Monday, April 25, 2011

Visit to Old Cairo

Another amazing day with many highlights. We visited the oldest part of modern-day Cairo, home to Jews and Coptic Christians. With a little help from my guidebook - since this is not a time period I have studied previously - archaeologists have found evidence that there was a settlement on the east bank of the Nile as far back as the 6th century BCE. Later, Romans established a fortress there in the 2nd century CE. Predating the arrival of Islam in Egypt, this was a stronghold of Christianity with many churches clustered closely together. After the diaspora from Jerusalem in 70 CE, many Jews found refuge in Egypt and we visited the oldest existing synagogue in this part of the city.

We had a delightful guide for our morning in this part of the city. We started our day in the Coptic Museum.
Coptic Museum
 http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/copticmuseum1.htm

I will admit that my attention sometimes wandered because I was completely enamored with the ceiling panels. (OK, I know this sounds really geeky, and I have to back up this story a little bit.... One of the reasons - among many - for wanting to come on this trip was to have an opportunity to see in person some of the Islamic art (the geometric patterns that are duplicated, interlaced, and arranged in intricate combinations) I have been teaching about for several years. I was completely blown away by what I saw. The craftsmanship and designs were amazing, and I learned that early Coptic art forms influenced Islamic art. The work I saw was simply beautiful, and I wanted to sit on the floor and gaze up. Each of the many rooms in the museum had stunning ceilings. Again, no cameras allowed in the museum, so I have to rely on an internet photo. This doesn't do justice to the artwork, but gives an idea of what I saw.

 http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/copticmuseum1.htm

After we left the museum, we visited several churches - including one built over the area that many Christians believe is the location where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus rested after fleeing from King Herod.
 

From there, we visited Ben Ezra Synagogue, Egypt's oldest synagogue. There are several legends connected to this synagogue, including that this is the place where the Pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the reeds. One had a definite sense of walking on ancient ground, and it was a haven of peace and quiet.

We grabbed a quick lunch of pita bread, hummous, tahina, and taameya. We spent the afternoon with an Arabic teacher in a lovely apartment in Cairo. She was a  delightful woman who kept us all engaged during a very helpful Arabic lesson. Our afternoon with her flew by and I was sorry to go. We met a friend of Paul's for dinner, and had a lively and fun discussion about recent events in Egypt. We will look forward to another chance to meet with her later this week.

2 comments:

  1. Ezayek! Right up my ally, Amy! I, too, am fascinated by all those patterns. I find similar-ish patterns in some Native American, specifically Pueblo, ceramics.

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  2. Hi, Holly. Thanks for your comment. I had you with me in spirit. I know you would have been similarly moved - room after room of different, intricate patterns - and would have wanted to sketch.

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