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Bab Zuwayla was part of the original walls of Cairo built in 1092. The Zuwayla gate is one of the most well known landmarks in the city and is also one of three remaining gates of the Fatimid dynasty. This historic gate contains twin towers, each with a minaret. Originally these towers were used by soldiers to keep watch over the southern countryside, however today they provide some of the best views of Cairo. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of each tower and get a glimpse of the surrounding buildings, streets, and daily life. I felt on top of the world as I gazed downward at the opposing tower of Bab Zuwayla and took in the scenery of this ancient city.
Cairo's Khan El Khalili bazaar brings to life for me the stories from the Arabian Nights that I used to read as a kid. The bazaar is a narrow chaotic maze of large and tiny shops selling anything and everything from wall hangings, to spices, to hookahs, to articles so covered in dust you feel like you are purchasing something that is really antique! Emerging from the bazaar made me feel like I was coming out of another world. Tip: bargaining is a must, when you are about to walk away they will follow you and continue to bargain.
Go back to the time of the Pharaohs and discover the enchanting pharaonic history the spectacular Sound and Light Show at Giza Pyramids of Cheops, Chefren and Mykerinus. The show starts with the story of the Sphinx who has been the vigilant guardian of the city of the dead for five thousand years
The Pharaohs may be gone, but their treasures and stories can still be found at the amazing Egyptian Museum in the heart of Cairo. Over 120,000 artefacts are on display including huge statues of the pharaohs and the gods they worshipped, jewels, scrolls of papyrus, coffins inlaid with semi-precious stones and gold leaves and ancient mummified remains. Although it would take months to admire each and every relic, your expert guide will help you discover some of the most famous objects such as the golden treasures from Tuthankhamun’s Tomb. Marvel at King Tuthankhamun’s intricate coffin, the seemingly infinite jewels and his world-famous solid gold funerary mask. Other amazing artefacts include the statue of Khafre, the Fayoum Portraits and the Nubian funerary cache.
Mosque of Ibn Tulun is one of the largest and oldest mosques in Cairo, Egypt. Vistors are required to wear protective covers over their feet and women are required to wear head scarfs.
This photograph from my trip to Egypt has always been one of my favorites. The visible line of the "old world" existing alongside modern day culture is very powerful, and is commonly evident in Cairo. The image was taken in a part of town which is often referred to as Fatimid Cairo or Islamic Cairo. It is an area rich with Egyptian culture and is overflowing with impressive historical sites from Fatimid dynasty. The Zuwayla gate, with its twin minaret towers, is one of the most well-known landmarks. Originally the towers were used by soldiers to keep watch over the southern countryside, however today they provide some of the best views of the city. In Fatimid Cairo, I also enjoyed visiting the Al-Azhar Mosque and would consider it a must see for its stunning architecture and scale. If you enjoy a busy market, be sure to check out the nearby Khan el-Khalili. It’s an ideal place to meet the locals, people watch, and pick up a few souvenirs.
We all had lunch at Arabesque restaurant, in the heart of downtown Cairo. A low-lit, sultry kind of atmosphere with lovely, glowing chandeliers made of....Stella beer bottles!
A walk through the spice market in one of Cairo's most historic bazaars is an incredible sensory experience. As we walked down narrow paths, everyone around us coughed from the overwhelming smell of pepper and other spices.
Spending time with Tarek Labib was a perfect welcome to Cairo. We couldn't have asked for a more charming and engaging host, and his home was an exact expression of himself: tranquil, worldly, artistic, irreverent.
Darb 1718 is a cultural center in Old Cairo. It provides studio and gallery space to emerging artists from all over Egypt. This piece, painted on the side of one of the many buildings in the compound, immediately caught my eye.
This was a pretty emotional moment at Cafe Riche, a historical cafe in downtown Cairo.. I was talking with Azer Farag Azer, a business man (pictured in the middle above) who has been a customer of Cafe Riche since 1960. He was speaking about a lot of the things he has seen happen over the years here, when he called up the waiter, Felfel (pictured on the right), who has been working at Cafe Riche since 1943. Azer called Felfel the most honorable man he knew and called him on stage.
Easy, go out there and take a cab, let the driver give you a tour, enter to the a bazar, buy some essence and smoke something totally unknown but that smell nice. After that, you might want to learn the artistry of bargaining.
