CHARLES DIGITAL here, with a weeklong tour of the top sites in EGYPT
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Date: September 8th, 2018 5:50 PM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Howdy, everybody. We have a great weeklong trip planned out for you in Egypt’s top two tourist cities, Cairo and Luxor. This is a CHARLES DIGITAL trip, not a BOBBY DIGITAL one, so the same rules apply: The trip is not quite as all-encompassing, and the photos are shittier. Deal with it.
Another quirk is that our first day of the trip isn’t actually in Egypt. Instead, you have a daylong layover in Munich, Germany! As you go to get some currywurst in Munich’s absurdly nice airport, a creepy statue looms over you:
Munich is a historic city, with an excellent history museum, several palaces, a famous town hall, and many famous churches.
We aren’t going to any of those things just yet. Bitch, we’re going to look at cars.
Munich isn’t all lederhosen and schnitzel. It’s also the home of BMW, Germany’s legendary luxury car company. Besides the company’s HQ and massive factory, Munich also has a company museum and BMW Welt, a show floor for the company’s hottest models.
Let’s stop into BMW Welt first. You can just walk in! Tons of Asians are posing with cars they can only dream of buying. They aren’t all powerful, rich corporate attorneys like you are.
Another girl poses near a classic motorcycle:
There’s a special exhibit showing off the company vehicles that were featured in the latest Mission: Impossible movie:
These two cars are one-of-a-kind, sporting an absurd paint job that incorporates gold dust:
BMW knows it has to appeal to shitlibs these days, so BMW Welt has a bunch of exhibits about how the company is leading the way on recycling and electric cars:
A children’s exhibit answers the question: Is there a car heaven? In the words of Mario Maserati, you betta belee dat!
Can’t afford a BMW car? Don’t worry, there’s a gift shop where you can buy far cheaper BMW clothing and souvenirs to show off your fandom.
Let’s head over to the museum next door. An exhibit awkwardly brags about how BMW elite vehicles represented the Third Reich in the top motor races of the 30s:
Another exhibit awkwardly touts their failed venture in F-1 racing.
During WW2 BMW made airplane engines for the Luftwaffe. Several are on display, including one of the first turbojet engines.
This wooden car symbolizes BMW’s robust design philosophy, or something:
The BMW 507 was a gigantic commercial flop and nearly broke the company, but Elvis was a fan, so it still gets a top display location:
This is Europe, so of course there’s a random clown doing balloons.
Another exhibit shows cars painted in the bizarre “Memphis style” of the 1970s. Hey, you’re going to Memphis in just a couple days!
All right, that’s enough of expensive cars. Let’s head over to Olympiapark, one of Munich’s most popular locations and the site of the 1972 Olympic Games.
An election is coming up in Bavaria, and libs are super mad as fukkk about AfD’s popularity:
Another poster for the Pirate Party promises faster Internet for all:
After a short walk, you reach the Olympiaturm, Munich’s tallest building.
The height designations on the elevator are…very precise.
At the top of its elevator, there is a tiny rock and roll exhibit for some reason:
You have a great view of the old Olympic village. There are clay tennis courts AND the left-most high-rise is where the Israeli Olympians were abducted in 1972. DBG MAF!
You also have an awesome view of BMW Welt, plus the company HQ and their gargantuan manufacturing plant.
Now that we’ve seen the Olympic Park, let’s hop on a train and go into the heart of Munich. Our first stop is the Odeonsplatz:
A gun battle in this plaza marked the finale of the failed Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler’s first effort to take power. Even today, neo-fascist groups hold rallies here. Overlooking the plaza is the Feldherrnhalle, or Field Marshal’s Hall. One statue honors Count Tilly, an imperial commander in the Thirty Years War who famously sacked Magdeburg:
There’s also a statute honoring heroes of the Franco-Prussian War:
Next door is the Theatine Church, one of Munich’s most famous and a classic of Baroque style.
A king and queen of Bavaria are buried here:
The palace next door has a garden. Some guy is making money by playing a kooky Renaissance-looking instrument.
As you keep walking, you come across Bavaria’s war memorial to the dead of both World Wars. It’s built below ground-level, like an open tomb.
You keep walking into Munich’s English Garden, the largest municipal park in Germany.
The “Chinese” pagoda at the center of the park would surely make libs furious about cultural appropriation if built today:
There’s an awesome open-air food market selling traditional German food by the pagoda. Let’s have some! You’re about to go to Egypt, where the food is infamously bad, after all.
You head back into town and pass a white guy meditating while an Asian guy practices kung fu. They’re both members of Falun Gong, protesting the Chinese government.
Finally, you head to the city’s historic heart, Marienplatz, outside the town hall. There’s a statue honoring the plaza’s namesake, St. Mary, along with plaques for the plaza’s two papal visitors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI:
You’re just in time for the glockenspiel show! It’s super famous, but frankly not terribly interesting, though you do get to see the Bavarian knight unseat the Lothringen knight, just like he always does.
All right, that was good for a quick one-day jaunt through Munich. You head into the Marienplatz train station, figure out its confusing map (https://chroniclesofemilia.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/de-1275512.jpg), and make your way to the airport. Two hours later, you’re off to Cairo!
Date: September 9th, 2018 2:31 PM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
All right, one four-hour Lufthansa flight later, you’re in Cairo! Your first job is getting into the country. Unlike with the EU, you need a visa to get into Egypt, but no worries: It’s simply a way for them to extract some extra foreign currency from visitors. They don’t even ask any questions.
After getting your visa, no fewer than four different security personnel check your passport, but none of them ask any questions. They just make sure you have your visa stamp and then wave you on. Yeah, get used to that sort of thing.
One you enter the baggage claim area, you’re immediately accosted by a horde of aggressive Egyptian cab touts. Look out! They’re trying to get you to massively overpay for a trip downtown. One tout opens by proposing 500 LE for a trip. What a joke! Don’t even think about paying more than 150 LE for a trip at current exchange rates.
After waiting way too long to hash out negotiations for a cab, you finally get downtown and check in to your hotel, the Osiris Hotel in downtown Cairo. It’s not a luxurious experience, but it’s a good location and has free WiFi.
After a few hours of sleep, you get your first experience with Egyptian cuisine at breakfast. Here’s an omelet:
This isn’t a day for waiting, though. The Egyptian Museum opens at 9 am and we’re getting there the moment it opens.
On the way over, you pass a bunch of catdoods who have colonized a motorcycle:
You also pass your first Christian church in Cairo. It’s an ARMENIAN CATHOLIC Church, meaning it follows the Armenian Rite but is in full communion with Rome.
Uh oh! To get to the Museum, you’re gonna have to cross a street.
Egyptian streets are like the Wild West. No lanes, no right of way, no mercy. Crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger. If you’re worried about dying, a tip: Just wait for an Egyptian to start crossing and stay a little downstream of them.
After a few close encounters with Cairene motor vehicles, you finally make it:
This is the Egyptian Museum, the crown jewel of Egyptian antiquities from the Neolithic Period all the way down to the Ptolomies.
The facade of the Museum lists the great kings who reigned at each of its five capitals: Thini, Memphis, Thebes, Sai, and Alexandria. Thini is Egypt’s most ancient capital, and if you zoom on its box, you’ll see that among its 9 great kings are the gods Osiris, Typhon (Set), and Horus, as well as Menes, the semi-legendary unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt. In Sai’s box, you’ll see the Persian kings Darius and Artaxerxes, and in the Alexandria box, you’ll see Alexander, Cleopatra, and a set of legendary Roman emperors from Augustus down to Justinian.
You head inside. One of the first attractions is the famous Narmer Palette, among the oldest historic documents in history, dating all the way back to 3100 BC. It shows Narmer overpowering his enemies, using artistic forms that would remain standard for thousands of years. On one side he wears the crown of Upper Egypt, and on the other the crown of Lower Egypt, so many scholars believe this palette symbolizes the first unification of Egypt:
You also see a colossal statue of Ramses II (get used to that phrase), though this one was hijacked by his son Merenptah, who chiseled his own name on the statue to take credit for it.
On a less colossal scale, there’s the small granite statue of Hetepdief, a priest of the 2nd dynasty:
The entryway is filling up really quickly as people pour into the museum, so instead of sticking around here, you head straight to the back for one of the Museum’s best exhibits, the Amarna Room.
Egyptian art was unbelievably consistent from 3100 BC all the way up past the New Kingdom. But there was a big exception: In the 1300s Pharaoh Amenhotep IV launched a religious revolution, suppressing the cult of Amun-Ra and the other Egyptian deities and instead promoting a form a monotheism focused on the god of the solar disc, Aten. He accordingly changed his name to Akhenaten, founded a new capital at Amarna, and for about 15 years, Egyptian art went fucking bonkers. The weirdness starts with Akhenaten himself, who commissioned statues showing himself with cartoonish, hermaphroditic features.
Another feature of Amarna-period art is the use of elongated heads, which certainly must egg on the “Pyramids were built by grey aliens” crowd.
