Cairo is in the fullest sense a medieval city. It had no existence before the Middle Ages; its vigorous life as a separate Metropolis almost coincides with the arbitrary millennium of the middle period of history; and it still retains to this day much of its mediaeval character and aspect. The aspect is changing, but not the life. The amazing improvements of the past hundred years have altered the Egyptian's material condition, but scarcely as yet touched his character.
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The Story of Cairo
STANLEY LANE POOLE
The Story of Cairo, S. Lane Poole
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)
CHAPTER I The Two Cities. 5
CHAPTER II The Town of the Tent21
CHAPTER III The Faubourgs. 34
CHAPTER IV Misr50
CHAPTER V Cairo. 61
CHAPTER VI Saladin's Castle. 85
CHAPTER VII The Dome Builders. 99
CHAPTER VIII The City of the Arabian Nights. 123
CHAPTER IX Beys and Pashas. 138
RULERS AND MONUMENTS OF CAIRO*. 153
CAIRO is in the fullest sense a mediaeval city. It had no existence before the Middle Ages; its vigorous life as a separate Metropolis almost coincides with the arbitrary millennium of the middle period of history; and it still retains to this day much of its mediaeval character and aspect. The aspect is changing, but not the life. The amazing improvements of the past twenty years have altered the Egyptian's material condition, but scarcely as yet touched his character. We have given him public order and security, solvency without too heavy taxation, an efficient administration, even-handed justice, the means of higher education, and above all to every man his fair share of the enriching Nile, χρυσορρόης in the truest sense, without which nothing else avails. For all these, and especially the last, the peasant is grateful in his way, when their merits are pointed out to him; but not so the Cairene. The immediate blessings of the irrigation engineer are not so prominently brought to bear upon his pressing wants, and for the other reforms of the Firengy he cares very little. I should be sorry to draw any discourteous comparisons with “the Ethiop,” but whatever time and association with Europeans may do for the comely, and to my taste none too swarthy, skin of my Cairo friend, I am convinced that he will keep his old unregenerate mediaeval heart in spite of us all.
Happily for purposes of study (I am not treating of ethics), the East changes very slowly, and the soul of the Eastern not at all. The Cairo jeweller, who will chaffer with you for an hour over a few piastres, though he mixes reluctantly, shrinkingly, in the crazy, bustling twentieth century life of Europe that rushes past him, is not of it. In his heart of hearts he looks back longingly to the glorious old days of the Mamlúks, to which he essentially belongs, and regrets the excitements of those stirring times. What good, he asks, comes of all this “worry”? Justice? More often a man had need of a little injustice, and a respectable tradesman could usually buy that from the Kady before these new tribunals were set up. As to fixed taxes and no extortion, that is chiefly a matter for the stupid fellahín; and after all the old system worked beautifully when you shirked payment, and your neighbour was bastinadoed for your share. Then all this fiddling with water and drains and streets; what is it all for? When Willcocks or Price Bey have put pipes and patent traps and other godless improvements into the mosques, will one's prayers be any better than they were in the pleasant pervasive odour of the old fetid tanks? The streets are broader, no doubt, to let the Firengis, Allah blacken their faces! roll by in their two-horsed ‘arabíyas and splash the Faithful with mud; but for this wonderful boon they have taken away the comfortable stone benches from before the shops, and the Cairo tradesman misses his old seat, where unlimited keyf and the meditative shibúk once whiled away the leisure of his never pressing avocations. No; pure water and drains, and bicycles and tramcars, and a whole array of wretched little black-coated efendis pretending to imitate the Káfirs may be all very well in their place, but they are ugly, uninteresting things, and life at Cairo has been desperately dull since they came in.
In one of the suggestive essays in his delightful books on “Asia and Europe,” Mr Meredith Townsend has shown how interesting life must have been in India before England introduced order and all the virtues. The picture might have been drawn in Cairo with trifling alterations. Life undoubtedly was interesting in the old unregenerate days. There were events then; something to see and think of, and possibly fly from; plenty of blood and assassination, perhaps, but then you could always shut and bar the strong gates of the quarter, when the Mamlúks or the Berbers, or, worst of all, the black Sudánis, were on the war-path. Now the gates are taken away, and there are no cavalcades of romantic troopers, beautiful to behold in their array, to ravish your household and give colour to life. In those days it was possible for any man of brain and luck to rise to power and wealth, such wealth as all Cairo could not furnish in these blank and honest times; promotion was ever at hand, and the way was open to the strong, the cunning, and the rich. What were a holocaust of victims, an orgy of rapine, even the deadly ravages of periodical plague and famine, in comparison with the great occasions, the gorgeous pomp, the endless opportunities, the infinite variety of those unruly and tumultuous but never tedious days?
