We met with Sayla (our guide for the day) around
9:30 a.m. on March 23 and rode out towards Giza, through Cairo
and into the countryside
. It was beautiful
over 20 varieties of date palms, small villages, and aqueducts.
Our first stop was Memphis, or at least what has survived of
it from 2700 BC (the pre-dynastic period). There was the Apries
stele (a large inscribed stone with early not quite hieroglyphs),
a statue of Ramses
cut from solid stone and about 40 feet tall (or long, when you
consider that its lying flat on its back). The rather
barren looking site has an attractive sarcophagus of stone with
wonderful carvings of Horus
, and the famous "alabaster"
sphinx with Queen Hatsheputs face.
Alabaster, it is not, it looks more like sandstone but must
have had a very white pearly appearance when it was first named.
It did have some really great hieroglyphs and carvings on the
base and was in very good condition.
From there, we rode onward to the oldest site, Sakkara, to
see Zosers pyramid. We wandered
through the 12 "mene" (room) tomb of Zosers
chief architect. The walls have elaborate raised relief drawings
that illustrate daily and family life, the taxation process,
dwarf goldsmiths (because they couldnt run away too fast),
a workshop, a collection of "spirit" boats, travel
instructions for negotiating the underworld, servants, a wide
variety of animals (fish, fowl and cattle) and larger than life
size reliefs of the entire family. Most of the rooms were finished
the practice was to never quite finish because it might
suggest you wanted the occupant to die. The central hall had
a dozen large square columns and much of the original colors
were still visible. Zosers pyramid appears to be crumbling
badly, but his altar (with peepholes to view his statue) was
built from Giza limestone and is still in good condition. There
were large courtyards being reconstructed on the site, as was
the entrance that consists of two rows of 40 columns.
These are said to be the first columns known to use the fluting
design and were oddly attached to walls for support.
The next stop was the Ikhnatoun Carpet School. They employ 100 children from eight
years old and up (from Sakkara) who work two hours per day five days per week and get four
hours of schooling each day. This continues until they grow too large or turn thirteen and
is the only school that they will have. The boys usually continue in the trade, but the
girls return to family life. We bought carpets to support the cause.
The ride back took us through more of the rural countryside
and provided a nice view of the pastoral lifestyle outside of
Cairo and Giza. Our last destination for the day was the Citadel.
Built in 810 AD, it was attacked by the Crusaders, occupied
by Mameluke sultans and Ottoman celibates, and housed the countrys
mint. The stairs along the Citadel lead up to the Mohammed Ali
or Alabaster Mosque (built by the Greek architect Yussuf Bushnaq)
in 1830-57. It is truly impressive
in size, with two slender 270-foot minarets, an arcaded courtyard,
massive prayer hall with 170-foot high dome, four demi-cupolas
and four small cupolas (one on each corner). The inside is dazzling
almost the Rococo style of our old movie theaters, lots
of mosaics in floral and geometric motifs. When asked how she
felt about segregation of the sexes during prayer, Sayla explained
that they used to pray together but the women preferred to be
separate. It seems that during prayer, everyone must bend over
with heads to the floor and the view (as well as the odor) was
not appealing to the women.
We adventured out into Cairo for dinner. Felfela was recommended by both of
our guides and was started as a vegetarian restaurant 34 years
ago. We enjoyed a "typical" Egyptian dinner sitting
next to a garishly painted stucco waterfall with a bird on a
nest, conch shells, stalagmites and unnatural greenery. It was
totally silly! Our dinner included fuul (a red bean dish laced
with garlic, lemon and tehine), fatta (falafel with lots of
minced garlic), takka (small grain white rice tossed with garlic
toasted and seasoned bread crumbs), yogurt, lamb "trotters"
(shanks slow cooked with garlic and herbs) and a mixed grill
of kofta (kefta), and lamb pieces. This was all accompanied
with the domestic beer, Stella. We finished with a lime infused
Turkish coffee. It was an excellent sampler of what the locals
preferred cuisine can be.