The gate itself has two minarets and is the last southern gate of the old town still standing.
Right next door is the red-and-white stonework of the Sheikh al-Mu'ayyad Mosque , and a few steps farther away are the fascinating artisan stalls of the Street of the Tentmakers , where Egypt's bright fabric used for weddings and other special occasions is sold in bulk. The northern section of Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street is rimmed by fine Mamluk buildings, which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory. The Madrassa of as-Salih Ayyub , built in , is a showcase of the tranquil simplicity of Islamic architecture. Directly across the road from the madrassa is the drop-dead gorgeous Madrassa of Qalaun, rightly considered one of the Mamluk period's greatest architectural triumphs.
It was completed in by Qalaun's son, Muhammad al-Nasir, and has an interior packed to the brim with intricate tile work, fine marble, mother-of-pearl mosaics, and stained-glass windows. Qalaun's madrassa also functioned as a hospital when it first opened. A little farther north is the younger built in Madrassa of an-Nasr Mohammed with plenty of ornate detailing to admire, before you come to the fabulous Egyptian Textile Museum with a collection that spans the Pharaonic era right up to the Islamic period. At the time it was built, it was the largest mosque in existence.
The Main Court's colonnades have plentiful surviving fragments of intricate frieze work on display and open onto a series of narrow-fronted halls. The main prayer hall on the southern side of the court still holds onto fragments of its older decoration of carved stucco and wood, and the mihrab here has remnants of its original gold mosaic decoration. On the mosque's northern side is the meter-high minaret with a fine horseshoe arch over the entrance and a spiral staircase swirling through the interior. It is modeled on the minarets of the Great Mosque of Samarra on the Tigris.
If you climb the steps up to its upper platform there are superb views extending over the sea of houses to the north, and to the Mokattam Hills in the east. Built over what was essentially a medieval rubbish dump, Al-Azhar Park is the green lungs of the old district. It was opened in and provides a much needed respite to the overcrowded chaos of Cairo's street hustle.
Inside, the gloriously manicured gardens are a lovely place for an evening stroll, especially as the views over the entire old city are gorgeous from here at sunset. There are also a couple of good restaurants on-site, so it's the perfect spot to put your feet up after a long day of sightseeing.
If you come on the weekend, the park is packed full of local families escaping the surrounding roar of traffic that cocoons the rest of Cairo. Al-Azhar Park is most easily visited by taking a taxi, but if you're already in the Islamic Cairo district and it's not too hot, you can turn east onto Darb al-Ahmar Street from Bab Zuweila and walk to the lower park entrance. The Nile island of Gezira is home to the district of Zamalek and the majority of Cairo's arty boutiques and hipster restaurants.
Zamalek is Cairo's top dining destination, but the southern tip of Gezira also has a clutch of art galleries to explore. The Palace of Arts is housed in the Nile Grand Hall on the former Gezira Fair Grounds, and features a schedule of rotating exhibitions in its galleries. Much of the southern section of Gezira is taken up by the exclusive tennis courts and riding stables of the Gezira Sports Club, but towering above all the lush greenery is the meter-high Cairo Tower , built in by President Nasser.
A trip up the observation deck at sunset to see dusk settle over the city is a must. Inside the palace gardens, right at the island's southern tip, is Cairo's Nilometer, which was used to measure the ebb and flow of the Nile and predict the annual flood heights. Unlike the Nilometers you'll see in Upper Egypt such as the surviving Nilometer on Elephantine Island in Aswan , this one is a much later construction, built in AD Also in the palace grounds is the small Umm Khalthum Museum , which celebrates the life of Egypt's famed diva.
Umm Khalthum is the Arab world's beloved songstress, and you'll hear her music everywhere you go in Egypt, blasted out onto the street from ahwas traditional coffeehouses and on the stereo of nearly every taxi. Inside, the museum holds a collection of the singer's possessions, including her fabulously sequined stage costumes, and there's an interesting black and white documentary on her life with English subtitles. Outside the palace, Roda Island's streets are fun to wander and still have some dilapidated mansion architecture of the early 20th century.
