The Chaos of Cairo

ArtSmart Travel/  Cairo, Egypt  by Barbara Rizza Mellin

Like any major capital city, Cairo has multilane streets. However, here the white lines seem only suggestions. As I entered the city from the airport on a four-lane highway, my bus dodged and weaved among eight lanes of traffic, which included everything from taxis and trucks to donkey carts and wagons. I quickly realized that Egypt has its own set of rules, and surprisingly they seem to work just fine. But what surprised me even more was the sight of pyramids rising above the traffic and apartment buildings.  I couldn’t remember any tourist picture that showed the bustling city as the backdrop for these ancient monuments. They are always showcased from the other side with the sweeping dessert stretching our forever.

The largest of the pyramids at Giza, built of more than two million blocks weighing about 2.5 tons each, belongs the 4th dynasty king Khufu (2589-66BCE). When I stood beside one of the stone blocks that reached to my shoulders, I had a much better appreciation for the scale of these monuments. It is still possible to walk upon the pyramids and to actually go inside, although they no longer contain treasures, which were either robbed in antiquity or now reside in museum throughout the world.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is exceptional with 120,000 items on display. (A larger museum was scheduled to open in 2011.But there the Arab Spring may have changed some plans.)

Although Tutankhamun was considered a minor pharaoh, the treasures of his tomb, which remained in tact until it was discovered in 1920? by Howard Carter, are among the showpieces of the museum. Among King Tut’s 1,700 items on exhibit are a life-sized gold mask, several coffins richly decorated with gold and gems, and jewelry looking surprisingly contemporary.

For more modern treasure, once can visit the Khan al-Khalili, Cairo’s famous bazaar that dated back to 1382.  Here are warren of streets crowed with shops, shopkeepers and shoppers. Backgammon boards inlaid with mother of pearl are stacked high beside hand blown perfume bottles and appliquéd cloth finished in the tradition of Bedouin tentmakers. Folded on shelves, embroidered galabyas, the long garments worn by Egyptian men and women, form a colorful collage of artistic patterns.

In fact artistic patterns abound in Cairo. You’ll find them of Mosques and minarets, on painted apartment exteriors, and the swirling skirts of the Whirling Dervishes. 

Cairo Bazaar (photos by Bruce A Mellin)

The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin