Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Ramses Train Station

We took quite a while to walked around Cairo, and thus we had to rush to the Ramses Train station to catch our train to Aswan at 10 pm. The people in the Ramses station was very friendly in showing us which way to go.

Ramses Train Station

We had a 2nd class ticket for the train, meaning there was no sleeping bed. But the train carriages were cleaner and more comfortable than we took. Too bad, traveled at night mean we wouldn't be able to view the scenery along the way until after Luxor.

Tip: Book your ticket if you can day(s) earlier.

Cairo Opera House

Cairo Opera House, located at Gezira Exhibition Grounds, immediately to the west of Midan Saad Zaghloul. We were not allowed to visit inside of the Opera House, because there was performance went on. However, there was lots of arts pieces around the Cairo Opera House.

Linkway from the Cairo Opera House to Opera Metro station is full with arts.

Cairo at Night

I like the atmosphere of Cairo during the night very much. I felt that it's very nice and romantic place. May be due to the weather during the time that was pretty cold. We had a leisurely walk around Downtown Cairo and Gezira.

American University in Cairo

Nile River riverbank from Qasr el-Nil bridge

On Qasr el-Nil (Tahrir Bridge) above Nile River, in the background is Cairo Tower. The Tahrir Bridge, as implied in name, can be reached from Midan Tahrir at Downtown Cairo.

Al-Qala'a Citadel

We hastily visited Islamic Cairo, again time was running short. Later we took a taxi to Citadel, hoping that it still opened. The taxi driver was nice English speaking guy, he explained to us various places of Cairo that we passed thru too. And I think the taxi fare he charged us was reasonable too. EGP 15, for brought us to the Citadel, waited us there for a while, and then back to Downtown Cairo, of course, after some negotiation.

As expected, Citadel was closed. So the photo was taken from the taxi when we went back to Downtown Cairo. The Citadel was home to Egypt's rulers from some 700 years, before became a military garrison. Now everybody can visit it.

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque was founded in AD 970 and is one of Cairo's earliest mosques and its sheikh is the highest theological authority for Egyptian Muslims. Al-Azhar Mosque was also the world's oldest surviving university.

Al-Azhar Mosque with its three minarets

Al-Azhar Mosque central courtyard

To go into Al-Azhar mosque, attire needs to be proper and shoes have to be taken off. See the shoe? We carried it ourselves to avoid any tussle for the baksheesh or tips later. It's unbelievable that they did it at their sacred place.

Al-Azhar Mosque minaret

Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque

Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, also called Sayyiduna al-Husayn Mosque, is one of the most sacred Islamic sites in Egypt, and reputed burial place of the head of al-Hussein, grandson of the Prophet. Thus the area around the mosque is considered sacred: bread sold here is believed to have a special baraka (blessing) and alcohol is banned.

Inside of Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque. Lonely Planet said non-Muslims are not allowed in, but we had no trouble to visit inside of the mosque.

Khan al-Khalili

Narrow twisting alleyway in Khan al-Khalili. Khan al-Khalili is an immense conglomeration of markets and shops that sell almost everything. We didn't met with any aggressive touts here, so it was quite a pleasant experience. Of course, bargan is a must.

While we at Khan al-Khalili, we met again with the crews from Singapore Airlines which we met in Egyptian Museum earlier. The world is really small. I bought 2 pieces of t-shirt here, for EGP 38, turned up they couldn't fit me. So make sure you try out before you buy, if you can. :)

Get to Islamic Cairo

Time was running out and we had to rush through Coptic Cairo in a glance. Our next destination was Islamic Cairo. To got to there, we took Metro again to Ataba station, and then headed to Islamic Cairo from there, along Sharia Al-Azhar. Islamic Cairo was about 1 km away. Actually it was quite suffering too tried to squeeze so many destinations in such a short span of time.

When I first arrived there, I felt a bit nervous, for the word "Islamic". What if the whole area is was full of fundamentalists? Anyway, the Islamic Cairo is just a important home to Egypt's most important mosque and most important shrine, and just like every part of Egypt and Cairo. And it appeared that I was more scare of those taxi drivers who kept asking whether want to take their taxi or not. Besides, the attire needs to be proper and dress less sexy.

Convent of St George

Convent (Nunnery) of St. George is the first doorway along the alleyway after the entrance from sunken staircase beside footbridge over the Metro. It took us some times to find this entrance, because we didn't expect it to be sort of like underpass.

Church of St. Barbara

Interior of Church of St Barbara (Sitt Barbara), along the alleyway with Ben Ezra Synagogue, dedicated to St Barbara who was beaten to death by her father for trying to convert him to Christianity.

Before getting to Church of St. Barbara, we met a nice policeman who led us to the church, and asked us for tips. He directly asked for money from us, but we just ignored him. It was not hard to find the way in Coptic Cairo, and we didn't actually need his help, anyway, just beware.

Ben Ezra Synagogue

Ben Ezra Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Egypt. It dates from 9th century, but occupies the shell of a 4th-century Christian church. In the 12th centure the synagogue was restored by Abraham Ben Ezra, rabbi of Jerusalem, hence its name. Too bad, no photography inside.

Church of St. George

Church of St. George is just opposite the Mar Girgis Metro station, along Sharia Mar Girgis. St. George is one of the region's most popular Christian saints, a Palestinian conscript in the Roman army and was executed in 303 AD for resisting Emperor Diocletian's decree forbidding the practice of Christianity. The Church of St. George dates from 1909.

Church of St. George sin on top of the Roman northern tower.

Interior of the Church of Saint George

Hanging Church

Hanging Church or Suspended Church (Al-Muallaqa) is so called because it's built on top of the Water Gate of Roman Babylon. Hanging Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. To get to Hanging Church, just walk up the Sharia Mar Girgis street from the Mar Girgis Metro station.

Hanging Church

Interior of Hanging Church, one of the darker pillars is said to symbolize Judas

Coptic Cairo

After a brief lunch at McDonald's (Yes, there are McDonald's in Cairo and Alexandria, also KFC too), we headed to Coptic Cairo by Metro. Coptic Cairo is just right beside Mar Girgis Metro station, and I think it must be the easiest place to get to in Cairo. Most of the churches in Coptic Cair are free admission, but some do accept donation.

Coptic Cairo is part of Old Cairo, or Masr al-Qadima, which incorporates then entire area south of Garden City down to the Coptic Cairo quarter, and is the heartland of Egypt's Coptic community. early in the 2nd AD the Romans established a fortress here, called Babylon-in-Egypt. The name Babylon is most likely a Roman corruption of 'Per-hapi-en-on' or 'Estate of the Nile God at On', a Pharaonic name for what was the former port of On (ancient Heliopolis).

Narrow cobbled alleyways running between high stone wall at Coptic Cairo, linking the churches. Coptic Cairo feels quite similar to parts of Jerusalem's Old City.


I asked Kenji, the guy who we met in White Desert, of how long he took while at Egyptian Museum.

He said, "about 30 minutes."

"You must be crazy."

"No, I just visited the mask of Tutankhamen only." He said.

That's the craze the people had about Tutankhamun, especially among Japanese I met. In our room (we slept in dorm) in Safari Hotel, the Japanese there even put up a portrait of Tutankhamun mask and declared him as a God.

Tutankhamun, then son of Akhenaten by a minor wife, actually ruled relatively brief for 9 years (1336 - 1327 BC) and died young, without great battles and buildings to his credit. Hence, when Tutankhamun tomb was discovered in 1922 with tones of priceless treasures, it was overly celebrated and publicized. Nevertheless, the treasures, although may be as much as 80% were intended for Tutankhamun's predecessors, Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, were easily shined the brightest.

The Gold Mask of Tutankhamon

The third and innermost of three anthropoid coffins of Tutankhamen

Queen Nefertiti

Unfinished Head of Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten. Worked in light brown quartzite, it's an incredibly delicate and sensitive potrait and shows the queen to have been extremely beautiful.

Mummies and mummy everywhere!

There are simply a lof of mummies in Egypt, not just the mummy of pharoahs. You can almost see them in most museum across Egypt, and of course, here at Egyptian Museum too. The highlight is Royal Mummy Room that houses the remains of 11 of Egypt's most illustrious pharoahs and queens from the 17th to 21st dynasties, 1650 t 945 BC. Entrance ticket costs EGP 40 (EGP 20 for student).

Limestone Bed on which mummification process was carried out

Mummy of a woman with potrait

Some of the animal mummies

Egyptian Antiquities Museum

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum is huge, and with too much (yes, too much, at least for me, and it's only part of all only) antiquities. The displays were like just simply put here and there, and not properly labelled and lighted, and it's so much tourists! But these are still germs. So, it's a must visit place in Cairo. Entrance ticket costs EGP 20 (EGP 10 for student with ISIC).

Atrium of Egyptian Museum, with Colossus of Amenhotep III and Tiy, his wife, at the backend. Narmer Palette, which representing first uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt under one ruler, is displayed here too.

This one originally were just rubble in pieces. Salute to archeologists who had conserved and reassembled 4-meter-high monumental statue group representing god Amun and goddess Mu tseated on a throne.

Statue representing the Memphite family of Nefer-Herenptah called Fifi

Head of Zeus-Amon

Another restored sculpture representing coronation of Ramses III by god Horus (which personifies order) and got Set (which personifies anarchy)

Statue of Akhenaten

Box or lower part of the coffin of King Akhenaten

Exterior of Egytian Antiquities museum

During the visit to Egyptian Museum, we met 2 pilots and a pretty stewardess from Singapore Airlines. They're the only people from Southeast Asia we met during the whole trip, and they're not even tourist.

On the way to Egyptian Antiquities Museum..

We met with Claridge Hotel owner, again, on the way to Egyptian Antiquities Museum. We walked past the Claridge Hotel, and he noticed us. He asked us why we didn't go back to his hotel to stay. Ha, wondering who would want himself fall into hard position again? Anyway, we just said we're in the rush and continued to the museum.

Safari Hotel and Luggage Keeping

We checked out early morning from Safari Hotel (also Safary Hotel) because we would be out the whole day. Safari Hotel charged us EGP 3 each for keeping the luggage with them, and using of their toilet later. Later in the trip Marwa Hotel and Oasis Hotel provided the same services for free.

Safari Hotel actually housed in a building with 2 other hotels. I didn't know why it's especially popular with Japanese. It's at the highest floor, 5th floor, with no elevator. 2 other hotels are lower, and thus no need to climb as much staircases, and about the same price too.