Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Coptic Cairo and King Tut

Egyptian museum of antiquities

By Claire
Today began with a visit to the Egyptian Museum which has 136,000 items. We worked our way through with Samir, our wonderful Egyptologist and guide, taking us to the most interesting displays and explaining them in detail. We spent 3 hours and it included the King Tut exhibit with 17,000 items and the Mummy Room with about 12 mummies. No photos were allowed in the museum so you’ll just have to imagine, or better yet, come to Egypt. It was all quite fascinating. The sheer number of things found inside King Tut's tomb is staggering even if it is considered a small tomb. The mummies were the first I had ever seen and very interesting. But to think that we saw Ramses II and Queen Hatshepsut is thrilling.

After a great lunch in central Cairo at a place where I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists, we enjoyed Koushri again, this time with rice pudding for desert. Lunch was Samir’s treat.

We drove to Coptic Cairo, which is part of old Cairo and the Christian area of the city. 10% of Egypt’s population is Coptic Christian and they have their own pope. We started with the St. Sergus Church which was built above the cave where Jesus, Mary and Joseph stayed after fleeing Herod who ordered the death of all male children under two years of age. Once again, no photos allowed.

In the shell of a 4th Century Church is the 9th century Ben Ezra Synagogue. Tradition holds that this is the spot where the profit Jeremiah gathered the jews in the 6th century after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jerusalem temple. This is also the place where the pharaoh’s daughter is said to have found Moses in the reeds and where Mary drew water to wash Jesus. We were able to hear the chanting of a service going on upstairs.

With Samir--his height makes him easy to follow!

Roman Water Gate

The Hanging Church dates back to the 9th century and has a collection of saint’s relics and an icon of Mary. It is incorrectly called the Hanging Church—it is simply built on top of the Water Gate. The interior geometric designs are only distinguishable from Islamic designs by the tiny crosses in the pattern. We found it interesting to see how similar the Christian church, the Jewish Synagogue and the Muslim Mosque are. They all had the tongue and groove wood work designs and marble columns. We were lucky to observe a service in progress—delivered in Arabic and Coptic.

Hanging church

Hanging church inside

Amr Ibn Elaas Mosque is a large, but simple mosque, the first built in Egypt and in Africa. We sat with Samir and talked at length about Islam. He is so knowledgeable and open and makes the subject very interesting.

Samir--what a gentleman

The women stay behind the wooden partition or in the back during prayers, this being more comfortable than bending over and praying in front of the men.

Some images around Cairo:

Expenses for today:
Egyptian Museum, €15.50
Mummy Room, €20.64
Samir and driver, €150

If you are interested in having Samir guide you, check out his website, Real Egypt. He is worth every penny.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Pat in Santa Cruz said...

Oh I love it when you stay at a hotel and we get all of these updates!! Chuck's "walk like an Egyptian" pose is too funny. The "Samir the gentleman photo" is very special. Also liked the thumbs up guy at the tombs. The guided tour seems amazing. Was that a Rick Steves idea? I saw the King Tut exhibition in SF so am very envious of your seeing the real deal :-)

Elisabetta M. Saverini said...

C & C,

I too saw Tut in SF in prbly 1979 or so..nice small group b/c college alumnae club had reserved the venue in GGPark for the evening. Anyway, you inspired me to find the big beautiful book with 100 color plates that we'd bought that night; curious, i flipped the jacket to see what we'd paid for so lovely a volume 30years ago..but I'd discretely snipped the price off, only to find something even more gratifying: on the back jacket flap, the words:
Bellissimo! Elisabetta