Archive | September, 2010

Off the Deep End, Part 9

19 Sep

By Eric Shipley

After the Hanging Church, we piled into the magic bus and headed off to the Citadel, a 12th Century fortress located on a high limestone outcropping near the heart of Cairo. Before we could get in, though, we went through the most rigorous security check we’d encountered so far in Egypt. All bags were searched, and the men (not the women) were patted down. And both police and military guards were in abundance, all toting AK-47s.

I read that the elevation of the Citadel has always provided an excellent view and cool breezes, but I can attest only to the view. Despite the thick, smoggy haze we could see the pyramids in the distance. As to the cool breezes, though, I don’t recall feeling anything that would qualify as a cool breeze (at least in daytime) while we were in Egypt. Anyway, thanks to its location, the Citadel began in 810 AD as a simple recreational pavilion. It wasn’t until 1176 that is was fortified under the direction of Saladin (the Kurdish Sultan who united and led the Muslims against the European crusaders in the twelfth century AD). The walls of the fortress are an impressive 30 feet high and 10 feet wide and are punctuated by round towers that protrude outward. This allowed defenders to direct fire at the sides of attackers.

Unfortunately, all we saw of the original Citadel were parts of the walls. The fortress has been torn down and rebuilt several times over the years, most recently by Muhammad Ali (no, no relation to the boxer) in the early 1800s. He also built the Muhammed Ali Mosque on the grounds of the Citadel. This was the first mosque Charlotte and I had ever visited, so it was quite interesting. From the outside, the most notable features are the towering twin minarets and the huge dome. There is a large, ornate fountain in the courtyard that is specifically for worshippers to wash their feet. Not being Muslim, we didn’t do so, but we did take off our shoes, as required, before going in. The interior is expansive and richly decorated, although I found it to be overly ornate. There is a high, freestanding alter reached by a flight of steps, but other than that, the inside is open, presumably to accommodate worshippers.

After the mosque, we ate a late, and thoroughly underwhelming, lunch there at the Citadel. The mediocre meal was, however, made more interesting by an unexpected guest. A rough looking tomcat (orange tabby) joined us and flopped down a few feet from the table to watch us eat. Being an animal lover, the thought of petting him passed through my mind. The thought kept going, though. He was anything but cuddly (and there was little doubt that he hadn’t gotten a rabies vaccination). Interestingly, our dinner guest didn’t beg for food. In fact, he wandered off before we finished.

Thus concluded our first day of sightseeing in Egypt. It was exhausting and fascinating, but I found myself getting impatient to see some of the really ancient stuff.

Next: The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

The Citadel

Foot-washing station.

The Citadel.

Our lunch guest.

The mosque altar.

The mosque dome from inside.