Yet another unusual feature was how the pharaoh was portrayed. Traditionally, the pharaoh is always shown in his public role, serving the Gods, unifying Egypt, smiting enemies, and so forth. But Akhenaten uniquely had himself portrayed in domestic scenes, spending time alone with his wife and dotters:
After finishing up with the Amarna room, it’s time to head upstairs before the crowds grow too large to see the Museum’s most famous exhibit: The gold of King Tutankhamun.
King Tut was Akhenaten’s son, and originally went by Tutankhaten, but he changed his name when he ended the Amarna revolution and restored the old cult of Amun-Ra. A minor pharaoh who died before turning 20, Tut is infamous today because his tomb was found completely intact, with all its gold and other burial goods still inside. Today, these goods are on display in the museum. Pictures are totally banned, but the one guard is overwhelmed by the crowd, so you manage to sneak a shot of Tut’s golden death mask:
You sneak some other photos of his jewelry and his outer sarcophagus:
You then go to check out Tut’s chariots, but…you can’t! Egypt is building a new, bigger museum out by the Pyramids, and the chariot has been moved there in advance of its expected opening within the next few years.
This footstool allows the pharaoh to ALWAYS rest his feet upon his conquered enemies:
This box holds jars that held the internal organs removed during mummification:
Speaking of mummies, you decide to head over to the museum’s other major exhibit, its numerous mummies recovered from Egyptian tombs.
First, there’s a room for an underappreciated phenomenon: Animal mummies. They have a giant mummified crocodile:
There’s also baboons and dogs, among other things:
Sometimes, the Egyptians cut off and mummified individual parts of animals, with the idea that the part could then be eaten repeatedly by the dead in the afterlife:
There’s even fake mummies. Mummification was a big business, and sometimes the poor were scammed with fakes that were simply filled with sand!
What isn’t fake, though, are the royal mummies recovered from the Valley of the Kings. In a separate room with careful climate control, some of the greatest New Kingdom kings rest in a state of remarkable preservation. Ramses II reigned for more than 60 years, and you’ll see a fuckton of his statues on this trip, but now you can see the man himself (once again, photos are BANNED and you sneak a few when you can get away with it):
Merneptah, son of Ramses II, is a popular contender for the Exodus pharaoh:
Thutmose III was the greatest conqueror in Egyptian history, campaigning as far as Mesopotamia and extending the Pharaoh’s rule into Palestine and Nubia.
Hatshepsut’s mummy notes that she was fat and had bad teeth:
Some of the mummies still have remarkably well-preserved hair:
A sign notes that this baby mummy had its head ripped off in 2011 during the revolution, when looters and rioters broke into the Egyptian Museum:
Nearby is a fragment of the Palermo Stone (the biggest fragment is in Palermo, hence the name). Of uncertain origin, the stone lists the pharaohs of the first five dynasties, their important deeds, and the height of the Nile in each year. It’s one of the earliest written historic records we have in Egypt.
A set of three statues commemorates ancient Egyptian naked bodybuilding:
Believe it or not, we’re still only halfway through the museum! You decide to pause, take a break, and post on Zozo for a bit.
Date: September 11th, 2018 12:16 PM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Let’s keep exploring the Egyptian Museum! Even after finishing with Tut’s treasure room and the Mummies, there’s plenty of other stuff to still see. Like this golden Horus head:
These tiny golden flies were handed out to Egyptian soldiers to honor their bravery, like an ancient Medal of Honor.
This golden statue used to be really incredible, but then looters destroyed it in 2011. Sad!
It’s an ancient Egyptian board game! We wouldn’t want the dead getting bored in the afterlife.
One room is dedicated to the many, many copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that have been recovered from tombs. These texts explained to the spirits of the dead how to navigate the challenges of the afterlife so they can reach Osiris and, if they are sufficiently righteous, be admitted to paradise. This scene shows the weighing of the heart, where if a person’s heart is heavy with sin, it is fed to Ammit, the part-crocodile, part-lion, part-hippo demon of retribution. If your heart is fed to Ammit, you die forever.
Another papyrus shows a really unusual scene: Giant mice being served by cats! This “satirical papyrus” is often believed to be a commentary on the Hyksos invasions, when a chariot-using culture from Asia temporarily conquered Egypt.
This kooky wooden statue is the symbol of the ka, the spirit double Egyptians believed each person possessed. Egyptian afterlife beliefs were premised on the notion that each person’s ka lived on after death.
Once Greek culture penetrated Egypt during the Ptolomaic period, it greatly altered Egyptian funerary art. For one, paintings could get far more realistic. This painting shows two brothers who may have died together in battle:
Another late innovation was “mummy masks,” realistic paintings of the deceased’s face that were painted on wooden boards and then placed on top of their mummies.
Some masks were fully sculpted instead of being painted:
All right, now it’s time to head back to the first floor, now that the museum is more evenly populated. The first floor is a little more coherently organized, with some big items in the central atrium, plus a chronological path through Egyptian history going clockwise around the outside.
The central atrium has the world’s largest collection of pyramidions, the decorated capstones that were placed atop finished pyramids. This black granite pyramidion is from the collapsed Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III at Dahshur.
You also see the famous Israel Stele. While Egypt figures prominently in the Bible at many points, the Israelites are totally absent from Egyptian sources. The one exception is this stele, in which the pharaoh Merneptah boasts that “Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more.” This is also the oldest extant reference anywhere to Israel, and the stele’s existence makes Merneptah a popular contender for the Exodus pharaoh, among those who believe the Exodus happened.
A colossal statue shows Akhenaten’s father Amenophis III chilling with his wife and three dotters.
Oh, hey, a bunch of Egyptian boy scouts are here! And yes, they’re still boy scounts. No all-gender “Scouting BSA” nonsense here.
Now, you finally decide to travel chronologically around the first floor. One of the first sites, then, is this limestone statue of King Zoser, who built the first great stone pyramid, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This statue was originally recovered at Saqqara in his serdab, a room with a small hole that allowed the pharaoh’s ka to escape (or see offerings that we left for him).
Up next is a very well-preserved statue of Khafra, the builder of the second-largest pyramid at Giza. A sign nearby notes that it was found at the bottom of a well near the Giza necropolis. This statue is featured on the Egyptian 20-pound note:
Old Kingdom Egypt really really loved dwarves, so tons of them held important court positions and could pay to have statues like this made of themselves:
You pass by the statue of Kaaper. It portrays a minor official and is only made of wood, but is famous because thousands of years later it still looks incredibly lifelike, particularly due to the use of copper and rock crystal to craft fake eyes.
The most famous “seated scribe” statue is in the Louvre (and on the Egyptian 200-pound note), but it wasn’t the only one of its type. This one is beat up, but still shows his own set of lifelike eyes:
Slightly less lifelike but still remarkably well-preserved are the seated statues of Rahotep and Nefert, which highlight the Egyptian artistic convention of making women substantially more light-skinned than men.
This guy apparently got a hot Egyptian wife and had several kids even though it’s clear that when standing he’s like 2/3 his wife’s height. Shortmos, rejoice!
Most Egyptian art follows traditional forms and isn’t super-realistic, but there are exceptions. These very lifelike paintings of geese date all the way back to 2500 BC.
Khufu built Egypt’s single most-famous monument, the Great Pyramid, so it’s a fitting irony that only one statue of him survives, and it’s this tiny ivory statuette that stands less than 8 cm tall. Initially only the body was found, and excavators spent a staggering 3 weeks searching before they found the head.
In this Middle Kingdom relief, the pharaoh appears to be making out with Ptah. Hot.
King Hor’s ka-statue represents his ka rather literally, sprouting out of his head:
The original Sphinx is pretty beat up, but this smaller statue shows what it’s supposed to look like when intact.
In the New Kingdom area, you see the “Punt Reliefs,” chronicling Egyptian trade voyages to the land of Punt. The Queen of Punt is portrayed…very oddly, suggesting she may have had an unusual disease.
This statue of Queen Hatshepsut is a good example of how she had herself portrayed as a man in pharaonic art:
This relief shows Ramses II subjugating a racially diverse assortment of Egypt’s enemies. Traditionally, Egyptians conceived of four different races: Egyptians, Nubians, Libyans, and Asians. All of the latter three are getting clowned on here:
This black statue shows Ramses II hanging out with the “Osirian Triad” of Osiris, Horus, and Isis. Notice their arms wrapping around each other’s shoulders, like they’re having a fun chill weekend during UG.
This very unusual statue shows Ramses II yet again, but instead of being a powerful pharaoh, he’s a young boy being protected by Horus. Cute!
This is Meritamen, Ramses II’s hot dotter…and later his wife. Yikes! A tour guide later argues that this was a ceremonial position not requiring actual incest, but…that doesn’t seem to be universally agreed upon:
This baboon statue represents Thoth (who isn’t always an ibis), and in accordance with traditional artistic practice, is rocking a huge boner:
Eventually, the Greeks conquered Egypt, and sometimes the influence they had on art was strange. These statues mostly follow traditional Egyptian norms, but then stick a Greek-style head on top:
Fittingly, your tour of the Egyptian Museum ends with another bizarre encounter with an ancient Egyptian poaster:
Wow, that was a long tour! But the day isn’t even close to over. Up next is the Cairo Citadel, fortress of Saladin!
Date: September 12th, 2018 12:41 PM
What do you think of these hieroglyphs?
