Thursday, July 30, 2015

iCruise Egypt - Vol. 17: MS Mövenpick Royal Lily Luxury Nile cruise

Enjoy the best time with MS Mövenpick Royal Lily Luxury Nile cruise. MS Royal Lily sends you on a trip connecting both land and water. Royal Lily lets you experience a fascinating way to travel and relax at the same time.

MS Mövenpick Royal Lily is the newly the sister ship to Mövenpick M/S Royal Lotus. The ship offers a great chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Nile banks and to see the magnificent mysteries of 7,000 years of Egyptian civilization.

Enjoy your cruise down the Nile with the MS Movenpick Royal Lily. The ship offers stylish and comfortable suites, an elegant dinning room,a spacious sundeck and swimming pool and other amenities. This flagship cruiser comprises 56 cabins of approximately 22 sqm and 4 magnificent Royal Suites. These come equipped with a Jacuzzi and spacious facilities, ensuring you travel in style. Cruises leave from either Luxor or Aswan.
Official Website:
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

News, Cairo: New Suez Canal exhibition "Discoveries of Egypt's Eastern Gate" at Egyptian Museum

Ramses I relief exhibited in the exhibition
Exhibition to mark the opening of the New Suez Canal will take place at the Egyptian Museum. Written by Nevine El-Aref.

On Sunday, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty is to open the "Discoveries of Egypt's eastern gate,"  an exhibition at the Egyptian Museum, as part of the ministry's celebration of the opening of the New Suez Canal.

The exhibition, Eldamaty pointed out, is to highlight the history of the area around the Suez Canal and its military importance since the ancient era until modern times.

He went on saying that the exhibition is to put on display a collection of artefacts that have been unearthed at ten archaeological sites located on the eastern and western banks of the Suez Canal,  including Pelusium, Tel Habuwa, Tel Abu Seifi, Tel Kedwa and Tel Al-Heir. Photos showing excavation works in these sites are to be also exhibited.

Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, General Coordinator for the development of archaeological sites around the New Suez Canal, told Ahram Online that the exhibition is one of three temporary exhibitions established  in Ismailia Suez Museums.

lintels of a royal palace
He explained that the exhibition displays the most important discoveries carried out by foreign and Egyptian excavation missions in the sites surrounding the Suez Canal, including a limestone painted relief depicting the different titles of King Ramses II, a stone block depicting King Tuthmosis II before the god Montu, the lord of Thebes, as well as a stelae from the reign of King Ramses I before the god Set of Avaris town. 

A collection of engraved lintels are also on display as well as photos showing the New Kingdom military fortresses uncovered in situ, royal palaces from Tuthmosis III and Ramses II's reigns as well as remains of a 26th dynasty temple. A storage cellos, and an industrial zone were also uncovered in Tel Dafna on the Suez Canal's western bank and a Roman structure in Pelusium.

Abdel-Maqsoud announced that for the first time since its discovery, the relief of King Ibres discovered at Tel Dafna in Al-Ismailia is to be exhibited. The relief dates to the 26th dynasty and is carved in sandstone. It shows one of the military expedition launched by Ibres across Egypt's borders through Sinai and Horus Military Road. This stelae was discovered by the army during the 2011 revolution.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Discovery, Aswan: American Archaeologists Discover Inscribed Steles at Ancient Mining Site in Wadi El Hudi

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty, Minister of Antiquities, announced yesterday the discovery of three Middle Kingdom steles bear important inscriptions.

The discovery is a result of the American-Egyptian expedition led by Dr. Kate Liszka and Bryan Kraemer in Wadi El-Hudi area. Wadi El-Hudi is an area 35km southeast of Aswan that is made up of many archaeological sites, consisting of fortified settlements, amethyst mines, and rock inscriptions. Egyptians mined this region during the Middle Kingdom and the Roman period. 

The state of preservation of the settlement areas is astonishing; the distribution of artifacts on the surface allows for a reconstruction of the various activities that took place at Wadi el-Hudi over three-thousand years ago.