The north end of Roda island holds the gorgeously ornate Manyal Palace. After an extensive restoration, which took several years, it has re-opened to the public. The buildings here are an eccentric riot of styles that cherry-pick influences from both traditional Arabic and palatial European designs, resulting in an over-the-top, lavish symphony of interiors. Check out the Reception Palace, where guests were hosted, with its elaborate wood ceilings, and then the Residential Palace with its Rococo flourishes, Ottoman-style tile work, and oil paintings.
The Throne Palace, decked out in gold, is the real highlight here, though. The complex was built in the early 20th century by the uncle of King Farouk. It's set within lush green gardens on the shore of the island.
A Review of "The Buried" by Peter Hessler
Caliph Al-Hakim is one of the most fascinating rulers of Egypt. This Fatimid leader was renowned for his terrifying rule over the land, which included frequent murders of his royal household staff; nightly patrols of the streets of his city, dressed incognito on a donkey to make sure his subjects were behaving themselves; and issuing bizarre rulings across the country such as banning the eating of the Egyptian mallow-leaf, called molokheya, because only he wanted to be able to consume it.
His mosque, finished in AD , has functioned over the centuries as a madrassa, Crusader fortress, and mental hospital and was completely restored in the s. The minarets here are the most interesting architectural elements.
Capital Cairo: A Regime of Graphics
They were originally round, and their present square casing and domed top sections resembling an Arab incense burner date from their rebuilding after Cairo's earthquake. The mosque sits in between two of the old city district's most important gates. Bab el-Futuh Gate of Conquests on the mosque's western side and Bab el-Nasr Gate of Victory to the east are similar in form to ancient Roman town gates and were both built in If you want to capture a sense of late 19th-century Cairo, when the city was nicknamed the "Paris of the East," take a stroll through the downtown district with your gaze diverted up at the car-exhaust blackened architecture rather than on the bedlam at street level.
Some of the best remnants are around Midan Talaat Harb. Today, the former private apartments of the king are open as a museum and contain a bizarre collection of pictures, tapestries, and gifts that have been given to Egypt's presidents by visiting dignitaries. Downtown Cairo is easily navigated on foot — if you don't mind dodging traffic as you cross the roads.
Cairo is a huge city with several nice neighborhoods in close proximity to major tourist attractions. Many of the luxury hotels are along the Nile River, and budget hotels are scattered around the city. Some of the best places to stay are the Garden City district and Gezira Island, both of which are centrally located in Cairo close to some of the major attractions, including the Egyptian Museum.
Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:. At the southern end of Gezira Island, with incredible views over the Nile from the rooms, the restaurants, and the infinity pool, the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah is an elegant five-star property with outstanding service. All of these hotels offer easy access to the downtown and surrounding attractions. Just steps away from the Egyptian Museum is the Golden Hotel , with spacious, air-conditioned rooms and a free continental breakfast. In Zamalek, Hotel Longchamps is a relaxing boutique hideaway from the city's never-ending din with friendly staff and good-sized rooms, which feature modern, comfortable facilities.
A sightseeing tour is a great way to see Cairo's highlights without the hassle of finding your way around, dealing with aggressive touts, and having to negotiate prices. Instead, you can relax and enjoy the sights while you learn about the attractions from a qualified Egyptologist. These tours also include convenient hotel pickup and drop-off, as well as entrance to many of the sites. Below are some fun sightseeing tours that guarantee the lowest price:. The vast necropolis of Saqqara is home to the "other pyramids," and a day trip out here is just as rewarding as a trip to Giza's pyramids.
The Step Pyramid is Saqqara's most popular sight, but the entire area is littered with gorgeously painted tombs, which are well worth spending a few hours exploring. Just down the road is Dahshur's Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid, which should be added to a Saqqara itinerary if you have a full day spare. The remains of ancient Tanis, capital of the Tanite kings of the 21st and 22nd dynasties, lie in the northeast of the Nile Delta region, still partly buried under the ridge of the hills.
The excavated remains are not as substantial as other sites but are full of interest for the archaeologically inclined. The Temple Precinct is completely destroyed, with only scattered fragments left in place, but the royal necropolis , with its empty tombs, in the temple area is interesting to visit. The Al-Fayoum depression is a wonderful day out from Cairo, with plenty of gobsmacking natural beauty and a handful of excellent historic sites all within a two-hour drive from the city.
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A Wake up Call – Cairo Slums
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