Date: September 13th, 2018 12:47 PM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
After that long trek through the Egyptian Museum, it’s time for a break, right? Wrong. We’re not even stopping for lunch, bitch. Shit in Cairo closes too early in the afternoon to waste any time on mere food. You hail a taxi and request your next destination: The Cairo Citadel.
The taxi driver gives you a blank look.
You try again: “Al-Qalah?” Nope.
Finally you pull out Google Maps on your phone and simply point to the location.
“Ahhhh, Salah al-Din!” he exclaims. That’s right, your next destination is the great fortress first built by Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty, and star of Age of Empires 2’s easiest non-tutorial campaign. Very few reminders of his reign remain on the citadel, but as you walk up after being dropped off, you can still see an impressive set of medieval walls and towers:
Just inside, some guy is advertising a service that lets you rent Islamic or Pharaonic clothing to wear for photos. For some reason, Saladin’s portrait from Civilization 4 is used in the ad:
After a short walk to the center of the Citadel, you arrive at its first attraction: The Mosque of Muhammad Ali.
It’s the first of many, many mosques you will be seeing over the next three days, but it’s a little different from the rest. Though today regarded as the founder of modern Egypt (despite being Albanian himself), Muhammad Ali was officially just the Ottoman Sultan’s viceroy. His mosque closely imitates Turkish architectural traditions, rather than native Egyptian ones, though some interpret this as a show of defiance, as the mosque closely imitates those built by the sultans themselves.
Despite its large size, the exterior is a little unimpressive, being built of perpetually dust-covered alabaster and capped with a dome of finest…tin.
The inside is a little more impressive, showing the Ottoman love for very low-hanging lights:
In the corner, Muhammad Ali’s tomb lies behind a barrier that makes it really hard to see. This is another feature you’re gonna see in several mosques. Some doods snap a selfie by it, the way you might take a selfie by Washington’s tomb at Mt. Vernon or something:
Outside the mosque, you get a view of Cairo that would probably be a little better if the city’s air pollution wasn’t so bad.
If you look carefully (zoom in on the center), you can see the silhouettes of the two larger Giza pyramids some ten miles off.
The Al-Gawhara Palace, used by Muhammad Ali, is under renovation. Muhammad Ali chilled in this palace while his men butchered Mamluks within the citadel during Ali’s seizure of total power.
Muhammad Ali’s mosque isn’t the only one in the citadel. The Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir is substantially older, dating back to the 1300s. Instead of aping the Ottomans, the corkscrew minarets with a bulbous top copy styles used in Persia, where the mosque’s craftsmen hailed from.
Some free Islamic literature is available in just about every language, for the purpose of bringing tourists into the ummah, inshallah.
The Citadel isn’t all mosques and palaces. It also houses Egypt’s military history museum, celebrating the many glorious victories of the modern Egyptian military. Like the Al-Gawhara Palace, the museum itself (created out of the former harem palace) is closed, but there’s plenty to see in the courtyard, like this statue of Ibrahim Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s son and easily Egypt’s greatest general since 1800.
The courtyard has a bunch of Egyptian tanks, aircraft, and SAM launchers, primarily purchased from the Soviet Union and used in the wars with Israel.
It also features some tanks captured from Israel in 1973, including this M60 Patton tank:
Most places wouldn’t proudly display amphibious transports alongside tanks and fighters, but Egypt is different: They get a top spot!
These vehicles were crucial to Egypt’s breakthrough across the Suez Canal in 1973. A metal mural nearby, reading right to left, shows the Egyptian interpretation of the Yom Kippur War, with Egypt uniting to defeat the Zionist menace and then force the signing of the Camp David Accords, which returned control of Sinai to Egypt in return for a peace treaty with Israel.
The real star of the entire museum, though, is this statue making the extremely debatable claim that Egyptian troops are “The Best Soldiers on Earth.”
Egyptians really don’t give a shit about proper spelling on their signs:
Another small museum on the Citadel is the National Police Museum, commemorating the efforts of Egyptian law enforcement over the millennia. The first exhibit is a series of panels on infamous crimes in recent Egyptian history. The English translations are comically bad, though you can make out that one man apparently became an infamous killer after being cucked by his wife:
The museum also has prison cells that were used by the Mamluks, Ottomans, and the British to hold prisoners during the country’s long and turbulent history.
Some have figures inside representing typical prisoners from different historical periods.
Others, though, are rather unceremoniously being used as storage rooms.
The museum also has a few exhibits from the history of Egyptian police work…like this model depicting the time dozens of Egyptian police were killed in a battle with the British.
Another exhibit openly celebrates the Egyptian “heroes” who assassinated the British governor-general in 1924:
Other famous assassinations in Egyptian history have exhibits as well, but for some mysterious reason the assassination of Anwar Sadat is totally unmentioned.
Yet another museum on the Citadel is dedicated to the carriages used by Egypt’s kings. You can’t take any photos as they are once again banned and for some reason this museum is crawling with police. Here’s one from online:
There’s also a THIRD major mosque in the Citadel, the Sulayman Pasha al-Khadem Mosque. It was built shortly after the Ottomans conquered Egypt, and was built in the Ottoman style for use by janissaries garrisoned on the Citadel. It’s closed, but you snap a photo from outside.
Whew! That took a few hours of walking through the brutally hot sun, but you’ve finally seen the entire Citadel! But we aren’t stopping yet. It’s getting late in the afternoon and things will start closing soon, so you pay a cab 20 LE (a little over a dollar) to drive you barely over 1 km to your next destination, the twin mosques of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa’i. They’re both huge, right next to each other, and you enter both via the alley between them, so it’s hard to get a good external photo of them. Here’s one from online.
They look similarly on the outside, but roughly 600 years separates the two mosques.
You first enter the Mosque-Madrassah of Sultan Hassan (on the left up above), which dates to the 1300s. The building is huge, but was reportedly constructed in just three years, at an expense so great Hassan allegedly only finished because if he didn’t, people would have ridiculed him as a poor. Despite being an Islamic building, the mosque was built in a cruciform shape, a style justified by its four wings, each housing a madrassah for one of the four major schools of Sunni jurisprudence.
Inside, a sign makes it clear how the current operators feel about women’s clothing.
Another colorfully advertises the children’s lessons on offer:
The iwans in the central courtyard are enormous, and dwarf the handful of men currently engaged in afternoon prayers.
Next door to Hassan’s mosque is the Al-Rifa’i mosque.
It’s a much more recent construction, only being finished in the 20th century. The building is impressive enough, but another attraction are the notable tombs here. Most of Egypt’s post-Muhammad Ali kings are here, but for Americans the most notable resident is the last Shah of Iran, who died in exile in Cairo, and has a (relatively) humble tomb in the corner of the mosque:
One of the mosque’s nicer tombs (it’s hard to say whose it is; your guide is shitty at describing this mosque) is screened off, but they seem to inspire devotion, as several people are praying fervently outside it.
Don’t give up yet! You have one last major mosque to visit today: The Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo’s largest and the oldest to still retain its original form, dating all the way back to the 800s. It’s closed by now, but you bribe the muezzin to let you in.
The mosque is separated from the city by a large barrier alley, allowing the sacred to be kept distinct from the profane.
Most mosques make you take off your shoes, but Ibn Tulun just makes you put bags on over them, which is…better, I guess?
The mosque’s spiral minaret evokes the more famous one in Samarra, Iraq. According to legend, the design was born when Ibn Tulun himself was caught absentmindedly wrapping a piece of paper around his finger; when questioned, rather than admit that he was zoning out, Tulun claimed that he was designing a minaret. Sadly, this legend is probably flame.
The muezzin wants way too much money to let you climb the minaret itself, but thankfully there’s a smaller mosque next door where the guardian is a little more reasonable. His minaret isn’t quite as high, but you get a nice view of Cairo and of Ibn Tulun itself:
Almost there! Just a bit south of the Ibn Tulun mosque is the well-preserved tomb of Shajar al-Durr, one of the few female monarchs in medieval Islamic history.
Shajar took power after the death of her husband, but was then forced to remarry and abdicate. Rather than yield power, Shajar married the Mamluk captain Aybak, inaugurating the period of Mamluk rule in Egypt. Though officially she had abdicated, Shajar continued to exercise real power behind the scenes, and eventually ordered her husband’s murder. Reportedly, she tried to halt the murder at the last minute, but the assassins refused, pointing out that if they stopped, Aybak would simply kill them all regardless. The assassination marked her downfall, though, as the Mamluks rebelled, and then handed Shajar over to Aybak’s other wife. Shajar’s female servants beat her to death with bath clogs and then threw her body to the jackals.
But hey, they built her a nice tomb later.
The final mosque you see today is the Mosque of Saiyida Nafisa, which holds the body of one of Muhammad’s great-granddaughters. It’s off-limits to non-Muslims, at least officially. Since this is only your first day in Egypt, you decide to not risk a fight with the religious authorities.
The mosque is right next to the Southern Cemetery, one of Cairo’s massive necropolis slums. People live and work amid the tombs of hundreds of thousands of dead Cairenes.
