After our visit to the bazaar we walk along Sharia Al-Muizz, a long pedestrian street in Cairo’s Islamic quarter that runs from the bazaars to the fortified gates at the northern edge of the medieval city.
As we stroll past mosques, water fountains and historic houses, our guide Eman tells us stories about medieval Cairo and its inhabitants. Soon enough, her words have carried us away and we are no longer walking through a street but wandering through One Thousand and One Nights.
On our right lies the Mausoleum of Sultan Ayyub, on our left we enter the 13thcentury Mausoleum of Sultan Qalaoun through an intricately decorated bronze door. The dark corridor behind it leads to the tomb itself, a tall space decorated with Koranic verses written in elegant calligraphy.
Eman leads us back out and through the maze of alleyways to the House of Uthman Katkhuda El-Qazdughly, Cairo’s chief emir in the 18th century. The house is a labyrinth of corridors, staircases and interconnected rooms built around the central garden where we sit down to catch our breath. We imagine life in 18thcentury Cairo, a rich dignitary living in this huge house with his four wives and
extended family. All the windows in the house are covered by fine lattice shutters which allowed the women to look into the street and the gardens without being seen themselves.
We head further towards the northern gates. The call to prayer resonates above us as we pass the Al-Hakim Mosque. “We have no time to go in,” Eman says as she hails a cab. “I want to show you my favourite mosque and make it to the Citadel before sunset!”
As we enter the Sultan Hassan Mosque, we see why she loves this space: it is vast, yet intimate and serene at the same time. “I love to sit right here, watching people or reading a book,” Eman says pointing at a spot next to a large door that leads to the mosque’s courtyard.
As we climb up to the Citadel the sun is slowly setting and the sky is turning pink. At our feet Cairo is settling down for the evening and thousands of little lights illuminate the skyline. Truly, Cairo lives up to its epithet, the ‘Mother of all the World’