Saturday, January 31, 2015

Short Story: 15 Fascinating Facts About Ancient Egypt

Ever since my childhood I have been fascinated with all things relating to Ancient Egypt. I have tried for a long time to come up with a good idea for a list relating to it and this is the first (of what I hope will be many!) These facts should serve as a good introduction to Ancient Egyptian culture and society – and hopefully many will be things you did not know.

1 - A Pharaoh never let his hair be seen – he would always wear a crown or a headdress called a nemes (the striped cloth headdress made famous by Tutankhamen’s golden mask (pictured above).

2 - In order to deter flies from landing on him, Pepi II of Egypt always kept several naked slaves nearby whose bodies were smeared with honey.

3 - Both Egyptian men and women wore makeup – eyepaint was usually green (made from copper) or black (made from lead). The Egyptians believed that the makeup had healing power. Originally the makeup was used as a protection from the sun – rather than for adornment.

4 - While the use of antibiotics did not begin in the 20th century, early folk medicine included the use of mouldy foods or soil for infections. In ancient Egypt, for example, infections were treated with mouldy bread.

5 - Egyptian children wore no clothing at all until they were in their teens. The temperature in Egypt made it unnecessary. Adult men wore skirts while women wore dresses.

6 - Rich Egyptians wore wigs while the other classes would wear their hair long or in pig tails. Until 12, Egyptian boys had their heads shaved except for one plaited lock – this was as a protection against lice and fleas.

7 - It is not known who destroyed the nose of the Sphinx (pictured above). There are sketches of the Sphinx without a nose in 1737, over 60 years before Napoleon reached Egypt and hundreds of years before the British and German armies of the two World Wars. The only person known to have damaged it was an Islamic cleric, Sa’im al-dahr, who was lynched in 1378 for vandalism.

8 - Egyptian’s believed that the earth was flat and round (like a pancake) and that the Nile flowed through the center of it.

9 - Egyptian soldiers were used as an internal police force. Additionally, they collected taxes for the Pharaoh.

10 - In every temple in ancient Egypt the pharaoh was supposed to carry out the duties of the high priests, but his place was usually taken by the chief priest.

11 - The first pyramid (The Step Pyramid of Djoser built around 2600 BC – seen above) was originally surrounded by a 34 ft tall wall which had 15 doors in it. Only one of the doors opened.

12 - The women in ancient Egypt enjoyed legal and economical equality with men. Nevertheless, they never enjoyed social equality with men.

13 - Contrary to popular belief, excavated skeletons show that the pyramid builders were actually Egyptians who were most likely in the permanent employ of the pharaoh. Graffiti indicates that at least some of these workers took pride in their work, calling their teams “Friends of Khufu,” “Drunkards of Menkaure,” and so on—names indicating allegiances to pharaohs.

14 - When a body was mummified, its brain was removed through one of its nostrils and its intestines were also removed and placed in jars called canopic jars. Each organ was placed in its own jar. The only internal organ that was not removed was the heart, because Egyptians considered it to be the seat of the soul.

15 - Ramses the Great had 8 official wives and nearly 100 concubines. He was over 90 years old when he died in 1212 BC

The Tentmakers’ Market, Cairo: where traditional fabric is still made and sold

CAIRO: In a post-industrial revolution world in which machines have mostly triumphed over traditionally handmade items, it is becoming difficult for certain craft traditions, including Egypt’s deep-seated tent-making, to survive, not to mention stay competitive.

Built in 1600s, the Tent Makers Market, the so-called El Khayameya, is Cairo’s sole remaining medieval covered market which takes its name from the bright colored fabrics, including appliqué works, cushions, covers, Egyptian cotton bed covers, wall hangings, car covers and traditional Egyptian galabeyas (floor length dress clothes.)

The market is also famous for its colored fabrics used for the large street tents set for funerals, weddings, shop openings and other gatherings.

But it seems that the Tent Makers Market, where the Kiswah (the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca) was designed and manufactured until 1960s, is getting less and less popular these days.

“The new generations lost interest in our fabrics because machine-made wall hangings and cushions that are imported from China are cheaper and are to be found everywhere. The number of locals and tourists visiting the market is decreasing day after day,” Gamal el-Zahabi, the owner of a small shop in the Tent Makers Market told The Cairo Post Sunday.

Zahabi, 64, who started working as a stitcher when he was 12, said that still feels optimism about the future adding that “the fascination of the brilliantly colored appliqué, handmade ottomans and other objects is irresistible for some people who appreciate art.”

