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[Entry 3] Oh Look, A Citadel!

01 December 201012:26PMepic-triptravel

So today, pretty much on a whim, we decided to go to the Citadel. The Citadel has a really cool name, and it was basically the castle-slash-palace of Mohammed Ali - not the boxer, the nineteenth century Albanian commander who industrialised Egypt by damming the Nile and growing cotton and then making guns in factories. The main part of the Citadel is the palace and the mosque, and since the palace was closed as of two weeks ago for renovations, that pretty much left the mosque.

The scaffolding in the background is on a clock the French gave the Egyptians in return for the obelisk which is now in La Concorde. The clock never worked, the obelisk is still in France. C'est la vie...

We hung around outside for a while before dad found a guy who was willing to show us around for 30 Egyptian pounds, which works out to about $7 Australian, which is just ridiculously cheap considering how well he knew his subject matter. He explained everything from the principles of Islam to why the mosque was actually in a Byzantine style rather than an Egyptian style (apparently it's obvious from the minarets, those big towers on top - Byzantine ones look like pencils, whereas Egyptian ones are sort of stacks with a dome on top.)

One of the most interesting bits about the Citadel was the gigantic water cistern underneath which was bigger than the mosque (built Minecraft-style by hollowing out the cistern and building the mosque on top, but out of alabaster, not cobblestone, so the whole thing is sort of translucent.) and 18 metres deep and could apparently hold enough water to keep the king and his army for several months in the event of a seige.

Insert 'holey' joke here.

Egypt has a weird relationship with its military. I'm not sure if the sentiment extends to the population, but the government is very fond of pointing out their superiority, and there are army bases all over the city. It could have something to do with the fact that they were occupied for something like 2500 years concurrently (Persians, then Greeks (Alexander), then Romans (Caesar), then Byzantines, then Marmaluks, then Ottomans, then French (Napoleon), then Albanians, then the British, up till 1956 or so), and it's still pretty much a dictatorship, with the president being 'elected' for 35 successive years with a 99% vote, and dissenters punished (the guide who was telling us this said 20+ years in prison for supporting the opposition, and joked about 'Egyptian Democracy' being a sham in the same sentence, which was pretty daring.)

On our way out of the military museum in the same Citadel complex we were swarmed by kids, probably on a school trip or something, who inexplicably wanted photos with us. As if somehow a white tourist was a rarity in Egypt. They also wanted to practise their English on us (I doubt they actually wanted to know our names), and the amount of them who said Australia was a "beautiful country" and "WELCOME!" makes me wonder if it's some sort of government program to make their kids seem cute and innocent. If it was, it worked. It sort of made me wonder what it would be like growing up, or even living in a city which had been more or less continuously occupied for thousands of years, and having something like the Pyramids being 'that thing which is on the edge of town which tourists like but nobody else visits'. Weird.

"...we misread the forms... It turns out we were the tourist attraction!"

Oh, and we figured out something else today too. As we've been driving (or driven, rather) around, we noticed a lot of apartment buildings with their bottom floors completed and lived-in but the top floors still unfinished. That same guide explained that you don't pay tax on your house until it's finished, so there's an incentive to keep them that way, and that there's no money for banks in mortgages for regular people, so what you do is scrape and save, and do a wall this year and a roof next year, and the year after start on the next storey for your kids to move into. Economics, natch. We joked later that that was the reason the guide only did the mosque and not the whole citadel- there's probably more money in doing a bunch of 30-pound half-hour tours than there is in doing 2-hour ones, even at double the price (which is more than tourists would pay anyway)... and then realised that that actually probably wasn't far from the truth.

In de-Nile... about... eating? I'm too jetlagged for witty captions.

We also had dinner on the Nile on a thing which was sort of a boat (it floated, as we figured out when it rocked on waves) but didn't really move. A floating restaurant. It was classy, but not really Egyptian (we still have yet to hunt down somewhere which actually does Egyptian food) and ended up being cheaper for 3 of us (us two plus our driver plus drinks for 3 courses) than just 2 of us for one dish each was last night, which means we probably got fleeced last night, but hey.

And Dad's snoring again, and it's 10pm and we've gotta get up at 7 tomorrow to go to the museum (which is on the official tour but only for half a day, crammed between the pyramids and a sleeper train to Luxor, so we're going to give it another half day on our own), so I'd better go to bed.

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