. It was the Court mosque of a more ancient Cairo. It has walls beside it which belonged to its luxurious founder's Palace of the Air.
I will not unfold here the glories of the great mosques of the later Middle Ages, Sultan Hassan's (the St. Peter's of Islam), Sultan Kalaun's (the St. Mark's), El-Moayyad, El-Merdani, El-Mase, the Blue Mosque, Sultan Barkuk's, El-Ghury, Abu Bekr's, El-Chikkun, Kismas-el-Ishaky, Kait Bey's, Sultan Selim's, El-Bordeini, and Sitt' Safiya—all but the last two built, and in their full splendour, when the world's chief romance was crystallised into a volume of Arabian Nights with the colour of Cairo.
I have written enough of them, I hope, in this volume, to make the reader, who visits Cairo with the desire to explore the mediaeval Arabic city, leave not one of them unentered.
From my pages, too, he will gather that the Cairo of the Arabian Nights does not live by mosques alone, but by palaces of Caliphs, and mansions of Mameluke Beys, and ancient schools and fountains reared by both, in the munificent spirit of Mohammedan charity, in the centuries which filled Europe with her Gothic churches and convents and colleges.
In Cairo there are still whole mediaeval streets in which huge oriel windows, latticed with exquisite meshrebiya-work, rise in triple tiers on both sides of the road, each tier projecting over the tier below, till the sky threatens to vanish. The Gamaliya has ancient overhanging timber porches which would grace a Japanese temple. The Sukkariya and the streets which continue it are as fantastic as a willow-pattern plate, with their arcaded fountains and Koran schools of bygone centuries. The Bab-es-Zuweyla, crowned with flamboyant minarets, hung with the weapons of still credited giants, fluttering with the offerings of the Faithful, hardly ever without a ragged water-seller at its threshold and a fikee reciting the Koran in its dark recesses, is mediaeval enough for a background for Saladin prancing out with his emirs to do battle with the Crusaders.
But this is only the half; for though there is no longer the pomp of princes and nobles in the splendour of Oriental luxury or barbaric mail, the great religious pageants, like the celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet and the Procession of the Holy Carpet to Mecca, are celebrated with much of their ancient grandeur, and the life of the poor in the unspoiled parts of the native city is hardly changed from the days of the Caliphs, except for the intrusion of the gifts of science and of the protecting arm of the beneficent Power, which decrees that none shall suffer violence to his person or his goods save in the execution of righteously administered laws. Half a mile of streets is still festooned with red and white pennons and lanterns to welcome a pilgrim from Mecca or a marriage cortège, each heralded by bands of barbaric music, camels in scarlet caparisons, palanquins of ivory and silver, and a troop of friends riding on fine white asses.
As you are watching the coppersmith holding a beaten vessel with his toes while he chases the brim, or a silk-weaver buried to his middle, you may hear those barbaric hautboys and drums. But more often you will hear a chanting so mournful and dignified that its memory will stay in your ears for ever; and soon, borne on the shoulders of friends, foreshadowed by banners, a high-horned coffin strewn with a noble shawl crosses your vision to the last rest in the Eastern desert.
On every side the poor are working patiently for the little gains of the Orient with tools unchanged from the dawn of commerce. The wood-turner, who creates the exquisite meshrebiya lattices, has a loose-strung bow for his lathe; the cotton-carder flicks the down from the fibre with a fainéant lute; the tarbûsh-maker does his felting with teasels from the hedge. This is the city of the Arabian Nights.
To avoid being taken to task for calling Cairo “A city of the Arabian Nights,” I shall shelter myself behind the authority of the two most eminent writers in our language on Arabic Egypt. I refer, of course, to Edward Lane, whose translation of the Arabian Nights is, after the Bible, perhaps the greatest “foreign classic,” and to his nephew, Stanley Lane-Poole, whom I am proud to remember as one of my literary friends at Oxford. He was a recognised authority on the subject even when he was an undergraduate, and it was he who first brought home to me how extraordinarily romantic is the art of the Saracen.
Since then I have been enraptured with it, face to face, in three continents and many lands, and have turned to his writings for fresh inspiration times literally without number.
From the passage which I quote in the Appendix from Lane it will be seen that it was sixteenth-century Cairo which supplied the local colour of the Arabian Nights, though the stories themselves have some of them been in existence for centuries longer, and some of them are not Arab at all.
No one who means to study Oriental Cairo seriously should go there without the three precious volumes of Lane's Arabian Nights (published by Chatto & Windus). Its notes throw a direct light on the Arabic Cairo of to-day, and it clothes with life a multitude of grand old mosques and palaces, neglected, decayed, or in ruins, by showing the tragedies and comedies and everyday existence which went on in them 350 years ago.
Read Lane's Arabian Nights, and Lane's Modern Egyptians through before you go, and you will dip into them every day while you are there to corroborate from your own observations the lessons which you have laid to heart.
The books which deal most directly with mediaeval Cairo itself are of course Mr. Lane-Poole's two books— Cairo and The Story of Cairo , the latter improved upon the former.