The area was first discovered in 1917 and has been intermittently studied by geologists and archaeologists since. In the 1940’s Ahmed Fakhry conducted a survey of the area, where he identified 14 archaeological sites and recorded over 100 inscriptions. Ahmed Fakhy identified the link to Pharaoh Mentuhotep IV of the 11th Dynasty.

In the 1990s the sites were also visited by Ian Shaw, Robert Jameson, Rosemarie Klemm and Dietrich Klemm as part of large studies of Egyptian mining operations. The Wadi el-Hudi Expedition was launched in May of 2014 to continue studying the area and to yield answers to questions of settlement planning, organization of state-sponsored projects, the mechanics of semiprecious stone mining, interactions between Nubians and Egyptians, literacy among a soldiering class, and much more. 

Since the beginning of their work, the expedition has identified new, unknown archaeological sites and a dozen more inscriptions that were previously unpublished.

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty said that the inscriptions on the steles suggest its link to a fortified settlement. Even though many of the inscriptions have faded with time by the expedition is using RTI technology (Reflectance Transformation Imagine) which helps to identify more of the less visible inscriptions.

Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Egyptian antiquities department, said “The area of Wadi El-Hudi contains a number of amethyst mines and many Egyptian expeditions were sent to bring stones from there at the time of the Middle Kingdom to use for jewellery.”

“Two of the discovered steles mentioned the year 28th of Senusret I’s reign as well as information on the expeditions were sent to the site.” Dr. Afifi added. The expedition is sponsored by Princeton University.
Photos are courtesy of MOA

Monday, July 27, 2015

News: Egypt’s Inbound Tourism Increases by 16.5 % in May - CAPMAS

CAIRO: The number of tourists visiting Egypt increased by 16.5 percent in May 2015 compared with the same period last year, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt’s official statistical agency.

In its monthly report for tourism statistics issued Wednesday, CAPMAS indicated that 894.600tourists visited Egypt in May 2015, compared to 768.200 in May last year.

However, May figures of Egypt’s inbound tourism indicate a 3.1 percent decline compared with April 2015.

According to the report, the rate of tourists from Western Europe represented 43.9 percent, followed by tourists from Western Europe in second place at 30.7, Middle Easterners at 13.4 percent and tourists from the rest of the world at 12 percent.

Holidaymakers from Russia represented 73.3 percent of East European tourists while German tourists topped the list of Western European countries sending tourists to Egypt.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia topped the list of Middle East countries sending tourists to Egypt. According to the report, the number of departing tourists recorded 888,100 in May compared to 776,500 tourists in May 2014, with an increase of 14.4 percent.

“The number of tourist nights spent by departing tourists reached 8.6 million nights during May 2015 compared to 7.3 million nights during the same month in 2014; an increase of 17.5%, “ the report read.

As for the number of tourists from Arab countries, it has reached 153,700 tourists in May compared to 124,900 tourists during the same month in 2014, an increase of 23.1 percent, the report said. “The number of tourist nights spent by departing tourists from Arab countries, reached 1.5 million nights during May 2015 compared to 1.4 million nights during the same month in 2014, an increase of 5.7% and 17.8% of the total tourist nights,” the report said.

Egypt’s political turmoil following the 2011 January uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak has badly affected tourism sector; Egypt’s second most important source of national income after the Suez Canal provides direct and indirect employment to up to 12.6 percent of the country’s workforce. Revenues from tourism represent 11.3 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP.)
Source: Cairo Post– By/Rany Mostafa

Sunday, July 26, 2015

News, Luxor: New Excavations in Valley of the Kings by an Egyptian Mission

For the second Time an Egyptian Mission excavate in the Pharaohs Burial Place. 

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty told Luxor Times yesterday that an Egyptian mission will start Excavation in the Valley of the Kings on the 1st of August.

This will be the second time in history for an Egyptian mission to excavated in the Pharaohs burial place for over 500 years. The first mission was led by Dr. Zahi Hawass.

The new mission will be under direct supervision of the minister of Antiquities and led by Dr. Mostafa Waziry with field director Salah El Masekh and will excavated in the areas to the north and south of Ramses IV tomb (KV2) which was last excavated in 1902.

