Where dusty, old walls once stood as plain as the day they were built, there now is a plethora of colour, design and empassioned messages.
If you are visiting Cairo then take the time to visit Tahrir Square as well as the streets surrounding it and you will find a wealth of exciting street art adorning the city's previously sandy walls.
From Midan Tahrir walk up Mohamed Mahmoud street, beside the old American University of Cairo buildings, and then zig-zag around the streets to the east of the square to see the ever-changing canvases.
As you travel around Cairo, or Egypt, itself, keep your eyes open for street art, as it is now prevalent in every community and district.
To avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself or mis-understandings around the sensitive issue of the revolution and politics in Egypt, using large DSLR cameras to take photos should be avoided. Follow the advice of the British Embassy regarding visiting Tahrir Square, especially on Fridays, as it is often used for large gatherings.
Midan Tahrir, Mohamed Mahmoud street and the area between and around these streets.
Google map: bit.ly/Q3oq75
Egypt is open for business. Go NOW while there are so few tourists! Sad for the Egyptians who are desperate for tourism to pick up again, great for us as there were so few people at all the famous sites - Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel etc. No trouble, no problems. We also had a brilliant guide whose name was Amin. The crew on the boat were wonderful as was the food. Longwood Holiday agents were also very efficient.
If you want to get off the beaten track a bit in the Cairo area then Casual Cairo Detours will help you do exactly that.
The tours they organise give a unique insight into Egypt as they use local guides and drivers along with their expat English-speaking guide who accompanies each trip.
Their tours allow you to see and experience parts of Egypt that most travellers would find very difficult to access on their own.
They are really friendly and offer the perfect way of seeing more of Cairo and the delta area.
+2(02) 2415 2726
Alip is our Been there local for Cairo. Her homepage is here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/cairo-local-alice-allsop.jsp and you can follow her tips directly here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/alip
The church of Saint Samaan is beautiful and any visit to it will be a moving one. The huge cave that holds the church has been carved out of the Moqattam hills that overlook Cairo on the eastern edge of the city.
Moqattam is home to a large Coptic Christian community who collect the city’s rubbish and sort it by hand for recycling. There are various charity projects running in the area to help this marginalised community make a fair living. The Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) is one of them, and they can organise visits into the area to see the church and their workshops where they produce recycled paper and cloth goods.
* Alip is our Been there local for Cairo. Her page is here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/cairo-local-alice-allsop.jsp and you can follow her tips directly here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/alip
The Citadel and the mosque of Mohamed Ali gaze over the dusty city by day and shimmer beautifully in green and gold at night. There is much to see and do in the Citadel complex (it has several museums and re-furbished buildings to visit) but the highlight of a visit really is the view you get over the city.
On a good day you can spy the Cairo Tower and the pyramids in the distance, but don't feel disappointed if the Cairo smog puts their form out of reach as your eyes will be kept busy picking out the colour and movement of daily life as it flits across the grey canvas of the city below you. You can see the cars glistening as they drive along the Autostrad road, and this silvery streak through the city almost looks like a branch of the Nile. See if you can spot the different historic minaret styles that give a clue to the date of each mosque’s construction in he surrounding area.
If you can visit the Citadel on a Friday then do so: although you aren't able to go inside the Mohamed Ali mosque during Friday prayers, you can time a visit to experience the striking sounds of the call to prayer as it rings out across Cairo. To be looking out from the Citadel when the call to prayer goes out in the city of a thousand minarets is breathtaking.
There is no nearby metro station, so you will have to take a taxi to the Citadel. Try to take a "white" taxi as these have meters, which mean you avoid any confusion over payment. Ask for “gamaa Mohamed Ali” (Mohamed Ali mosque) or “il all ail qalla” (Citadel)
Bab Zuweyla is in the heart of Islamic Cairo, but actually marks the Southern gate of the old city (Bab meaning “gate”). The gatehouse has been restored, but the original arch and towers remain inside. You can enter the building to see the old gate, swing mechanism (including what are claimed to be the earliest examples of ball bearings in the world!), pottery and other fragments found by archaeologists. The main reason to visit, though, is to climb the gate towers to get a great view over this historic district of Cairo.
Your first pause for breath is at the top of the gate, where you can walk around at roof-level and peer down onto the streets below as boys cycle with balanced racks of bread on their heads, and women hang out their washing from the windows or on roofs that are also home to the family goat or pigeon coop. Then climb the dark and narrow spiral staircase in either of the two towers, to the first or second balcony and even braving the final few metal rungs if you have a head for heights and nerves of steel. Up here you can see the Citadel and Al-Azhar park, and can continue to marvel at daily life as it goes by like a busy scene in Where’s Wally.
