Monday, January 24, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 18 January 2011

One of the places in Cairo that was mention worthy was the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, where most of the artefacts recovered from the various pyramids are displayed. These ranged from huge stone gateways, or what was left of them, to tiny figurines made as jewellery. All of them tagged and numbered, for ease of cataloguing by the curators. Evidently, there was a joint venture between the Egyptians and the Japanese going on and the artefacts were presumably going somewhere…

What disappointed me about the museum was it was all for show, and nothing much to describe the culture. There were small cards with a short description of the artefact in display, but that was it. There was no family tree, no epic tales, and no folklore. It was really, to me, a display of rocks and really old stuff.

Perhaps if we did pay extra for a guide to take us around and describe what was going on, it would have been a better experience. They would be telling us interesting things like the paint on this statue was of its original state, or those hieroglyphics depict the tale of someone doing something epic, or these sarcophagus contained the body of so and so’s niece and her viscera were contained over the other side of the museum.

I was also disappointed because my favourite part of Egyptian history, the animal gods, was not clearly defined. After spending 3 hours in the museum, I only could name a few of them; Osiris, Horus (raptor), Sakhmet (Lion, goddess of war), Anubis (jackal), Bastet (cat), Isis (winged).

There were many hieroglyphics on various walls and papyrus, of which I could only imagine told tales of glory or adventure. I found small scarab shaped talismans with hieroglyphics, described to contain the story of a wedding, and another about a hunting party. As I do not know how to read them, I could only joke and infer that these hieroglyphics were probably some kid’s picture book, or the stories are actually newspapers comics. But I guess the experts have deciphered it and they ARE what they say they are.

I was also intrigued when we got the section of practical artefacts. Not the figurines but proper everyday items. Items that are essentially unchanged over the millenniums that we still use today. A wooden device with long teeth arranged neatly in a row, A COMB! A hand held device with a metal paddle, beautifully decorated, A MIRROR! A straight, long device with markings on them, A RULER! A hollow tube with small holes at strategic points, A FLUTE! An upside down V with a piece of string tied from the angle to a weight, A THINGAMAGIC THAT FINDS STRAIGHT ANGLES!

The other section that intrigued me was the jewellery. Not so much of how shiny and colourful they are, but some of them were se elaborate, and made up from tiny pieces of material. I could not fathom how they made such tiny little beads, smaller than the ones I were using, and weaving them so tightly together. There were also shaped components, smaller than your fingernail, with intricate detail, like the eyes, or feathers.

I won’t say that the museum was a total waste, but it would have really been better if there were more information about their life and culture of the world oldest civilization. It would have also been better if they actually let us take photos in there.

Jumping forward in time to the last few centuries, we visited the Citadel, housing Islamic Egypt. Inside the walls, were a few mosques and the military museum. The mosques were magnificent, both on the inside and the outside. The first one had 2 rows of pillars on the inside circumference, each pillar had a tale to tell. The decorations around the top were different from each other. One of them even had a cross, signifying that the “Holy Crusade wuz here”. Others, we’ve been told, were from Greek, Roman origin, some from Luxor, Persia and others I did not catch.

The second mosque was more majestic that the first. The inside was lit with a thousand lights and chandeliers made from crystals. The dome was beautifully decorated with murals, as though it was made from stained glass. The carpet subtly had decorated rectangles, arranged for worshippers for tier prayers. There was also a beautiful golden door situated just off the centre of the room, leading to a flight of golden staircase.

Jumping ahead in time to the last few decades, the military museum showcased the latest wars that Egypt was involved in, particularly World War 2 and their independence. Again, the museum did not capture my attention. The writings on the wall were in broken English and did not seem to follow any particular order. I could not clearly see Egypt’s involvement in the war. At the end of the museum, there was a Hall of Martyrs, with hundreds of photos of war heroes, and a miniature of the commemorative structure of these martyrs, but again, no caption.

The citadel was also situated on a hill overlooking the whole of Cairo.

A snapshot of Cairo does no justice to the city. A photo would only tell you that Cairo was perpetually in a mystical fog or haze or mist, which doesn’t seem to lift at any time of the day. The pyramids were barely visible in the far distance. You can clearly see the scattered bricks, of never finished buildings or ones that have crumbled, Almost all the of them were coloured with dust and dull colours, like the city have not been looked after for a long time. Visually, you knew that the city was alive though, because of the fresh colourful litter that were scattered in the streets. The other thing that ensured you that the city was alive is the sounds of cars beeping and their engines roaring. Then every now and then, you would hear whole city in prayer, the mosques booming in unison. You could even feel the ground reverberating beneath you. The city of Cairo was very much alive.

That was our trip through the history of Egypt in 1 day.

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