Egyptian Museum & Coptic Cairo

November 29, 2014

Good morning Cairo!!! Good morning Nile River. Can’t believe I’m waking up with this view! It’s kind of surreal actually! And coffee looking out over the river… pretty amazing!

imageAmelia and I decided that the safest way to see some of Cairo today would be to hire a driver through the hotel for the day to take us around. Also the most convenient!

Upon stepping out the door of the hotel… I noticed a Canadian flag flying in the breeze… along with an Egyptian flag. I was curious for a while, as to why they specifically had a CAnadian flag. (I realized later once I was home that the Fairmont is a Canadian chain of hotels, therefore the Canadian flag! lol)

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Anyways… First stop of the day… the Egyptian museum.

Driving through Cairo… crazy!!! It honestly makes Riyadh traffic and driving seem tame in comparison!! And that’s saying a lot!!

The driver dropped us off near a street/alley that lead to the Egyptian museum and told us to walk straight down the road and there we’d find the entrance to the museum. There was barbed wire and cement blocks and guards everywhere. It was a little alarming to think that those precautions actually needed to be taken.

As the driver drove away, a man approached us and asked us where we were from and asked if we were going to the museum. We told him we were from Riyadh and yes we were going to the museum. He introduced himself as an employee of the museum and informed us that if we weren’t part of a tour group, we had to use a different entrance, and that it was also prayer time so the museum was closed for prayer. We were a little surprised by this as we thought Riyadh was the only place that actually closed down during prayer time. But, we followed him down the road (away from where the driver had told us to go) believing he was legitimately trying to help us.

Ohhh… our naivete! We carried down the road a way… past more soldiers and some tanks… until it started to look like we were going away from the museum and any possible entrance. We hesitated, wondering if we were actually doing the right thing. The man was starting to become a bit aggressive, telling us to hurry up and follow him. But then, we saw a man waving at us in the distance. It was our driver. He had parked his car at a light some distance away and had gotten out of the car and was waving wildly with both arms at us. And then he came running over, very upset. He told us to go back to where he had dropped us off because that man we were following was a bad man who was going to take us away and would hurt us!

We were so frightened and upset by this… we rushed back to the entrance and hurridly found our way into the museum. Anyone who approached us was given a death glare and a very emphatic “La” or “No” if they tried to offer us anything. It was really upsetting to realize how easy of a target we had been… and terrifying to think what would have happened if the driver wouldn’t have seen us and come to our rescue. Forever grateful to him for that!

But… we moved on. With a new awareness to be supremely cautious and keep our wits about us!

So… on to the museum!

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities as it is formally known, contains the worlds largest collection of Pharonic antiques.

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So much stuff in this museum!!!! Tens of thousands of artifacts… thousands of years old. It was amazing. You could probably spend days and days going through everything in the museum and learning about it all. We didn’t have a guide through the museum so we just kind of browsed through, stopping and reading the plaques for things that interested us…. but most keen to see the mummies!

On of my favourite statutes… I believe it was King Tut… shwaya in pieces… but still amazing!

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We saw some beautiful coffins… still brilliantly colored…

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Mummified dogs and baboons…  The Egyptians would often mummify favourite pets along with the person who had died. There were so many different mummified animals at the museum. It was incredible… in a very creepy sort of way. Even saw a mummified crocodile!

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And then… there were the rooms that housed the mummies of various famous kings and queens and nobles. It was absolutely incredible! Some of them still had intact hair!! Apparently various techniques were used over time to mummify people, and at one point they used a mixture with too much salt, so there was a mummy whose face had burst due to the high salt content. If you want to learn more about the mummification process or why the Egyptians and other populations did mummification, click the link above. 🙂

imageimage More statutes… honestly no clue what these ones where about actually…

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Once we finished browsing through the museum… we headed outside into the sunshine to wait for our driver to pick us back up… and take us to our next stop… Coptic Cairo.

 

Here you see a mix of the ancient… the sphinxes… and the modern… the tower on the left in the background… and the destruction that is common throughout Cairo… the building that is collapsing on the right in the background…

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Coptic Cairo is the Christian section of Cairo… narrow little streets with many little churches. At one point, we were standing outside a Jewish synogogue, having just come from a Catholic Church… hearing adhan, the call to prayer from a mosque down the way. Such a beautiful blend of religion and culture. All in harmony and peace at that moment in time. If only it could be like this all the time throughout the world!

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Coptic Cairo contains the Fortress of Babylon, Coptic Museum, Greek church of St. George, Hanging Church and many other little churches. Coptic Cairo used to be a Christian stronghold until the Islamic Era.

It is traditionally believed that the Holy Family visited the area during the Flight into Egypt, seeking refuge from Herod.

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It is thought that Christianity began to spread in Egypt when St. Mark arrived in Alexandria, becoming the first Patriarch, though the religion remained underground during the rule of the Romans. Under the Romans, St. Mark and his successors were able to convert a substantial portion of the population, from pagan beliefs to Christianity. As the Christian communities in Egypt grew, they were subjected to persecution by the Romans, under Emperor Diocletian around 300 AD, and the persecution continued following the Edict of Milan that declared religious toleration. The Coptic Church later separated from the church of the Romans and the Byzantines. Under the rule of Arcadius (395-408), a number of churches were built in Old Cairo. In the early years of Arab rule, the Copts were allowed to build several churches within the old fortress area of Old Cairo.