Sharia Mu'ezz li-din Allah Darb al-Ahmar
Google map: bit.ly/vmYJBz
This is an old-school museum, built between 1897 and 1900 and stuffed with the golden treasures of pharoahs and the hordes of archaeological finds tracing Egyptian civilization over more than 5,000 years. The crowds tend to beeline for the golden, lapis-encrusted face of Tutankhamun and his other sumptuous funerary objects that made such a splash when they were discovered and later toured the world. It would literally take months to see everything on display, but don't miss the Palette of Narmer, a symbol of the original unification of Egypt more than five millennia ago. The best time to visit is in the afternoon, after the crowds thin.
Open daily 9am to 4.45pm (closed Friday 11.30am to 1.30pm) but the guards clear the Tutankhamun galleries at 4.30pm
Midan El Tahrir Cairo 11557, Egypt
Google map: bit.ly/jqImuN
The Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art has its base in a 1930's corner building and live music performances take place in a smallish (capacity 80 max) but double height room with a balcony. The acoustics are extraordinary and the atmosphere intimate. We saw a vibrant and inspiring performance of 'zar' ritual music by the Mazaher ensemble and afterward we shared a refreshing khakadee (hibiscus) drink with the tamboura player, who was 87!
1 Saad Zaghloul St. El Dawaween 11461 Cairo
+202 2792 0878
Cairo - a visit during the Revolution
Two good friends invited me on a trip to Cairo last week - it wasn't expected or perhaps to be particularly reIished, but after some web-surfing, it looked possible so why not? The Egyptians seemed to want tourists like never before, the politics were clearly fascinating, the museums were open but empty and flights were cheap. It was our best decision for years.
Dusk fell as we landed. 10 GB Pounds for the tourist visa and we were on our way to our hotel, met by a friendly driver and suffering the incredibly dense yet never aggressive traffic of the Cairo roads. Our hotel, 16 floors up in an old central office block overlooking the October Bridge, was perfect as a location yet unique in its strange mixture of facilities – three single rooms had been booked, and we had three rooms, but each with four or five beds. The lift went only up to the 14th floor, also the office of the Egyptian Urology Association ... It was cheap, it had free internet, breakfasts, tea whenever required and a friendliness second to none. And from one balcony, we could see the Tahrir Square side of the city, or from another, a few tanks patiently waiting for the curfew to start at midnight. Time to get out and take a walk!
During the next days, we saw the pyramids in Giza and Sakkara, visited the Egyptian Museum, spent hours in the Islamic Quarter's market and soaked-up the Cairo atmosphere – dinners in local restaurants didn't even dent our wallets, the entrance fees were as expected, and the souvenirs in the Egyptian half of the market were high quality and reasonably priced. Yes, the pressure to take a tour with a guide who offered “friendship with extras not included” could be a pain but it was possible to resist, given a smile and the gesture of the right hand crossing the heart. And most importantly, everyone at the hotel promised us that we would be absolutely safe in Cairo, and that's exactly what it was – four days without incident, sometimes alone in the evenings, male or female, even in the smallest of streets. The whole of Cairo's population seems to be concentrating on only one theme – the revolution and their pride in being part of it and of being Egyptian.
Walk anywhere and smiles are everywhere. Every visitor seems to be greeted with a “Welcome!” and if possible, a stop to ask your feelings about their revolution. Tahrir Square is not only open but it's a blend of soldiers, tea-makers, youths and families that must be unique. Children are dumped on top of tanks by parent anxious to photograph this historical moment – if a group forms, it's most likely to be a Military Policeman in a discussion with the locals. Music is live, order is respected, and it's very likely to find groups of locals painting not revolutionary murals but renewing worn-out road markings, or tidying-up the streets or even brewing-up yet more tea for the patient soldiers on chairs next to their tanks. Tahrir Square is certain to become a future tourism magnet of Egyptian history, to be reverred as are the others...
For some days, we even began to understand more about the many positive aspects of Islamic life, (especially in this secular country where women seemed to be as free as men and to comment about anything and everything) and to note that every society didn't need alcohol to refuel their happiness - their humanity, humour and friendliness was dominant. We, a near comedy touring format of the Italian, the American and the Englishman (with a Russian joining in from time to time), felt stimulated by the many discussions in the cafés and the streets. Even then, we couldn't resist trying the local beer so our last evening was in the visitors bar of the Semiramis Hotel, overlooking Tahrir.
This is a hotel that has seen Cameron, Westerwelle and other Heads come and go in the last few days as the world wakes-up to a newly emerging power in the Middle East – people.
