March 23, 2011

Final Days in Egypt

After Luxor, we took the night train back up to Cairo. We were picked up and were off the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in downtown Cairo. And, when the news was made last month with the protests of Tahrir Square, the images were very familiar to us. The reason was that this museum sits right there at Tahrir Square. This site is very symbolic to the Egyptians and during our stay hundreds of Sudanese refugees were protesting and being hit by water cannons after protesting the lack of support by the Egyptian government to their cause. This happened to occur the night after our visit to the museum and foreigners who then advised not to go downtown.

As far as the museum is concerned, cameras were strictly prohibited, so I do not have any photos from inside. There certainly are some impressive artifacts, including mummies, sarcophagi, statues and votives, coins, and papyri. Unfortunately, I felt like the museum was not well planned and many of the artifacts seemed out of place and out of context. It would have been nice to have put them into some sort of reconstruction of what the sites would have looked like to see how these tombs were originally built.

Afterwards, it was off to the Great Bazaar for lunch and some exploring of the little shops in every nook and cranny. Although I was disappointed, as I have mentioned earlier, that we were not given any real authentic Egyptian food during the trip, the one thing I really enjoyed was the mint tea.

The Great Bazaar was actually built during the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1382 in the classic Turkish style. It was here I bought a little chess set. There were some really beautiful Arabic/Islamic style artwork I would not have minded getting, but my cash flow was running low at that point. 

Around the bazaar and actually across much of Cairo, the mosques have Turkish-style minarets. These towers are skinny and round, as opposed to old fat and square towers of the earlier Egyptian-style prior to the Ottoman takeover. Back in the day, the call to prayers was done by a man singing from the top of the minaret. Today, it is done by loud speakers of previously recorded calls.

Finally, it was back to our hotel for the final night. In the morning, the skies were overcast. But, as we took off to the north and over the vast Nile Delta, we did get a glimpse of the bread-basket of the Arab world. This vast flat expanse of green is covered by farmland and scattered villages.

The Nile once snaked its way across the entire 150 mi width and 100 mile length of the delta in many different channels. But, today it is all channeled into two branches. In addition, since the Nile no longer floods since the building of the High Aswan Dam, the coastline is eroding at 50 km per year and the silt is being depleted by agriculture with no new influxes. To make up for that, they now have to rely on fertilizers and pesticides. But, they are having problems with rising sea levels and subsidence (remember the Louisiana Coast posts?).

One thing that is amazing to imagine is, that 5.5 million years ago, during the Messian Salinity Crisis, that the Mediterranean Sea was almost completely dried up (The Straits of Gibraltar were blocked and it evaporated) and the Nile carved a 8,000 foot deep canyon where Cairo is now to get to the lower sea bed. Thus, in the 5.5 million years since the Mediterranean refilled, the Nile sediments have filled that entire canyon and built the massive delta. Wonder what will happen now that the silt no longer flows?

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