Heights of Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

Minarets overlook the rooftops inside the walled city of old Islamic Cairo, Egypt
Minarets of Cairo
Click here to share or send a greeting with this image.

Touring Egypt 9: This time, let’s talk altitude. Getting high-up to see the fabulous panorama of old, Islamic Cairo. Long before I ever visited Egypt for the first time, I saw illustrations and read in travel books about how the city is full of historic minarets and how exotic and fantastic are those historic devotional spires. When I got there, I saw that the walled city is a veritable forest of historic domes and minarets, and they truly are very photogenic. But still, how could I gain a view of these fabulous spires? From the close-packed street level, you get little more than individual glimpse of tall spikes erected to the glory of God. To really see them, you need to be up high, atop a wall or other tall structure. Unfortunately, there are no really tall hotels or modern buildings in old Cairo….

The (restored) Bab Zuwayla is the southern gate to the walled city in old Islamic CairoFortunately, there is a minaret that tourists can climb. Actually, there are two of them, standing side-by-side. Cairo was once a walled city and parts of the original wall and some of the gates still stand in the old city. A few were reconstructed and refurbished relatively recently. The southern gate, Bab Zuwayla (Bab Zuwaila) features two minarets that can be climbed (at one’s own risk and for a small fee). One can climb a lot of stairs, scale some window ledges, and handle the heights to find excellent viewing positions at several levels, all the way to the top. Most of us think twice before setting out to climb to the top: There are no attendants up there and only low walls border the platforms. To me, this makes them all the more fabulous. (Though I do fear the day when someone carelessly gives their life to screw the whole thing up for everyone who might follow…don’t you just know it will be somebody with a camera?)

The western minaret of the Bab Zuwayla frames the view toward the more modern city beyond old Islamic CairoMost of my party opted not to ascend the Bab Zuwayla. Three of us paid the attendant and started up the wide stairs from near street level just inside the gate. On gaining the top of the city wall, I selected the eastern spire to climb. (Climbing this one of the twin towers, the sun would be over my shoulder if I tried to photograph the other. As you can see, I did that very thing.) Along the way we were treated to fantastic views featuring the roofs of the old city; hundreds of mosques, domes, and minarets; and a southern horizon dominated by the impressive Citadel built by Saladin (and nearby Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa, which I am confident will show up in a later post). Near the top, the stone steps are replaced by a few iron steps to reach the top platform. (By the way, do remember to look up as you near the top: That iron frame is a painful cranial surprise if you are looking down to pant up those last few weary stairs.)

(At top is “Minarets of Cairo,” the view approximately north from the Bab Zuwayla minarets, featuring a spectacular view of a number of historic minarets within the old walled city of Cairo. Nikon D200, Nikkor zoom at 90mm, ISO 400, F/18, 1/250 sec.)

(Below is “Citadel Skyline,” the view to the south from the Bab Zuwayla minaret, featuring Saladin’s Citadel at the horizon on the left and the Sultan Hassan mosque just to its right. Nikon D200, Nikkor zoom at 34mm, ISO 400, f/14, 1/250 sec.)

The Citadel of Saladin and Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa dominate the skyline, above the rooftops of old Islamic Cairo
Citadel Skyline
Click here to share or send a greeting with this image.