Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Art and Architecture of Cairo 3

You'll notice that I skipped "The Art and Architecture of Cairo 2." This is because I went on a fieldtrip without my camera. I may or may not blog about that trip. Yesterday I went to the City of the Dead, which is a cemetery inhabited by people. Please read about this area here.

Our first stop was the Sayyida, or Lady, Ruqayya Mashad. A mashad is a shrine or memorial to a member of the Prophet's family. This is a Shiite tradition, which is against Sunni Islam. Even though Egyptians are Sunnis, many of them visit the shrines. Next, we looked at the Sayyida 'Akita and al-Gafari Mashads.

Let's take a quick look at the domes of these mashads. Al-Gafari's dome (right) is simple; while, Sayyida 'Atika's dome (left) is more complex because it is ribbed on the outside. This tells us that the latter mashad was built later. Now let's compare them to Sayyida Ruqayya's dome, which is also ribbed. Directly below its dome, there is a section called the drum. In this case, it has windows with decorative stucco grills. This is a more complex development in architecture, and it tells us that both al-Gafari and Sayyida 'Atika were built before Sayyida Ruqayya. This is significant because out of these three mashads, the only one with an inscription including a date is Sayyida Ruqayya, which was built in 1133.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Schedule

I'm taking four courses at the American University in Cairo, and classes are held four days a week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On those days I wake up at 6am to take the 7am bus from Zamalek to New Cairo. I don't enjoy waking up early, but I do enjoy the bus ride. It gives me a chance to listen to music while I watch Cairo wake up. Cairo is known as the "City of a Thousand Minarets." I'll have to post a picture to prove my point, but it should also be known as the "City of a Million Satellite Dishes."

Each day my classes start at 8:30am with Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. There are under ten people in the class. The professor's name is Galila, and she is a sweet, older woman. This is by far my easiest and most boring class. It's mostly about learning vocabulary. I feel bad for the students without any background in Modern Standard Arabic because they need to learn how to read, write, and pronounce the alphabet in such a short period of time.

My next class is Modern Standard Arabic at 10am. It's my favorite! It's an accelerated course, so class lasts from two to three hours and covers a year's worth of material in one semester. The professor is Suzanne, and she's incredible! Because there are only three people in the class, we meet in her office. She treated us to tea the first time we were there, and she also offers us snacks. In addition to all of this, she is a great teacher, and I feel like I'm learning so much from her. I'm being challenged.

On Sundays and Wednesdays, I have Art and Architecture of Cairo at 2pm. It's a decent class, but the Egyptian students ask countless irrelevant questions. Fortunately, the professor, Doctor Chahinda Karim, is extremely frank with everyone. I like her, and I'm learning from her, but it's just an okay class.

On Mondays and Thursdays, I have a history class at 2pm instead. It's the Middle East in the 20th Century. The professor is American, Doctor Jennifer Derr. She seems nice, approachable, and funny, but she speaks way too fast and her lectures aren't connected. This class is by far my most difficult.

I'm always done with classes at 3:15pm, so I catch the 4pm bus back most days. The ride that takes 45 minutes in the morning takes over an hour on the way back. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half. I generally close my eyes and attempt to sleep, but that's next to impossible on a bus in Cairo.

The Art and Architecture of Cairo 1

I'm taking an art history course for the first time. As I'm sure you gathered from the title, the course is about Cairo's art and architecture. Most weekends, which are Friday and Saturday here, the class goes to various mosques and monuments in order to see what we're studying.

Last weekend I went to the Nilometer (861) and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (876-879). The Nilometer is a monument on Roda (Rawdah) Island, and it's the oldest original structure in Egypt after the Arab conquest. A pit was dug into the rock, and a column was placed in it. (For the record, I realize that I'm using the passive voice--sorry.) The pit had three openings to the Nile at different levels, and when the Nile flooded, water would rush into the pit. The column in the center showed how high the water was. If the water was too high, there would be devastating floods or too low--drought, and of course, there was a happy middle ground that signalled a prosperous harvest. The Nilometer was practical because taxes were based on the harvest, and thus, the flood.

I also visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun last weekend. Like the Nilometer, Ibn Tulun was built when the Abbassids controlled Egypt. (Ibn means son, bint means girl or daughter.) Anyway, this is the oldest mosque in Egypt in its original form. The Mosque of Amr is the oldest, but it was demolished and rebuilt several times. Ibn Tulun is a massive mosque! These are its noteworthy features.
  • It is an imitation of the Great Mosque of Samarra (modern-day Iraq)
  • It has a ziyada, a corridor, around it on three sides
  • Its cresting, upper decoration on the walls, resembles paper dolls
  • The stone minaret has its staircase outside.
  • Its pillars are engaged; in other words, the pillars' corners are rounded.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crossing the Street

I believe that I've already mentioned the difficulty and thrill of crossing street in Cairo. When we, the study abroad students, went to Alexandria, we assumed that the same rules applied. After we had checked into our hotel, we wanted to walk along the Mediterranean Sea, which was on the other side of the highway. We had to cross eight lanes of traffic, four at a time, while cars flew by at 60km/hr. No big deal--we did it.
When we wanted to get back to the hotel, we expected to do the same thing even though traffic was heavier. While waiting for an opportunity to dash across the street, an Egyptian man made it clear that we shouldn't cross. He gestured down the sidewalk, and I thought that he wanted us to cross further down. As it turns out, there is a tunnel under the highway so that you don't have to run across it. What a luxury!


I went to Alexandria over the weekend on an AUC-sponsored trip. We saw the sites: Qaitbay, the Catacombs, the Roman Amphitheatre, and the Library of Alexandria. Qaitbay is a citadel on the Mediterranean Sea, and it is situated where the Lighthouse of Alexandria used to be. The views of the sea from the fortress were incredible. The Catacombs and the Roman Amphitheatre were cool. It's amazing how entire structures are swallowed by the earth over time. I wonder what is underneath some parts of Cairo. The library was huge! At first I thought that we were going to visit the original library. It turns out that it was destroyed hundreds of years ago. The library that I saw had been built in 2002, and it was awesome!