15.11.2011 - 15.11.2011 19 °C
Gosh the train journey was horrible! The train itself was nice enough but our driver seemed to feel the need to suddenly jerk the train to a stop and then just as suddenly let off the breaks! I felt like I was permanently sleeping in a massage chair on hard pummel all night! I swear that the only time I got some sleep was when the train was stopped at a station. Luckily this meant I had a few hours sleep because for whatever reason we were parked at a station for well over two hours last night, making our arrival into Cairo a few hours late…. Apparently that’s Egyptian luck, if the train is on time coming into your station then you are guaranteed to be late arriving at your final destination… late to arrive for pickup, on time or early to arrive for final destination!!
So we got into Cairo a few hours later than we wanted to meaning that we were a couple of hours late for our trip into the old part of Cairo. I have always associated the word ‘Coptic’ with Christian as in Coptic Christians.. I discovered today that Coptic actually is the word for Old Egyptian so Coptic Christian actually means Egyptian Christian (and these days it is its own orthodox denomination). Another anecdote worth mentioning is that the Christians live in fairly good harmony with the Islamic community… The couple of issues they have had here have been blown out of proportion by our western media and from what I’ve heard here there really aren’t that many issues… Of course I’ve heard all of this from Egyptian’s who are Muslim but they seem to be fair dinks and we definitely have a skewed view of the Islamic world…. I remember before I travelled to the Mid East I had so many people ask me why I was travelling into the Mid East… the questions/ comments normally went along the lines of ‘why do you want to go there?’ ‘aren’t you worried about your safety?’ ‘be careful, women aren’t treated the same there you know..’ etc etc. To be fair I haven’t had any issues here in the Mid East and wouldn’t really expect to have any issues here.. the people are friendly and like anywhere in the world, if you are careful you will have no issues!
We entered into Coptic Cairo meaning Old Cairo and started our journey by visiting the oldest Mosque in Egypt (circa 650 AD). The mosque isn’t one of the most beautiful I’ve seen on this trip but it was very serene and peaceful inside and the atmosphere allowed us to have a discussion with our guide (not Sam today we had a lady called Hind) about being a modern day woman in an Islamic country. I discovered today that the ladies wear the veil (Hijab) out of preference rather than requirement (well at least they do here in Egypt). It is a requirement according to the Koran that the women cover themselves to ensure that they don’t tempt other men. It is however a decision between the woman herself and Allah. Some modern day women in Egypt are choosing to not wear the Hijab or are choosing to wear the Hijab but to still wear western style clothes (which are probably more revealing then they probably should be). However it is a personal choice! (I will preface this comment with, it also does depend though on a woman’s family or husband.. they may require that their daughter/ wife dress differently if the family is more conservative!)
Hind also told us about the five pillars of Islam- There is one God and no other and that Mohammed is his prophet, Prayers to Allah are a daily ritual and must occur at five different times of the day, Ritual fasting during Ramadan, Charity for the poor and the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The pillars of Islam are just like the Christian Ten Commandants. They are the way that Muslim’s must live by to be considered good Muslims and therefore to go to Heaven when they die. Muslim’s also recognise the Old Testament and they recognise that Jesus was a prophet (but not the son of God) but of course Mohammed was the main prophet who delivered God’s message to the Islamic world. All in all, it was a good time in the Mosque because I came to realise that the religion is actually not that different to the Christian faith… I guess like everywhere the ‘nut jobs’ use religion as an excuse to commit their atrocities.. no different to the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi’s… Another interesting anecdote about the Islamic faith is that there are actually still original copies of the teachings of Mohammed in Mecca that were written down during Mohammed’s lifetime!! Unlike the Christian faith where the Bible has been corrupted over the years by the leaders of the different Christian denominations..
We left the mosque and headed further into the old quarter of Cairo to see some of the oldest Christian churches in the world. We made a stop at the Hanging Church. This church was built directly on top of Roman ruins and so as you enter inside the church you discover that the church is actually built over a huge hollowed out area that was once a Roman tower… The church literally hangs out over the tower! The architecture inside the church is really beautiful… you can see the Orthodox influence but in a totally Egyptian way! I have to say that the church really puts some of the great Anglican/ Catholic churches in the west to shame.. Its small, intimate, polished wooden beams, stained glass windows, Moorish arches and mosaics… honestly beautiful!
As we made our way deeper into the old part of Cairo we had to start meandering through little cobblestoned streets filled with salesmen selling jewellery and old photographs! I’m going to have to spend some of my extra time at the end of my trip back in this part of Cairo buying some old photographs!! At the end of one small street we came to another Christian church. This one was rebuilt in the 12th century but supposedly the Holy Family lived in the basement of this church when they visited Egypt! The basement is now closed off to tourists (due to rising water table) which is probably not a bad idea considering the number of pilgrims this church must get on an annual basis! The interior of this church isn’t as ornate as the Hanging Church but I guess has more significance for the Christian community than the Hanging Church!
We continued our wandering through the small cobblestoned streets and made our way to one of the old Jewish synagogues. The synagogue was a converted Christian church and you can feel the influence! Today it is a monument to marble! But unfortunately is no longer a working synagogue.. it is only used for the number of tourists who come every year to check out how the three religions have lived in harmony for the past couple of thousands of years!
Our plan was to go and see the Kan al Khalilli bazaar after lunch but we were all fairly shopped out so decided to forgo the experience and instead head back to the hotel to have a good rest because tomorrow we are all off to Mt Sinai and St Katherine’s monastery (a good five hour journey with another very early start to the day!). Sheila and I spent the remainder of the day having some tasty chicken for lunch before we did a bit of grocery shopping and emailing before heading into bed early!