Cairo is a city that never sleeps


The City that Never Sleeps

Mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas
Mohammad Ali (Alabaster) Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque
Ibn Tulun Mosque

While the City of Cairo sprang from the foundations of a "recent" town, by Egyptian historical standards, it is no wonder that this location developed the foremost Egyptian city. With one of the few river crossings, the area around Cairo was originally settled in Paleolithic times and later saw the development of Neolithic trading communities.

Yet it was Menes, the legendary first King-God of the Dynastic period who united upper and lower Egypt and established his capital at Memphis. While it has been suggested that Memphis already existed upon Menes arrival, what is known is that this city, with its ruins 15 miles south of current Cairo, was a dominate influence throughout most of Egypt's pharaonic history. Nearby Memphis (nine miles north and on the opposite side of the Nile) was the contemporary religious center of On located in the community the Greeks called Heliopolis, not to be confused with the nearby modern suburb of Cairo by the same name.

In 525 BC, the invading Persians conquered Egypt and built a strategic fort north of Memphis called Babylon-on-the-Nile. This was where the Persians controlled Egypt until it's capture by the Alexander in 332 BC. During the Greek period, the fort held little importance, but after the Roman conquest, it regained prominence as a stronghold because of it's strategic location guarding the Roman trade routes. The Roman general Trajan repaired the old Red Sea Canal, originally built by the pharaohs, which allowed vessels to sail up the Red Sea, turn west towards Babylon, and then down the Nile to the Mediterranean.

During the Roman period, Baylon continued to be a dominant influence in the region and a Christian community grew up around it, which was likewise a prominent center of the new religion. It was here that St. Mark lived, and where St. Peter sent his greetings from the sister church in Rome. But in the later Roman period, the Coptic church of Egypt grew apart from that of most of the world's Christianity. This split resulted in unrest and often persecution of the Coptics. Hence, when the Arab Muslims led by Amr arrived in 640 AD, Babylon was an easy target and was captured after a disastrous battle for the Romans. Soon, all of Egypt was in the hands of the Islamic Arabs.

Legend has it that when Amr departed the Babylon area to lay siege to Alexandria, he left his tent standing in the tent camp next to Babylon. Upon his return, the tent was still standing and a dove had built a nest in it. So it was here that Amr built his Mosque, the first in Egypt, and around the Mosque, Fustat or al-Fustat al-Misr (the Camp of Egypt), the City of the Tents and the original Muslim capital of Egypt grew up from his original tent encampment. This encampment was divided into khittat, or districts which originally divided the various Arab tribes which made up Amr's army.

Throughout ancient times, Egypt has been one of the most important trade routes for the world and so it was that, just as the archaic cities which proceeded Fustat, this new city also prospered from all manner of goods which where transshipped to wealthy markets in Europe. They also developed their own markets in spice, textiles and perfumes which were legendary throughout the world. Beginning as a haphazard conglomeration of tents and huts, Fustat grew into a sophisticated commercial center where it's residents enjoyed great wealth. They built high rise houses with rooftop gardens, public baths modeled from the Romans (but smaller, earning the name al-hammamat al-far, or mouse baths). Their architecture grew in both splendor and magnitude, and even built covered streets to protect themselves from the sun.

Cairo is a city that never sleeps. Its entertainments are legion, its charms beguiling, and its temptations many.

Ramadan is probably the best time to savor the full range of traditional entertainment -- the impromptu puppet shows, the pavement story-tellers, the singers, the coffee houses, and the baladi dancers. In the Khan Al-Khalili and Ghuriya areas, Ramadan is a nightly and night-long carnival.

But all year round the city hums with activity. The best local guide to what's happening {from belly dancers to zoos is Cairo Today, a monthly survey of exhibitions, entertainment, special occasions, shopping highlights and local culture.

