CAIRO – BEACON OF THE ORIENT

Al-Azhar University, Cairo – postcard of late 19th century

“Places whose names are all forgotten once dominated. For centuries before the early modern era, the intellectual centres of excellence, the Oxfords and Cambridges, the Harvards and Yales, were not located in Europe or the west, but in Baghdad and Balkh, Bukhara and Samarkand.”

from: The Silk Roads, by Peter Frankopan

Calligraphy with verses from the Koran

Cairo derives from the Arabic word El Qahira meaning just superb and glorious city.  Thousands of mosques and the famous Mohammedan University Al-Azhar are to be found on its municipal territory showing that this is one of the most important spiritual centres of Islam since long time. During my visit of the town in 1985 I had the opportunity to visit some of them, a fascinating and mysterious Oriental world with a varied architecture everywhere in the big town.

Visiting the bazaar in the old medina

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, courtyard with old well house

In this regard I have to admit one big mistake as it was really hot in Cairo I did wear short trousers. Not thinking about religious regulations (which are the same in Christian monasteries) one day I wanted to visit a mosque in Cairo, there was a guard at the entrance who stopped me abruptly while pointing on my naked legs. I must have made an impression of real pity because the guard took from a corner a not very clean blanket with which I had to cover my naked legs in order to enter the mosque. I felt really ashamed but the rather pragmatic approach of the guard saved the situation with a rather unusual solution.

Massive pyramidic construction and entrance

The famous Cheops Pyramide on Giza plateau

The day I went to Giza pyramidic complex was cloudy and without any sun. Only few visitors were present on site, good for making photos of the wellknown Sphinx, the stunning  pyramides and the surrounding desert. These are really more constructions for giants of any kind, so the Pharaonic ruling dynasties have left really a creation of eternity. Modern buildings of today would not survive several thousands years like these stony grave-yards.

The ancient Sphinx with pyramide in the background

Besides Cairo is also a very modern town with a terrible traffic I have never seen again. In 1985 there was just one underground line with a few stations, so the many millions of residents were forced to move through their metropolitan town by all means: cars, shared taxis, busses, donkey carts, motorbikes, even camels made their way through this crazy traffic. When I visited Cairo in 1985 around 6 million people lived there what I think is more than enough, but today population has grown to incredible 16 million residents, a real urban moloch.

View from Cairo Tower at a smoggy and dusty day

Street scenery with camels in the very centre

As a resident or visitor of Cairo you have to bear  also a rather humid and hot climate while the wind unloads everywhere the sand of the surrounding deserts. Therefore, the view on Cairo from a high tower (see photo above) is not really clear and more smoggy. In the centre of the city I visited of course the big old endless bazaar and the renowned Egyptian Museum being now the home of the Pharaonic mummies and many other phantastic objects and relicts of the old times.

View on old Cairo with its thousands of mosques and minarets

In Cairo my long trip through all Egypt from the East to the West, from the North to the South and again back started and ended. And here my fascination for the Oriental world has begun when passing the vast deserts of all kind, the horizon always far away, and then a principal feeling of freedom may stir up suddenly an open mind in wild amazement.