News, Luxor: For The First Time in 3500 years, Royal Tombs are Open at Night

Minister of Antiquities, Dr Mamdouh El Damaty opened the Valley of the Kings for the first time in history at night for visitors.

The great Pharaohs ‘ burials were sure visited at night in the past 35 centuries but mainly in ancient time by tomb robbers, this time the visit will be possible for public till 9pm.

The tombs which are equipped by the new lighting system provided by “DEFEX”, a specialised company, through a Spanish loan of 6 million Euros, are KV2 (tomb of Ramses IV), KV9 (tomb of Ramses V and Ramses VI) and KV17 (tomb of Seti I) beside the tombs will be open at night too also include tombs of Ramses III, Ramses IV and TutAnkhAmon tomb too.

The last person who had enjoyed this magical atmosphere at night in the Valley of the Kings could be Sgt. Richard Adamson, as he claimed that he was guarding KV62, the tomb of King Tutankhamon since the discovery in 1922 and for several years afterwards playing opera records of an old gramophone at night but this is another story.

Now, visitors to Luxor have an amazing chance to enjoy those masterpieces of ancient Egyptian art at night even during the summer, no more hot days if you can visit at night.

The sites which will be open till 9pm in Luxor include Luxor Temple, Ramesseum temple and Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut temple. Later Habu temple and Seti I temple will be added to the list soon when the new lighting system is completely installed and tested.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Discovery, Red Sea (Part 2): Astonishing Archaeological discoveries help rewriting the history of the Ancient Egyptian Harbor

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty, Minister of Antiquities, announced last sunday the discoveries were made by mission of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw (co-director Dr. Iwona Zych) and the University of Delaware, USA (co-director Dr. Steven E. Sidebotham) at the site of Berenike on the Red Sea coast. Berenike is located 825km south of Suez and 255km east of Aswan.

The harbor site was considered Roman-Ptolemaic but the latest discoveries shows that it was used a long period prior including Amenemhat IV cartouche of Middle Kingdom on a sandstone stele.

The mission continued a geomagnetic survey of Berenike and also excavated in whole or in part 12 trenches during the last season. 

Participants included dozens of staff from the USA, Poland, the UK, Spain, Romania, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Egypt together with approx. 76 locally recruited Bedouin workmen.

6 of the 12 trenches excavated were in the south-western harbour and two of these were continuations from previous seasons. Those in the south-western harbour excavated during the last season – where the season before, the remains of an early Roman ship frame made of cedar wood had been discovered and previously ship timbers joined using pinned mortise and tenon construction techniques -contained a range of structures and finds.
Inscription (records a statue) dedicated by a secretary in charge of an aromatics
 warehouse at Berenike to a prominent citizen of the city in 112/113 AD.
 Photo by S.E. Sidebotham. Courtesy of MOA
The purpose of some structures excavated in the south western harbor during the last season remains unknown at this time. 

One was an edifice of uncertain function (Trench BE15-103: possibly a warehouse or work area) that lay west of a sunken structure excavated in 2010 and 2011 (Trench BE10/11-70). 

Excavations also included part of the interior of a late Roman temple (Trench BE10/12/13/14/15-61), industrial and metal working areas (Trenches BE14/15-102 and BE15-108) and a possible ship repair or ship dismantling facility (Trench BE15-109).

There was also a small sondage (BE15-106) excavated to recover additional archeobotanical remains for study.

Plan of Berenike with locations of trenches from the winter 2014-2015 season.
Drawing by M. Hense
Excavations in trench BE14/15-102 (which had produced an intaglio of a mounted horseman during winter 2013-2014) also documented another intaglio this season. 

Carved on an oval shaped cabochon likely made of carnelian, this specimen had engraved on it a draped female figure standing facing left.

