Cairo and Giza
Cairo: Madrassas and Mosques and Markets
Along the crowded boulevards and then down the side streets and alleyways lie uniquely Egyptian Arabic school buildings and medieval mosques.
In the Al-Hussein district, some of the mosques are almost a thousand years old and still welcome the faithful to prayer. Exterior walls are tan and black granite stripes with cupolas and balconies, columns and arched doorways and stained glass windows Interior ceilings and walls are decorated with multi-colored geometric granite designs or painted ornamentation of gold and blue and yellow.
I love wandering down the noisy narrow streets where traditional craftsman are pounding out copper and steel pottery and religious articles. The little shops are overflowing with glass hookahs and brass and silver bowls. Merchants are welcoming and women walk about with their wares piled high on their heads. This is a vibrant neighborhood in a vibrant and expanding city, the capital of Egypt, considered by many to be the capital of the Arab World.
And finally, The Nile, yes the broad and powerful Nile River flows through the heart of the sky-scrapered city and north to the Mediterranean Sea.
Giza is a suburb of Cairo. And what a suburb! You drive down a small street and then another small street and then, wham! Shazam! Just beyond the buildings and shops, a Pyramid! And the Sphinx!
If you have seen the Pyramids you know their size. If you have seen pictures, what you imagine is quite correct.
From the distance a Pyramid looks big. Tall. Imposing. But when I actually walk up to the base and look up and up and up, the Pyramid is gigantic. The biggest one is 146m or 483 feet tall -- as tall as a fifty story building. It took me almost an hour to stroll around the base. There was one spot where I could safely climb up a few meters.
The Pyramids are made of large rectangular rocks that are ingeniously layered on top of each other. How do they stay up there and not collapse on themselves? I don't know, but I did spot two good hints. On one wall, the inner architecture is exposed, revealing triangular buttressing deep within the structure. Is that the answer? And during my stroll I noticed that the Pyramids are built on a natural formation of solid rock.
Compared to the Pyramids the Sphinx looks tiny, but it is a mesmerizing and enigmatic sculpture that has stared out on the desert sands for centuries. The face in my opinion is African and possibly the likeness of Khafre, the pharaoh who thought of carving this one piece of limestone into a fearful creature with the body of a lion and the face of a god wearing the royal headdress of Egypt. The Sphinx is known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol, Father of Terror.
There are busloads of tourists and everyone is jockeying for the best spot for a photo with Abu. No matter. I am happy to see the Pyramids along the Nile. And I see not the terror, but the smile on the face of the Sphinx.