Until quite recently there was no other book to be mentioned beside them, but only a few years ago Messrs. Chatto & Windus brought out a volume, with coloured illustrations, on Cairo, Jerusalem, and Damascus by one of the greatest scholars Oxford has ever produced—Professor Margoliouth. This threw a quantity of new light on the subject by laying under contribution in the most critical manner the Arab historians and topographers. I feel myself, however, amply sheltered behind the names of Lane and Lane-Poole in calling Cairo The City of the Arabian Nights.
Mr. Lane-Poole uses the actual words in the passage which I have quoted in my Appendix. He says: “Cairo is still to a great degree the City of the Arabian Nights,” and, in the second passage which I quote from him, gives a most brilliant description from the old Arabic chronicler El-Makrizy of the life led by the Mameluke Sultans and their Emirs, of their falconry, their racing, their polo, their archery, their brilliant festivals, their love of personal splendour.
I had this passage of Mr. Lane-Poole's in my mind when I used to wander off to muse at sunset among the Tombs of the Caliphs, or at night, when the bazars were deserted and the moon was high, to gaze upon the fairy lineaments of those three royal mosques in the Street of the Coppersmiths.
THE Introduction is followed by a preliminary chapter entitled “A Drive Round Cairo,” which is intended for those who need to use the book as an itinerary. And this is followed by a chapter of a general order on the Old-world Oriental Life of Cairo.
Chapters II—XII deal with the humours of street life, chiefly in the Arab city. The poor city Egyptian is as naïve and amusing as the fellah. He gives the amateur photographer endless opportunities of securing humorous subjects. The chapters show explicitly where each kind of unspoiled native life is to be found.
Chapters XIII—XX deal with the incomparable mediaeval monuments of the Arab city, which yield, to the student and the photographer alike, the noblest subjects.
Chapters XX, XXI, XXII, deal with the great religious processions; the Celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet, and the Procession of the Holy Carpet being two of the finest religious pageants in the Mohammedan world. Chapter XXIII deals with the extraordinarily interesting and highly mediaeval domestic processions of the Arabs. Chapter XXIV summarises the marvellous monuments of ancient Egypt preserved in the Cairo Museum. Chapter XXV describes one of the ancient Arab Baths. Chapter XXVII the old Coptic Churches in Cairo; the remaining Chapters the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Memphis, Heliopolis, and other sights near Cairo. The Appendices give my authorities for calling Oriental Cairo the City of the Arabian Nights, Mr. Roosevelt's Guildhall speech, a chronological table, etc.
Though the book gives the necessary practical advice to sightseers in Cairo, it is as full of amusement for the general reader as Queer Things About Egypt was; the only difference being that it gives the humours of the poor natives in the city, with their taint of touting, instead of the unconscious humours of the fellahin.
DOUGLAS SLADEN. 32, ADDISON MANSIONS, KENSINGTON, W.,
January 1, 1911.
The first quarter of Cairo you drive round takes very little time; it is the smallest, bounded by the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Ismailiya Canal, and the Sharia Kamel, which changes its name to the Sharia Nubar Pasha as it approaches the railway station. This is the European business quarter. In it are situated the Cairo Head Offices of the Suez Canal Company, on the last named street; and the office of Thomas Cook & Son, Shepheard's Hotel and the Hôtel Continental on the Sharia Kamel. The Savoy Hotel, the Consulates General of France and Russia, and the three chief banks are all situated on or just off the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil; while the Turf Club, the Hôtel d'Angleterre, the British Consulate Offices, the English Church, and the Office of the Eastern Telegraph Company are all situated in the centre of the block; and the Abbas Theatre, not very far behind Cook's Office. The best foreign shops are in the Sharia Kamel, the Sharia El-Maghrabi, the Sharia Manakh, the Sharia Bulak, and the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil, all in this quarter, and most of the other foreign business houses are near them. In other words, this is the quarter of Cairo where most of the well-off foreigners live and move and do their shopping, called vaguely the Ismailiya quarter.
The best way to see it in a carriage is to drive from the Sharia Kamel to the Sharia Suleiman Pasha down the Sharia Bulak and up the Sharia El-Maghradi, down the Sharia Manakh and up the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil, finishing up with a drive along the fine Sharia El-Madabegh, and a drive down the bottom part of the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil to see the Nile bridge, the Kasr-el-Nil barracks (which generally have soldiers drilling or playing on the parade ground), the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and the Maison Zogheb, the finest modern private house in the city in the Arabic style. The only two buildings in the whole quarter which need be visited from the art point of view are the Museum and the Maison de France, the house of the French Consul-General, constructed out of the materials of old Arab houses and mosques.
The second quarter to explore is not much more interesting. The most important part of it, from the point of view of the artist and the historian, is known as the Kasr-el-Dubara. This contains the houses of the British Consul-General and the British General Commanding the Army of Occupation; an English Church; the palace of the Imperial Ottoman Commissioner and the Khedive's mother, near the river; and near them the offices of the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Finance and the Interior, and the War Office. On the other side of them, a little farther off, is the Abdin Palace, the principal residence of the Khedive, guarded by barracks.