The discoveries of the last season include parts of the enterance to Serapis temple, several inscription fragments, Steles, first century 3 human burials: 2 for males and one for a female, Ptolemaic urban defenses and hydraulic facilities.
  • For more details of the last season of excavation and documentation at the site, you can download Dr. Steven E. Sidebotham field report in details from HERE 
  • Also you can support the mission work “The Berenike project” from HERE  
  • The great supporter of The Berenike Project during the last season was Honor Frost Foundation. You can check their great work from HERE 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Discovery, Red Sea: Two 4,000-year-old reliefs discovered in Egypt

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced Sunday that two reliefs dating to 4,000 years ago were found by Polish archaeologists in the temple of Serapis belonging to the Ptolemaic Queen Berenice, on the coast of the Red Sea.
One of the Two 4000 Years Old Reliefs
The pieces date to Ancient Egypt's so-called Middle Kingdom (2050-1750 BC) and the Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BC), epochs long before the temple's construction date.

The first relief has a cartouche containing the name of the Pharaoh Amenemhat IV - the seventh and next-to-last pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty - whose reign was characterized by exploration expeditions for precious turquoise and amethyst, while the second relief, quite damaged, requires restoration.

The archaeologists also found a number of blocks of stone, which served as bases for the temple's statues and are engraved with lotus and papyrus flowers and a goddess, as well as with writing in Greek. Other finds by the team include three burials from the Roman epoch, as well as parts of the facade of the temple to Queen Berenice.

The Polish scientific mission, after analyzing satellite photography of the area, uncovered the existence of a new archaeological site near the seaport of Berenice containing the remains of the base of a long and narrow building with three platforms.

Port Berenice was established at the beginning of the 3rd century AD by Ptolemy II, who ordered campaigns to the East African coast to capture elephants to be used in battle.

iCruise Egypt - Vol. 16: Mövenpick MS Prince Abbas Lake Cruise

The Mövenpick MS Prince Abbas is a luxurious boat cruising Lake Nasser, offering a great chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Lake Nasser. Discover magnificent temples and tombs of the ancient world on your cruise down ancient Egyptian history.

The Movenpick MS Prince Abbas offering guests a comfortable and elegant atmosphere to return to after seeing the many sights of the area. Cruising from Aswan to Abu Simbel, the Movenpick Prince Abbas is offered on a full board basis and prices also include a full itinerary of excursions, with 65 cabins, incorporating junior suites and Royal suites are furnished to make your stay comfortable. Work out in the gym or just take in the view from your room or outside areas. 

Cruises leave from either Aswan or Abu Simbel, so you can relax and enjoy your Lake Nasser cruise holiday.
Official Website:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

News: Domestic tourism booms in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in Eid al-Fitr holiday

CAIRO: The hotel occupancy rate during Eid al-Fitr holiday ranged from 80 to 100 percent in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts of Hurghada, Sharm al-Sheikh and Marsa Alam, Chairman of Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) Sami Mahmoud told The Cairo Post Friday.

“Over 70 percent of the guests are Egyptians who either booked travel deals with Egyptian companies or who are visiting the resort cities in trips organized by several government departments and public sector institutions,” according to Mahmoud.

The occupancy rates had registered 100 percent in about 190 Egyptian hotels in Hurghada during the first day of Eid al-Fitr holiday and Egyptians accounted for over 72 percent of reservations, Hani Suleiman, Egyptian Hotel Chamber undersecretary in the South Sinai Governorate told The Cairo Post Friday.

“The occupancy rate in Sherm al-Sheikh, currently at its highest level since Christmas, has reached 87 percent, while it is 80 percent and 100 percent in Marsa Alam and Hurghada respectively,” said Mahmoud.

Mahmoud said he hopes domestic tourism“would contribute to raising occupancy rates of hotelsto compensate for the sharp decline in foreign and Arab bookings during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.” Egypt’s tourism sector, which represents 11 percent of the country’s GDP, has been suffering from ongoing shocks ever since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Despite a few instances of apparent recovery, instability and political turmoil continue to challenge the sector. The number of tourists visiting Egypt increased by nine percent in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, Mahmoud was quoted by Al-Masry Al-Youm early July.
Source: Cairo Post– By/Rany Mostafa

Saturday, July 18, 2015

News: Egyptians granted free admission to archaeological sites on Eid al-Fitr

CAIRO: Egyptians will have free admission to museums, tombs and temples located in Luxor and Aswan during the three-day Eid al-Fitr, Antiquities Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

“The move aims at promoting Egypt’s domestic tourism by encouraging and raising the cultural awareness of young people on the significance of the monuments they visit,” Sultan Eid, Director of Upper Egypt Antiquities Department told Youm7 Tuesday.