This is what the true Cairene meditates in his heart. His ideas, for good of ill, are not as our ideas; they date back from the Middle Ages, like his dress, his religion, his social habits, his turns of speech, his calm insouciance, his impenetrable reserve, his inveterate negation of “worry.” Outside the official class he is still the same man whom we saw keeping shop or taking his venture to sea in the faithful mirror of the Arabian Nights. Even his city preserves its mediaeval tone. Much has been destroyed by time or innovation, but the European fringe is still a fringe, and the old Muslim city for the present defies western influences. It has been rebuilt time after time, and every fresh rebuilding will take away more of its charm; but enough remains to show us what Cairo was five hundred years ago. The crowded streets of the old quarters, the immemorial character of the houses and markets, above all the historical monuments, carry us back to the Middle Ages.
The aim of these pages is to clothe the vestiges of the mediaeval city with the associations that lend them their deepest interest. Many of the buildings of Cairo, especially the later mosques of the Mamlúk period, are exquisitely beautiful, and may be admired as works of art without regard to their history. But there are many more, ruined courts, crumbling arcades, mere fragments of walls or inscriptions, which appeal rather to the archaeological than the aesthetic sense, and must be almost meaningless until their story is revealed. In tracing the growth of Cairo I have tried to surround the remains of its buildings with the atmosphere of their historic associations. Mere topography has charms for the antiquary alone; it is only when the material growth of a city is interwoven with the life of its people and the character of its rulers that topography acquires an interest for all. At the same time I have sought to keep closely to the subject—the growth and life of the city. This is no general history of Egypt, and many things are passed by because they bear no intimate relation to the development of its capital.
The authorities upon which I rely are sufficiently cited in the footnotes. The greatest Arabic source is of course the elaborate Khitat of el-Makrízy, frequently referred to as “the Topographer,” who wrote in the early years of the fifteenth century, but used various topographical and historical works of much earlier date, many of which are not otherwise accessible. The remarkable accuracy, completeness, and research of his detailed description of Cairo need no praise of mine: they are universally recognised. Other writers, such as el-Mas'údy, Násir-i-Khusrau, ‘Abd-el-Latíf, Ibn-Gubeyr (the extracts from whom I owe to the kindness of my friend, Mr Guy le Strange, the historian of Baghdád, and our most learned authority on the geography of the caliphate), Ibn-Sa'íd, Ibn-Dukmak, es-Suyúty, Abu-l-Mahásin, el-Isháky, el-Gabárty, fill up the picture, and add valuable, personal, and contemporary touches. Lane's “Cairo Fifty Years Ago” has the merit of presenting an account of the city as it was in 1835, before the Europeanizing movement begun by Mohammad ‘Aly, and carried to the extreme by Isma'íl, had had time to work much change in the characteristic aspect of the town. In archaeology I am especially beholden to the researches of MM. Max van Berchem, Ravaisse, and Casanova. One exception I must note to the generally full references to my sources. There is something repugnant, if not to modesty at least to the sense of propriety, in frequently citing one's own books. Writing constantly on the subject of Cairo, its art, its monuments, and its history, for many years past, it was inevitable that I should sometimes repeat what I have said before: indeed, when we have written what we have to say in the best shape that we are able to devise, it seems mere affectation to try to seek a different form of expression. I have therefore quoted, but sparingly, from my “Art of the Saracens in Egypt” (published for the Committee of Council in 1886), my “Cairo Sketches” (3rd ed., Virtue, 1898), my “History of Egypt in the Middle Ages” (Methuen, 1901), and any extracts to which no footnote is appended must be understood to refer to one of these books, generally the “History.” I trust I may be permitted to say that for a more complete account of the history than would be possible or desirable in the present volume the student should consult the last of the three books above cited. Were there any other work in English of similar scope I would gladly substitute its title. For a much more detailed narrative of the history of the Copts than could be here included the reader may turn to Mrs Butcher's “Story of the Church of Egypt” (2 vols., Smith, Elder & Co., 1897), a work full of sympathy and appreciation for a neglected and persecuted community, though open to criticism in its Mohammedan relations.
I have not troubled the reader with an elaborate system of transliteration of Arabic names. An acute accent is used merely to show where the principal accent falls, not necessarily to indicate a long vowel. The vowels are to be pronounced as in Italian, and the letter g is employed to represent the Arabic consonant that in Cairo is pronounced hard (as in get), but elsewhere usually soft (as j in jet). Those who are curious to know the exact transliteration should turn to the index, where every Arabic word is given in roman letters with diacritical points and distinction of the long vowels.
The illustrations have been chosen with a view to showing the mediaeval city as far as possible before it suffered its European change. Nothing could be better for this purpose than the drawings made between 1826 and 1838 by Robert Hay of Linplum and by his companion Owen B. Carter (about 1830), the originals of which are preserved in the Print Room of the British Museum, and some were lithographed in Hay's “Illustrations of Cairo.” These represent the mediaeval remains as no modern sketches could depict them, but Mr J. A. Symington has skilfully supplemented them, when no older drawings could be obtained.