This quarter may be said to begin at the Sharia Kasr-el-Nil and to end at the great Kasr-el-Aini Hospital on the Nile side, and the Mosque of Seyyida Zeynab on the inner side. It is not much more interesting than the Ismailiya quarter. More than half of the part of it on the river bank consists of grubbed-up gardens and foundations, a memento of the great land-boom, in which this was to have formed the most fashionable residential part of Cairo. The new Egyptian University is situated near the Ministry of War and the Wakfs, a handsome building, in which the administration of Mohammedan charities and the repair of Mohammedan monuments is vested. But none of the buildings are worth a visit. They are merely handsome edifices in the style of French or English public buildings, which are surrounded with dull gardens. This is a portion of Cairo which the visitor may safely neglect. But it takes very little time to make your cabman drive round these public buildings of the Administration in the order in which I have given them.
I have taken these two quarters first, to get them out of the way before proceeding to the Arabic quarters centring round the Citadel, which fall into the natural scope of my book.
Visitors wishing to drive round Oriental Cairo should start at the Place de l'Opéra, say, from the statue of Ibrahim Pasha, the famous fighting son of Mehemet Ali, who had so much to do with Egypt's throwing off the Ottoman yoke. Instead of driving direct to the Ataba-el-Khadra, the square from which nearly all the tramways of Cairo start, he should drive right round the Esbekiya Gardens, for in the road on the other side, called the Sharia El-Genaina, he will see much native life, the best donkey boys' restaurants, the best street stalls.
The Ataba-el-Khadra, in the angle of the Mixed Tribunals and the Post Office is the best place to observe another kind of native life. The Arabs are extremely fond of using tramways and omnibuses, and take them as seriously as we take catching a train. As they are bustling-in they are waited on by a swarm of vendors of tartlets, Turkish delight, seditious newspapers, and tinkery and turnery, not to mention the swarm of water-sellers, lemonade-sellers and shoeblacks, or the donkey-boys and the arabeah-drivers, who deafen you with their noise, and the forage camels and stone-carts who jostle into everybody.
At the far corner of the Ataba-el-Khadra there is a long straight street called the Sharia Mohammed Ali, which goes right down to the Citadel and affords a splendid view of it. Drive down this as far as the Place Bab-el-Khalk, on which stand the handsome Saracenic building of the Arabic Museum, and the Governorat and office of the Commissioner of the Police, where you are apt to see interesting groups of bound prisoners being brought in, and of natives hanging about to have a case tried. From this point you begin to strike the real native town, if you drive down the little street called the Sharia Taht-er-Reba'a, for it takes you past charming little old mosques and schools and purely native shops, chiefly carpenters', to the Bab-es-Zuweyla, which is always considered the centre of the native city. Just before you get to it you have on one side, approached by a stairway under a house, the little Blue Mosque, and on the other side, the great mosque of El-Moayad. You can see the old blue tiles which cover the façade of the former gleaming under the archway as you pass down the street. It belongs to Dervishes, and is unlike anything else in Cairo. El-Moayad is one of the chief mosques of Cairo, and one of the best restored; its two soaring and fantastic minarets are built on to the towers of the Bab-es-Zuweyla, which is one of the three old gates of Cairo, and owes its inimitable picturesqueness to them.
The portion of Cairo which lies south and north between the Bab-es-Zuweyla Gate and the Bab-en-Nasr, between the El-Moayad Mosque and the El-Hakim Mosque, and west and east between the line of the old canal and the Tombs of the Caliphs is far the most picturesque part of Cairo, and on the north, south, and east sides it occupies almost exactly the site of the original city of El-Kahira. If you drive in a straight line down the street, which changes its name thirteen times between this gate and the Bab-el-Futuh, the gate on the other side of the city, you will pass some of the noblest, most ancient, and most beautiful mosques in the world, such as El-Moayad, El-Ghuri, El-Ashraf, Sultan Kalaun, Sultan-en-Nasir and El-Hakim, not to mention smaller mosques, which are gems, and fountains like the Sebil Abd-er-Rahman, and the Sheikh's house next to the Barkukiya. I only give the names of the buildings which are still perfect, but the mosques, and palaces, and baths, and fountains, which are falling into decay along this street have a pathetic and artistic beauty of their own.
I consider this the most wonderful street I have ever been in, and there is much native life in it, due not a little to the fact that it is one of the principal routes for the solemn and picturesque Mohammedan funerals. You hear the death chant, and soon there comes into view a little procession headed by religious banners and closed by a horned coffin covered with a pall of brocade borne high on the shoulders of the mourners, who surround it, and take their turn in the work of merit. Sometimes there will be a bread camel, or students of El-Azhar carrying a Koran upon a cushion, or fikees reciting. But in principle it is always the same—a little foot procession of men wearing their ordinary dress surrounding the picturesque coffin, and preceded by banners and chanting.
The great mosque of El-Hakim stands between the Bab-el-Futuh and the Bab-en-Nasr, the two oldest gates of Cairo, chefs d'oeuvres of the military architecture of the Saracens, hardly altered in their outward guise since Saladin himself rode out of them to fight the Crusaders, and flanked by a splendid stretch of the most ancient wall of Cairo full of towers and secret passages.