In 18 days of revolution it had also had a few windows smashed (all cleared up by the locals next day) and witnessed the whole process from it's balconies facing Tahrir. And, of course, it has only seen the Heads, some regulars and the media teams as guests – the tourist market might now be slowly picking-up but it has been a very hard time for business. Are they crying over their books? Yes and no! A manager hoped that it will improve quickly and had great concerns for the staff losing their tips but could not hide his great pride in the Egyptian youth and military who made the revolution possible – he believes that Egypt, a country with such a high proportion of young people, can only benefit from the informed and energetic process that dared to protest and then surprised the world by the result of their peaceful actions.
As we walked across the square that evening, watching a few tanks lazily shutting-off the slip-roads to the bridge (whilst leaving enough back-roads open for any delayed traffic to find a way home), and then looking down on the whole scene from our hotel balcony, we wondered just how quickly the independent travellers would take to realise this gem of the "New Egypt “. One imaginative sign in English over the door of a restaurant seemed to sum-up our feelings – ”We have no branches!”.
Anyone who wants to see the wonders of the Old and New Egypts should jump on a plane or a ship soon...
Using Air Egypt, a reliable and friendly airline that's cheap at the moment, means that are suppoprting the Changes by keeping your cash inside the Egyptian economy... www. Egyptair.com or any of the agencies.
Ibn Tulun Mosque is the oldest mosque in Egypt and one of the oldest in the world (approx 1200 years old), most notable for its minaret based on the famous one at Saqqara. It's eerily deserted, something I did not expect, and is off the beaten track for tourists (though I went in July) - a must see.
On a visit to Cairo, as well as the usual tourist places, take a trip to Heliopolis, a suburb to the north-east of the city. It was built in the early 20th Century by a Belgian and hence has some fantastic European-style architecture (and his own palace, which is a wonderful Taj Mahal-esque structure). Within the district is the centre of Heliopolis, El Korba, whose Bagdhad Street has some amazing colonnade type arches running along in front of the shops; you could almost be in Venice's St Mark's Square! (or somewhere similar..)
Helipolis has a large, wealthy Christian community of a range of different denominations, something you will notice by the proliferation of churches there. It has a nice feel to it with a number of cafes, bars and one of the British club's branches is here. One of the two British Council offices is also in Heliopolis which means there is a small-ish community of British teachers in the area too.
Pop up there and spend half a day especially if you're interested in architecture, churches and an alternative tourist experience. The Presidential Palace and a number of official government buildings are in Heliopolis as well, should you be interested in that.
Just mention Heliopolis (Arabic: Masr Gadida) to any taxi driver, they will know it. It should take about 20 mins from Downtown, much longer at busy times.
Often overlooked in favour of Giza, Saqqara is a far more varied archaeological site, and is much less crowded, both with tourists and the tat-hawkers that tend to go with them.
Here, you get to see the earliest pyramid – the so-called ‘Step Pyramid’, which is still impressive in size and is set in a partly-restored ‘complex’ of buildings. Various other pyramids in more or less romantically-ruinous states are scattered around the site, together with some of the most wonderfully decorated private tombs in Egypt.
With these, though, as with lots of sites in Egypt, it’s almost impossible to say what will be open and what won’t, because that information seems to change rather haphazardly. Get here under your own steam by a taxi from Cairo to make sure you can wander around the many acres of ruins without worrying about getting back on to a coach.
One thing not to miss is the pyramid of Unas – start at his pyramid and then walk down its ‘causeway’, which has private tombs built all around it.
Giza can be a nightmare. Its atmosphere has been ruined by the road, the coaches, the thousands of tourists and a seemingly equal number of Egyptians offering tacky souvenirs and camel rides at inflated prices. This is no coincidence however, it being the site at which the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty at last nailed the art of pyramid building.
One of their predecessors, Sneferu, did much of the ground work however. He erected two monuments of his own at the much quieter site of Dahshur, a few miles south of Giza.
The earlier of the two is the ‘bent’ pyramid, so-named because the king’s architect got his sums wrong and had to change the angle of incline halfway up. The second, the ‘red’ pyramid was an unqualified success: a straight sided pyramid, smaller only than the great pyramid itself.
The interior of the red pyramid with its corbel vaulted ceiling is well worth a look, and the bent-pyramid preserves much of the outer casing that was stripped from the Giza pyramids centuries ago. The lack of tourists gives you a chance to take in the immensity of these monuments.
Although you kind of have to go to Giza, I highly recommend seeing Dahshur as well – it’s what Giza ought to be like.