In conclusion I should wish to draw attention to what I have said in the last chapter on the subject of the Commission for the Preservation of the Monuments of Arab Art. To its vigilance and unremitting labours during the past twenty years we owe the fact that the mosques and other remains of Saracenic architecture are secure from demolition, and, as far as the conditions admit, guarded from decay. Never in the history of Cairo have its monuments been in such safe keeping, and everyone must be grateful to each member of this invaluable committee. In the last five years, since Lord Cromer used his influence to improve its financial position, the Commission has been enabled to undertake very comprehensive works of scientific restoration, and all who visit Cairo should make a point of examining the results of its labours and inspecting the collections gathered under the care of its chief architect, Herz Bey, in the Museum of Arab Art.
Trinity College, Dublin, January 31st, 1902.
THERE are two Cairos, distinct in character, though but slenderly divided in site. There is a European Cairo, and there is an Egyptian Cairo. The last was once El-Káhira, “the Victorious,” founded under the auspices of the planet Mars, but it is now so little conquering, indeed has become so subdued, that one hears it spoken of as “the native quarters,” or even in Indian fashion as “the bazars.” In truth European Cairo knows little of its mediaeval sister. Thousands of tourists, mounted on thousands of donkeys, do indeed explore “the native quarters” every winter, but these do not belong to European Cairo; birds of passage they are, not inhabitants. The true resident, who has his cool shaded house and breezy balcony in the Isma'ilíya quarter, surrounded by hundreds of similar comfortable villas, does not by any chance ride donkeys, and is only dragged to “the bazars” rarely and with obvious reluctance by the importunity of some enthusiastic visitor. But even in European Cairo there are signs that another Cairo, an Oriental, Muslim Cairo, exists not far away. Let the English colony keep never so closely to itself and ignore “the native quarters,” except as objects for just government and wise reforms, it cannot walk abroad, or even open its ears in its own chambers, without becoming conscious of the true Oriental world in which it lives but of which it is not. Go to the Post Office, a few minutes' walk from most of the hotels, and you are at once in a medley of East and West.
A German nursemaid, accompanied by the little daughter of the family, is asking for letters at the arrivée window, and an old sheykh in kaftán and turban is negotiating a money-order or a registered letter at the next bureau. Over the way a row of public letter-writers sit at their tables on the sideway, gravely imperturbable, awaiting illiterate correspondents. In the street, omnibuses and tram-cars rumble by, blowing strident horns; but the passengers who sit on the seats beneath the awning are not Europeans—they are Egyptians, efendis, clerks, shopkeepers, sheykhs, often simple fellahín come to town on business and driving in from Bulák or Kasr-en-Nil. On the footpaths—always uneven and often muddy, in curious contrast to the roads, which are kept clean by circular brushes and little girl scavengers—the European element, Greek, German, Italian, chiefly, is intimately blended with the Oriental: Sudány women closely veiled with the white burko ', which sets off their swarthy brows and black eyes to advantage; Egyptian girls in blue gowns and black veils hanging loose and allowing the well-formed neck and line of cheek and chin to be seen, whilst concealing the only part a woman scrupulously hides in the East, her mouth; horrible blear-eyed old harridans, veiled with immaculate precision, squatting in rows against the house-fronts; Bedawis striding along in the roadway with the striped kufíya wound round their heads; strings of camels tied together, laden with bersím, the rich fodder of Egypt, and driven by the smallest of urchins; petty Government clerks, or efendis, clad in stambúly and tarbúsh, hunched up on donkey-back; all classes and ages and sexes mingled together in a jostling, perspiring, but good-tempered crowd; and everywhere the pungent pervasive odour of the East.
Even in the European quarters you still meet the veritable Eastern sights and sounds. As you look out of your hotel window you will see a native musician sauntering by, twanging the lute of the country; then a sound like the tinkling of baby cymbals informs you that the sherbétly is going his round, with his huge glass-jar slung at his side, from which he dispenses (to the unwary) sweet sticky drinks of liquorice juice or orange syrup in the brass saucers which he clinks unceasingly in his hand. Late at night sounds of Eastern life invade your pillow: the “rumble of a distant drum” tells you that a wedding party is perambulating the streets, and if you have the curiosity to sally forth you will be rewarded by one of the characteristic sights of Cairo, in which old and new are oddly blended. Probably a circumcision festival is combined with the wedding to save expense; and the procession will be headed by the barber's sign, a wooden frame raised aloft, followed by two or three gorgeously caparisoned camels—regular stage-properties hired out for such occasions—carrying drummers, and leading the way for a series of carriages crammed with little boys, each holding a neat white handkerchief to his mouth, to keep out the devil and the evil eye. Then comes a closed carriage covered all over with a big cashmere shawl, held down firmly at the sides by brothers and other relations of the imprisoned bride; then more carriages and a general crowd of sympathizers. More rarely the bride is borne in a cashmere-covered litter swung between two camels, fore and aft; the hind camel must tuck his head under the litter, and is probably quite as uncomfortable as the bride, who runs a fair chance of sea-sickness in her rolling palankin. In the old days the bride walked through the streets under a canopy carried by her friends, but this is now quite out of fashion, and European carriages are rapidly ousting even the camel-litters. But the cashmere shawl and the veil will not soon be abandoned. The Egyptian woman is, at least in public, generally modest. She detects a stranger's glance with magical rapidity, even when to all appearance looking the other way, and forthwith the veil is pulled closer over her mouth and nose. When she meets you face to face, she does not drop her big eyes in the absurd fashion of Western modesty; she slowly turns them away from you: it is annihilating.
