« PreviousContinue »
Bazar of the Tentmakers, who embroider the awnings which render Mohammedan festivals so gay. At its end is the Bab-es-Suweyla. The Sûk of the Armourers conducts you through a magnificent old street lined on both sides with ancient Arab mansions, and containing the lovely mediaeval baths of Sultan Beshtak, still in use, to the back of the El-Merdani mosque, five centuries old, the most gracious in all Cairo, with its wide gateways revealing its sunny court and the antique glories of its sanctuary. In the Haret-es-Merdani is the old mansion whose courtyard artists love to paint. For one side of it is rich with all the architectural graces of the Arabs—its Mak'ad or open hall, has three great arches rising to the roof, a recessed doorway, almost as lofty, at the head of the steps which lead up from the court, and a balcony graced with two pavilions of meshrebiya for the harem ladies: its windows are screened with old woodwork, and its walls are arabesqued. At ElMerdani this joins the Sharia-el-Tabbana, the continuation of the Sharia-el-Magar, the finest of the three approaches. For that starts on the ridge, between the procession of old mosques which leads up from Sultan Hassan's mosque to the gate of the Citadel, and the lordly mediaeval cemetery called the Tombs of the Caliphs, whose shrines, stretching into the desert, form the most beautiful and romantic vision in the kingdom of Arabian art. From this point the road leads swiftly down past mosque after mosque, mansion after mansion—fantastic creations, mostly like Ibrahim Agha's (called the Blue Mosque from the old Persian tiles which line its spacious sanctuary), mellowed by the hands of time and decay into lines of exquisite softness. The Kitchmas mosque, perfect, and of the fifteenth century, is built across the street. As you round it you come on a vision hardly less lovely than the Tombs of the Caliphs.
For there, below you, capped by the fantastic minarets of
the old El-Muayyad mosque, profiled against the blue Egyptian sky, is the Bab-es-Suweyla gate—the heart of ancient Cairo.
Here you can put off Europe and modernity as the worshipper, entering the mosque beside the gate, puts off his shoes. For in the Sukkariya, the broad road spanned by the gate—though it is vulgarised by European haberdashery, you are never out of sight of one of its noble mosques and sebils. The street, in Arab fashion, changes its name twice or thrice before you reach the Sudanese bazar, with its painted chests and leopard skins, and turn up to the vast and ancient precincts of El-Azhar, the thousand-year-old university of all Islam. Step across the Muski, and for a while the spell is broken, for, though the Khordaguiya is guarded at its entrance by an ancient mosque, and has on its left the narrow-laned bazar, crowded with veiled women, where the goldsmiths are forging their delicate filigree over charcoal flames, this street, and the brass market at its end, have intrusions of foreigners and foreign wares flowing out of the Khanil-Khalil, the great bazar on the right, where the sellers of carpets, embroideries, precious stones, laces, and antiquities arrange their wares in foreign ways for the foreigners to buy. You are soon through this nightmare and back in your pleasant dream of the Middle Ages in the Mosque land of El-Nahassin, the most romantic highway of antiquity in all Cairo. The Muristan and mosque of Sultan Kalason, the mosque and tomb of Sultan En-Nasr, the mosque of Sultan Barkūk, and the old sheikh's house beyond—where else is such a thicket of the flowers of old Arab architecture to be found 2 This majestic cluster of mosques has a Gothic richness and a Gothic gateway, a captive from Acre; the exquisite minarets present a diapering of hoary stone, like the handiwork of the lacemaker or the chaser of precious metals. And, within, there is every antique grace, from the ruins in the hospital of Kalańn and the tomb of En-Nasr to the resurrection of mediaeval art, from its ashes in Kalasn's mosque, and the imperishable splendour of the fifteenth century. There are the ruins of a Caliph's palace opposite and other ' A fascinating place, where I have bargained for whole days.