The market thrives every year during certain occasions and events, including Ramadan and legislative and parliamentary elections, he added.

“In Ramadan [the month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset], ordinary people buy rolls of blue, red and yellow-colored fabrics decorated with Islamic designs in order to use to decorate balconies and streets. Cafes also use them in making Ramadan tents while the peak of our business is usually during elections, as many candidates buy large rolls of the tent fabric to set pavilions for their supporters during a speech,” said Zahabi.

The Tent Makers Market is located in a 300-meter-long street overlooking Bab Zuwayla, Cairo’s medieval gate and the only one remaining from the 11th and 12th-century walls of Fatimid Cairo. It is a roofed alleyway with small openings for illumination and ventilation at its ceiling.

It comprises of a group of two-floor buildings on either sides of the street. The first includes small shops where the tents and appliqué works are displayed while the second floor is dedicated to small rooms where craftsmen reside.

The market was badly damaged following the 1992 earthquake and is still under restoration. It is open every day of the week except Sunday.
Source: Cairo Post– By/Rany Mostafa

Friday, January 30, 2015

Story of Tutankhamun mask (5): Experts quell rumours of damaged Tutankhamun mask

A soft winter breeze filled the evening air of Cairo as hundred of journalists, photographers, cameramen and media personnel flocked into the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to attend a press conference.

The Ministry of Antiquities called for the conference to address rumours of damage to the gold funerary mask of King Tutankhamun and its blue gold beard.

The golden mask of Tutankhamun made headlines in newspapers worldwide when it was reported that its blue and gold beard had broken off during a cleaning process at the Egyptian Museum, and that conservators hurriedly glued it back on with epoxy resin, damaging the artefact.

Reports also mentioned that other parts of the mask were damaged. Rumours circulated that the mask was scratched and its colour had changed as restorers tried to remove the epoxy. On the second floor of the museum, where the priceless mask is exhibited, media people flocked in to try to catch a glimpse of the mask and the rumoured damages.

“The mask is in very good condition and there is no actual endangering of the artefact,” German conservator Christian Eckmann, an expert in metal restoration, told reporters during the press conference. He said that, after examining the mask, he concluded that the damage done during the restoration was reversible. He explained that the epoxy used can be easily removed and that another, more appropriate material could be utilised to restore the beard.

In fact, the beard was already detached from the mask when it was initially discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and both the mask and beard were transported to the museum in Cairo as two separate parts.

Both artefacts were put on display at the museum separately until 1941 when they were glued together. In 1944, the beard had to be reattached after it had broken off. Since then, the mask and the beard were exhibited as one piece.

In August 2014, however, the beard was broken off yet again when a museum worker accidentally touched the mask as he was repairing the lighting in its showcase.

Restorers at that time used too much epoxy resin to repair the beard. “Although epoxy resin is a debatable material, it can be used in restoration work but is not the best solution,” Eckmann said, adding that there are other materials that are much more efficient.

“So far I don’t know exactly what kind of epoxy was used, although the specific type can easily be determined through analysis.” “A committee of natural science experts, restorers and archaeologists is now assigned to develop a plan for the conservation of the mask,” Eckmann said. He asserted that the colour of the mask did not change as reported. Only one scratch was found and this could be dated back to the day of its discovery.

A museum conservator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the mask fell during a cleaning process for its showcase last year and that the beard broke off by accident. “The epoxy was not a proper material to use to restore the mask, although it is a conservation material with a very high strength for attaching metal and stone,” the conservator said. He added that, as the epoxy dried, it left a gap between the face and the beard where they were previously directly attached.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati told reporters at the conference that reports published in newspapers are highly exaggerated and that photos showing extensive damage to the mask were artificially manipulated.

The mask, which stands 54cm high, is made of gold inlaid with coloured glass and semiprecious stone, and was contained in the innermost mummy case in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The vulture and cobra on the forehead are symbols of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt and of divine authority. The vulture Nekhbet and the cobra Wadjet protected the pharaoh.

When the tomb was initially discovered, the mask was found placed over the young pharaoh’s face. Tutankhamun was buried in a tomb that was small relative to his status. His death may have occurred unexpectedly, before the completion of a grander royal tomb, and his mummy may have been buried in a tomb intended for someone else.

Tutankhamun’s mummy still rests in his tomb, but in 2007 it was removed from its gold sarcophagus to go on display in a climate-controlled glass box.