And that is how there came to be quite a few Christian churches in a small area in Cairo.

We visited Abu Serga… one of the Catholic Churches… and several other Catholic Churches…

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Stood on the steps of St. Georges church… a Greek Orthodox church… that dates back to the 10th century, although this current building was apparently rebuilt in 1904 after a fire.

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And finally.. the fortress of Babylon. Not the original Babylon of ancient times… but a settlement built by the Persians many years later in reference to the original city of Babylon. It was most likely built around 525 BC, at an important location along the Nile River where boats going up and down the river had to pay a toll.

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There was a plaque with more information about the Fortress on it, but my historically overloaded brain remembers little of it. Sorry :S

After the fortress, we tried to get in to a nunnery to check it out… but the door was locked 😦 But the view from the courtyard was pretty neat…

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It was really special just wandering through coptic Cairo. It was so small and quaint and quiet and sequestered. Cairo is huge and bustling and chaotic… so it is a relief to be in this area that really feels like a large historical sanctuary.

But, we were exhausted from the stress of our day and the historical/cultural overload. So we left Coptic Cairo behind and headed back to our hotel to freshen up and relax before getting ready for happy hour and free drinks at the hotel before our Nile River Cruise.

Next up… Nile River Cruise & dinner…

Cairo: The Cradle of Civilization

Before I delve into stories of my adventures in Egypt, I feel I need to explain my rationale for going to Egypt. And share a few factoids about Egypt and Cairo… if you’re interested in history.

For starters, why Cairo? Why Egypt at all actually? Isn’t Egypt a bit dangerous and unsafe at the moment? Surely there’s better places to go for a week vacation right now!

True. Perhaps. In some ways. Egypt is definitely not the most stable country in the world at the moment. But safety is completely relative. It’s how you deal with the dangers you face and what situations you expose yourself to as well.

There are so many great reasons to go and visit Egypt… and as long as you exercise caution… why not go??!!

Coming from Canada, we have history and culture that is only a hundred and a bit years old… although the First Nations people have history much longer than that. But… compared to Cairo… a city that has existed for thousands of years… we are so insignificant in Canada! Historically anyways!!

Cairo is a massive city of about 20+ million people. World population review states that Cairo itself has a population density of 19,376 people per square kilometer (50,180/sq mi), which ranks 42nd in the world. While the 2014 population of Cairo is 12 million, the Greater Cairo area has about 18 million people.

Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East and is located at a strategic location… just upstream of the Nile River Delta and at the center of routes to Asia, Europe and Africa. It is often referred to as the “cradle of civilization.” Although Cairo was only officially founded in 969 AD, it’s history goes back thousands of years more than that. It has been known by many names including Memphis, Heliopolis, Babylon-in-Egypt, Al-Fustat, Al-Qataei, Al-Askar and more by the Ancient Egyptians and by the people who conquered Egypt throughout the centuries.

Originally, Memphis was the capital city of Egypt, but as it declined in importance during the 4th century, the Romans built a fortress town called Babylon along the east bank of the Nile, parts of which still exist today and is the oldest structure in the city.

On our first day in Egypt, we visited the fortress of Babylon, located in Coptic Cairo. (more to come on this in my next post.)

So… now you have an idea how old Cairo is… as well as how many people live in Cairo. So perhaps it will be easier now to imagine what Cairo actually looks like.

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It is an absolutely massive city. With so many many people living in a relatively small area actually. Many of the streets are narrow and congested with vehicles almost as ancient as Cairo itself. Tired old horses pulling carriages and cachexic donkeys burdened down with old wooden carts fight for the right of way on the streets with the more modern cars and buses. There is a cacophony of honking horns heard continuously with people yellow and shouting and engines revving in response.

IMG_5970imageimageimageStreet after street of crumbling apartment buildings line the roads and even the Nile River, with ancient air conditioners perched in windows and ragged laundry hanging out other windows. In one place I even saw a type of pulley system with a bucket at the end of a rope going from one room down to street level. Every now and then there is a newer or a more beautiful building… but it adds this beautiful diversity to the city landscape!

Restaurants and shops selling groceries, meat, vegetables, and all sorts of merchandise fill the ground floors of many of the buildings… surviving somehow… although I really don’t know how!

Men and women in traditional and western dress fill the streets… women in abayas or burkas and women in western dress wearing hijabs… children running about… mangy dogs slink along the streets…

It is devastatingly poor in a way that I never imagined it would be as this is my first real exposure to a 3rd world country and my first time being surrounded with so many absolutely poverty stricken people.

I’ve been to Mexico… border town Mexico. Where people lived in cardboard shacks… but it was a small town. This is millions of people living in extreme poverty! It was a little heartbreaking. And it made me realize how supremely blessed I have been in my life. With opportunitites like most of these people will never have. It’s humbling!

But yet… despite all the poverty and sad situations here in Cairo… the political unrest… economic distress… it is a beautiful place. Rich in other ways… like in history and culture. It has a claim to fame that few places in the world have! The pyramids??!!! And thousands of ancient artifacts and cultural/historical pieces that symbolize thousands of amazing stories! And the Nile River?!! It is absolutely beautiful! There is a reason Cairo and Egypt has been home to a wonderful culture and people for so many thousands of years!

So… get out and go visit Egypt! I’m going to show you some of the beautiful things we found and saw on our adventures!

To be continued…