Drive out of the Bab-el-Futuh yourself and into the Bab-en-Nasr. You come almost immediately, on the right, to an important building, a ruined okelle of Kait Bey, and almost immediately you are in the Gamaliya, the chief Arab street of Cairo, between the Mosque and Palace of Sultan Beybars. The mosque is ancient, but it is duly restored; the palace, which you approach through a gate off the main street, in the little lane called the Darb-el-Asfar, is the finest domestic building in Cairo, the residence of a rich Turk, who preserves it hardly altered and appropriately furnished.
There are other great mosques in the Gamaliya, but they are more or less in ruins, and nearly all the princely khans of the Red Sea merchants, which line this famous street, have been spoiled by being cut up into offices. But many of them have fine antique bits preserved, and, as you pass out of this street into the Sharia Habs-el-Rahba, which is a continuation of it, you come upon a stretch of street architecture difficult to match in the world. Not only the main street itself, but the by-streets running off it, are full of tall mameluke palaces, which stretch farther and farther over the street, as their stories rise, until you can hardly see the sky between them, at the top. The upper stories are full of huge oriel windows covered with lattices of rich and ancient meshrebiya work for the use of the ladies of the harem, while the lower portions have splendid overhanging porches. Windows and walls and doors all being of wood-work, have warped to every angle of picturesqueness and taken the colour of Rome. The old wood-work of the mameluke houses can best be seen in these streets; the stone-work is better seen farther on.
From here you drive through a most impressive old gateway to one of the most favoured squares of Cairo, which has the five superb arches of the Beit-el-Kadi, the old palace of the Grand Kadi, on the left, and the mosque and the equally ancient hospital of Sultan Kalaun in front. The façade of Sultan Kalaun's mosque is Gothic in its richness.
Between the Beit-el-Kadi and the continuation of the Muski called the Sikket-el-Gedida is the only bit of the native city which most foreigners know at all familiarly, the Khan-el-Khalil, which most of it is taken up with the so-called Turkish Bazar. This, with the exception of a hand-some khan built by Ismail Pasha, is more European than Arab, full of the stalls of the dealers in precious stones (chiefly turquoises), lace, pottery, enamels, enamels, carpets, and brass, and very appropriately has at the back of it the mosque of Hoseyn, which looks as if it had been furnished from the Tottenham Court Road, though it is deemed too sacred for Christians to enter its door.
Just across the Sikket-el-Gedida is the gigantic and famous mosque of El-Azhar, the chief University of Islam, only picturesque outside for its six mad minarets, but full of venerable beauty in its great liwân crowded with ten thousand students. Beside it are the mosque of Mohammed Bey and the okelle of Kait Bey, which must be inspected, the former for the exquisite meshrebiya pavilion over its fountain, the latter because it has the finest mameluke façade of any mansion in Cairo. It is almost as handsome and as much decorated as a great mosque, with its splendid porch and windows and panellings.
From here tell the cabman to drive to the Beit-Gamal-ed-Din in the Sharia Hoche Kadam, the house built for the chief of the merchants in the bazar a little before 1650, which the Wakfs have put into thorough order for exhibition to the public, with a caretaker at the door to demand mosque tickets for admission. This is a beautiful, perfect, and very richly decorated building, only inferior to the Palace of the Sultan Beybars.
While you are in this neighbourhood tell the cabman to drive to the two antique Coptic churches—which are quite near, in a little back street called the Haret-er-Rum on the same side of the Sharia El-Akkadin, one of which is dedicated to St. George, and the other to the Virgin—if you are going to make a study of Coptic churches. Then turn back into the Sharia El-Akkadin, and, sending your carriage round to meet you in the Sikket-el-Gedida (which is the continuation of the Muski), turn to the left yourself up the Sharia El-Menaggidin, which leaves the Sharia El-Akkadin where it joins the Sukkariya. This will take you through a little maze of the oldest and best bazars, the Cotton Bazar, the Scentmakers' Bazar, the Silk Bazar, and the Tunisian and Algerian Bazar, and bring you direct to where your cab is waiting by the mosque of El-Ashraf. You only have to walk straight on past the tiny dens of the silk-weavers and scent merchants, and between the gaudy stalls of the Tunisian Arabs, and follow the windings of the street.
You will pass quite close to the Greek Cathedral, but it is not interesting; it is merely like a handsome congregationalist church hung with the devotional pictures of the orthodox saints. The chief difference is that the gallery here is reserved for the women and the women are reserved for the gallery. The old Greek Cathedral out at Old Cairo , on the other hand, is magnificent, and embodies a stately Roman bastion.
When you get back to your carriage, drive down to the gap in the city walls opposite the mounds called the Windmill Hills. Climb the hills—they are not high, and are full of fragments of old Arab pottery—and from the top of them you get one of the most splendid views in the world—the whole panorama of the Tombs of the Caliphs, with the Citadel towering above them, and the eastern desert rolling away to the horizon behind them. Here are dozens of mosques, some of the most romantic examples of the art of the Saracens.
Then return to your carriage and drive right up the street till you get to the Sharia Ben-es-Sureni, which runs parallel to the line of the old canal, now filled up and occupied by a tramway. In this street are some of the finest mameluke houses, and in one of the streets at the back of it on the side away from the canal are two extremely ancient and interesting Coptic churches, and a number of Levantine churches, such as the Armenian, the Syrian, and the Maronite.
