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The Capital of Arabdom – The “Victorious City"-Fostat-Improvements by Saladin-The Mameluke Sovereignty-Modern
Cairo—The Ezbekeeyeh-Palaces of the Khedive-The Citadel—The Glory of the "After-glow"-A Marvellous View Mosques in the Citadel – The Massacre of the Mamelukes-Bazaars-Oriental Customs-Religious Festivals-Legendary Sites—The Nile-Nilometer-Island of Roda-Boulak and its Museum - Heliopolis — The Virgin's Tree–The Pyramids - The Sphinx-Education in Egypt-A School Interior-Public Schools – The University - Population-Copts and their Worship-Fellaheen and their Cruel Bondage–Taxation.
AIRO is the Queen of Eastern Cities. It is essentially
Arab, and though in Africa, is the most Asiatic city in the world, except perhaps Damascus. The people do not call themselves Egyptians, but Arabs; Arabic is the language spoken, and the religion is that of the Arabian prophet. It does not possess the historical interest or the commercial importance of Alexandria, but it is the centre of Arab civilisation, and has more purely Oriental features than Constantinople or any other city of its size in Europe, Asia, or Africa. It is in Cairo rather than in Damascus or Bagdad that the scenes of the “ Thousand and One Nights” can be realised; it is in Cairo only that gorgeous Orientalism
can be seen in contrast-startling but not always inharmonious—with the latest results of modern civilisation. Its most interesting historical associations, dating back only as far as the days of the mighty Saladin, are but as yester
day compared with those of Alexandria ; its religious associations are of El-Islam only ; its great men were all Caliphs and Khedives. Yet “it is the true capital of Arabdom—not its holy city, but its Paris.”
Cairo, Kahira, Masr el-Kahira, or “The Victorious City,” is situated on the right bank of the Nile, at the foot of a spur of the Mokattam or Arabian hills, and occupies "the place in Egypt which the heart does in the human body. Its site is the natural centre
of Egypt—the master of Cairo is the master of the whole country.”
It is the largest city in Africa, and the second city of the Turkish Empire. It is said that when Cambyses—B.C. 525 —conquered Egypt he founded New Babylon on the site where Old Cairo
stands. In 638 New Babylon was taken by a general of the Caliph Omar, and a curious legend attaches to the event. After the siege, when he was about to have the tent he had occupied taken down, the time having come when he should pursue his victorious march to Alexandria, he found that a pigeon had built her nest upon his tent (fostát), and with a tenderness not unknown to other warriors, he commanded that the tent should be left standing
until the young birds should MASHREBEEYEH OR LATTICE WINDOW IN CAIRO.
take wing. When he had cap
tured Alexandria he returned to his tent, and lo! a city had sprung up around it, to which the name of Fostât was given.
In the year A.D. 969, Gowher, a general of Moez, the first of the Fatamite sovereigns of Egypt, conquered Fostât, and founded Cairo, which henceforth became the capital of Egypt and the residence of the Caliphs. In proportion as Cairo increased Fostât decreased ; in the time of the Crusaders it was utterly destroyed, and at the present time huge mounds of rubbish alone mark the place where it once stood. Under Saladin (Yoosef Salabeddeen) Cairo was greatly improved, the citadel was built, and a wall of solid masonry erected to enclose the city, which, under his luxurious and extravagant successors, was from time to time enlarged and improved. In the course of its history many reverses and
checks were met with ; at one time (1318) hundreds of thousands of persons were swept away by the plague; under the régime of the Jameluke Sultans internal dissensions produced great havoc among the people, and retarded the progress of the city; cruel perse(utions of the Christians prevailed at times, during which the churches were demolished, and in order to save themselves from horrible forms of death they were forced to embrace the religion of Islam. In 1517 the Mameluke Sovereignty was overthrown by Sultan Selim, and Cairo
, became a mere Turkish province, sinking so rapidly that it has no history whatever until 1795, when the Battle of the Pyramids was fought, and Cairo became the head-quarters of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French were forced by the Turks to capitulate in 1801; and in 150.) Johammed Ali took possession as Pasha of Egypt. He treacherously gathered the remnant of the Mamelukes together, and massacred them in cold blood in the citadel. In his reign the city revived, vast improvements were made, and a new life was given to Cairo; but the changes introduced by Mohammed Ali were as nothing compared with those carried out with reckless extravagance by the late Khedive, Ismail Pasha.