Felucca rides on the Nile are one of the great, economical ways to chill out and escape the noise in Cairo for an afternoon or an evening. Grab some cold Stella beer and a bunch of assorted sandwiches from GAD downtown and head over to any of the rental places along the river. An hour ride runs about 60EG or about 10USD.
You could spend a lifetime examining the more than 120,000 items in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, in Cairo. The collection is as vast as it is priceless. The cluttered rooms and dusty display cases give the museum a colonial charm. One of the highlights of the Egyptian Museum is the Tutankhamen room. You can view the pharoah's exquisite gold funeral mask, and a variety of jewelry recovered from the tomb. Just outside this room are the larger contents of the tomb. It’s hard to imagine so many items packed into such a small chamber. The museum’s other big draw is the Royal Mummies Hall. This special room is the final resting place of 11 mummies of former kings and queens. While you can visit the museum on your own, the experience is much richer with an Egyptologist. My guide, from Abercrombie & Kent tours, brought the exhibits to life and showed us so much more than just artifacts. Alison Cornford-Matheson traveled to Egypt courtesy of the Egypt Tourism Authority and Abercrombie & Kent. Her highlights are part of AFAR's partnership with The United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value, and freedom to enjoy destinations across the entire globe. See more about Alison's trip at the USTOA blog.
As if it wasn't enough to see the Giza Pyramids lit up at night, we got to feast and dance in this glorious tent, as part of the closing festivities of AFAR Experiences Cairo.
Darb 1718 is an arts center that's really a little neighborhood of workshops in Coptic Cairo where artisans practice traditional Egyptian crafts. At the El Nafeza foundation, they make rice-straw paper completely by hand. Here you can see sheets drying on the wall. The woman in the background is dyeing the paper. I brought back beautiful notebooks for everyone in my office from this place.
One of the core gifts of AFAR Experiences Cairo was to walk away with a more compassionate understanding of modern day Islam–thanks to our speakers Moez Masoud (Interfaith activist, TV host) and Riham Bahi (Professor, women's rights activist). http://www.afarexperiences.com/
Mohamed El Sawy, the founder of Culturewheel, an arts and community center on the banks of the Nile in Cairo, treated the Afar Experiences group to a puppet show. Mohamed is in the middle, controlling the puppet of Om Kalthoum, a singer that one person described to me as Egypt's Edith Piaf.
When I asked my local guide where to get a real taste of Cairo, she brought me to Felfela. This restaurant has been cooking falafel the same way since 1959 and they have definitely perfected the art. Chefs toss balls of batter into boiling oil. Almost the size of a hamburger patty, the falafels are soft and moist inside, with a perfectly crispy crust. Felfela also offers a range of traditional Egyptian foods, with an emphasis on vegetarian cuisine. The restaurant has a quirky, jungle-themed decor, with plenty of plants, birds, and tables made from tree slabs. For a falafel to go, head around the corner to Felfela’s bustling take-away, where you can order your falafel in a pocket of fresh made flatbread. Both the sit-down and take-away options are affordable, delicious, and will be served with a smile. Alison Cornford-Matheson traveled to Egypt courtesy of the Egypt Tourism Authority and Abercrombie & Kent. Her highlights are part of AFAR's partnership with The United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value, and freedom to enjoy destinations across the entire globe. See more about Alison's trip at the USTOA blog.
While one typically envisions riding camels through deserts when they imagine Egypt, there is so much more to Cairo. Although the donkey carts and women in gallabeya do exist, one can't help they are walking in Europe when they pass through the architectural masterpiece that is Korba. Next to Heliopolis, where the old Cairenes dwell, Korba is home to the works of classic French architecture courtesy of Alexander Marcel, who implemented aspects of South East Asia into some of his pieces such as "the Baron's palace."
A sarcophagus outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo looks up at the charred remains of the headquarters of the NDP, Hosni Mubarak's party, which ruled Egypt for decades before the January 25 revolution.
The largest metropolis in Africa and arguably the most important city in the Islamic world, Cairo is like a 10,000 watt light bulb dangling over a murky pool of water, threatening to fall in and electrocute the whole planet. Between the constant cacophony of cars, the call to prayer, street vendors, spontaneous demonstrations, motorcycles that play loud, distorted 70’s pop music, the laughter of millions of beautiful children and the smells of tameya (falafel), diesel fuel, garbage and jasmine all shrouded in a supernatural haze, Cairo sets the sensory overload button at 11! If you can handle it, however, it’s like taking the biggest, most daring ride at the fair......once you get on.....it’s a hell of a lot of FUN!
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