Short Story: Cultural Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly highlights nine independent centres of culture in Cairo, where the celebration and creation of music, films and art are part of everyday life.

Artellewa Art Space
Founded and managed by artist Hamdi Reda in 2007, Artellewa is named after its location, the low-income, densely populated area of Ard Al-Lewa, located between Imbaba and Boulaq Al-Dakrur. The aim is to encourage local appreciation of the arts and facilitate dialogue with artists on topics of interest. The space offers workshops, exhibitions and residencies as well as initiatives to improve the urban space through art.

In addition to exhibiting the work of established and emerging artists from Egypt and abroad, each year Artellewa holds the first exhibition of at least one young Egyptian artist. Artists who gave workshops at Artellewa have hailed from Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Turkey, Jordan, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and the United States. The space also holds a weekly film club curated by a resident of the community, as well as special projects aimed at the immediate environment.
13&19 Mohamed Ali Al-Osseiri St, Ard Al-Lewa, Giza

Zawya (or “Corner”) is a space for screening non-commercial films from all over the world. It was launched on 12 March 2014 by director-producer and inveterate cinephile Marianne Khoury, who also organises the by now 10-year-old annual Panorama of European Cinema, for which the new space is also used. “With my growing interest in the idea of building an audience,” Khoury has said, “I came to the conclusion that having a permanent space was a necessity. Downtown was entirely the choice of the young team directing Zawya, but eventually I came round to thinking they made the right choice.

Downtown has to be the anchor of the project, it attracts a huge number of young people who hit Downtown daily for the cafés and the nightlife and among them are cinema fans.” Plans are underway for establishing similar spaces in Tanta, Ismailia and Alexandria as well as possibly Zamalek and Heliopolis. Zawya offers more than one film a day without intermissions in addition to providing programmes focused on short and documentary films.
4 Abdel-Hamid St, behind Odeon Cinema, Downtown.

El Sawy Culturewheel
Founded in 2003 by engineer Mohamed El-Sawy in honour of his father, the writer Abdel-Moneim El-Sawy, and his five-part novel The Waterwheel, El Sawy Culturewheel is perhaps the best known independent arts centre in Cairo. Located below the 15 May Bridge in Zamalek, it provides two to four events a day all year round. The main venue in Zamalek has five stages situated in the River Hall, the Wisdom Hall, the Word Hall, the Sakia Garden and the Bostan Al-Nil. The halls are equipped with film screens and sound facilities. Three more halls are available to accommodate workshops and seminars.

El Sawy Culturewheel provides the space for students, emerging and alternative artists as well as established names to show their work, be it a performance, an exhibition or a concert. The cultural centre also hosts discussions and seminars, staging yearly campaigns on themes like dignity or cleanliness. El Sawy is the originator of the white circle promoting a smoke-free environment, which is now used by the World Health Organisation in 22 countries. In addition to a library, El Sawy offers workshops at all levels. It is now publishing a cultural quarterly and has launched its own radio station.
26 July St, Zamalek

The Culture Resource
The Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi) is a regional non-profit organisation founded in 2004 that offers support to artists from across the Arab world, also encouraging exchange between them and their counterparts in the world at large, stimulating dialogue in general and facilitating arts funding by such parties as businessmen.

Operating largely from Al-Azhar Park, the Culture Resource offered numerous concerts and performances in the last ten years. In a press release issued on 9 November, 2014, however, the Culture Resource announced that it was freezing its activities in Egypt while resuming work in other Arab countries. This is thought to be in response to the government’s clampdown on NGOs and the new NGO draft law, which may obstruct its funding.
Genaina Theatre: Azhar Park:  Salah Salem St, Darb Al-Ahmar.

Doum Cultural Foundation
According to its official statement, “Doum is a non-profit Egyptian cultural foundation that aims at increasing critical thinking among the Egyptian society. Doum plans to produce cultural and informational material that strengthens the foundations of the civil state, and paves the way, alongside other Arab cultural initiatives, for a state of enlightenment set towards greater intellectual capacity; a path paved with questions, thinking and reasoning, and strengthening cultural diversity [in the hope of] building a network of all cultural initiatives in Egypt and the Arab world.”