Drive along the continuation of this street, called the Sharia Esh-Sharawi-el-Barani, to the corner of the Sharia El-Giyûchi, and turn down that street, one of the best old streets in Cairo of the humbler sort, containing old mosques, old Arab houses, one of which, half pulled down, has glorious woodwork; and a splendid antique Arab bath, with many chambers panelled with white marble and adorned with marble fountains. When you get to its end take the first turning to the right into the Sharia El-Marguchi, and then the first to the right again into the Sharia Birgwan, which winds round until it brings you to one of the most beautiful, most perfect, and least-known mosques of Cairo, the Mosque of Abu-Bekr Mazhar-el-Ansari, built in the best period of the fifteenth century.
Then tell the cabman to drive you back to where the Sharia Emir-el-Giyûchi meets the Sûk-es-Zalat, where they are cut by the tramway which runs over the dried-up canal. The Sûk-es-Zalat and its continuation towards the railway station has some splendid old mosques and mameluke houses and interesting shops of the humbler order, in which natives are carpentering or brass-mending. Continue through the typical and picturesque Sharia Bab-el-Bahr to where it runs into the Sharia or Boulevard Clot Bey, close to the railway station.
You will have wandered away from what I may call the Bazar Quarter, but it is easy to get back to it, if you drive down the Boulevard Clot Bey, and you will be able to make some interesting excursions off the direct route. Just off the Avenue, for instance, half way down, is the present Coptic Cathedral (not, of course, to be compared with the old Coptic churches, though it is the chief seat of this ancient religion); and, as you get near the Esbekiya, you can make your cabman drive you through Little Sicily and the Fishmarket, two of the most disreputable, though they are not the least interesting districts of Cairo. Little Sicily is almost like a Sicilian town and full of the lowest-class Italians; the Fishmarket is the quarter of the houses of ill-fame patronised by the Arabs, which at night are a blaze of Oriental vice, and by day have the flamboyant denizens of the quarter, the strange women of the Bible, lolling about in sufficient numbers to give some idea of the place to those who could not endure its shamelessness at night.
Drive on through the Ataba-el-Khadra and down the Sharia Mohammed Ali as far as the corner of the Sharia Es-Serugiya, after dismounting to walk up to the beautiful little old mosque known as Sitt' Safiya, which has one of the most picturesque situations in Cairo, at the top of a broad and high flight of steps, which make a fine plinth for its cluster of little domes. Be sure to go back and see this mosque afterwards, for it is unlike any other in Cairo. Before you go back to your carriage now walk a few yards farther to see the mosque of El-Bordeini built in the style of Kait Bey's mosque admirably restored, and considered the richest in its decorations, and, by many also the most beautiful, of any mosque in Cairo. It is in an ancient street called the Daudiya, which contains the best Arab restaurant, but few old houses except near the corner of the Sharia El-Magharbilin.
When you are back in your carriage driving down the Sharia Mohammed Ali you will pass the great Kesun Mosque, which one of Khedives cut in half to carry this street straight through from the Ataba-el-Khadra to the Citadel. You need not dismount to look at it, for he not only cut it in half but restored it in what corresponds to our Early Victorian taste.
When your carriage turns into the Sharia Serugiya and its continuations, the Sharia El-Magharbilin and the Sharia Kasabet-Radowan, tell your cabman to drive slowly, for there is something to see every minute, beginning with the Dervish tekke near the corner of the Sharia Mohammed Ali. There are other tekkes of Dervishes; there is an ancient fortified gateway; there is an old bath; there is a succession of little ancient mosques with fascinating mameluke domes, with the beautiful lace-work decoration; and in between there is much native life to be observed in the marketing done at humble shops. Where the Sharia Kasabet-Radowan draws in to the Sûk of the Tentmakers there is an avenue of stately buildings, native mansions with rich portals and balconies, and mosques with pattern'd stonework and massive bronze grills clustered together. The Sûk of the Tentmakers is a blaze of colour; it is also a blaze of vulgarity and impudence.
Just at its beginning, notice on the left a huge gateway admitting to the courtyard of what must have been one of the stateliest mansions in Cairo, though what remains of it is given over to tenements and tentmakers. But it still has its mak'ad or open hall of the harem, with vast moresco arches soaring almost from the ground to the roof. It is called the Beit-el-Khalil.
Where the Bazar of the Tentmakers debouches opposite the Bab-es-Zuweyla, are two ruined mosques—that on the right very odd, and that on the left exquisite in its decay. It is worth getting out to examine the former and to have another look at the Bab-es-Zuweyla, with its towering minarets and its weapons of the Afrit giant high on its mighty sides, its rags shredded to its door-nails by those who have sick children, its humble water-sellers, its fikees reciting the Koran, and its crowds of people, who look as if they had stepped out of the Bible. If you go just through the gate and take the first turn to the right, you will find yourself in an alley which I could not define, indescribably picturesque, edged with stalls of bread in uncouth shapes—an alley wedged between superb and soaring mosques and fountains, the very breath of the East.