As soon as you have turned your back on the European suburb and the hotel region, and escaped from the glass shop fronts and Greek dealers of the Musky, the real Eastern city begins to dominate you. It is quite easy to lose oneself in the quaint old streets of Muslim Cairo when only an occasional passer-by reminds one that Europe is at the gates. A large part of Cairo is very little spoilt: it is still in a great degree the city of the Arabian Nights.
In that stall round the corner who knows but that the immortal Barber is recounting the adventures of his luckless brothers to the impatient lover on the shaving stool? At this very moment the Three Royal Mendicants may be entertaining the fair Portress and her delightful sisters with the story of their calamities, and if you wait till night you may even see the “good” Harún er-Rashíd himself—though it is true he lived at Baghdád—coming on his stealthy midnight rambles with prudent Ga'far at his heels and black Mesrúr to clear the way. A few streets away from the European quarters it is easy to dream that we are acting a part in the moving histories of the Thousand and One Nights, which do in fact describe Cairo and its people as they were in the Middle Ages, and as they are in a great measure still. In its very dilapidation the city assists the illusion. The typical Eastern houses falling to ruins, which no one thinks of repairing, are the natural homes of ‘Efríts and mischievous Ginn, who keep away god-fearing tenants. But if in its ruined houses, far more in what remains of its glorious monuments does Cairo transport us to the golden age of Arabian art and culture. Among its mosques and colleges and the scanty remnants of its palaces are the purest examples of Saracenic architecture that can be seen in all the once wide empire of Islam. Damascus and Ispahan, Agra and Delhi, Cordova and Granada, Brusa and Constantinople, possess elements of beauty and features of style which Cairo has not, and they enlarge and complete our understanding of Arab art; but to view that art in its purity, uncorrupted by the mechanical detail of the Alhambra, unspoilt by the over-elaboration of Delhi, we must study the mosques and tombs of Cairo.
The blessed conservatism of the East has happily maintained much of the old city in its beautiful ruinous unprogressive disorder. There are of course new houses and rebuilt fronts and even glass window-sashes; the exquisite meshrebíyas with their intricate turned lattice work are nearly all gone to make way for Italian persiennes, and the stone benches in front of the shops have disappeared in deference to the modern exigencies of carriages. But the general aspect of the streets has not seriously altered in recent years, and the people who press through the crowded lanes, or sit in their little cells of shops at the receipt of custom, are unchanged. They dress as their ancestors dressed ages ago; their ideas and education are much what they always were, though the new schools are gradually infusing more modern notions; they are still as calm and easy-going and procrastinating as ever. The only conspicuous change is the dethronement of the time-honoured shibúk,—the long pipe of meditation and stately leisure and “asphodel and moly” and all that is implied in the ineffable dreamland of keyf,—in favour of the restless undignified cigarette; but nargílas and cocoa-nut pipes for hashísh are still in full play among the lower classes. The tradespeople are the conservative element in Egypt, as everywhere else. The upper classes are becoming every year less Oriental in outward appearance and habits. They dance with “infidel” ladies, wear Frank clothes, and delight in the little French pieces played in the Ezbekíya garden. Even their national coffee cups are made in Europe, and save for the red tarbúsh, and certain mental and moral idiosyncracies difficult to eliminate and unnecessary to describe, the Egyptian gentleman might almost pass muster in a Parisian crowd. It is the tradesman who recalls the past, keeps up the old traditions, and walks in the old paths. The course of the world runs slowly in the working East, and the Cairene shopkeeper has placidly stood still whilst the Western world joined in the everlasting “move on” of modern civilization.