The city's night life centers on the major hotels, {such as the Sheratons and Hiltons where prominent belly dancers appear, and the night clubs that line Pyramid Road in Giza. For later splendor of Khedival Egypt try some of the other hotels as well as the restaurants in the area of Midan Soliman Pasha and Midan Al-Opera. For a more traditional meal visit one of the well known cafes or restaurants in the Khan El-Khalili near Sayeda Hussein Mosque.

For those with stamina, Cairo is a great city for walking tours. In fact a view from the sidewalk is probably the best way to get into the rhythm of life here. High summer is usually too warm for a long walk, but in cooler weather a leisurely walk from Nile side to the Khan Al-Khalili or across the heart of the ancient city from Babe Zuweila to Bab Al-Nasr more than balances your fallen arches with a unique view of an oriental city.

For sports-minded visitors who prefer the traditional amenities of well-tended gardens, tennis courts and gymnasium, sauna, swimming pools, and locker rooms, the Gezira Club in Zamalek and the Heliopolis Club offer temporary memberships {apply directly to the club or ask hotel Concierge. Although a drink from the Nile will reputedly bring you back to Cairo, bathing in the Nile isn't advisable.

Islamic Monuments, Religion has always played an important role in Egyptian life. The Egyptian's concern for his after life has been a constant preoccupation through the Pagan, Christian and Muslim periods. Each religion has left its imprint on the country, in the form of customs, celebrations, monuments, and artifacts.

Since the 7th Century conquest of Egypt by Muslin forces {under the leadership of Amr Ibn-Aas Islam has been the dominant religion of Egypt. Amr built Fustat, the ancestor of modern Cairo, as well as the first mosques. Since then, successive dynasties, such as Ottoman, Fatimid, Mameluke, Tulunid, Ayyubid have added to the wealth of Islamic monuments in Cairo. Artifacts, interior decoration, and trends in architectural development are displayed in the Islamic Museum of Cairo.

The mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aas, built in 642 (21 H) and said to be build on the site of Amr Ibn el-As's tent at Fustat, is the oldest existing mosque, not just in Cairo, but the entire African Continent. Located north of the Roman Fortress of Babylon, It is actually on the edge of Fustat, the temporary city founded by Amr, and was an Islamic learning center long before El-Azhar Mosque. It could hold up to 5,000 students. The mosque incorporates elements of Greek and Roman buildings, and has 150 white marble columns and three minarets. Simple in design, its present plan consists of an open sahn (court) surrounded by four riwaqs, the largest being the Qiblah riwaw. There are a number of wooden plaques bearing Byzantine carvings of leaves, and a partially enclosed column is believed to have been miraculously transported from Mecca on the orders of Mohammed himself.There are many other ancient legions related to the Mosque. It's current form is derived primarily from a renovation in 1798 by Murad Bey.

The Suleyman Pash Mosque is located behind the military museum in the Citadel. Sometimes called the Sariya el-Gabal Mosque after the Fatimid saint Sayyid Sariya who's tomb is located at the eastern end of the surrounding wall, wthis mosque was built by an Ottoman governor named Suleyman Pasha in 1528. It is at once Egypt's first cupolated Ottoman mosque and it's most beautiful exmple of this style. It is located in a small, walled garden which is entered by way of a courtyard with arcades topped by small cupolas. The single minaret is tall and slender and hence of traditional Ottoman style. Within the prayer hall, there is a large central cupola and three demi-cupolas, all richly decorated with floral and geometric motifs, and the fine marbled mihrab shows Mameluke influence. Here, the inscribed names of God, Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali serve to remind the Sunni sect of their religious heritage. Several other rooms are surmounted by cupolas and decorated with 19th century naive designs.