But go back to your carriage and drive down another of Cairo's most inimitable streets called here the Sharia Darb-el-Ahmar, and later on the Sharia El-Tabbana, the Sharia Bab-el-Wazir, and the Sharia El-Magar. I hardly ever saw such a street, though it begins plainly enough with the Bazar of the Donkey-harness Sellers, men who deal in brocaded saddles, and necklaces of silver and turquoise blue glass, and gaudy reins and head-stalls; for they show but little on their shop fronts. You pass nothing of note but one of Cairo's most ancient shops till you come to a place where the whole street seems to be stopped by a mosque standing across it, the Kismas-el-Ishaky Mosque, one of Kait Bey's best, restored to its pristine splendour with too lavish a hand, though no lack of taste. Its severity is softened by the exquisite wooden gallery which connects it, I suppose, with some educational building—here in Cairo a mosque had its school as regularly as a church had its convent in Rome. A little below on the right, at the beginning of the Sharia El-Tabbana, is one of the most exquisite fountains and schools in the city. In Cairo a fountain always has its Koran school for the little ones above. This Sebil of Mohammed Katkhoda is almost as exquisite in its colouring as the interior of St. Mark's, and, inside, its fountain chamber is lined with old blue Oriental tiles like the great and little Blue Mosques.
Not very much lower down, of notable grandeur, elegance, and charm, is the great fourteenth-century Mosque of El-Merdani, which outside has lofty walls, pierced with gracious moresco windows and topped with battlements, retreating in echelon. They have long since mellowed from the perpendicular; their stone has gone golden; there is a certain castle look about them. The two great doors of the mosque, north and south, are invitingly open. Alone of all Cairo's mosques El-Merdani shows you its whole heart, a gleaming white court surrounded by a noble arcade and graced with an ancient fountain; an old liwân with mighty columns: mimbar and mihrab and marble-panelled walls, all rich and old and beautiful, and a roof painted with the gay hues in which the Saracen delighted, sobered by five hundred years. El-Merdani is one of the most lovable as well as one of the most magnificent of mosques.
Here, on this first drive of Orientation, you must leave that inimitable street which sweeps up to the Citadel from El-Merdani to see the finest mansions of the Arab city. There is one right behind the never-opened west door of the mosque, but it is maimed of its splendour. But in the Haret-el-Merdani, a few yards off, is another, beloved of postcard-makers, which must in its day have been a rival of the Palace of Sultan Beybars. No mansion in Cairo has such a beautiful mak'ad, for the stairway which admits to it leads up to a portal almost as high as the three great arches which soar to the roof, and the gallery from which they spring has two exquisite little pavilions of meshrebiya work for the ladies of the harem to use when they wished to look on the courtyard unveiled. Other portions of the court's façade are richly ornamented; vast antique stables and outhouses lead out of it; and below the noble meshrebiya'd windows and sunken panels is painted a most absurd wall-painting of the experiences of a Hadji who seems to have met a fat-winged Cupid on his way to Mecca. The street door of this house with the Khedivial badge in a lozenge is a typical specimen. Close by is another fine old mansion not quite so good.
From here drive to the Sûk of the Armourers which contains a number of typical old Arab mansions belonging to very conservative people, who still keep their front doors shut, a very rare thing in Cairo—I have no doubt that some of them have splendid courtyards. One day I found one of these doors, which was nearly always shut, open, and went in. It opened on to a garden with a superb teak-wood trellis pergola and a luxuriant garden. Lower down there were at least two houses like the famous palace in the Haret-el-Merdani, but not so good. Near them were the famous baths of the Emir Beshtak, the handsomest in Cairo, very old, with their pavements, and the panelling of their walls and their octagonal fountains all in antique white marble.
Just beyond this you will find the Armourers' Sûk commencing in earnest There is no armour to be found in it nowadays, and very few weapons of romantic Arab patterns, though there are a few of the long-barrelled Bedawin guns, which have their stocks ornamented with almonds of bone or mother-of-pearl. The Armourers' Sûk lives by the sale of what are described as Sheffield knives, but come from some German Sheffield. The Armourers' Sûk runs into the Sharia Mehemet Ali at its finest point, where the great mosques of Sultan Hassan and El-Rifai'ya tower up right and left, and Saladin's Citadel, crowned by Mehemet Ali's Mosque, faces them.
I have written of these two great mosques in my chapter on mosques; both are like mighty castles.
Time yourself to arrive in the Place Rumeleh, in which the Sharia Mohammed Ali terminates, at sunset, when the glare of an indescribable colour between purple and orange makes the rock of the Citadel and Mehemet Ali's Mosque, with its soaring domes and minarets, shine with an unearthly radiance. Look at them long and well, and then drive up the hill past the romantic-looking Mahmudiya and Emir Akhor mosques, gay little things with arabesqued mameluke domes, to the principal gate of the Citadel, the Bab-el-Gedid, and walk round the great mosque to stand on the terrace beside it and see the Pyramids standing out purple against the afterglow. Leave the Citadel, before the darkness falls, to drive down the steep, winding street called in its different parts the Sharia El-Magar, the Sharia Bab-el-Wazir, and the Sharia El-Tabbana, till you get to the Merdani Mosque again. You will then have completed the round of the most notable streets and buildings of the quarter between the Muski and the Sharia Mohammed Ali, north and south, and the Citadel and the line of the filled-up canal east and west.