You venture a short ways into the necropolis, seeking out the little-known tombs of the Abbasid caliphs, who served as puppet rulers for the Mamluk sultans. Sadly, the door to their tombs is locked and the guy sitting nearby doesn’t have a key.
You made it, but you’re still about 2 miles from your hotel. Naturally, you decide to head back on foot to take in the city. There isn’t much to see, but you do see people raising animals in the streets, like these chickens. They’d fit in really well with millennial white people!
This restaurant probably did not contact Disney to secure the rights to using Ratatouille characters:
Finally, around 7:30, you make it back to your hotel and get to sleep (no, you don’t eat; for whatever reason Egyptian heat is great at wiping out your appetite). Today was a big day, but tomorrow is even bigger: We’re going to the Pyramids!
Date: September 14th, 2018 12:44 AM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
A couple things I forgot in Day 1:
-In the King Tut collection there's a necklace that shows Tutankhamun being suckled at the breast of a snake woman.
-In the bathroom at the airport, there was an attendant who handed people toilet paper to dry their hands with.
-Getting into the Egyptian Museum required going through three layers of security, but all three layers were identical (complete with metal detectors).
Date: September 15th, 2018 1:36 AM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
You sleep horribly on your second night in Egypt: It turns out your room’s AC is on its last legs, and it goes kaput around midnight, which is bad news in a country as hot as Egypt. Icky. But there’s no time to complain, because you have to get up at 8 pm for a guided tour: Today, you’re going to the pyramids.
Hitting all the pyramids involves quite a bit of traveling, so it’s worthwhile (and not expensive) to get a guide. For only about $35, you’ve booked an entire solo day tour, with your own dedicated taxi driver plus tour guide. Your guide is this woman:
Her name is Bossi, and after a few years in the scam that is academia she has switched to doing tours to pay the bills.
In addition to your guide, you also have your own taxi driver for the whole day. Sweet!
Giza and its necropolis lie to the west of Cairo, as the Egyptians believed that west was the direction of the land of the dead. Getting there, then, means crossing the Nile, which means you finally get your first proper look at the strip of water that makes the entire country of Egypt possible:
As you drive out to Giza, Bossi asks what music you like, and you mention Iron Maiden and how they have a song (Powerslave) that’s explicitly about Ancient Egypt. Much to your surprise, she brings it up on her phone and plays it through the car’s speakers, and at least claims to like it. Up the irons!
Getting closer to the necropolis, you pass the perpetually-under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum.
The GEM’s foundation was laid a staggering 16 years ago by Hosni Mubarak, and serious construction started in 2012, but it’s still not finished. If it ever opens, it’s supposed to hold the entire King Tutankhamun collection, plus other antiquities taken out of storage from other museums across Egypt.
Another few minutes of driving, and you finally arrive at the Giza Plateau, home of the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu stands 455 feet high, and 756 feet to a side. It’s built of an estimated 2.3 million stone blocks, and weighs nearly 6 million tons. Perhaps most astonishingly, it’s among the oldest monuments in Ancient Egypt, with a finish date estimated around 2560 BC. It was the tallest building in the world for 3800 years. During the time of Caesar, it was already ancient history, and tourists came to Egypt just to gawk at it and wonder how it was built (Herodotus thought it required the labor of 100,000 men). Today, the primary theory is that a few thousand full-time workers were supplemented by 30,000+ seasonal workers, who worked during the Nile’s flood period (when agriculture is impossible) and were paid with food and beer. It’s generally believed that the blocks were put in place by building ramps and then dragging them into place. This theory has been greatly bolstered by the 2013 discovery of the oldest papyrus in history, the logbook of an official overseeing the transport of limestone to Khufu’s pyramid construction site. The papyrus was on display at the Egyptian Museum.
Photos struggle to do the Great Pyramid (and all other pyramids) justice, because pyramids are sloping away from the camera and thus look smaller than they really are. The Great Pyramid is truly awe-inspiring in person, though.
If you look up at the top of the pyramid, you can see a small antenna-like object at the top. This, your guide explains, is to mark the original height of the pyramid, before the casing stones and pyramidion were stripped:
You can climb onto the lower portions of the pyramid (or the whole thing, if you’re willing to risk arrest: https://gizmodo.com/its-a-quick-and-illegal-climb-to-get-to-the-top-of-gi-1756258463), and gazing upwards from the pyramid itself, it almost feels like a wall of stone stretching up forever:
There’s tons of graffiti etched into the stones of the pyramid by visitors from the past 4,000 years.
Cameras are banned inside the Great Pyramid, and unlike pretty much every other place where photos are banned, this entrance literally has a policeman taking people’s phones at the entrance.
A sign next to the pyramid’s entrance lays down the rules for going inside. No jumping in the sarcophagus!
The tour guide says you can go inside the Great Pyramid if you like, but you decide not to for a few reasons: 1. It’s a tiring climb to the King’s chamber, and the inside of the pyramid is really hot, 2. You can’t take any pictures, 3. It will take a long time and possibly force you to cut out other sites on the tour, 4. It’s literally an extra $20, and 5. When you get there, there’s nothing to see but an empty stone sarcophagus; pyramids don’t have windows!
Fortunately, there’s a much easier option if you want to experience going inside a pyramid. Three small pyramids are next to Khufu’s, and were used to bury his wives.
The leftmost one in that photo lets tourists go in for no extra fee. It’s a bit of a tight fit:
You’re not supposed to take photos inside, but LJL nobody cares about keeping cameras out of this pyramid. At the center is…a tiny empty stone room!
The inside of a pyramid is pretty hot, and spending just a couple minutes inside the burial chamber leaves you covered with sweat (the outside is actually quite pleasant, as the plateau is constantly buffeted with cool northerly winds).
After you step out, your tour guide tells you an interesting story: In addition to the three pyramids for Khufu’s wives, in the 20th century the intact tomb of his mother, Queen Hetepheres, was discovered nearby. You saw an exhibit on her grave goods at the Egyptian Museum (https://imgur.com/a/tXiRIWG ), but your guide makes her story juicier. When the queen’s carefully-sealed sarcophagus was opened, it turned out to be empty. So, a major theory is that Hetepheres had been buried near her husband, Sneferu, but Khufu wanted her relocated to be near himself. But her tomb may have ALREADY been plundered, and so to avoid pissing off the king, his attendants simply prepared and sealed an empty sarcophagus and delivered it to the king. 4600 years ago, the ancient Egyptians had already invented running flame.
Occasionally, it’s pointed out online that stock photos make it look like the Giza pyramids are in the middle of the desert, when in fact they’re surrounded by a major city on all sides. That’s pretty funny, but also funny is the fact there is a large museum literally just a few feet from the Great Pyramid:
This museum costs a few bucks, but is worth a visit: It holds the reconstructed SOLAR BOAT of Khufu. The fuck is that, you ask? One of the biggest Egyptological finds of the 20th century was discovery of two buried boats right next to Khufu’s pyramids. The boats were not actually intact, but instead was disassembled. All the pieces were there, though, so archaeologists have rebuilt the boat with all its original parts (save its rope, which was intact but not strong enough to hold the boat together). It measures nearly 150 feet long and would still float if put in the water today.
Photos are banned in the museum (are you noticing a theme here?) but you manage to sneak a handful:
The exact purpose of the boat is debated. It’s often called the “solar boat” because of the theory that it was supposed to be rebuilt by Khufu’s attendants in the afterlife and then would carry him and the sun god Ra through the heavens. However, the boat appears to have actually been in the water at least once, so it’s been proposed that the boat was also used to transport Khufu’s embalmed body to the pyramid itself. It’s also been suggested the ship had a religious function, and was used by Khufu during his lifetime.
The second Khufu solar boat is still being restored; Bossi complains that the Japanese handling the restoration have horribly bungled things and caused irreversible damage to the materials.
Well, you’ve spent more than an hour exploring just the vicinity of the Great Pyramid. Now it’s time to give some attention to its sister, the Great Pyramid of Khafre.
You may have actually thought Khafre’s Pyramid IS the Great Pyramid. It’s the middle of the three large pyramids, and in most photos it appears taller, mainly because it was built on slightly higher ground. But in fact, it’s a few feet shorter, and several dozen feet shorter on each side, meaning its volume is substantially less. However, the pyramid rises at a slightly steeper angle, and its summit still contains many of the casing stones that once totally covered both pyramids, so up close it’s arguably more beautiful and more imposing than Khufu’s pyramid.
As recently as the 1600’s, almost all the casing stones on Khafre’s pyramid were intact, based on the journals of a visitor at the time, but sometime shortly after they were plundered, presumably for use as building materials.
Close to Khafre’s pyramid is a guy trying to sell camel rides. He poses for a photo:
Whoa, watch out! Right after taking this photo, he approaches and tries to get you to pose with the camel. If you let him do that, he’ll definitely expect a big tip from you afterwards. You hurry away with your guide before you can let your own fear of awkwardness be used against you.
After some time at Khafre’s pyramid, you meet up with your driver and head off to a scenic view of the entire pyramid complex. Along the way, you pass the far smaller pyramid of Menkaure, which is mostly notable for the giant gash in its side.
This gash was torn out by Saladin’s son, Al-Aziz Uthman, who tried to destroy the pyramids but gave up after discovering that tearing them down was nearly as hard as actually building them.