Build by Ahmed Ibn Tulun in 879 (265 H), the Ibn Tulun Mosque in the Sayyedah Zeinab district has an atmosphere of tranquillity unlike that of any other mosque in the city. Ahmed Ibn Tulun was sent to govern Cairo by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, which explains the Mesopotamian influence. It is the oldest original mosque and the largest in Egypt. It incorporates a number of unique features, such as the external spiral staircase of the unusual minaret (the only one of it's type in Egypt) which is similar to the famous Samarra Mosque in Mesopotamia. It's design is simple, consisting of an open sahn with an ablution fountain in the center, surrounded by four riwaqs, the largest being the Qiblah riwaq. (The Qiblah side is the side closest to Mecca.) There are five naves on the Qiblah side (the side facing Mecca), and two on the remaining sides The building style follows that of the Abbasid type, characterized by pilasters on which slightly pointed arches are applied, and which have a slight inward curve at the bottom. The rectangular building surrounding the sahn has a rampart walk. and the high walled additions (Ziyyadahs) are found on the south, west and north. Within the prayer niche, or mihrab, constructed of marble and gilted mosaic and bordered by four columns with leaf like crowns, is a wonderful pulpit, or minbar of 13th (Mameluke) century origin. Many of the 13th century restorations were carried out by Sultan Lajin, who at one point took refuge in the mosque and vowed to restore. The stone carvings on the interior walls are elegant and the designs of the rondels {128 latticed windows made of gypsum are distinct and unusual.Running around the interior of the four arcades is are original Koranic inscriptions carved in sycamore. It was used as a military hospital by Ibrahim Pasha during the 19th century and was later used as a salt warehouse and beggar's prison prior to it's restoration in 1918.

The Al-Azhar Mosque (the most blooming), established in 972 (361 H) in a porticoed style shortly after the founding of Cairo itself, was originally designed by the Fatimid general Jawhar El-Sequili (Gawhara Qunqubay, Gawhar al-Sakkaly) and built on the orders of Caliph Muezz Li-Din Allah. Located in the center of an area teaming with the most beautiful Islamic monuments from the 10th century, it was called "Al-Azhar after Fatama al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him). It imitated both the Amr Ibn El-As and Ibn Tulun mosques.The first Fatimid monument in Egypt, the Azhar was at once a meeting place for Shi'a students and though the centuries, it has remained a focal point of the famous university which has grown up around it . This is the oldest university in the world, where the first lecture was delivered in 975 AD. Today the university built around the Mosque is the most prestigious of Muslim schools, and it's students are highly esteemed for their traditional training. While ten thousand students once studied here, today the university classes are conducted in adjacent buildings and the Mosque is reserved for prayer. In addition to the religious studies, modern schools of medicine, science and foreign languages have also been added.

Architecturally, this mosque is a palimpsest of all styles and influences that have passed through Egypt, with a large part of it having been renovated by Abdarrahman Khesheda. There are five very fine minarets with small balconies and intricately carved columns. It has six entrances, with the main entrance being the 18th Century Bab el-Muzayini (barber's gate), where students were once shaved. This gate leads into a small courtyard and then into the Aqbaughawiya Medersa to the left, which was built in 1340 and serves as a library. On the right is the Taybarsiya Medersa built in 1310 which has a very fine mihrab. The Qaitbay Entrance was built in 1469 and has a minaret built atop. Inside is a large courtyard of 275 by 112 feet which is surrounded with porticos supported by over three hundred marble columns of ancient origin. To the east is the prayer hall which is larger than the courtyard and has several rows of columns. The Kufic inscription on the interior of the mihrab is original, though the mihrab has been modified several times, and behind is a hall added in 1753 by Abd el-Rahman Katkhuda. At the northern end is the tomb medersa of Jawhar El-Sequili.

The Sultan Hassan Mosque and madrasa (School) is considered stylistically the most compact and unified of all Cairo monuments. The building was constructed for Sultan Hassan bin Mohammad bin Qala'oun in 1256 AD as a mosque and religious school for all sects. It was designed so that each of the four main Sunni sects (orthodox Muslim, or Sunni rites, consisting of Shafite, Malikite, Hanefte and Hanbalite) has its own school while sharing the mosque. The cornices, the entrance, and the monumental staircase are particularly noteworthy

The madrasa was originally introduced to Egypt by Saladin to suppress non-orthodox Muslim sects. There is a difference in congregational as opposed to Madrasa style Mosques such as the Sultan Hassan. While some congregational Mosques have been used as schools, those designed for that purpose generally have smaller courtyards (Sahn) and the buildings are more vertical, allowing for classrooms space.