Doum Cultural Foundation features activities such as Assir Doum, a research-based performance blending poetry, song, narrative and scholarship, as well as the weekly Sabt Al-Funoun (or “the Sabbath of the Arts”), which has no specific topic. The foundation also incorporates a Caricature Academy for young cartoonists, a multi-disciplinary symposium-based series of books named Bikhtissar (or “Briefly”), and a recycled art workshop named Patchwork (which also involves Wire Sculpture).
13 Al-Fardous St, Al-Agouza, Giza.

Townhouse Gallery
The Townhouse was established in 1998 in the heart of downtown Cairo as an independent art space aimed at making the contemporary art and culture accessible to all audiences and encouraging creativity as well as connecting local talent with the contemporary art scene worldwide. The Townhouse stages exhibitions, educational initiatives, residencies and outreach programmes; it supports curators and writers as well as artists. Its large-scale initiatives have included the Nitaq Festival in 2000 and the PhotoCairo Festival in 2002. Since its launch the Townhouse has organised workshops for children and adults including special needs and marginalised communities, acquiring several spaces in the vicinity of its original venue.

Outreach programmes developed by the Townhouse have included the Friday Workshops for Working Children, which was later transformed into SAWA (in Arabic the word means “together”), a fixed Saturday workshop that provided a creative space where child labourers could express their individuality, build peer relations and develop their communication skills, bringing them a confidence and self-esteem that might be applied to their daily lives. The workshops encompassed instruction in visual arts, animation and theatre; they included day trips to places outside the children’s immediate locale as well as literacy classes and sessions on topics relating to children’s rights. Recently, SAWA’s programmes have included photography workshops, oil painting instruction by the well-known Egyptian artist Ibrahim Al-Tanbouli and a six-month fashion school project from September 2014 to March 2015.
10 Nabarawi St, off Champollion St, Downtown.

Gypsum Gallery was founded in 2013 by Aleya Hamza, one of Egypt’s pioneers in the curatorial field, who earned her MA in History of Art at Goldsmiths College in 2001 and gained experience at the Townhouse Gallery and the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo.  According to the official statement, “The gallery is committed to presenting an international, cross-disciplinary programme of solo and occasional group exhibitions, limited artist editions and is in the process of launching a publishing arm. Eight artists living and working between Alexandria, Amman, Basel, Beirut, Berlin, Cairo and Tehran are represented by the gallery including Doaa Ali, Mahmoud Khaled, Maha Maamoun, Bassem Magdi, Mona Marzouk, Tamara Al-Samerai , Setareh Shahbazi and Alaa Younis.”

In other words, this is where some of the most exciting and globally connected names on the contemporary scene, all of whom have links with Egypt, can be seen. Gypsum’s work has been featured in such prestigious publications as Artforum, Modern Painters, Harper’s Bazaar Art and Metropolis M.
5A Bahgat Ali St, Zamalek.

In the tradition of engaged bookshops pioneered locally by the Diwan chain but stretching back perhaps to San Francisco’s City Lights, Kotobkhan (an archaic word for “bookshop”) has recently acquired a larger space in Maadi, its original birthplace since it opened in May 2006. A quiet spot for reading and browsing, it is also an active hub of book-related activities. 

Over the years Kotobkhan has perfected the concept of “reading as a lifestyle”, adding such facilities as a mini-cafe and free wifi the invaluable service of creative writing workshops often followed by publication, and careful to provide not only world titles but the best in contemporary Arabic writing as well as a larger than usual selection of children’s books. As well as book launches and seminars, activities include film screenings, story-telling sessions for children, lectures and workshops.
13 St, 254 Maadi.

Al-Fann Midan
Launched within two weeks of the 25 January Revolution, Al-Fann Midan (“Art is a Square”) was arguably the Cultural Resource’s most successful event. Held at Abdine Square in downtown Cairo and touring Minia, Assiut, Luxor, Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, it hosted young performance artists from all over the world. Al-Fann Midan aimed to bring art and culture to the Egyptian street and to generate cultural and political awareness through this process.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Story of Tutankhamun mask (4): Brouhaha on Tutankhamun's mask comes to an End

Tutankhmaun’s funerary mask is safe and sound; the botched restoration carried out in August 2014 is reversible

To stop the brouhaha created in the last two days on the damaged golden mask of King Tutankhamun, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty organised an international press conference Saturday at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

Hundreds of journalists, photographers and media workers flocked to the museum to catch a glimpse of the mask, which newspapers reported had been glued back together when the blue and gold beard of the mask was broken during a cleaning process at the Egyptian Museum. Conservators reportedly glued the beard back on hurriedly with epoxy resin, damaging the artefact.

