Today was another day in Cairo and we visited Old Cairo. This area was such a contrast to the modern sections of the city. Our tour started in the morning, which is when everyone is cleaning their storefronts and the street in front of their stores. They were scrubbing all the floors and streets. It is amazing how dirty everything gets every day. This tour was definitely off the beaten path but worth it. We visited the house of Bayt Al-Suhaymi, a rich and wealthy family during the Ottoman Empire. The house was as large as a palace, with the classical Ottoman architecture including the Haremlik and Selamlik sections of the house. The Selamlik, on the first floor, is the men’s quarters and the Haremlik, on the second floor, is the women’s quarters. In the Haremlik, the windows are all covered with a wooden pattern called mashrabiya, so that the women could look out without being seen. The woodwork and marble work was incredible.
After leaving the house, we visited several mosques from the fourth and seventh centuries including the oldest and the largest in Africa. Many of them are under restoration or have been restored. The architecture and details were wonderful. Depending on the mosque, they either had a second floor or a section walled off with a wooden screen for women to pray. During this time, we also saw two Coptic churches, one built on top of an old Roman column in the shape of an ark. This was called the Hanging Church because during the flood the column was flooded and the church looked like it was floating. The second church is under renovation, but it is on the spot where the holy family was supposed to have lived for a while in a cave when they were in Egypt fleeing Herod’s persecution. Both churches also had underground tunnels for escape, as they were built during the time of the Roman persecution of Christians. Lastly, we visited the oldest synagogue in Egypt, Ben Ezra. It was also built in the seventh century and was actually converted from an old Coptic church. With all the religious strife, it is amazing to see Sunni and Shia mosques, synagogues, and Christian churches within a short walking distance from each other, coexisting for hundreds of years. Once we left old Cairo, we went to lunch and then back to the hotel for a nap. After resting, we went to the small mall attached to the hotel for dinner and then returned to our room to prepare for the next day.
Reflections and Tips:
Take the path less traveled: Our tour guide was so surprised that we wanted to go to old Cairo because not many people do. However, we were able to see such a different side of the city by branching out a bit.