Many consider the Sultan Hassan Mosque to be the most outstanding Islamic monument in Egypt. It is of true Bahri Mameluke origin, built of stone, and while it is entirely different in design, shares a like boldness to the Ibn Tulun Mosque. There is no architectural indulgence here, but rather self confidence in it's clarity of execution and restraint. In allowing separate schools for the four Sunni rites, the Sultan Hassan is based on a classical cruciform plan, meaning that the Sahn opens from each of its sides into a separate liwan, which is an enormous vaulted hall, each serving one of the rites. While the design of liwans predates Mohammed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him), it was the Mameluke who arranged them in the Cruciform manner, and as in the Sultan Hassan Mosque, advanced this architecture with the addition of a domed Mausolea. However, this Mausolea is empty, for Sultan Hassan died several years prior to its completion.

Structurally from the outside, the Mosque is very impressive, holding its own with its impressive cornice and the protruding verticals of its facade, even though it stands in the shadows of the massive Citadel. As one enters the Mosque from Sharia el Qalaa, there is an impression of height, especially from the towering doors decorated in a Marmeluke fashion. Even during the Marmeluke error in Cairo, building space was at a premium. Thus the outer walls are somewhat askew, in order to fit the available lot, but these designers had a wonderful way of creating the impression of uniform cubistic effect inside regardless.

Designed by the Greek architect Yussuf Bushnaq, The Mohammad Ali (Alabaster) Mosque in the Citadel was begun in 1830 (finished in 1857) in the Ottoman style by Mohammad Ali Pasha, ruler of Egypt, and founder of the Country's last dynasty of Khedives and Kings. The mosque is the Tomb of Mohammad Ali and is also known as the alabaster Mosque because of the extensive use of this fine material from Beni Suef. It's two slender 270 foot minarets are unusual for Cairo. From the arcaded courtyard, visitors have a magnificent view across the city to the pyramids in Giza. Just off the courtyard is the vast prayer hall with an Ottoman style dome which is 170 feet above. The parapet to the southwest offers a good view of the Sultan Hassan and Ibn Tulun Mosques and of Cairo itself. Perhaps because of it's location, it is one of the most frequented Mosques by tourists.

The Ibn Qala'oun Mosque was built twice by Nassar Mohammad ibn Qala'oun. In 1334 AD he demolished the first mosque and rebuilt it to include a hospital, school, and garden. The design of the minaret is enormous. But it is the gold inlaid ceilings which are particularly impressive.

Designed by Mustapha Fahmi with a Bahri Mameluke style, the Refa'i Mosque faces the Sultan Hassan Mosque and is named after a Muslin holy man, Shekh Ali Abu El-Shoubak who is buried here. The mosque was completed in 1912 by Max Herz Pasha and was constructed at the order of Khoushiar, mother of the Khedive Ismail. The mosque also became the Royal Crypt of Egypt's last dynasty. It was built on the former site of the Sheikh ar-Rifa'i zawia and covers 75,350 square feet.

The Husseiniya, or Hussein Mosque, is named for Hussein bin Talib, martyred son of Islam's 4th Caliph. The mosque was established by Khalifa, a 12th century Fatimid ruler. In the 19th Century it was substantially renovated by the Khedives Abbas Ismail. Now days only the green doorway remains from the Fatimid era.

The Imam Shafi'i Mosque is dedicated to the founder of one of Islam's four major schools of religious law. The Mosque was built for Saladin {Salah ad-din Al-Ayyubi who was also added a school to the mosque precincts. Another Ayyubid ruler, El-Kamel, added a dome and in the 15th Century, the Sultan Qait Bey rebuilt the pulpit. Finally, in the 19th Century Ali Bey El-kabir repaired the minaret and glided the inscriptions.