The ministry will celebrate this year’s Eid el-Fitr with cultural events, including folkloric music festivals and workshops for students to produce mini models for their favorite archaeological site or artifact, Mostafa Waziri, Director General of Upper Egypt Antiquities in the Antiquities Ministry told The Cairo Post Wednesday.

He added that the music festivals will be held in the Luxor’s west bank sites of the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings along with Luxor and Karnak Temples on the city’s east bank.

Egypt depends on tourism for around 20 percent of its hard currency. The industry witnessed its peak in 2010, with $13.8 billion in revenues, but unrest following the 2011 revolution has kept many tourists away.

In April, Egypt’s ministries of tourism and civil aviation have launched an initiative to encourage domestic tourism in an attempt to boost hotel occupancy rates, Youm7 reported.

In June 2014, following a slight improvement in Egypt’s state of security, many countries including Italy, Denmark and Belgium lifted travel warnings to the Sinai Peninsula.

In 2010, which was the peak of Egyptian tourism during the past two decades, 14.7 million tourists visited the country and spent 98.5 billion EGP in revenue, according to the 2011 report of the National Accounts Division of the Ministry of Tourism.
Source: Cairo Post– By/Rany Mostafa

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

News: 18 k tourists visited Egypt’s museums in June 2015 - official

Egyptian Museum
CAIRO: A total of 18,440 tourists had visited museums across Egypt in June 2015, head of the museums section at the antiquities ministry Elham Salah told Youm7 Tuesday.

The number of Arabs and Egyptian who visited Egypt’s museums in June reached 49,000, Salah said, adding that revenues from the entrance fees paid by Egyptian, Arab and foreign visitors to the museum in June exceeded 18 million EGP ($2.4m.)

Figures of last months were not available for comparison but Salah said though the figures are rising month after month but “they are still way behind proceeds achieved before Egypt’s 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.” “For example, in November 2010, proceeds from museum and archaeological tickets sales reached 15 million EGP compared to 4.5 million EGP in November 2012,” Salah added.

Revenues from tourism, comprising 11.3 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP), witnessed a sharp decline in the aftermath of the political instability following the 2011 uprising.

“The Ministry of Antiquities has been encountering financial problems with its total debt, which rose to 2.8 billion EGP due to the sharp decrease in its revenues,” said Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty in a statement in June. Entrance fees paid by tourists visiting museums and archaeological sites along with overseas exhibitions of Egyptian rare artifacts represent the ministry’s main source of income, said Salah.

According to Damaty, the ministry’s revenues during the 2013/2014 fiscal year reached only 125 million EGP compared to 3 billion EGP during the 2009/2010 fiscal year. Damaty said the ministry is currently engaged in restoration and maintenance projects of over seventy archaeological sites and museum across the country and that it is “facing difficulties to resume these projects.”

In 2010, which was the peak of Egyptian tourism during the past two decades, 14.7 million tourists visited the country and spent 98.5 billion EGP in revenue, according to the 2011 report of the National Accounts Division of the Ministry of Tourism.
Source: Cairo Post– By/Rany Mostafa

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Re-Openning, Cairo: The Textile Museum to Reopen Tomorrow

The Textile Museum in Al-Nahassin is to open tomorrow night after restoration. Written by Nevine El-Aref.

The entrance of the textile museum
At Al-Nahassin area on Al-Muizz street stands the sabil (water fountain) of Mohamed Ali, which sits waiting for its official reopening, scheduled for Wednesday night. The sabil has been closed since April this year for restoration. The Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty is set to open it.