German conservator Chiristian Eckmann, who is an expert in metal restoration and is now in Egypt restoring Tutankhamun’s gold fragments, told reporters at the press conference that the mask is in a good condition of conservation. He asserted that no scratches were found on the mask, as shown in circulating photos in newspapers. Only one scratch is visible, which could not be determined as being recent. No change in the mask's colour occurred, and none of its precious stones were damaged. “I see that there was exaggeration in reports published in newspapers,” Eckmann told reporters.

“I inspected the mask today and there is no actual endangering of the mask. The measures that have been taken are reversible," Eckmann asserted.

Eckmann added that in August 2014, when lighting in the mask’s showcase was being repaired, "the mask was touched by the hand of the worker and the beard became loose." “This is normal,” Eckmann said, explaining that the damage was "due to the glue used during the first restoration of the mask in 1941."

Since its discovery in 1922 by Howard Carter, Eckmann said, the mask and the beard was transported to the Egyptian Museum as two separate pieces. In 1941, the beard was fixed to the mask. The mask and the beard was then displayed as one piece.

Eckmann explained that the material used to fix the beard was epoxy resin, but he is not yet aware what kind of epoxy was used in the repair. After more examination and analysis, he added, the kind of epoxy would be easily determined.

“Although epoxy is a debatable material used in conservation, it is used often in restoration works, but it is not the best solution to fix artefacts,” said Eckmann.

“However, the glue was applied improperly and it can be reversed. It has to be done very carefully, but it is reversible," said Eckmann, who has now been appointed by the antiquities ministry to oversee the mask's repair.

Describing the botched repair work, Eckmann said that there was an attempt to glue the beard with another resin. "The beard is very heavy ... more than two kilogrammes, and it is still difficult to clearly assess the material to be used in its repair.”

For his part, Eldamaty told Ahram Online that he knew about the incident only two days ago, and said that the photo, which was circulated in newspapers and websites, used Photoshop in order to disfigure the shape of the mask and make the beard look damaged.

He continued that the ministry did not hide anything as the restoration work carried out in 2014 is registered in the museum’s documents. In October 2014, another restoration committee reported that the extent of epoxy used in the restoration of the beard was too large and should be reduced by removing it. But they were not able to do so.

Eckmann is to restore the mask, said Eldamaty, and the epoxy will be removed and another kind of resin used.

“Tutankhamun’s mask is safe and sound, and this brouhaha created is unjustified, and it has a negative impact on Egypt’s reputation for keenness on preserving and conserving its heritage, as well as on tourists who are coming to Egypt,” Eldamaty asserted.

Egyptologist Monica Hanna described the restoration work carried out in August 2014 as not proper science and told Ahram Online that as a professional Egyptologist the restoration work was carried out unprofessionally and that officials at the museum and the antiquities ministry should have assigned a scientific committee to select the best kind of resin to restore such a precious artefact.

“Eckmann is a very professional conservator who restored King Pepi’s I statue from scratch,” Hanna pointed out, adding that Egypt has very skillful restorers, and officials at the museum should have consulted them in restoring the mask.

“Why all that hurry to restore the mask in August 2014? Why use so much epoxy?” she wondered, adding that it is normal that any artefact need restoration, but it should not be restored unprofessionally.

She also suggested that the government appoint a committee of consultants to monitor and supervise works in the antiquities ministry. This committee, she said, should include professors of Egyptology, archaeology and restoration, and should be affiliated to the Ministry of Justice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Story of Tutankhamun mask (3): International museum body demands answers over Tutankhamen damage

Tutankhamen’s mask was damaged during a botched repair job by officials at the Egyptian museum.

The International Council Of Museums (ICOM) has asked Egypt’s UNESCO ambassador Mohamed Sameh Amr about the condition of Tutankhamen’s mask which was recently damaged.

Amr said in a press release that the ICOM’s concern is justified because Tutankhamen’s mask is one of the most important artefacts in the world.

He continued that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab had ordered Egyptian officials to work with international experts to evaluate the mask’s condition. Amr stated that if the mask was damaged the ICOM would send specialist restorers to properly fix it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Story of Tutankhamun mask (2): Beard Of 3,300-Year-Old King Tut Mask ‘Glued Back On’ After Being Broken Off

The Associated Press has reported that the famous King Tutankhamun’s Mask was damaged and repaired hastily with basic tools. 

