I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis, that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself, has never looked upon its equal, outside Olympus
- – Antipater of Sidon, Greek Anthology IX.58, 140 B.C.
This is the famous list of the extraordinary things the poet Antipater has seen in his travels through Mesopotamia and Egypt, across the deserts of Asia Minor, the mountains of the Peloponnesus and over the eastern Aegean. These Seven Wonders came to be considered by the ancients to be the very height of their civilisation:
- the Great Pyramid at Giza
- the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- the Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
- the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
- the Colossus of Rhodes
- the Lighthouse at Alexandria
The Great Pyramid of Giza (the pyramid of Khufu), the oldest of the seven wonders, was built around 2,500 B.C. and it is the only one standing till today.
Coming back from Cairo I felt like I had travelled with a time machine back in the ancient history.
The first day the city had a strong impact on me: the traffic was unbelievably bad, it was necessary to spend plenty of time to get around and I was overwhelmed by a sensation of chaos everywhere. My perception changed when I finally met my guide, a friend living in Cairo from many years: he showed me some of the treasures of the city and he helped me understiang its rythm.
The places I have visited:
- the Giza Pyramid Complex
- the Old City
- Mosque of Ibn Tulun
- Gayer Anderson Museum
- Saqqara (Sakkara) Pyramids
- the Egyptian Antiquities Museum
The Giza Pyramid Complex
The city of Giza is located on the west bank of the Nile, southwest of central Cairo. The famous Giza plateau includes, among other sacred structures, the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, the Great Sphinx, and it is surrounded by a cyclopean stone wall, the Wall of the Crow.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when we suddenly entered the complex from one of the main streets: the great wall was litterrally surrended by homes and shops without discontinuity. A very different location from what I had always immagine!
The Great Pyramid was constructed over a 20-year period, as a tomb for the egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (‘Cheops’ in Greek).
The Great Sphinx, built around 2,500 B.C., is a limestone statue representing a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human head. The face is generally believed to represent the face of the Pharaoh Khafra (‘Chephren’ in Greek).
The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx
The Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun
Ibn Tulum is the largest and one of the oldest mosque in Cairo, defintely one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It is a serene place where it is possible to sit and feel at peace.
The mosque was commissioned in 876 A.C. by Ahmad ibn Tulun, the Abbassid governor of Egypt. It is constructed around a courtyard, and it is unique for its minaret, the only one of its kind in Egypt, with a spiral staircase around the outside.
A must-see is the Gayer Anderson Museum: beside the mosque there is a very old home built during the medieval period and named after the British general Gayer-Anderson, who lived there until 1942. He populated the building with his personal collection of antiques from all over Egypt.
I was extremely enchanted by the spectacular wooden mashrabiya (screen windows): the main purpose of these ornaments is privacy, preserving the private interior without depriving the occupants from a vista of the outside.
Inside the house a mashrabiya gallery looks down onto a magnificent qa’a (reception hall) which has a marble fountain, decorated ceiling beams and carpet-covered alcoves. The rooftop terrace has been restored, with great views over the entrance of the mosque and adorned with more complex mashrabiya.