Eldamaty explains that the sabil was originally built on the orders of Mohamed Ali Pasha to commemorate his son Ismail, who died in Sudan in 1822. It consists of a large rectangular hall opening onto the Tassbil hall, with a rounded, marble façade and four windows surrounding an oval marble bowl. The "logo" of the Ottoman Empire -- featuring a crescent and a star -- decorates the area above each window. 

The sabil's wooden façade and the top of the frame are decorated in a rococo and baroque style, the main style seen in several of Mohamed Ali's edifices. In 2007, Eldamaty pointed out that within the framework of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project the Sabil was converted into a museum of Egyptian textiles.

The widows facade of Mohamed Ali Sabil
The museum displays 250 textile pieces and 15 carpets dating from the late Pharaonic era through to the Coptic and Islamic ages. Among the collection on display are tools and instruments used by ancient Egyptians to clean and wash clothes, along with illustrations demonstrating the various stages of laundering clothes in ancient times. Monks' robes, icons and clothes from various times in the Islamic era are also exhibited.

"One of the most beautiful items on show is a red bed cover ornamented with gold and silver thread, said to have been a gift from Mohamed Ali to his daughter on her marriage. Another is a large cover for the Kaaba in Mecca sent by King Fouad of Egypt to Saudi Arabia," Eldamaty said, adding that this is a black velvet textile ornamented with Quranic verses and woven with gold and silver thread.

Mohamed Abdel Aziz, the assistant Minister of Antiquities for Islamic and Coptic Antiquities, told Ahram Online that restoration work at the museum aims at upgrading the museum's security systems to reach international museum standards, as well as restoring cracks that spread along several walls and floors of the museum's different halls. Fine restoration also took place on all the sabil's stony and wooden decorative elements.

Monday, July 13, 2015

iCruise Egypt - Vol. 15: Mayfair Nile cruise

Experience the true luxury exclusively aboard M/S Mayfair Nile cruise where exceptional services available on its 5 elegant decks along with an attentive and friendly staff ensure you have a matchless and everlasting experience.

The classy cabins of M/S Mayfair Nile cruise blend unmatched intimacy and comfortable individuality with tasteful attention to details. Dark wooden pieces set off by black and crème tones create a soothing ambience, complimented by calming light walls to provide a haven of comfort to relax in after a long day of sightseeing. 

Indulgence is the key with the lavishly appointed spacious Presidential Suites of M/S Mayfair Nile cruise. Relax on your comfortable sofa in a cozy living area and feel pampered in the state-of-the-art interiors composed of warm browns, beiges and fuchsia hues, all blending perfectly with the balcony’s soothing turquoise view.
Official Website:

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Short Story: Remembering the Fatimids

This month marks the anniversary of the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969 CE, written by Nevine El-Aref.

Eleven centuries ago, the Fatimids conquered Egypt, in what was the first leg of the expansion of their empire from Sicily to Sind. From the time of the creation of the Fatimid Empire in Tunisia in December 909 CE, the Fatimids had searched for a new capital that would be closer to Syria, Palestine, Arabia and the Mediterranean islands. They found it in Egypt.

The Fatimids claimed to be the descendants of the Prophet Mohamed from his daughter Fatemah Al-Zahraa and Ali Ibn Abu Taleb. They conquered Egypt in July 969 after only five months of fighting. According to Mohamed Abdel-Latif, head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt fell to the Fatimid commander Gawhar Al-Seqeli without great resistance as the Ikhsidid Dynasty, which then ruled the country, was falling apart and was unable to put up a convincing defence.

Egyptians welcomed the Fatimids, he told the Weekly, because they were the descendants of the Prophet Mohamed and would rid the country of the unpopular Ikhsidids. On the orders of the Fatimid caliph, Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah, Al-Seqeli built the empire’s new capital, Al-Qahira (the Triumphant), today the heart of Islamic Cairo, which soon became a place of opulent palaces, mosques, madrassas (schools) and sabils (fountains), and the prestigious mosque-university of Al-Azhar.

During their two centuries ruling Egypt, the Fatimids gave rise to outstanding cultural development and exquisite arts, making the period one of the most flourishing and brightest not only in Egypt’s history but throughout Islamic civilisation as a whole.