According to the report, the beard on the Pharaoh’s mask was detached during cleaning at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and was “hastily” glued back on with epoxy.

Meanwhile, according to Al Araby Al Jadeed, the mask was damaged by Museum employees and the damage was not reported to the Ministry of Antiquities. 

The Associated Press reported that sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed the damage but did not clarify whether it occurred in 2015 or 2014.

“Unfortunately he used a very irreversible material — epoxy has a very high property for attaching and is used on metal or stone but I think it wasn’t suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamun’s golden mask,” said one conservator who works at the museum.

“The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick-drying, irreversible material,” added the conservator, saying that there is now a layer of transparent yellow between the beard and the mask.

Another conservator told AP that a museum employee attempted to remove the epoxy with a spatula, leaving scratches on the ancient mask. The report added that “orders came from the top to fix [the mask] quickly and that an inappropriate adhesive was used.”

If reports by the Associated Press are true, it remains to be seen what action the Ministry of Antiquities will take. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has often been accused of being run negligently.

Just weeks ago, the government announced renovations of the Museum would commence. The Mask of King Tut is made of gold inlaid with coloured glass and semiprecious stone. The Pharaoh ruled during ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty more than 3,300 years ago.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

News: 3rd Edition of Luxor Egyptian & European Film Festival (24-31 January 2015)

On its 3rd edition starting on 24th of January, Luxor Egyptian & European Film Festival shows 66 films this year and dedicating this edition to the late great Egyptian actress and legend Faten Hamama who passed away on 17th of January 2015.

The opening ceremony will be at Luxor temple where also a silent film by Ernest Lubitsch “The wife of the pharaoh” produced in 1922. According to Dr. Mohamed Kamel El Kaliouby (President of Noon Foundation – the Film Festival organiser) “Shortly after the premier in 1922, the film disappeared and its parts were scattered all over till last year when a restoration project managed to put it back together again and it will be screened for the first time again in Luxor Temple at the opening night and once again during the film festival at Luxor Culture Palace on Wednesday 28th of January.”

This year, the French feminine cinema is the guest of honour and there will be tribute to the Egyptian actress Libliba besides celebrating the centenary of Egyptian film director Salah Abou Seif and the centenary of Egyptian director Kamel Al Telmesany.

Luxor Egyptian & European Film Festival offers a wonderful firsthand experience this year for the audience, not just by screening the long lost film “The Wife of the Pharaoh” but also with screening of the Golden Globe winner of “Best Foreign Film” in January 2015, the Russian film “Leviathan” (screened at Luxor Culture Palace on Sunday 25th of January and at Luxor conference Center on Monday 26th) by Andrey Zvyagintsev which made it to the short list of nomination for the Oscar this year.     Get ready for dialogue between cultures and civilizations..

Cairo Islamic Attractions (12), Mosques & Minarets: Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay

The funerary complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay is an architectural complex built by Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay in Cairo's Northern Cemetery, completed in 1474. It is often considered one of the most beautiful and accomplished monuments of late Egyptian Mamluk architecture, and is pictured on the Egyptian one pound note. 

Al-Ashraf Qaytbay was a mamluk purchased by Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay (ruled 1422-1438) and served under several Mamluk sultans, the last of whom – Sultan al-Zahir Timurbugha (ruled 1467-1468) – appointed him amir al-kabir, the commander-in-chief or highest position for an amir under the sultan.

Qaytbay's complex contained numerous buildings over a relatively vast area, enclosed by the same wall, of which one gate, Bab al-Gindi, still remains to the south of the mausoleum. Many of the original structures which once faced each other on both sides of the existing street have vanished.  

What remains today is the mosque, which is attached the mausoleum of Qaytbay himself, as well as a maq'ad (loggia), a smaller mosque and mausoleum for Qaytbay's sons, a hod (drinking trough for animals), and a rab' (an apartment complex where tenants paid rent). At one point it was also described to have had large gardens.

The mosque and mausoleum of the sultan forms the main building of the complex and is considered exceptional for its refined proportions and the subdued yet exquisite decorations. The mosque's entrance faces north and diverts the main road slightly eastwards around the walls of the mausoleum, possibly to enhance its visual effect. 

The facade features ablaq stonework (alternating dark and light stone) and the entrance portal is enhanced by a high elaborate groin-vaulted recess with muqarnas squinches.