The city is divided into ten quarters, each under the superintendence of a Sheikh, and each separated from the other by gates, which are closed at night, and cannot be passed unless the porter cares to open, and the wayfarer carries a lantern as prescribed by an ancient law. In the old part of the city the houses are situated in an intricate labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys, so narrow that in some parts it is difficult for two donkeys to pass, while in others the neighbours in the upper storeys of the houses are able to converse in a low whisper from opposite sides of the street, and on a stretch can even shake lands. In these streets of old Cairo, scenes are to be witnessed, and customs and habits to be traced, which carry the thought of the traveller back through thousands of years of history; Oriental observances, Oriental splendour, Oriental life in all its phases, may be seen and studied, as we shall hereafter show. In startling contrast to all this is the Cairo of the Khedive. A short distance from the railway station-itself a modern innova
A — tion-after passing strings of camels and palm-trees, and an Eastern crowd flashing the bright colours of their costumes under an Eastern sky, suddenly a new Paris bursts upon the sight. Here is a palace for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; over there is the Opera House, there the French Theatre, there magnificent hotels and long ranges of handsome shops; while in the large open space in the centre, enclosed with iron railings, are the gardens of the Ezbekeeyeh, a kind of Parc Monceaux—the Champs Elysées of Egypt. Here are beds of exquisite flowers and the unprecedented luxury of grassy lawns literally lying under water to save them from the fierce sun ; there palm-trees, shrubberies, and exotics rich and rare. Then we find cascades and cafés, grottoes and kiosks, and a rustic bridge over a lake, where in the evening thousands of gas-jets in coloured glass globes illuminate the scene, while military bands play the latest European quadrilles, and men, women, and children of all nations, peoples, and tongues, and in all manner of costumes conceivable and inconceivable, meet together in the gay promenade which to the eye of a stranger looks like an exaggeration of a bal masqué or fancy fair.
Besides the Ezbekeeyeh, there are other new Quarters where handsome streets, boulevards, and public buildings have sprung up in place of the crowded rookeries which only
THE SUMMER PALACE.
a few years since were there. These are the Boulevard Méhémet Ali, the Moskee, the New Quarter of Ismaïlieh and Abdeen. At the last-named place is the palace which was the favourite of Ismaïl Pasha.
Other palaces, far too numerous to mention, are scattered all round Cairo; some are magnificent, some flimsy. There is the villa at Ghizeh, near the Pyramids, and another on the road thither, another facing the island of Roda, another at Gezireh, on the west bank of the river opposite Boulak, another, in the French style, near Old Cairo, and another in the citadel ; while in the journey up the Nile, it is a standing joke to ask, whenever a house or garden or wall is seen, “Is that too a palace of the Khedive ?” a
” One of the most attractive is the Summer Palace at Shoobra, once the favourite residence of Mohammed Ali. The road to it lies through a beautiful shady avenue of old sycamore and acacia trees, and at the fashionable hours crowds of pedestrians and a ceaseless tide of carriages pour up and down this “Drive” and Rotten Row of Cairo. Here may be found every style of carriage, from the elegant equipages of the Khedive and the ladies of his harem down to the equivalent of a costermonger's cart; and every style of person, from the Ministers of State to the poorest fellah ; and every description of "mount,” from the pure blood Arab to the most jaded of sore-backed donkeys; and every variety of costume, from the costly embroideries of Damascus to the simple calico fold around the waist. The gardens of the Summer Palace are very pretty, abounding in orange, lemon, citron, and pepper trees, and Howers of intoxicating odour and dazzling colours, while fountains send. forth the cool splash of their waters, and shady alcoves in courts of marble tempt the traveller to rest. Coming from the glare and heat of the afternoon sun into the midst of this paradise is like realising a fairy tale.
There are several fine open spaces in Cairo besides the Ezbekeeyeh-the Birket-el-Fyl, which gives its name to one of the old central Quarters; the Roumeyleh near the citadel, the scene of some of the great Mohammedan fêtes and festivals; and the Kara-meidan, the chief market-place for horses, donkeys, and camels, and a good place for studying some of the characteristics of the people. All these open spaces have been cleared of the filth and rubbish that fomerly encumbered them, and have been made creditable and serviceable.
The Citadel—“El-Kaleh "-was built by Saladin in 1166, on the last rocky projection of the Mokattam range, from materials taken from the Pyramids of Ghizeh. It comprises, besides the barracks, the Ministry of War, the palace of Mohammed Ali, used for State ceremonials, the gigantic Mosque of Mohammed Ali, the mint, a cannon foundry, and workshops. There is no doubt the site of the Citadel a mistake, for although it commands the city, the Mokattam hills command it-a weak point which was seen at a glance by Mohammed Ali, in 1805, when he planted his cannon on the hills and compelled the Pasha to surrender the Citadel. There is an Arabian tradition to the effect that Saladin selected this spot because it was found that meat kept fresh twice as long here as anywhere else in Cairo.
There is probably no view in the world to equal that from the Citadel ; it is splendid by daylight, but is surpassed by the incredible beauty of sunset and the “after-glow," when the crimson haze of the short Egyptian twilight bathes the whole panorama in colours which would be deemed extravagantly improbable if attempted in a painting-colours