John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Thursday 9 February 2012

[Wednesday 8 February 2012]

We were awake before our 7am wake-up call, and I was shaving or showering when the call came. Breakfast was more or less like it had been on the Jaz Regency. (The beef sausages were perhaps more meaty.) We went back to the bungalow, then to the foyer to sit and wait. Then I remembered and went back for spare batteries, and when I returned young Egyptology graduate Mustafa, who was going to further his studies to Master’s level, had arrived. We went out to the roomy, black Mercedes that was waiting for us, and were chauffeured to the places in downtown Cairo that we were to visit, ducking and diving between busy traffic lanes in still somewhat alarming fashion. Cairo is a city of contrasts; everywhere one finds squalor and splendour sitting shoulder to shoulder. Everything, though — splendid or squalid — seems to be doused in dust; everything looks grimy. On the way, Janet remembered that it was her birthday! A number of the places we visited had security devices and X-ray machines for baggage, and I was frisked a couple of times, and Janet once. First stop was Cairo Museum, across the road from the burnt-out shell of some huge former government building of the Mubarak regime. I left the camera in the car, rather than have to have it taken from me for the duration of the visit.

The museum was full of antiquities so numerous and diverse as to defy memory and description. It was quite cold in there. Mustafa guided us to what he considered the most important exhibits. Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten the father of Tutankhamun changed the religion from the worship of the sun to — not the worship of the moon as we had been led to believe, but to a spiritual God, the power behind the sun instead of the sun itself. And the art changed from idealised human forms to more realistic ones: mouths with overbites, bloated bellies, etc. We went in the room whose centrepiece was the death mask of Tutankhamun. I did a Darth Vader impression! Somewhat in the manner of a Russian doll, he had lain in a gilded, decorated coffin within a similar larger one, within a wooden box, within a larger one, within a larger one still — which we approached in reverse order to what I’ve just written. Mustafa pointed out his chair, which had a cartouche naming him “Tutankhaten”, meaning that it dated from when his father was alive, before his name was changed to “Tutankhamun”. Mustafa left us on our own to look around. There was a room with coffins, most of them plainly Egyptian, but one with Roman faces on it. There were two colossi downstairs which we looked at. We revisited the room containing the Tutankhamun mask. We almost got lost in the room after room of exhibits. We met up with Mustafa again an hour later, 11.15am, rejoined the car, and darted in and out of other traffic to the Citadel.

11:52:10 Citadel wall, with one of the domes of the mosque within the walls visible

11:56:22 Within the citadel, approaching the mosque of Muhammad Ali

Instead of taking our shoes off before entering, we bought from a vendor for 5£E for each of us, little elasticated plastic bag-like slippers to put on over our shoes.

12:08:29 In the court, looking at the ritual-purification “fountain” (actually, a polygonal structure with taps in the sides)

12:11:55 The decoration within the dome over the fountain looks distinctly “un-Islamic”.

12:20:26 Inside the mosque, looking back

12:20:35 Cupola

12:20:57 Wall facing Mecca where people are praying (just bums and feet visible)

12:23:01 View, from outside the mosque, of the pyramids, visible through the haze over Cairo

12:23:56 Another view from there of the city

Back into the car again — this time to go to the Coptic museum. I checked my camera in at the entrance for them to keep hold of, for although photography was not allowed in there, I would be able to use it again before we went back to the car.

There were many exhibits from various places, not only Coptic stuff. I was able to read some of the names on inscriptions, for the Coptic script was based on the Greek alphabet. The attendant told me not to touch the exhibit, for I was tracing the letters with my finger. There were codices of Biblical and liturgical texts on paper and vellum, and illuminated manuscripts. There was a single page somewhere which I recognised from the title as Revelation.

13:27:54 The entrance to the Coptic museum just after we’d finished going round it

Just by the Coptic Museum was a deep hole partly surrounded by a ruined wall Roman which Mustafa called the Babylon Fortress. By it was a Coptic church which he called “the hanging church” because it was situated over an extension of the hole. Indeed, within the nave of the church, there was a long, narrow gap running along the floor through which one could see down to the hole.

13:28:14 The Babylon Fortress, just adjacent to the museum. One of the towers of the Coptic church is just visible behind.

13:29:46 Entrance court to the Coptic church

13:29:54 One of the mosaics on the wall of the court (this one was to the left just after one entered)

13:36:08 View inside the church (blurry because flash photography was prohibited)


After that we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue — photos not allowed — don’t think I’ve ever been inside a synagogue before — with its scroll of the Torah open on the pulpit, and women’s gallery above. (Women worship separately from men in the mosque as well.) We were talking about who could have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus (and I sang a snatch of Larry Norman’s Moses In The Wilderness in there!). It depends when chariots were introduced into Egypt. After that we visited another church — photos not allowed — with a crypt, cordoned off so we could only look down, where the Holy Family was supposed to have stayed when they fled to Egypt. There was a long frieze painted on wood (with some woodworm infestation) of scenes from the Gospel story. We had an interesting dialogue about Islam and the Christian faith. “Bones of contention”, I pointed out, were about Jesus being the Son of God, and Jesus being the last word. Jesus, in Islam, is an esteemed prophet in the line of prophets, but Mohammed is the final one. In Islam, Jesus didn’t die but was translated to heaven. He is expected to come back towards the End, along with the Antichrist. There was much more discussed in a very short time. Proceeding along the street from there, we passed four dogs sleeping by a heap of sand.


And so we got back to the car and were returned to the hotel.

14:30:18 Mustafa, our very expert and interesting guide, just after we had been deposited back at the hotel

[Friday 10 February 2012]

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