But before I dismiss this part of Cairo I must recapitulate the glories of that hill-street from the Citadel to El-Merdani. Nearly the whole of the Bab-el-Wazir portion of it is full of ancient mosques and Arab mansions, and there is a curious cemetery just outside the Bab-el-Wazir. Three of the mosques in this street are large and magnificent, the Kheirbek Mosque, which, when restored, would be worthy of a place beside mosques like El-Bordeini; the mosque of Ibrahim Agha, famous as the Blue Mosque, which has its liwân lined with magnificent old blue tiles, and one of the largest courtyards in Cairo; and the fourteenth-century mosque of Sultan Sha'ban, which is now in the restorer's hands.
Almost next to it, divided from it by a beautiful old wooden arcaded gallery, is an old Arab mansion, which has in its harem, often shown to strangers by the courtesy of its proprietor, a large hall with a tessellated marble pavement and walls, splendid meshrebiya'd windows, and about the best examples to be found in any domestic building of the fretted plaster-work windows set with little gems of coloured glass which are called kamariya.
There are, of course, many things to see in the Citadel besides Mehemet Ali's Mosque and the view. There is, for example, the winding rock-girt lane between the Bab-el-Wastani and the Bab-el-Azab, which was the scene of the Massacre of the Mamelukes; there is Joseph's Well, three hundred feet deep, which one set of archaeologists attribute to Saladin, whose name was Joseph, and who built the Citadel, and another set attribute to the Pharaohs; there is the huge shell, noble in its decay, with its splendid colonnade, of the En-Nasir Mosque, which was the royal mosque of the Caliphs when they lived in the Citadel; and there is the beautiful little mosque of Suleiman Pasha, the best sixteenth-century mosque in Cairo.
There are also the Palace of the Khedives, a very shabby affair, and the massive ruins of the Palace of the great Saladin, destroyed to make way for the Palace and Mosque of the Khedives. And there is that inimitable view of the El-Giyuchi Mosque on the Mokattams above. Look long at that, because, as it rises far away and high, connected by ruinous stairways and causeways, it is a gaunt skeleton of the Middle Ages outlined against the desert and the sky, and it has twice sealed the fate of Cairo. Napoleon first, and Mohammed Ali afterwards, silenced the guns of the Citadel from its dominating height.
There is another very ancient quarter of Cairo, lying between the Sharia Mohammed Ali on the north and the Bab Ibn-Tulun on the south, the Citadel and the Place Mohammed Ali on the east, and the Sharia Seyyida-Zeynab and the Derb-el-Gamamise on the west. It divides itself naturally into two parts, the El-Hilmiya district and the district round the mosque of Ibn-Tulun, which at the time that this great Sultan established his palace there was called El-Katai. This is very high ground; it was the Citadel of Cairo as well as Royal Palace, until Gohar founded El-Kahira on the site of the present Beit-el-Kadi. Gohar was the General who conquered Egypt for the Fatimite Caliphs of Tunis.
It is convenient to take the Hilmiya district first. Drive down the Sharia Mohammed Ali till you come to the site of the old canal, which divides Cairo into two portions. The next street beyond it and parallel to it is the old Derb-el-Gamamise, which is called the Sharia Habbaniya as it approaches the Sharia Mohammed Ali. It contains some fine old mameluke houses and a Dervish tekkiya before you come to the palace of the Derb-el-Gamamise, which is now occupied by the Ministry of Instruction, and one of the three great Royal Colleges which have staffs of English University men.
A little beyond this a small street called the Haret-el-Sadat leads to the palace of the late Sheikh Sadat, who was a lineal descendant of the Prophet, and the most holy personage in Africa. His palace is in some ways the most notable in Cairo; it has a large and splendid courtyard, immense old stables, a wonderfully picturesque harem, and is noted for the hall of its Selamlik. This is lined with blue porcelain tiles, and in it the late Sheikh bestowed titles of honour like “Well of Truth” on Mohammedan notables. It is the largest and most unique hall in Cairo, if it is not comparable in beauty, architecture, and decoration with those of Sultan Beybars and the Gamal-ed-Din.
From here tell your cabman to drive back to the Sharia Mohammed Ali and proceed down it till you get to the street called the Sharia El-Hilmiya, another of the best streets in Cairo, for this contains two beautiful old tekkes or mosques of dervishes; the El-Mase Mosque, one of the most beautiful, most perfect, and most reverend of the fourteenth century mosques; a school which has two very handsome loggias; and the magnificent fountain erected by the present Khedivial family, before you reach the Sharia Chikhun, with its continuations, the Sharia Es-Saliba, the Sharia El-Khederi, and the Sharia El-Karasin, which divides it from the Ibn-Tulun quarter.
On the other side of the Sharia Es-Chikhun are the north and south Chikhun mosques, the latter being the best of all the dervish tekkes in Cairo, and possessing a charming little triangular leafy courtyard, and an exquisite and unrestored old roof to its very fine liwân. Farther on there are two other very picturesque mosques of no great size, and at the end is the mosque of Seyyida Zeynab itself. This is large and modern, with no pretensions whatever from the point of view of art, and very difficult for a Christian to enter on account of the fanaticism which it inspires. Nor is it worth taking any trouble to try to enter it.