old mosques beyond—El-Hakim itself, indeed, and the mighty wall and gates of the age of Saladin; but we must turn up to the Beit-el-Kadi, with the only five-arched Mak'ad in Cairo. Was it not the palace of the Grand Cadi, and of the Caliphs of El-Kahira before him P Turning our backs on this, we are soon in the Gamaliya, the stronghold of Cairo mediaevalism, the street which delights the heart of the Arab. At its entrance, look where you will, you see noble old Mameluke palaces overshadowing the street, with their ranges of harem oriels screened with the old brown pierced woodwork of their meshrebiya. Here is a ruined mosque; there is a stately fountain ; there one of the ancient gates for closing the ends of streets at night. Push boldly through it. Step to the end of the alley and knock at a feudal doorway. This is the palace of Sultan Beybars. The major-domo of the courteous sheikh will come out and conduct you through a leafy court, with the grandest screen of meshrebiya in all Cairo, resting on the garden hall at the end, into the throne-room of Sultan Beybars, who died six hundred years ago. The carved wood throne, from which he administered justice, stands where it stood. Behind that is the hall of the fêtes of the harem, like a mosque of Kait Bey, as high as it is long, with mellow-painted ceiling and graceful moresco arches to separate the dasses from the sunken floor, tessellated with rare marbles, under the cupola. But here this floor has an added grace—an exquisite Moorish fountain in its centre, and the dasses are spread with the rich carpets and soft divans, which betoken that its mediaeval splendour does not form a museum, but the home in which a Cairo notable of to-day leads his luxurious life.
“SUHAG (Kism) [UPP. EGypt].
* “Messrs. TROLLOPE, SoNs & Co., Bristol.
“Wherefore have you not send me that sope—I am
order from you. His it because you think my money is not so good as nobody else.
“Damn you Trollup, Sons & Co., wherefore have you not send me the sope—sent it at once and oblige.
“Your humble servant,
“After I write this my wife have found the sope under the counter.”
Killed by a serpent while it was trying to commit suicide.”
When Cromwell Rhodes had returned to England a Nekla correspondent sent him the following account of what he aptly termed a “strange event.”:
“While a native from Kafr Awana, which is half a mile from Nekla, Behera, was fast asleep in the middle of the day
* This story under different names is also told against a grocer in North Wales. But surely the Egyptian version must be the original. * Most of the irresistibly humorous incidents of Egyptian life which appear in this volume were related to me by Mr. or Mrs. Cromwell Rhodes, who were long resident in the land of the Phoenix.
under the shade of a tree in the field, some days ago, a serpent suddenly entered his mouth. The fellah got up at once, but, alas, everything was already in. He then kept it in mind day and night for a few days, during which he grew pale and ill and at last died, a murder of the would-be-killed reptile.”
Egyptians have a habit of sleeping with their mouths open. Under an arch by the Beit-el-Kadi at Cairo, I came upon a seller of magenta-coloured celluloid bracelets sleeping, with her head thrown back over the stone designed to prevent carriages from going too near the wall. Her mouth was like a black tunnel—you could not see a particle of red on tongue or palate, gums or linings—they were so thickly coated with crawling flies. It was large enough to take in a short snake like Cleopatra's asp, quite comfortably.
Mr. S. Awny is a specimen of the educated Egyptian, whom the Nationalist Press in Egypt considers ripe to govern the country—rather a good specimen, for his heart is in the right place. He wrote this:
“Of the Egyptian Morning News. “SIR,
“Have they pitied the Poor,
“Now gently, gently | Thou our reverned Ministry of Public Instruction | Again, slowly slowly Thou our good honourable Ministry.
“Be patient and hurry not in publishing thy recent syllabus of the coming year: have the kindness as to look notionally and attentively at thy poor needed subject whom I supposed thou tyrannized and oppressed over. Oh, Mine tremulous hand just stop shaking, I pray, and firmly hold the glowworm to pen all what thou could for defending about the duties of the poor whom I believe are always downhearted and were to be frequently seen shedding their hot tears from their sweet eyes for being unlucked enough.