On our first stop today I thought we were visiting a Medieval Castle. It was a huge gray building with walls like a castle. I learned we were visiting the Citadel. Construction on the Citadel started in 1176 A.D., by a leader named Saladin, to fortify the city against the Crusaders. Through the years many buildings were added and changes made and the result is an incredible complex, built on the side of a limestone cliff.
There are three mosques located there. A mosque is a place of worship where followers of the Islamic faith go to worship and pray. Followers of Islam are known as Muslims. To go inside we had to take off our shoes, which was fine, because there were beautiful rugs covering the floor. There were lights draped around the ceiling, which looked like glass jugs illuminated by clear light bulbs. There were no chairs so all the visitors sat on the floor. We asked our guide if the mosque was used by Muslims today, and she informed us that all mosques are working mosques and are used for services.
There were some beautiful stained glass windows and great domed ceilings that were intricately decorated. When we walked outside the mosque and entered the courtyard we were greeted with an amazing view of Cairo. We felt like tall giants looking down on the sandy colored city. When we looked up at the mosque we saw beautiful, spiral towers with tops shaped like Christmas tree ornaments that climbed into the sky. These towers are called minarets and all mosques have them. Muslims pray five times each day and it is from the minarets that the call rings out reminding that it is prayer time.
After taking in the breathtaking view of the Citadel we headed to the Egyptian Museum, one of the most popular spots for tourists to visit. Boy was it crowded, you could barely move without running in to someone.
Cameras are not allowed in the museum, so we will have to describe it to you. This museum is not like any museum you will ever visit in the United States. Many of the treasures there are not roped off or behind glass and yes, you can touch them, without a guard saying a word to you. There are rows and rows of giant statues of pharaohs and rooms full of sarcophagi. A sarcophagus is the beautifully decorated case that held a mummy. There were so many there we could not count. The most impressive part of the exhibit were the treasures found in the burial chamber of the famous King Tutankhamen, or King Tut as he is popularly known by. King Tut’s tomb is the only tomb that was found with all the original belongings in it. All other tombs of pharaohs had been robbed of most of their treasures by the time archaeologists found them. We saw the famous funerary mask of King Tut. Ancient Egyptians believed that you could take things with you into the after life and they went prepared. King Tut was packed with anything he might need including a bed, food, water, wine, wigs, jewelry, and small replicas of all his servants called shawabtis. There were 365 shawabtis in all, one to help him each day of the year. There was even mummified bread. The jewelry was beautiful and most of it looked very similar to jewelry worn today, except it was thousands of years old. Egypt is in the process of building a new museum and the treasures will be moved to the new site next year, which be located close to the Great Pyramid.
After leaving the museum our guide drove us through a bustling and busy marketplace. We learned that part of the reason so many were out today is that in Egypt the weekend is on Friday and Saturday, unlike our weekend which is Saturday and Sunday. The people were out doing their weekend shopping. There were numerous street vendors where the locals could buy everything from carrots, figs, dates, pita bread, fish, and meat.
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