The southern half of this district contains a number of old Arab mansions of a humbler class, besides the street of splendid mameluke palaces which overlook the Tulun Mosque, and some very beautiful old fountains and schools.
Drive from the Chikhun Mosque down the Sharia Er-Rukbiya, which contains some old buildings, to the Sharia Ibn-Tulun, from which you gain admission to the great mosque of the same name. The mosque of Ibn-Tulun in several ways is the most notable in Cairo. It is one of the very largest, it is the oldest but one in foundation, and is the only mosque in Cairo which remains at all in its original condition. Instead of preserving an original feature here and there, it nearly all of it remains as Ibn-Tulun built it, except for the ravages of time and weather. Here you have an immense area of the durable Arab plaster-work. Here you see the first use of plastered piers instead of marble columns taken from temples and churches. Here you have magnificent examples of the fretted plaster, window tracery, and wall ornament, for which the Arabs are so justly famous, a thousand years old. And historically it is equally interesting.
Round the mosque there are some remains of the fortifications of Ibn-Tulun's citadel, and in the long street down which you have to drive, skirting the walls of the Ibn-Tulun Mosque, on your way to the mosque of Kait Bey, there are some grand old mameluke houses, with the harem windows of the upper stories hanging far over the street, and latticed with splendid meshrebiya work.
The mosque of Kait Bey, which lies behind the Ibn-Tulun Mosque on the edge of the city, is considered the gem of the many mosques and palaces which we have remaining of that famous building Caliph. It was built about the end of the fifteenth century, and has been admirably restored, and its old mellow colouring and the soft lines of its architecture are unimpaired. Its painted roof is especially beautiful, and presents some of the most elegant and characteristic effects of Saracenic decoration.
There are several other little mosques with picturesque exteriors and many ancient houses in this quarter of Cairo. But when you have seen the Kait Bey Mosque, instead of driving back through it, drive round it, and skirt the Mohammedan cemetery till you reach the famous Tombs of Mamelukes. The best of these mameluke tombs, which are practically mosques, are not to be compared with the best of the Tombs of the Caliphs on the other side of the Citadel. But they are mightily picturesque many of them, and noble little pieces of architecture. And this cemetery is particularly rich in picturesque minor tombs, built in the style of our altar tombs or classical stelae, and enriched with Arabic inscriptions in the gayest colours.
The ancient and famous mosque of Imam Shaf'yi to which Saladin attached the first medressa, or collegiate mosque-school, lies on the edge of the Tombs of the Mamelukes. I have seen pictures in the office of the Wakfs of very ancient and beautiful decorations in this mosque, but I have never been able to gain admission to it. It is one of the three mosques from which Christians are supposed to be excluded.
From here you can skirt the range of hills, for the mounds virtually amount to hills, which cover the ruins of the first Mohammedan city on the site of modern Cairo, generally called Fustat. This was built by El-Amr, the general who conquered Egypt for the Arabs soon after the establishment of the Mohammedan religion, and was burnt in the middle of the twelfth century to prevent its falling into the hands of the Crusaders. Any one is allowed to excavate in these mounds, and beautiful pieces of Arab pottery anterior to the fire are discovered there. Many of them may be seen in the Museum at South Kensington, and I have a collection of pieces which I dug out myself, in company with Dr. Llewellyn Phillips, the brilliant Cairo doctor. You can drive round this way to old Cairo, which practically consists of three parts, all of them embraced in the noble sweep of the aqueduct of Saladin, which looks like an Imperial Roman aqueduct carried on Gothic arches.
First visit the portion of Old Cairo which consists of the great mosque of Amr and various old Coptic churches embedded in tiny citadels at the edge of the mounds of Fustat. In its present condition the best parts of the mosque of Amr date from the fifteenth century; the liwân is of great size, with noble colonnades, whose hundred and twenty columns come from ancient temples. But the old mosque is very ruinous in spite of the prophecy that whenever it is destroyed the Mohammedans shall cease to be the rulers of Egypt.
Three of the best Coptic churches in this part, including Abu Sefen, the Church of the Virgin (Sitt' Mariam), and Anba Shenuda, and a convent, are all of them contained in the little brick citadel with the fortress gateway called Der Abu Sefen. Abu Sefen itself, which is being restored, is the best example of a Coptic basilica, and contains many beautiful decorations. Anba Shenuda is almost equally interesting, and also contains magnificent antique decorations. Sitt' Mariam, the remaining church in this der, is very old and curious. There is another der quite close to it called the Der-el-Berat, but it only contains a convent.
Next visit the long low street which runs from here to the old Roman Citadel of Cairo called Babylon. There are two or three rather picturesque little mosques in it, and for the rest it consists of small characteristic native shops. It is a good place for observing native life, and an excellent place for photographing, because the houses are so low that they do not get into the way of the sun.
At the end of this street the Nile suddenly becomes interesting. All sots of odd native craft, laden with poor Egyptians with the most kodakable attitudes and occupations, come across from Gizeh to the Old Cairo landing. And from it you are ferried across to the Island of Roda
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