“We shall find this stand-still mortal in one of the main thoroughfares of the city. Leaving the European quarter behind, and taking little note of the Greek and Italian shops in the renovated Musky, we turn off to the right into the Ghuríya—one of those larger but still narrow streets which are distinguished with the name of shari ' or thoroughfare. Such a street is lined on either side with little box-like shops, which form an unbroken boundary on either hand, except where a mosque door, or a public fountain, or the entrance to another street interrupts for a brief space the row of stores. None of the private doors or windows we are accustomed to in Europe breaks the line of shops. For a considerable distance all the traders deal in the same commodity—be it sugar-plums or slippers. The system has its advantages, for if one dealer be too dear, the next may be cheap; and the competition of many contiguous salesmen brings about a salutary reduction in prices. On the other hand, it must be allowed that it is fatiguing to have to order your coat in half-a-dozen different places—to buy the cloth in one direction, the buttons in another, the braid in a third, the lining in a fourth, the thread in a fifth, and then to have to go to quite another place to find a tailor to cut it out and sew it together. And as each dealer has to be bargained with, and generally smoked with, if not coffeed with, if you get your coat ordered in a single morning you may count yourself expeditious.
“In one of these little cupboards that do duty for shops, we may or may not find the typical tradesman we are seeking. It may chance he has gone to say his prayers, or to see a friend, or perhaps he did not feel inclined for business to-day; in which case the folding shutters of his shop will be closed, and as he does not live anywhere near, and as, if he did, there is no bell, no private door, and no assistant, we may wait there for ever, so far as he is concerned, and get no answer to our inquiries. His neighbour next door, however, will obligingly inform us that the excellent man whom we are seeking has gone to the mosque, and we accordingly betake ourselves to our informer and make his acquaintance instead.
“Our new friend is sitting in a recess some five feet square, and rather more than six feet high, raised a foot or two from the ground; and within this narrow compass he has collected all the wares he thinks he is likely to sell, and has also reserved room for himself and his customers to sit down and smoke cigarettes while they bargain. Of course his stock must be very limited, but then all his neighbours are ready to help him; and if you cannot find what you want within the compass of his four walls, he will leave you with a cigarette and a cup of coffee, or perhaps Persian tea in a tumbler, while he goes to find the desideratum among the wares of his colleagues round about.
“Meanwhile, you drink your scalding aromatic coffee and watch the throng that passes by: the ungainly camels, laden with brushwood or green fodder, which seem to threaten to sweep everything and everybody out of the street;—the respectable towns-people, mounted on grey or brown asses, ambling along contentedly, save when an unusually severe blow from the inhuman donkey-boy running behind makes their beasts swerve incontinently to the right or left, as though they had a hinge in their middle;—the grandees in their two-horse carriages, preceded by breathless runners, who clear the way for their masters with shrill shouts—“Shemálak, ya weled!” (“To thy left, O boy!”) “Yemínik, ya Sitt!” (“To thy right, O lady!”) “Iftah ‘eynak, ya Am!” (“Open thine eye, O uncle!”) and the like;—the women with trays of eatables on their heads, the water-carrier with goat-skin under arm, and the vast multitude of blue-robed men and women who have something or other to do, which takes them indeed along the street, but does not take them very hurriedly. In spite of the apparent rush and crush, the crowd moves slowly, like everything else in the East.
“Our friend returns with the desired article; we approve it, guardedly, and with cautious tentative aspect demand, ‘How much?’ The answer is always at least twice the fair price. We reply, first by exclaiming, ‘I seek refuge with God’ (from exorbitance), and then by offering about half the fair price. The dealer shakes his head, looks disappointed with us, shows he expected better sense in people of our appearance, puts aside his goods, and sits down to another cigarette. After a second ineffectual bid, we summon our donkey and prepare to mount. At this moment the shopman relents, and reduces his price; but we are obdurate, and begin riding away. He pursues us, agrees almost to our terms; we return, pay, receive our purchase, commend him to the protection of God, and wend our way on.
“But if, instead of going on, we accompany our late antagonist in the bargain to his own home, we shall see what a middle-class Cairene house is like. Indeed, a middle-class dwelling in Cairo may sometimes chance to be a palace, for the modern Pasha despises the noble mansions that were the pride and delight of better men than he in the good old days of the Mamlúks, and prefers to live in shadeless ‘Route No. 29,’ or thereabouts, in the modern bricklayer's paradise known as the Isma'ilíya quarter; and hence the tradesman may sometimes occupy the house where some great Bey of former times held his state, and marshalled his retainers, when he prepared to strike a blow for the precarious throne that was always at the command of the strongest battalions. But all Cairene houses of the old style are very much alike: they differ only in size and in the richness or poverty of the decoration; and if our merchant's home is better than most of its neighbours, we have but to subtract a few of the statelier rooms, and reduce the scale of the others, to obtain a fair idea of the houses on either hand and round about.
