Scotsabroad's Weblog

October 2, 2008

6 October

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:15 pm


The third day of our Eid holiday and the boys and I headed out early to explore Heliopolis with few expectations. Being a holiday many places of interest might have been closed but the weather has certainly become cooler allowing us to travel more comfortably. As it turned out our collection of deceptively useless maps and guidebook directions made me sweat enough. I wanted to find the Obelisk of Senusret 1. 

I encouraged the boys to come on this trip with the prospect of visiting (being October) the October War Panorama. We drove around Al-Matariya district but just couldn’t find the Obelisk. Heliopolis is a great area with some magnificent architecture. The founder of the new city of Heliopolis (not the one from 4000 years ago – the obelisk being the only remaining trace of the city Plato once visited) Baron Empain, commissioned French architect Alexandre Marcel to build him a palace. The resulting exotic, Hindu-style building built in 1906 is still one of my favourite landmarks in the city. Driving through the area this morning we saw a lot of old cars seemingly abandoned by long-deceased owners. This Mercury automobile (1950s?) still has class, in typical decaying suburban surroundings. Henry Ford designed the cars for/as, entry-level-luxury. A good phrase to describe Heliopolis last century.

I was all set to visit the October War Panorama with a mixture of cynicism and admiration for a country that can celebrate a victory without historical evidence to back them up. A major bridge in the city bears the name, 6th October Bridge. However, I have always been a bit confused about Egypt’s involvement in the Six Day War (1957) with Israel and the offensive (again, against Israel) launched by Egypt and Syria (I think Jordan as well) on the 6th of October 1973, when they crossed into the Sinai and the Golan Heights. I think they claim to have been successful in both encounters. I think they were convincingly mauled in 1957 but having read about the consequences of the offensive in 1973, Sadat might just have deserved his Nobel Peace Prize after all. Within a few weeks Egypt had lost more ground than it had taken but now had the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. over a barrel – literally, as OPEC deployed the ‘oil weapon’ boycotting countries who supported Israel. Was that the Winter of Discontent?

On entering the complex we were ushered into a cinema-style hall that was already full of Egyptians with children, many wielding imitation guns. We were the only non-Egyptians there. A small screen was ready to show us a film but what intrigued us most was the reconstruction of the Suez Canal (real water) and the model houses, tanks and figures along the banks laid out below it. I couldn’t help but imagine Michael Bentine walking in and giving us a commentary on the conflict with puffs of dust spewing from the buildings and splashes from the choppy water. Click on this link if you know what I mean. The commentary was in Arabic and even Cairo noticed a lot of the footage was repeated on the film. At the end many of the audience gestured to the Canal and asked when the show would start. The projectionists stuck their heads out the gap and said the show was over. This was a huge disappointment to us. Perhaps the people who could bring the scene to life were on holiday.

We were then led upstairs, up a very slippery staircase to the panorama which consisted of a revolving set of seats going round a painted mural with objects from the conflict in the foreground. It was big enough to house tanks, jeeps etc. Very patriotic and some clapping and weeping grannies at the end. Finished by having a climb over the tanks and guns outside. The Panorama was a gift, money was donated by the Domocratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1983. Not somewhere I would take visitors to unless they asked. It is free entry this Monday!

We will return to find the Obelisk. We will not be defeated.


1 Comment »

  1. My first thought was that you had bought a ‘new’ car to replace your Mecedes. Your city tour looked great, it makes me even more determined to get round to paying you all a visit. Good History and Modern studies all rolled into one.

    Comment by Forbes M — October 5, 2008 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

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