Assistant for Islamic and Coptic Monuments at the Ministry of Antiquities  Mohamed Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly that Al-Seqeli built a mud brick wall around the new city of Al-Qahira, 1,080 metres in length. The area of the city at the time was some 1,166 square metres, while the palace of Al-Muizz was 240 square metres and its garden, known as Al-Bustan Al-Kafuri, 120 square metres. Cairo’s streets, alleys and houses were built on an area of 686 square metres.

Al-Seqeli left a gap in the city’s wall for the further expansion of the capital. The wall also had nine gates, three of which are still standing today: Bab Al-Nasr (Gate of Victory) and Bab Al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest) are to the north; Bab Al-Barakiya (Gate of Blessedness) and Bab Al-Qarateen are on the east; Bab Zuweila or Bab Al-Metwali, Bab Al-Farag (Gate of Succour), Bab Al-Akhdar (Green Gate) and Bab Al-Qantara (Gate of the Bridge) are to the south; and Bab Al-Saada (Gate of Happiness) are to the west.

Telal Al-Muqattam was the eastern border of the new city of Cairo; Al-Khalig Al-Kabir (The Great Canal) was on its western side; and the former Tulunid capital of Al-Qataa was located to the south.

The new city flourished and became very well known. According to the Persian traveller Naser Khesro, who visited Egypt in 1047 and 1049, it was “a great city with no fewer than 20,000 shops and baths as well as soaring edifices taller than the city’s fortified wall.” He said the buildings were well constructed and separated from each other with gardens irrigated by water from wells.

The original mud-brick walls later deteriorated, and 120 years later the vizier Badr Al-Din Al-Gamaly extended the city and built a second wall around it, this time made of limestone. “The now double-walled city had a number of fortified gates protecting both the inner and outer city areas,” Abdel-Latif said, adding that the primary purpose of these was defensive, though they also differentiated the areas lived in by the different social and economic classes.

Many of the gates featured carved elements and decorative features representing the ruler’s and the city’s victories, power and faith. Three of the gates still exist —Bab Al-Nasr, Bab Al-Futuh and Bab Zuweila.

Before deciding to call the new capital Al-Qahira, Al-Seqeli named it Al-Mansouriya, after the name of the caliph Al-Muizz’s father. But upon his arrival in Egypt in 973, Al-Muizz changed the name to Al-Qahira in reference to the planet Mars (Al-Najm Al-Qahir) rising at the time when the city was founded.

“Although he ruled Egypt for only two years, Al-Muizz is the most important Fatimid caliph,” Abdel-Latif said, adding that during his reign Egypt enjoyed great prosperity. The caliph had a reputation for justice and tolerance of other religions besides Islam.

Coptic Christians enjoyed a high degree of freedom under Al-Muizz, and Copts were appointed to the highest offices of state and allowed to practice their religion freely. The relationship between Al-Muizz and the Copts was later the subject of a number of legends. Fatimid literature also rose to prominence during the rule of Al-Muizz with the emergence of poets like Ibn Hani Al-Andalusi and Ali Al-Tunsi. The dynasty founded festivals such as the mulids of the Prophet Mohamed’s family and Al-Wakoud Nights (nights of fire).

The latter, Abdel-Latif explains, took place on the first and middle days of the months of Ragab and Shaaban. The inhabitants of the city would flock to the caliphal seat bearing fire and candles. The caliph would appear at the gate of his palace, his face seen through a mashrabiya window (a window with a wooden screen) and illuminated by the fire surrounding him. The Madih Nights (praising the Prophet and his family) were also established under Fatimid rule.

“Al-Muizz laid the foundations of the Fatimid Empire, but his son Al-Aziz bi-Allah is the one who really established the Empire,” Abdel-Latif said. He ruled Egypt for 20 years, during which time the country’s divan, or government, was extended. Al-Aziz also started to build a huge mosque, later completed by his son Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, still standing today as the Al-Hakim Mosque in Islamic Cairo.

Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ruled Egypt from the age of 11, when he succeeded his father as caliph. He had a famously contradictory personality. Although he had great skills, he used to issue strange laws and regulations, among them prohibiting the eating of mouloukheya (a kind of green soup) and ordering the killing of the country’s dogs and cats.

The Fatimid Empire started to decline during the second half of the caliph Al-Mustansir bi-Allah’s rule. After his 67 years on the throne, famine overwhelmed the empire and Fatimid power rapidly declined. Mercenary soldiers threatened to destroy the state, and the caliphs lost power to a series of viziers who later took the title of king.

Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia fell away from the empire, and the Normans conquered Sicily. Palestine was conquered by the Crusaders, and the Fatimids were left with little more than Egypt. When the Assassins, a radical religious group, killed Amir, the last caliph of any ability, the country fell into anarchy. In 1171, Adid, the 14th and last of the Fatimid rulers, died. Before the decline of the Fatimid state, many customs that survive today were founded. Ramadan celebrations were particularly important during the Fatimid period.

“Many Ramadan celebrations and traditions created during the Fatimid Empire have lasted until today,” Abdel-Aziz said. The alleys and streets of the city were decorated with coloured lamps (fawanis) to announce the start of Ramadan, for example, and trade flourished, especially in the Nahasseen and Shamaaeen markets.

“Candles were sold in large numbers because children used to hold them and sing after the al-tarawih prayers. Sweets and nut markets flourished, providing the sugar for making al-alalik, a kind of sweet in the shape of lions and horses.

Kunafa and atayef, traditional Ramadan sweets, were also introduced during the Fatimid period. Today’s mawa’eid al-Rahman, food tables laid out during the month of Ramadan for the poor, were inspired by the huge tables of food ordered by rulers and top officials for the poor during Fatimid rule.

The gates of Cairo

Bab Al-Nasr (Gate of Victory) was the gate through which Egypt’s military contingents entered the city after their victories over enemies. Among the Mameluke sultans that later entered through Bab Al-Nasr were Al-Zaher Baybars, Al-Nasr Mohamed Ibn Qalawoun, and Qalawoun himself.

The gate is a massive fortified entrance with rectangular stone towers flanking the semicircular arch of the eastern portal. The original Bab Al-Nasr was built south of the present one by Al-Seqeli, and later by the vizier Al-Gamali under the caliph Al-Mustansir. The latter replaced the first gate with the present one, naming it Bab Al-Izz (Gate of Prosperity), though the original name remains in use today.

A significant decorative element on the gate is the shields on the flanks and fronts of the protruding towers, which symbolise victory in protecting the city against invaders. When the French invaded Egypt in 1798, Napoleon himself named each tower of the northern wall after the officers responsible for its security. The names of these French officers are carved near the upper level of the gates.

Bab Al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest) is located on Bab Al-Futuh Street. When Al-Gamali rebuilt the gate in 1087 he put both the Bab Al-Futuh and Bab Al-Nasr in their current positions and linked them with an underground passage. Bab Al-Futuh has two rounded towers with shafts in the middle for pouring boiling water or burning oil onto attackers. The gate is covered in vegetal and geometric motifs.

Bab Zuweila is considered one of the major landmarks of the city and is the last remaining southern gate from the Fatimid wall built in the 11th and 12th centuries. “Zuweila” is the name of a tribe of Berber warriors from the Western Desert, members of whom were charged with guarding the gate.

The gate has twin towers that can be accessed via a steep climb. In earlier times they were used to scout for enemy troops in the surrounding countryside, and in modern times they provide some of the best views of Islamic Cairo.

The structure also has a famous platform. Executions would sometimes take place there, and it was also from this location that the sultan would watch the beginning of the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.

During the Mameluke era, the gate was used to display the severed heads of criminals. Sultan Al-Zaher Baybars used it to display the head of the messengers of the Mongol leader Hulagu who had threatened to conquer Egypt in the 13th century CE.

To the west of the gate is the Al-Muayyad Sheikh Mosque, which originally was the prison where Sultan Al-Muayyad was held. While he was in the prison, he promised to build a mosque instead, and in 1415 he did so.