SPARE maps of the old Islamic city are head and shoulders above any other maps available on the market.
Available at Lehnert and Landrock and decent bookshops like Diwan.
If you want to do something different in Cairo, get a SPARE map (there are at least 4), take a taxi to Khan el Khalili and go for a walk. All of the relevant buildings are marked in the maps, together with a bit of history. Take yourself back to the 1400s.
Cairo was one of the most important cities in the world in the late middle ages and the architecture in Islamic Cairo proves it.
When you're finished, treat yourself to a bowl of kushari.
Diwan, Lehnert und Landrock
It's a huge sprawling cemetery in the centre of Cairo, which is inhabited (I guess squatted is the correct term) by around 1 million people. It is incredible to see, and it gives a closer idea of the conditions of living of a huge number of inhabitants of this amazing city.
Impossible to miss it really, it is near the Citadel of Cairo.
There is a long chain of 87 pyramids running from El-Lahun (near El Faiyum) in the south to Giza in the north. At both Dahshur and Saqqara you can see pyramids to the north and to the south and so get a better idea of the extent of these monuments.
At Dahshur there is the Red Pyramid with its three corbelled rooms and the Bent or Rhomboid Pyramid. Halfway through building it, they changed the slope so it looks bent as the name suggests.
At Saqqara, the Step pyramid with its courtyard and surviving temples gives a much better idea of the way a funerary complex was more than just a tomb. It was a whole collection of buildings for the worship of the gods as well as the preparation of the Pharaoh's body.
These sites are best appreciated with a good guide or guidebook and a small group so you have plenty of time to explore and see the whole thing.
Dahshur is 40 miles south of Cairo.
Saqqara is roughly 25km south of Cairo.
Ask your hotel to hire a car and driver for the day and you can visit both sites.
The ancient Egyptians didn't have the arch so they used corbelling to create large spaces inside the Pyramids. Only a limited number are allowed in any of the Giza pyramids on any one day and you have to get there first thing to queue but it is well worth it.
The long Gallery is in the Great Pyramid and is some 60 feet long and slopes upward. It has been created by slightly overlapping stones as they go up to create a long-toothed triangular space. It is amazing.
If you haven't the time or patience to queue for tickets, the Red Pyramid at the Dahshur Pyramid has three much smaller corbelled rooms which are truly amazing.
Giza is approximately 20km southwest of Cairo.
Dahshur is approximately 40km south of Cairo.
I have stayed there twice. The service is superb - friendly or unobtrusive where appropriate. The main parts of the hotel are overlooked by the pyramids and are evocative of an earlier, more leisurely time. The Indian restaurant is also superb. You can stay with at the Mena House Oberoi with Voyages Jules Verne.
Mena House Oberoi, Pyramid's Road, Giza.
Telephone: +20 2 377 3222 or 377 3444.
My favourite part of Cairo is the area where the tentmakers work. It is about a kilometre walking from the Khan el-Khalili market. It is the walk there that is full of unbelievable experiences. You walk down a busy, narrow road teeming with Cairo life. People are friendly and helpful and will often show you things that boggle the mind. It is a route that is laden with surprises that embody the richness of the city's history. You walk past buildings that have been there for thousands of years, mosques, momorials and one of the old gates to the city. Climb the towers of the old gate and get wonderful views over the city. Stop and explore, listen and follow your nose. You could spend months in this area, be constantly fascinated and still not see everything. Eventually you'll find the tentmakers in an area that is brimming with atmosphere and people whose skill at making complex geometrically-designed appliqued tent panels is awesome. I found a 70-year old man who had been hand-sewing these panels his whole life and he had such a sense of contentment about his life's work. I was inspired.
Walk down the road that passes the Khan el-Khalili, cross over the pedestrian bridge and find the alley that goes past the mosque on the opposite side of the road. Follow your nose for about a kilometre.
It's actually possible to escape the crowds and the noise in Cairo, although you have to put up with a lot of both on the way. I would recommend Beit el-Suhaymi, a wonderful, labyrinthine Islamic house-turned-museum where you can really picture how the large families used to live.
Before or afterwards take a stroll around the north of Khan al-Khalili market. Away from the hassle of the market stalls you see a bit of real innercity life. I am female and, being there on my own, I didn't feel hassled at all in this part. Be sure to respect their dress code though.
Another tip is go to the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha when at the Citadel. Around the Citadel itself, in particular the Muhammad Ali mosque, was very busy, but the simpler, smaller mosque felt like a peaceful oasis and has lovely mosaics.
Beit el-Suhaymi, Khan al-Khalili market and the Citadel are all located within the city centre.
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