“The street we now enter is quite different from that we have left. We have been doing our shopping in the busy Cheapside of Cairo, and in full view of the lofty façade of the mosque of the Mamlúk Sultan El-Muáyyad. Its two minarets stand upon a fine old gate called Bab Zawíla (or commonly Zuweyla), which people now-a-days generally prefer to call the Bab el-Mutawélly, because it is believed to be a favourite resort of the mysterious Kutb el-Mutawélly, or pope (for the time being) of all the saints. This very holy personage is gifted with powers of invisibility and of instantaneous change of place: he flies unseen from the top of the Kaaba at Mekka to the Bab Zuweyla, and there reposes in a niche behind the wooden door. True believers tell their beads as they pass this niche, and the curious peep in to see if the saint be there; and if you have a headache, there is no better cure than to drive a nail into the door; while a sure remedy for the toothache is to pull out the tooth and hang it up on the same venerated spot. Perhaps pulling the tooth out might of itself cure the ache; but the suggestion savours of impiety, and at any rate it is safer to fix the molar up. The door bristles with unpleasing votive offerings of this sort, and if they were all successful the Kutb must be an excellent doctor.
“The street thus barred by the Bab Zuweyla is, for Cairo, a broad one; and shops, mosques, wekálas (or caravanserais), and fountains form its boundaries. In complete contrast, the street we are now to enter, as we turn down a by-lane and then wheel sharply to the left, has no shops, though there is a little mosque, probably the tomb of a venerated saint, at the corner. Its broad bands of red and white relieve the deep shadows of the lane, each side of which is composed of the tall backs of houses, with nothing to vary the white-washed walls except the grated windows. On either hand still narrower alleys open off, sometimes mere culs-de-sac, but often threading the city for a considerable distance. In these solitary courts we may still see the meshrebíyas which are becoming so rare in the more frequented thoroughfares. The best lattices are reserved for the interior windows of the house, which look on the inner court or garden; but there are not a few streets in Cairo where the passenger still stops to admire tier upon tier and row after row of meshrebíyas which give a singularly picturesque appearance to the houses.
“The name is derived from the root which means to drink (which occurs in ‘sherbet’), and is applied to lattice windows because the porous water-bottles are often placed in them to cool. Frequently there is a little semi-circular niche projecting out of the middle of the lattice for the reception of a kulla or carafe. The delicately turned nobs and balls, by which the patterns of the lattice-work are formed, are sufficiently near together to conceal whatever passes within from the inquisitive eyes of opposite neighbours, and yet there is enough space between them to allow free access of air. A meshrebíya is, indeed, a cooling place for human beings as well as water-jars, and at once a convent-grating and a spying-place for the women of the harím, who can watch their Lovelace through the meshes of the windows without being seen in return. Yet there are convenient little doors that open in the lattice-work if the inmates choose to be seen even as they see; and the fair ladies of Cairo are not always above the pardonable vanity of letting a passer-by discover that they are fair.
“In one of these by-lanes we stop before an arched doorway, and tie our donkey to the ring beside it. The door is a study in itself. The upper part is surrounded by arabesque patterns, which form a square decoration above it, often very tasteful in the case of the older doorways. Sometimes the wooden door itself has arabesques on it, and the inscription ‘God is the Creator, the Eternal,’ which is a charm against sickness and demons and the evil eye, and also serves as a memento mori to the master of the house whenever he comes home. There is no bell, for the prophet declared that a bell is the devil's musical instrument, and that where a bell is the angels do not resort—and sometimes there is no knocker, so we batter upon the door with our stick or fist. It generally takes several knockings to make oneself heard; but this is not a land where people hurry overmuch—did not our lord Mohammad, upon whom be peace, say that ‘haste came from the devil’—so we conform to the ways of the land, and console ourselves with the antithetic text, ‘God is with the patient.’ At last a fumbling sound is heard on the other side, the doorkeeper is endeavouring to fit a stick, with little wire pins arranged upon it in a certain order, into corresponding holes bored at the end of a deep mortice in the sliding bolt of the door. These are the key and lock of Cairo. The sliding bolt runs through a wooden staple on the door into a slot in the jamb. When it is home, certain movable pins drop down from the staple into holes in the sliding bolt and prevent its being drawn back. The introduction of the key with pins corresponding to the holes in the bolt lifts the movable pins and permits the bolt to be slidden back. Nothing could be clumsier or more easy to pick. A piece of wax at the end of a stick will at once reveal the position of the pins, and the rest is simple.
