Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Travel: Islamic Cairo

The Guardian, UK (David Shariatmadari)

The attendant, Samir, unlocked the wooden door to the minaret and left me to go in alone. I had taken off my shoes to cross the threshold, but he explained I would need them again for the minaret climb. As I walked unaccompanied up the stone steps in the half-light, avoiding assorted debris, I felt a bit like I was trespassing. But this wasn't a private part of Cairo's Mosque of al-Ghouri - the minaret is open to any visitors who want to see it. It's just that not many do.

Once on the roof I was able to look out across the mass of sand-coloured houses and shops towards the citadel and the Muqattam hills. From there a spiral staircase – I had to feel my way up part of it because it was pitch black – took me to a balcony about three-quarters of the way up the minaret. A creaky ladder led to the level at which the muezzin, in the days before loudspeakers, would have made his call to prayer. I decided not to risk it. Instead I just sat and looked at what could have been a vision from the middle ages: the narrow street below, crammed with goods for sale – huge bales of cotton, clothes and carpets – and people walking to and fro between the market and the old city gates.

The idea of being immersed in the past is something that tempts millions of tourists to Egypt each year. The country's ancient heritage, is, of course, the big draw, but the problem with this is that the rest of its history can get overlooked.

See the above page for the rest of the three-page story.

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