The Sayed Nafissa Mosque, near the Imam Shafi'i commemorates one if the female descendants of Ali bin Talib who is buried in the mosque.

The Aisha Nabawiya Mosque was built by Prince Abi Al-Rahman Ketkheda in honor of a daughter of Ja'afar El-Sadeq, the 18th Century ruler.

The Museum of Islamic Arts, dating from 1903, owns an extensive collection of craft-work, artifacts, manuscripts, and textiles covering the entire Islamic period in Egypt. Today the museum contains about 80,000 items and is one of the finest Islamic collections in the world. The collection was started in 1880 by Tawfiq, who was Muhammad Ali's grandson. He also had some help from two historians, Herz and Creswell. Soon the collection had over 7,000 items and continued to grow through donations, excavations and purchases. Originally the pieces were kept in al-Hakim's mosque until 1902. The museum is located at Bab El-Khalq Square. In the museum, they have gathered the masterpieces into two easily accessible areas, Halls 2 and 13. In Hall 2, you can find Umayyad objects which date from the 7th and 8th century. In Hall 13 there are representations of various types of pottery and the casket of al-Nasir Muhammad. In the other rooms there are objects of woodworking, metalworking, armory, ceramics, glass, books and textiles.

Here, Muhammad Ali waited while his forces trapped, and put an end to the Mamluk beys by massacring most of their leaders as they were leaving the Citadel. The Kasr (Qasr) El-Gawhara or Jewel Palace, originally Mohammad Ali Pasha's headquarters, is now open to the public as an example of the best early 19th Century Ottoman decoration and architecture. It collection includes 19th century royal portraits, costumes and furnishings. Constructed in 1814, it includes a small garden leading to a mosque with one of the more interesting eccentricities being the Watch Hall where the shape of a watch has been used to decorate the walls.

The Manial Palace is said to have been built for Prince Mohammad Ali between 1899 and 1929. The palace was given to the Egyptian nation in 1955. Prince Muhammad Ali is the first cousin of King Faruq and the younger brother of Khedive Abbas II Hilmi. The complex consists of six structures. Among these structures is a museum in which Faruq's hunting trophies are found, the prince's residence and furnishings and a museum in which some of the family's memorabilia are found. There are also gardens that have beautiful plants and flowers that are worth seeing. The palace also includes collection of manuscripts, carpets, textiles, brass work and crystal. Items that can be seen here are a table made of elephant's ears and a 1000-piece silver service. On part of the original grounds a hotel has been built called the Meridien Hotel.

The House of the Cretan Woman, Bayt al-Kritliyya is an example of upper class medieval Cairene tastes. The house is located in the southeast corner of the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Sayeda Zainab and is now part of the Gayer Anderson House complex. The Gayer-Anderson House is actually made up of two 17th century houses stuck together. This complex is named after a British major who lived in it and stored it earlier in the 20th century. He filled the house with French, English and oriental furniture and other fixtures. The house has a large reception room with a balcony that overlooks it. The balcony is enclosed with a screen through which women of the harem could watch discreetly the male visitors below. The legends about this house are almost as intriguing as the house itself. Inhabitants of the house were said to have had the blessings of the patron saint al-Hussein who was the grandson of Muhammad. Another legend says that the well of the house gets magical and curative waters from the Great Flood. This well is said to have been the entrance to the palace of the King of the Jinn. Vast treasures are said to have been guarded by magic. Jinn is believed to be evil spirits.

The Sehaimy House in El-Asfar is well-known 18th Century house.

Christian Monuments.....Christianity spread and flourished during the early days of the primitive Christian church. Saint Mark the evangelist, from whom the modern Coptic Patriarchs trace their descent, established the first church in Alexandria in the latter half of the first century AD. Since then, the teachings of Christianity spread in Egypt, leaving everlasting imprints in the form of churches and monasteries that are filled with paintings of the saints, testifying to the grandeur, beauty and mastery of Egyptian Coptic art.

