Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Citadel

The pyramids are so important they deserve their own post. But today was another adventure and I am being timely about reportin. This is practically live!

It's Halloween. What better way to celebrate than by going to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din?

The Citadel is massive. Up on a hill overlooking all of Cairo, it consists of a giant mosque named after Mohammed Ali, several museums, and an old prison. I had to visit after reading my Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook's description of it:

"Though this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cairo, it is relatively unimpressive and decidedly overpriced."

The book also goes on to mention that the museums are "underwhelming" and that some people consider Mohammed Ali's mosque to be "unimaginative and graceless." How could I not go?

I went with my friend Lillie, who specifically requested to be name-dropped. Congrats, Lillie! Regular admission is 50 LE but with expired Student IDs, we got in for half price (The cashiers can't read English). When I was entering, the worker taking my ticket said that I looked "small" and that she didn't think I was a student. How flattering.

The Mosque of Mohammed Ali is unbelievably magnificent and ornate.

It was hard to fit all this in my camera. Maybe I need a bigger camera?

The entrance.


Inside the mosque are lots of tourists. The mosque is still used for prayers but you mostly hear tour guides. It did feel strange when some people started praying in the front while everyone else just milled about as if it was just a giant ballroom. Because that's what you do in ballrooms. Mill.

Besides this giant mosque are some "underwhelming" museums. My favorite was the Police National Museum.

I saw the sign and knew it had to be good.

It was very old and needed some cleaning but it had... character. The museum housed uniforms and weapons and stories of police victories. I asked if we could take pictures and the guard said no, but a few minutes later, he came up to me and whispered, "Go ahead and take pictures." I'm not sure if he was expecting a tip for that but he didn't get one.

There was a miniature replica of a battle at a police station but there weren't any signs explaining what was going on or when this had happened.

The models were complete with dead soldiers and blood spilling out from them.

There also was an old 11th(?) century drawing of Egyptian police officers. Unfortunately, most of them do not still look like this:

Though some still do.

We made friends with a plain-clothes cop who took it upon himself to show us a prison that was off limits to tourists. He let us go into a cell, showed us where they used to hang people, and then gave me his number. I wasn't sure if he too was expecting a tip but... he didn't get one.

We also entered the National Military Museum which had lots of busts of people I didn't know. On the second floor, a whole film crew was stationed and they were in the middle of shooting a scene. We watched the director yell, "Three, Two, Action, Haraka!" Haraka also means action. I'm not sure why he skipped One. In the middle of the scene, the director stopped the camera man to yell furiously at kid actors. That was awkward. I asked a security guard what they were filming and he was very unhelpful. This is how are conversation went (in Arabic):

Me: What are they doing?
Guard: Filming.
Me: What are they filming?
Guard: A movie.
Me: A movie about what?
Guard: History.
Me: History of what?
Guard: This museum.
Me: Thanks...

I can only assume that it was the Egyptian equivalent of Night at the Museum with Omar Sharif playing Ben Stiller.

After a long day at the Citadel, we took another glance and then headed out. You could see for miles and miles:

Those pyramids look familiar.

Right next door, the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.

If you visit, I can call up that cop. He promised to show me and my friends a good time the next time we came...


  1. Yea, some mosques are just spectacular looking. There's a humongous, ornate one in Bahrain.