Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 16, 2008

No Sweat Minarets

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:02 pm

Of the original sixty gates to the walled city of Al-Qahira, only three remain. We visited two of the gates in the north last week and today we set out for Bab Zawayla, the main southern entrance. Until 150 years ago the gates of Bab Zawayla were closed each night and I had read that each gate weighed four tons. Each gate was also studded with human teeth, and bits of cloth, as offerings to a holy saint thought to reside behind the gate. Sufferers of headaches or tooth pain still seek the help of this saint but are not allowed to put their teeth into the doors. 

The walk to Bab Zawayla was incredible. We ventured through narrow streets taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. Al Qahira was just wakening up as we arrived and shops and vendors were opening slowly to face the day. We saw fresh meat, including live rabbits and birds, fish stalls and vegetable markets still under cover, cafes with customers already sucking on the water pipes, entrances being washed down, bras and underwear being hung (for sale) in the basement of a thousand year old mosque, bales of cotton stacked up for bargaining, traffic moving through the narrow streets following unwritten rules and the constant friendliness of the populace often telling us we were heading away from the tourist bazaar and then, as we explained where we wanted to go, helping us with directions to Bab Ziwayla while trying to engage with Lucas. Just magic.

We found, quite by chance, the last remaining fez workshop, kept alive we read later by sales to five-star hotels and tourists. The fez fell from fashion under Nasser as a badge of allegiance to the Ottoman influence but also as a sign of acceptance to colonial rule. Waiters, doormen and entertainers are the main wearers nowadays. The craft is unlikely to survive. Just like that.

The gate has been magnificently restored. We climbed all over it. We found teeth, now in a glass display case, but what makes Bab Zuwayla special are the two minarets, built 400 years later, on top of the turrets offering incredible views. I was unsure if the boys would be up for climbing just one of them but in the end they went up both. The viewing ledge on the first opening was not for those afraid of heights, even I had my back to the wall, and we had to abandon our attempt at the very top (on both minarets) as the stone steps ran out to be replaced by an iron spiral ladder and a sheer drop. I’m all for letting the boys take reasonable risks but I was amazed at how the climb did not seem to faze them. Do we exert too much of our anxieties and our risk assessment culture on our children? All I can say is, I was very glad to get them down. The narrow spiral steps can be seen in the picture below of the boys at the top of a minaret. They were filthy when we got back into the street.

Lunch at Al Azhar Park was a bonus. We watched children fly kites off the old wall and a kestrel give an aeronautical display above the city skyline. We talked of the summer and how much we are looking forward to returning to Scotland. But we won’t be upset when it is time to come home.




  1. Again – brilliant description of your trips around Cairo.
    You are brave with the boys though – but it must give them tremendous confidence.
    Keep it up.

    Comment by Linda — May 16, 2008 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  2. Wow now those are minarets, the boys were very brave to climb them..

    Comment by gordon — June 21, 2008 @ 1:14 am | Reply

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