The Coptic period is of special significance, since it constituted a link between the Graeco-Roman and Islamic periods, and still today, Egypt is an important Christian center.

The early Christian city at Cairo was south of the present city, in the area now known as Misr El-Adima. Most of the ancient Christian monuments are located in and around, what was once the Byzantine fort of Babylon. A museum in this area displays textiles, pottery, and other artifacts of the Coptic pre-Islamic era.

The hanging Church (El Muallaqa, Sitt Mariam, St Mary) derives its name from its location on top of the southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress with it's nave suspended above the passage. The church was first built, in basilican style, near the end of the 4th Century. However, at that time it is unlikely that the church would have been constructed in this location.In fact, we know that it was destroyed in the ninth century and later rebuilt, after which in 1039, it is known that the Coptic patriarchate was moved from Alexandria and seated in this church. The church consists of a courtyard surrounded by two wings with pointed arches, and a long aisle lined with marble columns. In the eastern wing, there are three altars (haykals) with beautiful ebony and ivory inlaid wooden screens. The center alter is dedicated to the Christ, while the left sanctuary is dedicated to St. George and the right to St. John the Baptist. On the right wall of the church as you enter are many ancient icons, including a 10th century icon of the Virgin and Child, Egyptian faces and Byzantine crowns.

The Church of Abu Serga (St. Sergius) is another 4th Century church, dedicated to two early martyrs and supposedly built on the spot where the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ, rested at the end of their journey into Egypt. They may have lived here while Joseph worked at the fortress. However, the church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus, who were soldier-saints who were martyred during the 4th century in Syria by Maximilan. The original building was probably done during the 5th century. It was burned during the fire of Fustat during the reign of Marwan II around 750. It was then restored during the 8th century. This church has been rebuilt and restored constantly since medieval times, however it is still considered to be a model of the early Coptic churches. Again, the most precious and ancient of the icons are on the southern wall. A vast central hall is divided into three naves by two rows of pilasters. In much the same style as the Hanging Church, Abu Serga has 12 unique columns decorated with paintings of the Apostles. This church resembles religious structures in Constantinople and Rome. The main attraction, situated directly under the choir, is the crypt. This crypt contains the remains of the original church where tradition says the Holy Family lived. Originally this crypt was the sanctuary. It became the crypt after the larger church was built. The crypt is closed due to flooding by water seeping in. Being tied to the Holy Family, the Church of Abu Serga continues to be a draw for Christian visitors.

Saint Barbara's Church (Sitt Barbara) was originally constructed between the 4th and 5th centuries. Legend says that Barbara was the daughter of a pagan merchant. She was converted to Christianity during the 3rd century and spread the gospel with her friend Juliana. She tried to convert her father to Christianity and for this he tried to have her killed. He failed at his own attempts and so turned her over to Nicodemia who was the Roman governor. He had the two friends tortured and then murdered. For this, the church which was dedicated to St. Cyrus and St. John, is now known as the Church of Saint Barbara. The chapel still contains her remains. This church was built at the beginning of the Islamic era on the eastern side of the fort. The church burned during the Fustat fire of 750 but was restored during the 11th century. For a long period it was not maintained until, during the Fatimad period, the church was rebuilt and decorated with attractive inscriptions. The church is designed on the basilican form, but the decorations that once lined the interior, have been lost. However, there remains some remarkable wood paneling, some of which is in the Coptic Museum. There are ancient chapels in the north wing that are dedicated to Cyrus and John. There is a convent which comprises several buildings, including a school built by the well known architect, Ramesses Wissa Wassef. During the 15th century, this church was described as the most beautiful as well as the largest church of the time.

The Church of the Virgin (Haret Zuweila) is the oldest of the Babylon fort churches. Designed in typical Byzantine style, with unique use of "mashrabia" {lattice woodwork, the church dates from 350. The church was destroyed in 1321 but rebuilt and became the Patriarchate's seat until 1860. The church contains precious icons. There is another church that is called The Church of the Virgin (Haret el-Rum). This church was built during the sixth century. It has been alterated countless times.