The scenic view is, as you’d expect, very scenic:
These people are jumping while a photo is taken of themselves in mid-air.
The jumping pose is a Generic Pyramid Photo surpassed only by a photo of a person sticking their finger on the “point” of a pyramid. Like the guy in the middle of this photo:
A camel caravan is nearby, for people who can’t properly enjoy the pyramids without also riding on a really smelly animal.
Well, that was an exceptionally fun couple hours, but don’t even think of resting just yet. Your day is only beginning. You still have the Sphinx, the Saqqara Necropolis, Dahshur, Memphis, and the old Islamic quarter of Mamluk Cairo!
Date: September 15th, 2018 11:34 AM
Author: H.R. Puffendorf
When my wife and I went into one of the smaller pyramids, there was a 9 year old boy at the bottom of the ladder you show in your pic "helping" people up. My wife went after me, and she was wearing a dress, and the little guy just stuck his head up there to catch a peek.
I also remember how hot it was in there.
I enjoy your descriptions of panicked avoidance of scams and tips too.
Date: September 17th, 2018 1:58 AM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Leaving the scenic view, you ask Bossi her opinion on different tourists. What countries send the best, and which send the worse? Bossi doesn’t have a particular favorite country, but she finally confesses that in her opinion, Indian tourists are the worst, because they routinely proposition her for sex during the tour. Sadly, Americans do it too; her single least favorite tourist was a Pentagon employee who asked her back to his hotel room while he was on a tour with his daughter. Yikes! She also says that the Chinese tour groups are horribly aggressive and unpleasant, but she doesn’t lead any of those groups directly since she doesn’t speak Chinese.
Your next stop, naturally, is the Sphinx, which lies a short distance from the Pyramids, right on the border where the modern city of Giza sits. As you approach it, you pass the remains of Giza’s ancient dock. Today, it seems peculiar, surrounded totally by sand, but 4500 years ago, during the flood season, the waters of the Nile reached right up to it, and stones was landed here for use in Giza’s many, many massive structures.
The closest approach to the Sphinx lies through Khafre’s funerary temple. The pyramids weren’t standalone structures; they were part of large funerary complexes that included dedicated temples for each dead pharaoh. These temples were used for religious rites in their burial, such as the “Opening of the mouth ceremony,” a ritual in which priests animated a dead body by opening its mouth so it could eat, breath, and speak in the afterlife. After being used for that ceremony, the temples were left standing so people could arrive to leave offerings for the dead, but deified, pharaoh. According to Bossi, popular pharaohs were still receiving offerings more than a thousand years later. Khafre’s temple actually has two parts, the proper funerary temple close to the pyramid, and the “valley temple” by the sphinx, connected by a covered causeway. You pass through the valley temple, which remains well-preserved as it was covered by sand until the 1800s. The niche here once featured a statue of the pharaoh, who could receive offerings at it.
This pit was once completely filled with sand, and eventually a statue was discovered in it. Today, people fill their primal desire to throw money in pits.
After working your way through the temple, you reach an overlook right by the Sphinx:
The history of the Sphinx is more mysterious than that of the pyramids, but it’s generally believed to be a likeness of Khafre, whose pyramid is directly behind it. The main body of the Sphinx is a monolith, meaning the entire structure was carved directly out of the bedrock. The
In front of the Sphinx is a stele, clearly a later addition:
This stele is the “Dream Stele,” and was erected by the New Kingdom pharaoh Thutmose IV. In the stele, Thutmose claims that Amun-Re visited him in a dream, revealed himself as Thutmose’s father, and promised to raise him to the office of pharaoh if he cleared the sand away from the Sphinx (then buried up to its neck). It is widely believed that Thutmose invented this dream, restored the Sphinx, and erected this stele to justify seizing the throne from his older brother.
After stepping away from the Sphinx, it’s finally time for you first proper meal in Egypt that isn’t a hotel breakfast. That’s right: You’re stopping at the Sphinx Pizza Hut/KFC.
You’re not super-hungry (Egyptian heat is working its magic yet again), but you get a rice and chicken bowl that sets you back just 20 LE, barely more than a dollar.
After getting your food, you head up to the top floor, which has an excellent view of both the Sphinx and pyramids.
After eating, it’s time to hustle back to the cab and head to your second big destination of the day, the Saqqara Necropolis. Lying very close to the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis, Saqqara is about ten miles to the south of Giza, and is both older and larger than the Giza necropolis. Not only that, but it served as a burial complex for the Egyptians all the way up into Roman times. Put another way, Saqqara was a cemetery for longer than Britain has had a written history.
The most famous part of Saqqara is the Step Pyramid of Zoser.
Built all the way back about 2650 BC (so old it actually predates Egypt’s Old Kingdom), the Step Pyramid isn’t just the oldest surviving Egyptian pyramid, it’s the oldest known large-scale stone structure of any kind. Prior to this pyramid, large-scale Egyptian tombs were simple mastabas, flat-roofed rectangular buildings with inward-sloping walls. According to Bossi, a leading theory for the pyramid’s development is that Zoser was upset because his mastaba couldn’t be seen due to the equally-high retaining wall he’d built around it. So, he asked his priest and chancellor Imhotep to build another, smaller mastaba on top of it. Imhotep did him one better and built 5 additional mastabas, creating a six-stepped pyramid that rises more than 200 feet. The pyramid is built of stone blocks, but looks like it’s built of brick, because builders used relatively small stone blocks, likely because they were still mentally in a world of brick construction.
The historical Imhotep is known only as a builder, but over time he became a mythic figure to Egyptians, who remembered him also as a physician, poet, astronomer, and all-around polymath. He’s also the villain in The Mummy. But it all started here, with the erection of the Step Pyramid.
To get close to Zoser’s pyramid, you pass through a columned corridor that once provided the passage through the outer retaining wall. Three site guardians chill in the only bit of shade to be had, by the doorway:
4700 years later, the roof has been reconstructed, but the columns are original.
This pit is a drop of more than 100 feet straight down, and leads to Zoser’s south tomb, which predates the completion of his pyramid. It also looks remarkably easy to fall into:
Some snake sculptures overlook Zoser’s massive courtyard:
Flanking the courtyard are several chapel structures. These buildings, like many in Zoser’s funerary complex, are actually fake. They’re facades, filled in with rubble, rather than actual functional buildings!
The exact purpose of the large courtyard, or these chapel buildings, is largely unknown, but the leading theory is that they were used for the Heb Sed festival, a jubilee festival occurring in the 30th year of a pharaoh’s reign. We’re not entirely sure what happened in this festival, but it appears to involve “rejuvenating” an aging pharaoh by re-enacting coronation rituals, such as running back and forth between two altars (representing the two Egypts) and being crowned with the crowns of both Upper and Lower Egypt. Bossi also mentions that the pharaoh may have personally killed a bull in this ritual as well.
A few hundred feet southwest of Zoser’s pyramid is the Pyramid of Unas, from the 5th dynasty.
https://imgur.com/a/Nb55gb9 (on the left)
The pyramid was a much shoddier construction job and has today crumbled to little more than a mound of dirt, but the structure is important as its interior contains the oldest example of pyramid texts:
These texts were meant to serve as spells and as a guide to help Unas navigate the afterlife. Such texts would later become a routine part of Egyptian tomb work, and you’ll see many examples throughout the rest of our time here. To get an idea of what the hieroglyphs were saying, here’s a translation:
The Saqqara necropolis also contains quite a few tombs built over the millennia. You don’t have time for all of them, but you stop in at a handful that serve as a preview for the more spectacular tombs to be seen in Luxor.
In your first tomb (which you egregiously did not log the name of) you see a relief of some dudes catching fish. Daily-life reliefs like this are common in the tombs of officials and other regular people, but rare in those of rulers:
Another relief shows a crocodile preparing to eat a baby hippo the moment it finishes being born:
One of the best-preserved tombs in the area is that of Maya, Tutankhamun’s treasurer, which was only recently reopened. In one wall scene in the tomb, Maya and his wife approach Osiris in the afterlife. This scene is extremely common, but it’s worth noting the protrusion from the woman’s head. These are generally believed to not simply be a decoration, but a “perfume cone” of scented wax that would gradually melt and release a pleasant aroma.
Elsewhere in the tomb is an image of Anubis in his traditional role preparing a mummy. Bossi argues that the jackal-headed Anubis is associated with mummification because the ancient Egyptians noticed that when wild dogs ate the internal organs of a corpse, the rest of the body decayed more slowly. A less exciting explanation is that jackals were simply seen often in cemeteries:
Your last (human) tomb of the day is that of Horemheb, who isn’t actually buried at it. Horemheb was a general under the pharaohs Tutankhamun and Ay, but took power himself by marrying into the family when the male line petered out. This tomb was built when he was still just a general, and he built a new one for himself in Luxor after becoming pharaoh. It’s popular to speculate that Horemheb had Tutankhamun murdered as part of his plot to take control, but analysis of Tut’s corpse suggests that malaria and an infected leg injury did him in.
