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Here it was the Mamelukes were decoyed and slaughtered by Mohammed Ali — of blessed memory - in the year of grace 1811. To be sure, they aver that one Mameluke escaped by causing his horse to leap through a breach in the parapet to the ravine below - but the point at which this is now said to have occurred seems inconsistent with the story of the massacre.
Persistent rascals claiming to be “watchmen” are almost certain to attach themselves to your party, no matter which way you go up, and a good deal of firmness is required to drive them away. Of course their presence is absolutely needless and their importunity unwelcome. Therefore drive them off at any cost. Your first experience of Cairo ought not to be marred by the presence of any babbling attendant, full of lies and insistent for backsheesh. As for "watchmen” to “protect you,” — always the wailing plea of the designing beggar, - you need them far more in Broadway than on the Citadel.
The best of all the views is to be had from a narrow platform on the farther side of the mosque of Mohammed Ali, and to reach it you circle the building and follow a paved path, sore beset by maimed, halt, and blind. From here the entire town lies unfolded to your view, its close-packed houses broken here and there by the tawny forms of mosques with
yellow domes and graceful minarets. Its eastern quarters at your feet present a perfect labyrinth. From the muddle of streets arises a clatter and a tumult muffled by the distance. Far across the city towers the dome of the museum and away to the west the pyramids rear themselves majestically through the dust and haze. It is a fearful drop from the platform to the gulfs below, and of course they have selected the most imposing depth of all for the point at which the bold Mameluke sprang with his steed. No wonder Saladin, who was not mindful of the advent of artillery, chose the spot for his fortress in the long ago. The Mokhattam hills behind seemed far enough away for safety in 1176. Even when you go around to the back of the Citadel and look out of its narrow postern, the cliffs still seem sufficiently distant to warrant the use of the present hill as the location for a fort. Time, however, has changed all that - and to-day the sole use of the Citadel is for barracks resembling those one sees at Gibraltar, the alabaster mosque in the midst adding a most unmilitary touch to what once was grim and threatening.
What I would emphasize is that, from the Citadel, Cairo really satisfies the eye as an Oriental spot better in fact than it is likely to do when you come to inspect it in detail below. Take a long look, therefore, from the lofty platform and appreciate the magnitude of the town, its wonderful situation where the valley broadens to the Delta, and its wealth of slender towers and domes. Nothing else about the Citadel compares with the view to be had there, and even the view pales before the still broader prospect that will be had later when there is time to ascend the bare and ruddy cliffs behind. That, however, is a journey by itself. For the present be content with an inspection of the mosque of Mohammed Ali — and then go down to meet Cairo at close grips.
It is a showy mosque, built in a manner unlike that which most such edifices affect. Its surface is of a coarse-grained yellow alabaster so distinctive in tone as to give to the mosque its colloquial name— the Alabaster Mosque. A little knot of men squat at its narrow door, selling tickets of admission and tying on the necessary yellow shoes — for never may one set trim Christian boots within the ground sacred to Allah. Mohammedans must go barefoot to the shrine, and further 'must lave themselves at the fountain in the midst of the open court. Once, I suppose, the Christian dogs had to unshoe themselves as well, but it has been discovered that Occidental curiosity is fully equal to paying a piastre for yellow overshoes that flap, and come untied, and get themselves mixed up in the mattings with which most mosques are floored.
Mohammed Ali's mosque was built by a Greek from Constantinople, and it was not finished until 1857, so that it comes honestly by its appearance of modernity. Poor old Mohammed Ali — founder of the present Egyptian dynasty, such as it is – did not live to see it completed, and lies buried in a magnificent tomb under one of the corner domes.
The first view of the edifice reveals a broad and sunlit court, arcaded all around, paved with stone, and provided with the customary fountain. The actual building lies entirely to the east — toward Mecca. The other three sides of the court are apparently of no great importance. Within, the building gives more the impression of a palace than a mosque. It is carpeted with thick rugs, and heavy curtains are hung all about. Great chandeliers depend from the roof, and daylight filters down from the huge Byzantine lantern high above the central dome. It is like an enormous state apartment, despite its lofty pulpit at one side. It is florid and gaudy. Tap one of the panels or pilasters surreptitiously, and you will discover that it is a shameless wooden imitation of the prevailing alabaster.
Nevertheless it is a handsome building in its decadent way; but one is almost certain to like it better from afar, as it soars gracefully toward the sky from its hoary height, flanked by its two slender, pencil
pointed minarets, and forming the culminating point of Cairo as viewed from river and plain. Let us leave it, then, scramble down the dusty footway to the square, and begin our acquaintance with Cairo at closer quarters. Let us go entirely across the town to the bank of the river, if you please, and then work backward, for thus we shall be afforded some illuminating contrasts between West and East.
One must travel something like a mile eastward from the river before reaching the distinctively Oriental portion of Cairo. The part of the city that lies close to the Nile, excepting only the hamlet of Boulac, is thoroughly Europeanized. Its streets are broad and are lined with great hotels, smart shops, churches, clubs, residences of the rich. Lebbakh trees — the most common trees of Cairo, quick-growing, shortrooted, liable to be blown down — cast a grateful shade. Bougainvillea clambers in purple magnificence over the porticoes. In all this there is nothing, save the dress of the passing natives, to recall the sights of our numerous World's Fairs, on whose reproductions of Oriental life most of us base our preconceptions of the streets of Cairo.
It is in the great highway that leads down past Shepheard's that one first meets the real East - an East that is largely on parade for the delectation of the sowaheen, to be sure, but genuine for all that.