The current Church of Saint George (Keniset Mari Girgis) was originally built in 684 by Athanasius, who was a wealthy scribe. It was rebuilt in 1857. It is best known for the Qaa el-Arsan (wedding chamber), a masterpiece of design and decoration. This chamber dates from the 4th century and was reserved for Coptic marriage ceremonies.

The Greek Church of St. George is one of the few round churches still in existance in the East, formed from it's placement atop a rounded Roman tower. There is a long set of steps that lead up to the church. The steps are built on the outer wall and the Roman towers. As you ascend these steps, you will find a relief of St. Geoge and the dragon wrapped around the outer brickwork of the tower. The church had been burned many times. It burned in 1904 and was rebuilt in 1909, but still has some of its beautiful stained-glass windows. For centuries, the church alternated between ownership by the Copts and the Greek, but since the 15th century it has remained Greek Orthodox, and the adjoining monastery of St. George is now the seat of the Greek patriarch.

Only the chapel of St. George's Convent allows visitors. The chapel is the oldest part and was built during the 10th century. There are several original wooden fixtures but the wooden ceiling has been replaced. It does have three doors which are original including one that is 23 feet high with beautiful carvings.

The Abu Siffin Monastery, located at the edge of the Nile {on what is popularly known as the People's Shore includes three churches; the 5th Century Anba Shenouda; the Abu Siffin, and the Virgin of Demsher, a Fatimid era convent.

The Virgin's Tree in the Heliopolis area on the outskirts of Cairo, according to legend, is said to be nearly 2,000 years old. The tree is an old sycamore which was actually planted during the 17th century to replace one that was older. The legend says that the tree gave shelter to Mary while the Holy Family was in Heliopolis.

Saint Mark's Cathedral in downtown Cairo, holds the relics of the Saint and is the Coptic equivalent of Saint Peter's in Rome.

Pharaonic Monuments at Giza and Sakkara. Some of the finest works of ancient Egyptian civilization are in the vicinity of Cairo. Through wall paintings, engravings, and feats of engineering, these monuments open a window on a civilization whose technical proficiency and materialistic success we can easily appreciate -- despite its remoteness in time.

The Giza Monuments...The Pyramid of Cheops, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient and modern world and certainly the best known of the three pyramids at Giza. Cheops, son of Senetro {4th Dynasty, initiated the building of the tomb which covers 12 acres at the base and took 30 years to complete. Its original height was 146 meters, but the ravages of man and the weather have shortened it. The smallest of the 2.5 million stones are in the pyramid's entrance on the north face, 16 meters above ground, but this entrance is not used. The other opening leading to an ascending corridor, takes one to the Queen's hall then on to the King's hall, which is of gilded granite free of any pictorial art. The sarcophagus remains in place. Above the oval chambers are five small rooms while three small pyramids outside mark the graves of Cheops' wives.<

The Pyramid of Khefren, son of Cheops, is shorter {136 meters high and lies to the southwest of the great pyramid. This pyramid took only 25 years to finish. In design

Just across from the Mohammed Ali Mosque, the An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque is the best preserved Mameluke building and was once the principle Mosque within the Citadel. Constructed in 1335 by Sultan an-Nasir Mohammed as a congregational mosque, it has two unique minarets topped in a pincushion design with glazed faience decoration and is all that remains of the Sultan's massive building program within the Citadel. There are two entrances to the mosque. One entrance was used by the soldiers, and is in the form of a trilobate arch, while the other, used exclusively by the Sultan, has an inscribed arch decorated with stalactites. Within the mosque, there was once marble panels, but these were removed by Sultan Selim I and sent to Istanbul in 1517. Within the arcaded courtyard, many of the columns were derived from pharaonic, Roman and Byzantine buildings, but seem to fit together suprisingly well as a whole. The restored qiblah has a large dome, and the wooden ceiling and stalactites make this mosque well worth a visit.

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Last Updated: June 9th, 2011