Horemheb’s tomb has a nice big hypostyle hall (that is, a room of columns) and some high-quality reliefs of people thing-doing, though the people look a little weird:
You have one last major stop to make in Saqqara, the Serapeum. Along the way, you pass the garbage-strewn Philosopher’s Circle, where the Ptolomaic Greeks juxtaposed Egyptian religion with Hellenistic philosophy.
The shattered statues in this circle represent Plato, Heraclitus, Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, and other titans of Greek thought and literature. How scholars made those identifications given the statues’ near-total destruction is a mystery to you (okay, they’re probably copies and more-intact versions exist elsewhere).
After passing the philosophers, you finally enter the massive underground Serapeum.
One of the odder parts of Ancient Egyptian religion was its intense reverence for certain animals (for instance, it was a crime to harm cats and families would go into profound mourning for a dead housecat). The most sacred of all Egyptian animals, though, was the Apis bull. One bull at a time, bearing particular body markings, was treated as the child of the goddess Hathor, and also as an incarnation of the god Ptah, who was the chief deity of the Memphis region. The Apis bull was used as an oracle (it was given yes or no questions, with certain head movements indicating the “answer”), and was treated extremely well until it died of old age. Killing an Apis bull was a tremendous sacrilege; according to legend, the Persian emperor Cambyses II murdered one during his conquest of Egypt, and subsequently went mad, murdered his family members, and died a violent premature death.
Anyway, when the Apis bull died, it was mummified and buried in a sarcophagus just like human elites were. The Serapeum is where these sacred bulls were buried over a thousand-year (the name comes from Serapis, a Greco-Roman syncretic deity combining the Apis with Osiris and some aspects of Greek underworld gods like Hades). It’s a pretty big space, and holds gigantic 70-ton sarcophagi the bull mummies were placed in.
Sadly, you still haven’t seen everything the Saqqara necropolis has to offer. You could spend an entire day seeing all the various tombs, as well as the small Imhotep Museum nearby, but you don’t have that kind of time. In fact, you’re already running out of time. You hustle off to your car and your driver begins speeding (literally) to get you to the last two stops on your tour: Dahshur and Memphis.
Date: September 17th, 2018 10:50 AM
Author: Chad Thundercocksman
Charles there is some scholarship regarding the citadel that i did not see you mention. EDIT: actually turns out you did mention it.
the Mamluks were invited in under a pretense of peace, then locked inside near the front gate and a massive slaughter ensued from the high walls surrounding them. at the risk of sounding like a millenial faggot, it's pretty much the Red Wedding from GOT. from wiki:
Early in the year 1811, during a lull in tensions, after preparations for an expedition against the Wahhbis in Arabia were completed, all the Mamluk beys then in Cairo were invited to the ceremony in the Cairo citadel for investing Muhammad Ali's favorite son, Tusun, with a pelisse and the command of the army. On March 1, 1811, Shahin Bey and the other chiefs (with one exception) repaired with their retinues to the citadel, and were courteously received by the Pasha. Having taken coffee, they formed in procession, and, preceded and followed by Muhammad Ali's troops, slowly descended the steep and narrow road leading to the great gate of the citadel.
As soon as the Mamluks arrived at the citadel's gate it was suddenly shut before them. The last of those to leave before the gate was shut were Albanians under Salih Kush. To these troops, their chief now made known the Pasha's orders to massacre all the Mamluks within the citadel. They proceeded to climb the walls and roofs of nearby houses that hemmed in the road in which the Mamluks were confined, and some stationed themselves upon the eminences of the rock through which that road is partly cut. They then opened fire on their victims; and immediately the troops at the tail end of the procession, and who had the advantage of higher ground, followed suit. Of the betrayed chiefs, many were killed in the opening volleys; some, dismounting and throwing off their outer robes, vainly sought, sword in hand, to return and escape by some other gate. However, the few who gained the summit of the citadel experienced the same fate as the rest, for no quarter was given.
Four hundred and seventy Mamluks entered the citadel; and of these very few, if any, escaped. However, folklore has it that one of the Mamluk beys succeeding in escaping by leaping with his horse from the ramparts, and alighted uninjured although the horse was killed by the fall. Others say that he was prevented from joining his comrades, and discovered the treachery while waiting without the gate. He fled and made his way to Syria.
The massacre of the Mamluks at the Cairo citadel was the signal for an indiscriminate slaughter of the Mamluks throughout Egypt, orders to this effect having been transmitted to every governor. In Cairo itself the houses of the Mamluk beys were given over to the soldiery. During the two following days the Muhammad Ali Pasha and his son Tusun rode about the streets and tried to stop the atrocities; but order was not restored until 500 houses had been pillaged. The heads of the beys were sent to Istanbul.
Date: September 18th, 2018 11:32 PM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Your driver speeds along the roads south of Cairo (a frightening thing, you discover), as you have barely an hour and a half to see your last two Pharaonic sites of the day, Dahshur and Memphis.
It’s often remarked that the Giza pyramids are in the middle of a city and only photographic tricks make them appear isolated. While the Dahshur pyramids are only about 25 miles south of Cairo, they feel far more isolated, an effect enhanced by their obscurity; while the Giza pyramids are crowded all day, almost no tourists bother to visit Dahshur.
On the one hand, it’s understandable, as the Giza pyramids are closer and a superior pyramid complex. On the other hand, it’s a shame, because if they were anywhere besides the Cairo area, these two pyramids would be enormously popular attractions in their own right.
Another reason the Dahshur pyramids are less popular is that the area they were was a restricted military zone for a long time (and a barbed wire fence still passes through the area). There’s still a base nearby, as well as a military school of some kind. A goofy scribe statue sits at the entrance:
Dahshur is home to two major pyramids, both built by the same pharaoh, Sneferu, father of Khufu. The older and more interesting of the two is the Bent Pyramid:
The Bent Pyramid was, we believe, the first effort at building a smooth-sided pyramid rather than the step pyramids that had come before. The name, obviously, comes from how the pyramid rises at a steep angle but then flattens out about halfway up. The theory is that the Egyptians realized the Pyramid would be too heavy and unstable if they continued to build at the initial angle, and so they altered the angle halfway. The catastrophic collapse of a similar pyramid at Meidum further south may have played a role.
While the Bent Pyramid is therefore something of a botched job, it’s still beautiful today because of the major pyramids it retains by far the largest percentage of its casing stones. As a result, the sides of the pyramid are still smooth, and they had to build a staircase for people to access the entrance:
You can in fact enter the Bent Pyramid, but it’s closed right now and in any case you don’t have the time:
Off in the distance, you can spy the Black Pyramid, which collapsed in on itself long ago and no longer really resembles a pyramid. This structure was the source of the black pyramidion you saw in the Egyptian Museum.
You also have a great view of Sneferu’s second creation, the Red Pyramid:
There’s literally nobody out here. It’s just you, Bossi, your car, and this lone Egyptian policeman who must have pissed somebody off to get stationed out in a place where almost no bribes can be taken.
You next head over to the Red Pyramid, which honestly looks a little better at a distance due to the low angle making it unimposing up close.
Imposing or not, though, the Red Pyramid is immense, rising 350 feet and containing about three-fourths of the volume of Khafre’s pyramid. This makes Sneferu arguably the true pyramid-building champion of ancient Egypt, as he completed two separate major pyramids during his life.
After this quick stop, it’s time to head to your last big stop of the day, the ruins of ancient Memphis. Cairo is a modern city by Middle Eastern standards, only being founded in the 900s. Before that, there was Fustat, built by the first Islamic conquerors. Before Fustat, there was a Persian city named Babylon (often called Babylon-in-Egypt to distinguish from the Mesopotamian city). But before all these cities was Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom and one of the most important cities in Egypt for 3500 years. Memphis lies at the juncture of Upper and Lower Egypt, and may have been built as a planned capital by Menes or another early pharaoh to assert better control over the two kingdoms.
Sadly, not much of Memphis is left, as it was mostly a city of mud-brick, and the stone ruins were picked over by locals who used it to build up Cairo and other nearby towns. Still, there’s an open-air museum with a handful of nifty ruins. The centerpiece is a fallen colossus of Egyptian super-builder Ramses II. There were efforts in the 19th century to move the statue to Italy or to the British Museum, but the cost of moving it proved too great, so eventually they just built an entire museum around it and called it a day. Ramses has a lot of statues of himself out there, but this one stands out for its quality;
Ramses’ cartouche (his name written in hieroglyphs, contained within an oval) is placed all over the statue, which helped make it VERY clear who he was, while also making it harder for successors to stick their own name on the statue, which happened rather often to some pharaohs.
For example, this statue is attributed to Ramses II, but is probably a repurposed Middle Kingdom work:
As you view these two statues, Bossi mentions the popular portrayal of Ramses II as the pharaoh of the Exodus. She dismisses this, based not on Egyptological arguments, but on a Quranic one: The Quran says that Moses’ pharaoh had no children, when in fact Ramses had many children. Based on this, she believes the Exodus was under a Hyksos pharaoh, as several of them seemed to have been childless. This is an odd digression from scholarly considerations, but then again there’s very little extra-biblical evidence the Exodus happened at all, so it’s probably not worth dwelling too much over.