The minaret stands above the entrance on the western side and is exquisitely carved in stone, divided into three stories with elaborately carved balconies. The eastern corner of the facade is occupied by a sabil (from which water could be dispensed to passers-by) on the ground flooor and by a kuttab (school) with open arches on the top floor. Qaytbay's mausoleum projects from the eastern side of the building, which makes it more visible from the street and allows for more light to reach the interior through northern-facing windows.

The outer dome of the mausoleum demonstrates an evolution from the stone domes built earlier and nearby by Sultan Barsbay and others: it is often cited as the apogee of Mamluk dome design in Cairo due to its complex stone-carved decorative pattern, which features a central geometric star radiating from the apex of the dome and an arabesque floral design which are superimposed and enhanced by natural shadows.

Inside, the vestibule features another ornate groin-vault ceiling and leads to the main sanctuary hall which follows a modified layout of the classic madrasa, with two large iwans on the qibla axis and two shallow or reduced iwans to the sides. The hall is richly decorated in stone-carving, painted wooden ceilings and coloured windows. 

The mihrab is relatively modest but the wooden minbar is richly carved with geometric patterns and inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. The wooden lantern ceiling above the central space is notable for its carving and painted pattern but is a restoration work and not the original.

The central floor also features elaborate polychrome patterned marble but is usually covered by carpets. The mausoleum chamber is adjacent to the qibla wall and contains the sultan's tomb as well as an alleged footprint of the Prophet Muhammad brought from Mecca, and is decorated with a carved and ablaq mihrab, polychrome marble paneling, and a high dome with muqarnas pendentives.

The Rab'
To the west of Qaytbay's main mosque is a smaller domed tomb which may have been built earlier when Qaytbay was only an amir, but was later dedicated to his sons.  It was later used by a Turkish Sufi named Gulshani during the Ottoman period. The small dome is decorated on the outside in a stone-carved pattern similar to that of the sultan's mausoleum but slightly simpler.  It is part of building described as a madrasa but, like the main mosque whose inscription also identifies it as a "madrasa", it appears to have been just a prayer hall.

To the west of this mausoleum is a maq'ad, which usually denotes a loggia overlooking a courtyard but in this case is an enclosed hall with windows, located over storage rooms and part of a residential area for the sultan and his guests.

Just to the north of the mosque, on the main street, is a hod or drinking trough for animals, with shallow decorative niches along its wall. Further north are the semi-ruined remains of a rab' or apartment complex on the west side of the main street. It is partially buried below street level but its high trilobed entrance portal is still visible.
Images Copyrights to Arch Net
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Short Story: Egypt’s Incredible Monastery Carved out of A Mountain

The Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) of Egypt support themselves by collecting rubbish door-to-door from the residents of Cairo and recycle up to 80 per cent of the waste that they collect.

The largest settlement is Mokattam village, called ‘Garbage City’ located at the foot of the Mokattam mountains, where the Zabbaleen were relocated by the government in 1969. The population is around 20,000 to 30,000, over 90 per cent of which are Coptic Christians.

After creating a new home at Mokattam, the Zabbaleen carved the Monastery of Saint Simon into the entrance of the mountain near the community.

To reach the monastery, visitors must go along winding pathways past the collected rubbish in the village.
But once you reach the area take a few moments to just marvel at the picturesque beauty that’s around you and realise that you have found what could literally be considered a hidden gem within one of the most unexpected areas of Cairo. You’ll find large, beautifully carved images and Bible verses engraved on the sides of the walls of the cliffs.

The Monastery contains seven churches and chapels in a series of caves in the Mokattam hills. The two main churches are named after the Virgin Mary and St Simon, in commemoration of a legend which says that Simon the Tanner moved Mokattam mountain with the power of his faith and prayers. Inside the spacious caves, exquisite engravings cover the walls representing stories from the Bible.

Now considered one of the largest Coptic monasteries in Egypt, the grandeur of the churches hidden within the heart of the Mokattam Hills are relatively recent constructions.

Construction started in 1974 by the Egyptian cleric Samaan Ibrahim, going through many phases until reaching its current shape. The first church was built with steel and iron sheets. Two years later a brick building was added to celebrate religious holidays.

The unexpected growth of the church’s congregation inspired its founders, Samaan Ibrahim and his companions, to expand the church to its current magnificent form and it has become one of the most significant churches in Egypt.

A well developed sound system and a vast visual screen to transfer a clear sound and picture to the audience was installed. The church is used for holy mass services and spiritual films and meetings are held every Thursday.