“Within is a passage, which bends sharply after the first yard or two, and bars any view into the interior from the open door. At the end of this passage we emerge into an open court, with a well of brackish water in a shady corner, and perhaps an old sycamore. Here is no sign of life; the doors are jealously closed, the windows shrouded by those beautiful screens of netlike woodwork which delight the artist and tempt the collector. The inner court is almost as silent and deserted as the guarded windows which overlook the street. We shall see nothing of the domestic life of the inhabitants; for the women's apartments are carefully shut off from the court, into which open only the guest rooms and other masculine and semi-public apartments. After the bustle of the street this quiet and ample space is very refreshing, and one feels that the Egyptian architects have happily realized the requirements of Eastern life. They make the streets narrow and overshadow them with projecting meshrebíyas, because the sun beats down too fiercely for the wide street of European towns to be endurable. But they make the houses themselves spacious and surround them with courts and gardens, because without air the heat of the rooms in summer would be intolerable. The Eastern architect's art lies in so constructing your house that you cannot look into your neighbour's windows, nor he into yours; and the obvious way of attaining this end is to build the rooms round a high open court, and to closely veil the windows with lattice blinds, which admit a subdued light and sufficient air, and permit an outlook without allowing the passing stranger to see through. The wooden screens and secluded court are necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Mohammedan system of separating the sexes.
“The lower rooms, opening directly off the court, are those into which a man may walk with impunity and no risk of meeting any of the women. Into one of these lower rooms our host conducts us, with polite entreaty to do him the honour of making ourselves at home. It is the guest-room, or mandara, and serves as an example of the ordinary dwelling-room of the better sort. The part of the room where we enter is of a lower level than the rest, and if it be a really handsome house we shall find this lower part paved with marble mosaic and cooled by a fountain in the middle; while opposite the door is a marble slab raised upon arches, where the water-bottles, coffee-cups, and washing materials are kept.
“We leave our outer shoes on the marble before we step upon the carpeted part of the room. It is covered with rugs, and furnished by a low divan round three sides. The end wall is filled by a meshrebíya, which is furnished within with cushions, while above it some half-dozen windows, composed of small pieces of coloured glass let into a framework of stucco, so as to form a floral pattern, admit a half-light. The two sides, whitewashed where there is neither wood nor tiles, are furnished with shallow cupboards with doors of complicated geometrical panelling. Small arched niches on either side of the cupboards, and a shelf above, are filled with jars and vases, and other ornaments. The ceiling is formed of planks laid on massive beams and generally painted a dark red, but in old houses the ceilings are often beautifully decorated. There are no tables, chairs, or fireplaces, or indeed any of the things a European understands to be furniture. When a meal is to be eaten, a little table is brought in; if the weather be cold a brazier of red-hot charcoal is kindled; instead of chairs the Cairene tucks his legs up under him on the divan—an excellent method of getting the cramp, for Europeans.
“There is often another reception-room, raised above the ground, but entered by steps from the court, into which it looks through an open arched front; and frequently a recess in the court, under one of the upper rooms, is furnished with a divan for hot weather. A door opens out of the court into the staircase leading to the harím rooms, and here no man but the master of the house may penetrate. ‘Harím ’ means what is ‘prohibited' to other men, and what is ‘sacred’ to the master himself. The harím rooms are the domestic part of the house. When a man retires there he is in the bosom of his family, and it would need a very urgent affair to induce the doorkeeper to summon him down to anyone who called to see him. Among the harím apartments there is generally a large sitting-room, like the mandara, called the ké‘a, with perhaps a cupola over it; and in front of the ká‘a, is a vestibule, which serves as a ventilating and cooling place, for a sloping screen over an open space on the roof of this room is so turned as to conduct the cool north breezes into the house in hot weather; and here the family often sleep in summer.
“There are no bedrooms in a Mohammedan house, or rather no rooms furnished as bedrooms, for there are plenty of separate chambers where the inmates sleep, but not one of them has any of what we conceive to be the requisites of bedroom furniture. The only fittings the Cairene asks for the night consists of a mattress and pillow, and perhaps a blanket in winter and a mosquito-net in summer, the whole of which he rolls up in the morning and deposits in some cupboard or side room; whereupon the bedroom becomes a sitting - room. There is another important department of the harím —the bathroom—not a mere room with a fixed bath in it, but a suite of complicated heated stone apartments, exactly resembling the public Turkish baths. It is only a large house that boasts this luxury, however, and most people go out to bathe, if they care to bathe at all.
“The inhabitants of a house, such as that described, lead a dreary monotonous life; fortunately, however, they are not often conscious of its emptiness. The master rises very early, for the Muslim must say the daybreak prayers. A pipe and a cup of coffee is often all he takes before his light mid-day meal, and he generally reserves his appetite for the chief repast of the day—the supper or dinner—which he eats soon after sunset. If he is in business he spends the day in more or less irregular attendance at his shop, smokes almost incessantly either the new-fangled Turkish cigarette, or the traditional shibúk, with its handsome amber mouthpiece, its long cherry-wood stem, and red-clay bowl filled with mild Gébely or Latakía tobacco. If he has no special occupation, he amuses himself with calling on his friends, or indulges in long dreamy hours in the warm atmosphere of the public bath, where the vapour of the hot-water tanks, and the dislocation of each particular joint in the shampooing, and the subsequent interval of cooling and smoking and coffee, are all exceedingly delightful in a hot climate. When he goes out, a man of any position or weather never condescends to walk; as a rule he rides a donkey, sometimes a horse; but the donkey is far the more convenient in crowded streets. Indeed, an Egyptian ass of the best breed is a fine animal, and fetches sometimes as much as a hundred guineas; his paces are both fast and easy, and it is not difficult to write a letter on the pummel of one of these ambling mounts.