The other major item in the museum is a large alabaster sphinx:
Both the Ramses statue and the sphinx once stood outside a great temple of Ptah, which today is totally ruined with only a few fragments left behind to excavate. Sic transit gloria mundi!
That finally wraps up a very long tour. After a half-hour drive, you’re back at your hotel, where you bid farewell to Bossi and your driver. But the day is not over. First, you take a brief rest in your room, where the hotel staff have fixed your air conditioner after you complained about it failing last night. In an attempt to win back your good graces, the hotel staff brings you a tasty lemonade for free!
Still, you can’t relax for long. With the sun setting, you hop in a cab and head over to Islamic Cairo. Of course, all of Cairo is “Islamic,” but this label refers to the medieval quarter of Cairo, built up under the Mamluks. The area has several gems of Islamic architecture, plus the Khan Al-Khalili, the city’s famous bazaar.
When you arrive at the south end of the quarter, the first mosque you see is the Al-Hussain Mosque, lit up with cheesy green lights:
The Al-Hussain Mosque is an old mosque, but not an old building; it dates to the 1800s. However, it’s a sacred site to Muslims, as it’s believed to hold the head of Muhammad’s grandson Hussain ibn Ali. It also holds a particularly old Quranic manuscript. However, the mosque is closed to non-Muslims. Bossi thinks these regulations are almost never enforced, but it’s evening prayers right now and a lot of young men are going into the mosque right now, so it seems best not to push your luck given Islam’s history of not being chill about things.
Instead, you take a chance to explore the area of the Khan Al-Khalili. While popular with tourists (who buy jewelry and souvenirs), the bazaar notably is also popular with Egyptians and has a lot of ordinary shops mixed, making it feel a little more authentic. For example, you pass a shop that appears dedicated to selling only scales. A rather niche market, to say the least:
You can buy individual loaves of bread for a single Egyptian pound, barely more than five cents USD:
A restaurant and hookah bar has some horrifying wax “performers” hanging about:
At the north end of the old city are two of the three remaining gates from the old city walls of Cairo. The more imposing of the two is the Bab al-Futuh, or Gate of the Conquest, built in 1087 just before the dawn of the crusader era.
Just inside the northern gate is the Al-Hakim Mosque, which is treated almost like a public park by denizens, who bring their kids to run around in the middle courtyard.
As its name suggests, this mosque was built by the 11th-century Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim. Al-Hakim is a very unusual historical figure, to say the least. In the west he’s widely remembered as the “mad caliph,” thanks to his erratic and often despotic behavior. He routinely purged his top administrators, going through fifteen viziers in just 20 years. He was one of the first Muslim leaders to aggressively suppress Christianity, banning Easter celebrations and ordering the destruction of the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. But while some regarded Al-Hakim as a tyrant, the Druze literally view him as God incarnate, and believe he will one day return to lead an army of believers to conquer the world. And speaking of returning, Al-Hakim’s reign didn’t even end with his death. He routinely rode out into the countryside to meditate, and on one such journey he simply vanished and was never seen again.
Anyway, this mosque was his doing, but after his reign it was mostly repurposed, becoming variously a stable, a school, and a barracks for Napoleon’s troops. Finally a few decades ago some rich Muslims paid to restore the mosque back to a worship-worthy state, and it remains so today.
There’s a lot of other classical Islamic architecture in the quarter, mostly concentrated on the still-bustling Muizz Street. You can’t go inside any of the old buildings at this late hour, but the interior of Islamic buildings is typically unexciting anyway, so admiring them from the outside is a perfectly good substitute:
This Egyptian Chad is playing some popular song on a guitar; a ton of chicks are watching and singing along.
He could probably slay tons of chicks, but he should be careful: Egypt is one of the most conservative societies on Earth when it comes to premarital sex. More than 90% of people considering it unacceptable and honor killings still sometimes occur. Tread carefully, Chad!
Your visit so far has been heavily weighted towards Cairo’s Pharaonic and Islamic history, but there are occasional reminders of the sizable Coptic Christian minority. This shop has an image of the Virgin Mary on display:
After reaching the south end of Muizz Street, back near where you started at Al-Hussain, you decide to stop and eat some street kebab from a small shop. You foolishly don’t ask the price before ordering and he extorts you by charging 150 Egyptian pounds! Fuck, that’s like 8 dollars! As part of the meal you’re given some cooked vegetables on a plate, but you don’t get to eat all of them…because a woman in a niqab walks by and snatches them up with her bare hand! What the fuck! You snap a photo of her as she walks away:
After eating, you pass by the Al-Azhar Mosque.
The madrassa originally operating out of this mosque is more than a thousand years old, making it by some measures among the oldest universities in the world (most lists don’t count it, though). In the 20th century, its curriculum was expanded to include non-religious subjects and it was made a full university. There’s a larger campus several miles to the east, and ultimate thousands of schools across Egypt are affiliated with the university in some capacity. It still remains Egypt’s premier school of Islamic studies, though, and historically is conservative but also hostile to the extreme Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies emanating from Saudi Arabia.
At the far south end of Mamluk Cairo is the Bab Zuweila, the third of the three surviving medieval gateways to the city.
This gate has a particularly gory history. Muhammad Ali displayed the heads of slain Mamluks here after his seizure of power in 1811, and in the 1200s the Mamluks themselves flaunted the heads of six murdered Mongol envoys. Pretty much everywhere else on Earth in the 1200s, killing Mongol envoys was a one-way ticket to your entire country getting annihilated. But in what may be one of the most important battles in history, the Mamluks Qutuz and Baibars decisively crushed the Mongols at Ayn Jalut and halted their expansion into the Middle East.
It’s getting late and once again you have to get up early tomorrow, so you make your way back to your hotel on foot. The last thing you pass on the way home is the Abdeen Palace.
Built by Khedive Ismail in the 1860s, the Abdeen Palace transferred the seat of royal power from the Citadel down to a more modern, European-style palace in the heart of the city. Given the subsequent political turbulence in Egypt, this was almost certainly a bad move, as it left the king far more exposed to both mob violence and military action. Today Egypt’s president lives at a different palace in the suburb of Heliopolis that is less likely to be overrun by rioters. The Abdeen Palace has become a museum, but not one that you’ll be visiting during your lamentably short stay.
What a day! Tomorrow is your last full day in Cairo, and will be dedicated to the history and architecture of the city’s ancient Coptic Christian community.
Date: September 20th, 2018 3:12 AM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Time for your third and final full day in Cairo. You have another tour booked today, but it doesn’t start until 9 and you’re up at 6. Cairo is really far east for its time zone so the sun is already completely up, so why not have a short walk through the Cairo downtown?
According to the Bible, Jews lived in Egypt more than 3500 years ago. Even if you prefer to stick to secular histories, they’ve been there for 2500 years. In the first half of the 20th century, Egypt had more than 100,000 Jews, but the creation of Israel and subsequent Arab-Israeli hostility caused a mass exodus. Today, fewer than two dozen Jews remain in Egypt, and their main place of worship is the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue on Adly Street. It was built in 1899 and has a distinctive look that mildly evokes ancient Egyptian architecture:
Unsurprisingly the synagogue is considered a prime terrorism target, so it has more police and soldiers (you count at least ten) protecting it than it has worshippers. One of them sees you taking a photo and gets IRATE, saying you cannot take any more. Better move along fast!
The Sphinx isn’t the only place with KFC. It appears to be absurdly popular here and while you do see other Western chains (there’s a Hardees randomly right on Tahrir) KFC is the only one you see over and over.
Egypt has migrants and homeless doods just like America. These three guys appear to have been sleeping in a park near Abdeen Palace.
One square at the heart of downtown is the Midan Opera, named after an opera house that burned down in the 70s and was replaced by a parking garage. In the middle of the square is a statue of Ibrahim Pasha, the greatest general in modern Egyptian history. He enslaved thousands of people while campaigning against the 1820s Greek anto-Ottoman insurgency, so Egyptian shitlibs will probably try to tear his statue down eventually:
At the west end of Midan Opera are the sad remains of the Continental-Savoy Hotel. Opened in 1869, it spent more than a half-century as Cairo’s top hotel. Lord Carnarvon died here after financing the excavation of King Tut’s tomb, becoming the first victim of the tomb’s supposed “curse.” The hotel closed in the 80s, and now is a collapsing ruin compared to what it looked like decades ago:
This guy is riding a bike while balancing a ton of bread on his head. Seems hazardous!
The true center of downtown is Talaat Harb Square. Talaat Harb was a FINANCE CHAD who founded Banque Misr, Egypt’s first modern, native-owned and operated bank.
Holy shit, it’s the Egyptian Lawyers’ Association! Poasters on the Egyptian version of XO must congregate here to discuss scholarship.
This statue honors Abdul Riad. He was a top commander in the disastrous Six-Day War with Israel, and then got blown up by an Israeli mortar during the War of Attrition.
South of Talaat Harb is Tahrir Square. The big demonstrations during the 2011 revolution were here, although there actually isn’t a lot of open space in the square. The area is dominated by modern high-rise hotels, plus the Egyptian Museum.
At the south end of Tahrir is Egypt’s most infamous office building, the Mogamma (roughly meaning “The Complex”).
