Gilded Serpent presents...
Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
3: First Look at Egyptian History
Travel Journal by Shira
2004 marked the third day of my adventure in Egypt.
The itinerary called for the tour guides to begin our introduction
to the sights and history of Egypt:
the Citadel, the Cairo Museum, the Ben Ezra synagogue, and
the Hanging Church (a Coptic Christian church).
In the orientation
letter before leaving the U.S., Morocco instructed
the women in our group to wear quasi-Muslim garb for these
tours: scarves to completely cover our hair and cleavage,
and long, flowing dresses, preferably ankle length. We looked
like quite a motley crew at the buffet breakfast - most people
followed these instructions, but a few did not. Because I was
there before and knew how conservatively the local women dressed,
I chose to follow the instructions precisely. My roommate Glee
Jarvela also complied, wearing a hijab (head covering)
from the www.alhannah.com web site purchased before leaving
the U.S. with a tunic
and pants set purchased at a sari shop in California (top photo).
40 of us on the tour, it was necessary to have two tour guides,
so they could break us into groups of 20 each. This worked
out very well - it was easier to have only 20 of us clustering
around a single individual rather than an army. Our guides' names
were Amani and Azza, both
women. We all boarded the bus in front of the Victoria Hotel,
the guides introduced themselves, and we were off.
to show you how intensive this trip has been, I'm writing this
only 7 days after we went on the city tour, and I can't remember
which we visited first - the Cairo Museum or the Citadel! Yikes,
at this rate my brain will be mush by the time I get home!
The Baladi Neighborhood
route to our first stop, our bus passed through the baladi (working
class) neighborhood around the hotel. I took several photos
of men going about their business to illustrate the type of everyday
clothing that many of them wear.
these pictures show men wearing gallabiyas (ankle-length
robes), men with white-collar jobs do wear dress slacks,
dress shirts, and ties. I didn't see any local men
at all wearing blue jeans or shorts. It seems to be the
two extremes: either suits (usually minus the suit jacket,
which makes a lot
of sense in the hot weather), or baladi garb.
Most of the
men in gallabiyas also wore turbans to protect their heads
from the beating sun. The men's gallabiyas came mostly in
neutral colors: white, beige, or brown, although I did see
some in pale blue or green. The turbans were usually white
or beige, though again I saw some other colors.
The Cairo Museum
the Cairo museum, our guides divided us into two separate groups,
and each led us in a different direction. The museum is absolutely
fascinating, but unfortunately I can't share any pictures of
it with you because cameras are not allowed inside. The reason
is because the light from a constant barrage of flashes can damage
the antiquities, causing color to fade, fabrics to degrade. The
museum used to allow cameras with a "no flash" rule, but too
many visitors disobeyed the rule, so they banned cameras altogether.
began by leading us to a table that was used for the mummification
process and described how the process was done. She took us
to the exhibit of the artifacts from King Tutankhamen's tomb
and described the most significant ones. We visited a darkened
room that showed off ancient jewelry. Some of us lingered an
extra time in there just to enjoy the air conditioning. Our
guide also led us to the exhibit of King Akhenaten, husband
of the beautiful Nefertiti and the Pharaoh who attempted to
move all of Egypt to monotheism.
us who were willing to pay an extra fee were allowed to enter
a special room which contained the mummy exhibit. Most of
the mummies in this room were either Pharaohs or their queens,
and I recognized many of their names from the reading I have
done about ancient Egypt. The
most famous of these was Ramses II, whom many historians believe
may have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Citadel was built in the 12th century by Saladin, as a defense
against the marauding Crusaders from Europe. None of the Crusades
ever actually made it all the way to Egypt,
but if they had this fortress would have been ready for them.
The stone used for the outer wall was "quarried" by cannibalizing
the outer facing stones from the Great Pyramid. Perched as it
is on the highest point in the entire city of Cairo, the Citadel
can be seen from throughout the city.
Also at the
site is Mohammed Ali Mosque, built by Mohammed Ali whom most
historians credit as the father of modern Egypt. Several
women sit at the entrance to the mosque, and drape bright green
ankle-length capes around any woman whose attire is considered "indecent" to
be worn in a holy place. "Indecent" could consist of exposing
too much cleavage or too much leg. (Tight-fitting pants would
also invite draping in such a cape.) At least one of the women
in our group was required to wear one because of the slit in
the back of her skirt that showed her knees and calves.
Citadel strides the highest point in Cairo, it offers a breathtaking
view of the city and the pyramids beyond. Unfortunately, it
also shows just how gritty the air is. People with respiratory
problems such as asthma typically find Cairo challenging. The
population of the metropolitan area is approximately 18 million,
and the millions of cars are not regulated by the types of
emission control laws that exist in the U.S. In
addition, sand blown in from the nearby desert hangs in the
The Ben Ezra Synagogue
and the Hanging Church
Old Cairo, the Ben Ezra synagogue, Coptic Christian churches,
and mosques all stand side-by-side, like friendly neighbors.
Following our visits to the museum and the Citadel, our guides
take us to this neighborhood.
The Ben Ezra
synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Cairo. Legend says it
dates back to the time of Moses.
it, the Hanging Church (shown in this photo) is an ancient
Coptic Christian church. It is called the Hanging Church because
it sits on a more ancient foundation. This photo shows a grouping
of pillars inside the sanctuary which represent Jesus and his
12 apostles. According to oral history, the Coptic church was started by St. Mark.
using the Rosetta Stone to decipher
Egyptian hieroglyphics determined that the modern-day language
used for readings in the Coptic church today is still the language
of the Pharaohs, only now it is written in Greek. That discovery
has allowed linguists to determine how the language of the
hieroglyphics should be pronounced.
a day of sight-seeing, we returned to the hotel to freshen up
and rest a bit. Those who felt up to a bit of adventure accompanied Morocco for
a walk to a restaurant in the neighborhood named Alfi Bey which
serves local Egyptian cuisine. Remembering the excellent chicken
soup from my previous visit, I ordered that along with a beef
kebab. Other people selected chicken, lamb, or vegetarian options.
4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
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Day 4: More Egyptian
Monuments and First Dance Show
more from Shira-
6-28-04 Ahlan Wa Sahlan
Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend
this event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian
instructors, shop for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian
vendors, and enjoy the gala shows featuring top Egyptian dancers. Check
back for regular updates!
First Two Days
6-16-03 Breaking News from the
Ahlan wa Sahlan 2003 in Cairo reported by Shira
flavor of the instruction and dancing are very different from
that offered by the U.S. festivals, and it offers an exciting
opportunity for immersion in the Egyptian dance arts.
from the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, The Opening Night Gala by
Tahseen Alkoudsi and Shira
at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel on June 10-17, Cairo, Egypt.
Hassan's Dance Festival (Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2000) By Latifa
Then my dance
idol, Suhair Zaki, walked in, creating eddies of excitement that
ran through the crowd.