“While their lord is paying his calls or attending to his shop, the women of his household make shift to pass the time as best they may. In spite of popular ideas on the subject, Mohammedans seldom have more than one wife, though they sometimes add to their regular marriage a left-handed connexion with an Abyssinian or other slave-girl. Efforts, however, are being made to put down the traffic in slaves, and if the trade be really suppressed, as it is already in law, the Cairene will become monogamous. The late Khedive himself set an excellent example in this, as in most other respects, and the better sort of Muslims are, to say the least, as moral as ordinary Christians. Facility of divorce is the real difficulty. Men will not keep several wives, because it costs a good deal to allow them separate houses or suites of rooms, and plurality does not conduce to domestic harmony; but they do not hesitate to divorce a wife when they are tired of her, and take a new one in her place. It is said the caliph ‘Aly thus married and divorced two hundred women in his time; and a certain dyer of Baghdád even reached the astonishing total of nine hundred wives: he died at the good old age of eight-five, and if he married at fifteen, he would have had a fresh spouse for every month during seventy years of conjugal felicity. Divorce was so easy that there seems no great reason why he should not have married nine thousand. One lady is said to have reduced the fatiguing ceremony of wedlock to extremely convenient dimensions. The man said to her Khitb, and she replied Nikh, and the wedding was over! Thus did she marry forty husbands, and her son Khárija was sorely puzzled to identify his father. A governor of Upper Egypt was no mean disciple of these illustrious leaders; but the habit has become more and more uncommon.
“There would be much more excuse for the women to demand polyandria than for the men to ask for polygynacecia; for while the husband can go about and enjoy himself as he pleases, the women of his family are often hard pushed to it to find any diversion in their dull lives. Sometimes they make up a party and engage a whole public bath; and ten the screams of laughter bear witness how the girls of Egypt enjoy a romp. Or else the mistress goes in state to call upon some friends, mounted upon the high ass, enveloped in a balloon of black silk, her face concealed, all but the eyes, by a white veil, and attended by a trusty manservant. These visits to other haríms are the chief delights of the ladies of Cairo: unlimited gossip, sweetmeats, inspection of toilettes, perhaps some singers or dancers to hear and behold—these are their simple joys. They have no education whatever, and cannot understand higher or more intellectual pleasures than those their physical senses can appreciate: to eat, to dress, to chatter, to sleep, to dream away the sultry hours on a divan, to stimulate their husband's affections and keep him to themselves—this is to live, in a harím. An Englishwoman asked an Egyptian lady how she passed her time. ‘I sit on tis sofa,’ she answered, ‘and when I am tired, I cross over and sit on that.' Embroidery is one of the few occupations of the harím; but no lady thinks of busying herself with the flower-garden which is often attached to the house. Indeed, the fair houris we imagine behind the lattice-windows are very dreary, uninteresting people; they know nothing, and take but an indifferent interest in anything that goes on; they are just beautiful—a few of them—and nothing more.
“In truth the Egyptian ladies cannot venture to give themselves airs; they suffer from the low opinion which all Mohammedans entertain of the fair sex. The unalterable iniquity of womankind is an incontrovertible fact among the men of the East; it is part of their religion. Did not the blessed Prophet say, ‘I stood at the gate of Paradise, and lo! most of its inhabitants were the poor: and I stood at the gates of Hell, and lo! most of its inhabitants were women?’ Is it not, moreover, a physiological fact that woman was made out of a crooked rib of Adam; which would break if you tried to bend it, and if you left it alone it would always remain crooked? And is it not related that when the Devil heard of the creation of woman, he laughed with delight, and said, ‘Thou art half of my host, and thou art the depositary of my secret, and thou art my arrow with which I shoot and miss not!’ It is no wonder that a learned doctor gave advice to his disciple, before he entered upon any serious undertaking, to consult ten intelligent persons among his particular friends, or if he have not more than five such friends, let him consult each of them twice; or if he have not more than one friend, he should consult him ten times, at ten different visits; if he have not one to consult, let him return to his wife and consult her, and whatever she advises him to do, let him do the contrary: so shall he proceed rightly in his affair and attain his object. Following in the steps of this pious Father, the Muslims have always treated women as an inferior order of beings, necessary indeed, and ornamental, but certainly not entitled to respect or deference. Hence they rarely educate their daughters; hence they seek in their wives beauty and docility, and treat them either as pretty toys, to be played with and broken and cast away, or as useful links in the social economy, good to bear children and order a household.”
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