The story goes that the Mogamma was built with Soviet funds and reflects Soviet values, but it’s actually just a product of 1940s modernism and the notion that Egypt should have one, efficient, all-in-one administrative superbuilding. The building houses public offices for the Cairo governorate as well as the national interior, health, and education ministries. For decades, the Mogamma has been legendary for its impenetrable bureaucracy, operating essentially as a super-DMV and city hall that receives more than 50,000 visitors a day. Urban legends say that people have committed suicide from frustration after being repeatedly passed from office to office, while one of Egypt’s most popular films, Terrorism and Kebab, is about a man who inadvertently starts a terrorist takeover of the building when he gets in a fight with a particularly bothersome employee.
It’s only 7 am, and already hundreds of people can be seen waiting in a line that stretches outside the building.
The area south of the Mogamma is Cairo’s wealthy Garden City neighborhood, which includes the large British and American embassies. The streets flanking these embassies are closed off with cinderblocks due to security concerns:
Whoa, wait just a minute! It’s the morning, but that picture was clearly taken at night. What’s going on? I’ll tell you. While walking around Garden City, you come upon the single, heavily-guarded entrance to the American embassy. You snap a photo of it, and the guards on duty FLIP THE FUCK OUT. They demand to see your phone, and when you resist (they seem to want to delete ALL the photos on your phone, which would be very unfortunate), they take you into custody and bring you inside the cordon to meet their supervisor. If you really are a spy, this is a bad move, as you get a great glimpse of the U.S. embassy’s defenses: Several APCs and literally dozens of Egyptian soldiers. Fortunately, the supervisor is a little less intense than his subordinates. He makes sure your photo of the embassy is deleted, inspects your passport, and asks some basic questions about your stay in Egypt (the only Egyptian security official who ever bothers with that), but once he’s satisfied he allows you to walk away without any further trouble. Close call!
Having made your escape, you next walk past Egypt’s parliament building. It’s surprisingly rather small.
Egypt’s justice and interior ministries are clearly fed up with civil disturbance, and have surrounded themselves with concrete barriers to keep out possibly-violent crowds.
Despite your scuffle with the Egyptian military, you make it back to your hotel in time for your tour. You’re going to a Christian church, so naturally your guide’s name is Muhammad Osama.
It’s gonna be a great day.
Date: September 21st, 2018 12:47 AM
Author: CHARLES DIGITAL (CharlesXII)
Your tour today isn’t as broad or as long as yesterday’s. Instead, your guide is here to take you to and from one of Cairo’s harder-to-reach attractions: The Muqattam cave churches.
The churches aren’t incredibly far off, distance-wise. In fact, they’re closer than the Giza Pyramids. Socially, though, the churches are a huge departure from everything you’ve seen so far, because the path to them passes through one of Cairo’s worst slums, the Garbage City.
One of Cairo’s peculiar features are the tens of thousands of Zabbaleen, poor Coptic Christians who for close to 80 years have made a living by collecting the city’s garbage and either using or recycling it. The streets of the Garbage City are therefore flooded with garbage of all types which the Zabbaleen pick over and sort. As you learn when the driver briefly has to roll down his window to clear a checkpoint, the stench is immense.
The Zabbaleen’s way of life is threatened by modernization, as Egypt would badly like to have its capital city develop a normal waste disposal process. But it’s also threatened by apparent bigotry. Traditionally, the Zabbaleen feed all the edible garbage to pigs, and then sold the pigs for meat within the Coptic community. During the 2009 swine flu scare, the Egyptian government ordered the wholesale culling of their swine herds, in a move that was widely seen as motivated more by the Islamic prohibition on pork consumption than by any health concerns.
The whole slum is visibly Christian in character, with Christian statues, signs, and symbols all over the place. Just like in Catholic countries, images of the Virgin Mary are particularly popular.
There’s also a painted mural of what seems to be a well-regarded cleric; it’s unclear if he is a modern or historical one.
After passing through the trash slum, you ascend Cairo’s Muqattam. As you do so, you see Christian religious imagery carved right into the side of the mountain:
Eventually, you reach your destination, the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Simon the Tanner, or as it is better known, the Cave Church. The Cave Church is the largest church for the Garbage City’s Coptic Christians, and as such is one of the largest Christian churches in the entire Middle East, with room for thousands of worshippers. You’ve probably guessed how it got its name: The whole thing is carved right into the side of Muqattam.
In contrast to the garbage-filled slum surrounding it, the Cave Church is perhaps the most impeccably clean place you’ve been so far in Cairo, with not a single scrap of litter anywhere. Normally, the church would be sparsely occupied at this hour, but a funeral service is being performed.
A big crowd has turned out; women sit up front, almost uniformly wearing black, while men in ordinary clothes fill the rows further up.
As you wait through the funeral service, Muhammad Osama explains the history of Egyptian Christianity and St. Simon’s in particular. Unsurprisingly, Egypt features one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. According to tradition, Egypt was first evangelized by St. Mark, author of the eponymous Gospel. Supposedly, the first Egyptian Christian was a shoemaker named Anianus, whom Mark visited to have a shoe repaired. Anianus accidentally cut himself while working, and cursed by crying out “Oh, the only God!” Mark seized this opportunity to preach the gospel, and won his first convert.
Whatever the truth of that story, Christianity flourished very early in Egypt, with a large presence by the mid-2nd century. Alexandria became one of the five patriarchal sees of the early church. However, the Egyptian church gradually grew apart from both Roman and Greek Christianity, due to Egyptian bishops’ rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. The key issue was that Egyptians adhered to Monophysitism, the belief that Christ had only one nature, either fully divine or part-human, part-divine. This clashed with the orthodox view that Christ had two natures, one fully human and another fully divine. This dispute was of macrohistorical importance; it’s often theorized that the Muslims so easily conquered Egypt in part because the Monophysite majority regarded the Muslims and the Byzantine emperor as equally heretical. Today, the Coptic church prefers the term Miaphysite to Monophysite; Miaphysitism is a more moderate position, saying that Christ has two natures but they are mixed together rather than being fully distinct (isn’t theology fun?).
Even after the Muslim conquest, Egypt probably had a Christian majority until the 1200s, and even today Egypt has the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, though estimates about the total number of Copts vary wildly (from 5 million to as many as 20 million).
Wow, the funeral is STILL going on. Muhammad Osama goes on to describe the story of St. Simon. Here’s how the story goes:
In the 10th century, Cairo was ruled by the Muslim caliph al-Muizz. Al-Muizz was a scholarly man, who tolerated all faiths and enjoyed hosting debates between men of different sects. One day, he invited the Coptic pope, Abraam, to debate his Jewish vizier, Yaqub ibn Killis. Abraam was supposedly trouncing Yaqub in the debate, so Yaqub played his trump card, quoting Christ’s words from the Gospel of Mattew “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Citing this line, Yaqub argued that Abraam’s faith was a sham.
The caliph turned to Abraam, and asked, “Does he speak truly?”
“Yes,” Abraam replied.
“Very well,” said the caliph, and he then pointed toward Muqattam. “Move this mountain within three days, or I will kill you and all your followers, for I will not tolerate any false beliefs in my kingdom.”
Quite fearful, Abraam prayed that night and received a vision from the Virgin, who told him to find a one-eyed man carrying jugs of water to the poor. This man was Simon the Tanner. Simon was a righteous man who took his gospels very literally, so literally in fact, that when he felt lust for a woman while fitting a shoe to her foot, he plucked out one of his eyes rather than letting it lead him into sin.
Pope Abraam asked Simon what the Copts should do. Simon said that the pope should gather the entire Coptic community at the side of Muqattam.
According to the story, on the dawn of the third day, both the caliph and his soldiers and the Coptic community were gathered at Muqattam. At Simon’s urging, the pope cried out “lord, have mercy” three times as the entire Coptic community prayed behind him. And then, to the astonishment of all, the mountain rose, into the air, so high that through the gap between it and the earth the crowds could see the rising sun. By this great miracle, the Christians of Egypt were saved, but Simon the Tanner was never seen again.
There is, of course, no contemporary historical evidence this miracle ever happened, but hey, it’s a nice story. Also, the funeral is finally done! Let’s go down for a closer look.
Only clergy are allowed through this gate, where relics believed to be those of St. Simon were discovered a few decades ago.
Painted images show Pope Abraam’s vision of St. Simon, and the moment of the mountain rising, complete with the caliph tumbling from his horse in astonishment.
There are actually three churches at the site of St. Simon’s. One is just a normal church building, but the Church of St. Mark is also hewn out of the mountain.
This church has carvings of the life of St. Simon. They include a scene of St. Simon preparing to pluck out his own eye, even though most Christian scholars would tell you to not take that particular verse literally.
This art portrays a supposed miracle related to the discovery of St. Simon’s relics, where a piece of paper with the address of the place to luck miraculously blew into a guy’s hand.
Oddly, another carving simply shows the scene where Potiphar’s slut wife tried to bang Joseph.
After you finish exploring, you return to your car and your guide drives you to pick up some lunch. It’s basic falafel and nothing memorable. After that, the tour is over, and you’re dropped back at your hotel. But guess what: It’s still only noon. Your next stop is a few miles to the south, in the neighborhood now known as Old Cairo.