Cairo is an enormous city now, and an ancient one. While the city spreads out in all directions, the old city is a confined area which can easily be explored on foot. This was the royal enclave, which was approximately one square kilometre. Cairo, or Al Qahirah, was a walled city with some sixty gates, protecting the city from outsiders. Some of these gates have survived the onslaught of time pretty well. Before entering Islamic Cairo, I decided to visit Bab al Zuweyla, the former southern gate. The two minarets could not be missed from a distance. The chaotic traffic of Cairo passed right in front of the gate, while pedestrians, tradespeople, bicycles, motorcycles, and even small vans all squeezed through the gate into Al Muizz Il Din Allah, one of the main streets of the old city.
The gate doors are enormous, wooden monsters strengthened by metal nails. Formerly in use to protect the city, they were closed in the evening until late 19th century, sealing the city off from the rest of the world. Directly outside the city gate was a gathering place, and often used for public executions. Walking through them, I found the entrance to the minarets, paid my entrance fee, and started climbing up the stairs. It took me to the roof of the gate, where I walked around the bases of the minarets, looking up at the slender towers and down at the bustling street life below me.
I walked up to the narrow second minaret and climbed the stairs, high stone steps leading me always higher. At one point, there was a possiblity to step outside and enjoy the view. A little higher up, though, the stairs finished. Instead, I found a metal construction with narrow steps leading further up in a spiral. The top of the minaret was irresistible and I went up on the shaky ladder, spiralling higher up. I had to squeeze myself through a narrow opening and then found myself on a narrow space, with a superb view over the city, and also a dizzying view right down.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Bab Zuweyla (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Bab Zuweyla.
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