After visiting this wonderful monastery complex you can see one of the best views of Cairo, as the entire city can be seen from the mountain. This is a fantastic place to come and watch the twinkling lights of Cairo late at night over a cup of hot coffee. 

There is a coffee shop which converts into an open air cafe at night offering coffee and sheesha. A perfect end to a perfect day.

News: New Port Said Museum

The neo-Mameluke building of the old Port Said Museum once stood on the south-eastern side of Port Said City overlooking the Suez Canal, its collections bearing witness not only to the ancient history of the region but also to the building of the canal itself.
The building was demolished in 2009 and the site is now empty. However, this week it was announced that a new museum was being built on the site, opening to the public within the next 18 months.

Ahmed Sharaf, head of the museums sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the original building had become dangerous and could not be restored. Cracks had spread throughout the walls, and its foundations had been eaten away by underground water.

The museum was originally built in 1963, displaying a collection of nearly 5,000 artefacts from the ancient Egyptian period through to modern times. Most of the pieces had been found near Port Said, while some had been carefully selected from Cairo’s main museums, such as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Coptic Museum.

In 2008, the museum was closed for restoration.  Architect Al-Ghazali Kesseiba drew up a restoration plan and the project was put out for tendering.
However, exaggerated estimates were presented by the contractors, and in 2009 the project was handed over to the National Defence Council which agreed to the budget approved by the Ministry of Antiquities of some LE11 million.

The museum’s architectural features and equipment were removed and placed in storage until the completion of the construction work. However, the building was then demolished since it was found to be in a very poor state of conservation and unstable architecturally.

“It was not a safe building to host one of the country’s treasured collections,” commented Sharaf, adding that a decision had been made to build a better building more suited for the Museum’s mission.   

In 2010, consultants were hired to identify the best construction style and materials for the new building, bearing in mind the particularities of the soil and location. However, shortly after this the project was stopped as a result of budgetary problems following the 25 January Revolution.

But earlier this week Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty embarked on an inspection tour of the site and gave the go-ahead to the project. Eldamaty announced that the construction of the new museum would be completed within 18 months in order to put Port Said back firmly on Egypt’s tourist map.

Eldamaty said that the construction came within the framework of plans to connect the archaeological sites and monuments located around the Suez Canal in an attempt to spruce up development projects along the planned New Canal. The new building will be a two-storey structure, the collections being presented chronologically.
Among the most important objects on display will be a marble head of the Pharaoh Menkawre, a wooden sarcophagus of a New Kingdom priest, clay and decorated glass vessels from the Graeco-Roman era, and a collection of kohl containers and linen and wool clothes from the Coptic period.

 A collection of Ottoman tiles ornamented with foliage decorations will also be on show, along with a relief of a former local ruler, Abdel-Aziz Ben Al-Garou, and a collection of gold and silver coins from the Fatimid era. Objects associated with the former monarchy will also be on display, including the khedive Ismail’s carriage.
During his visit, Eldamaty announced that the ministry would also be restoring the bronze statue of French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps who developed the Suez Canal that once stood at its entrance. “For the first time since 1956, the statue and its base will be renovated and joined together,” Eldamaty said, explaining that the statue and base would now be erected in front of the museum.

Next to the statue would be statues of an Egyptian farmer, symbolising one of those who actually dug the canal, and late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser who nationalised it in July 1956.

The ten-metre tall bronze statue of de Lesseps was originally erected on a concrete base at the entrance to the Suez Canal, in honour of the French diplomat and developer. The statue’s right hand welcomes visitors entering the Suez Canal, and its left holds a map of it.  It was sculpted by the French sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet and erected on November 17, 1899.

Many would have preferred to see a statue of a pharaoh, perhaps Ramses II, or even an obelisk, but the salty humidity of the area would have destroyed the latter. There has long been a wish to have an Egyptian figure standing at the head of the canal, since it was built by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, many thousands of whom lost their lives during its construction.

The statue was damaged during the 1956 Suez Crisis by Yehia Al-Shaer, a member of the Egyptian resistance. It was then restored by the Paris-based Association des Amis du Canal de Suez and is now located in a shipyard in Port Fouad.

During the minister’s visit to the site of the new museum plans were also announced to restore the Port Said lighthouse. Built in 1869 and one of the first such structures to use reinforced concrete, this stands 56 metres high and is one of the only original buildings still standing in Port Said.
Source: Al Ahram weekly