Exploring Old Cairo at Night

The second night I was in Cairo, my friend, Mohamed, and I took off for the evening to go get some dinner at a restaurant that serves a local favorite.  Inclined to get out and explore, I grabbed my camera and we set off.  The name of the place we were looking for is called Farhat and it is located in the old part of the city.  Not knowing exactly where this restaurant was, we took a taxi to its vicinity in Old Cairo.  We were dropped off near to the Mosque of Sultan al-Mu’ayyad and the Bab Zuwayla gate.  A local man named Tawfik saw us standing there trying to figure out where to go so he offered to help.  Before going to the restaurant, he asked if we’d like to go have a look at the local mosque.  I’ve been to all sorts of religious sites but I’ve never been to a mosque so I was excited at this opportunity.  Replacing what was originally a prison, the Mosque of Sultan al-Mu’ayyad is nearly 600 years old and has required extensive reconstruction in order to preserve it.

Tawfik spoke to the mosque’s attendants, asking them for permission to take us up to the roof so we could look around.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

 

The view up there was incredible!  In the background of this shot, you can see the purple glow of lights highlighting the Citadel of Mohamed Ali.  Having no tripod with me, I rolled the ISO up to 8,000 and did the best I could to hold steady at 1/13 second.  Thankfully, the stabilized sensor of the A7RII made this pretty easy at 35mm focal length.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

Another shot, similar to the first.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

Having unrestricted access to the roof provided a full 360 degree view of the old city.  Here you can see what was once a bath house.  I really liked this shot because of the contrast seen between the old buildings and the bright, white modern lighting pouring out of the open windows, and the plethora of satellite dishes lining the rooftops.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

 

Another viewpoint showed a large open courtyard paved with stones where some young men were practicing kickboxing.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

 

Yet another unique perspective offered by our lofty viewpoint.  These dimly lit, cobbled alleyways snake their way through this maze-like ancient city.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

Another view of the minarets of the mosque.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

Ok, last minaret photo… for now.  I wanted to get a lower ISO shot of these incredible examples of ancient architecture.  For this shot, I lowered the ISO to 400, set the camera on the ground and propped up the lens with my strap for this 3 second exposure.  With all of the light pollution from the city, I was surprised to see any stars at all in the image.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

Down from the roof, we took some time to walk around the lower parts of the mosque.  Here in the courtyard, this structure stands out from the marble floor, providing water for washing before prayer.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

I could tell Mohamed was moved by the beauty and significance of this place.  Asking his permission, I shot this photo while he prepared himself for prayer.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

 

While he was praying, I took the opportunity to appreciate the exquisitely detailed craftsmanship that went into building this place.  This massive wooden door had not one square inch that wasn’t covered in finely detailed carving.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

In one part of the mosque, the ceiling was decorated with gold, overlaying a seemingly endlessly detailed design.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

There must have been close to a hundred of these lamps hanging from the ceiling.  Each one had variations in the painted design. The lightbulb was out on this one, making it ideal for photographing the design work.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

This is an interesting piece of work created using an ancient artistic form of writing called Kufic.  The translation is: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

After our detour to the mosque, we began the walk to the restaurant through a maze of alleys.  I’m glad we had Tawfik as a guide.  It seemed no matter where we turned, the people there knew him and stopped him to have a quick chat.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

These boys were hamming it up for the camera.  I stopped to chat with them for a minute when they started asking me to take their picture.  I showed them the resulting image from the back of my camera and they all had a good laugh.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

 

Tawfik thought it would be good for me to try on something more appropriate to my surroundings.  I’ve been given the nickname “The Ginger Sheik”.  Justin, if you’re reading this, thanks man.  That’s going to take a while to shake that clever moniker.

iPhone 6+
iPhone 6+

Finally we made it to the restaurant.  It consisted of plastic tables and chairs crammed tightly into a very narrow alley.  The smell of spices and roasted meat thickened the air, drawing in all the neighborhood cats.  They knew what was on the menu at this local favorite: Stuffed, roasted, pigeon.  I’m not one for posting photos of food on Friendface but this had to be shared.  Here is my meal spread out before me.  I hadn’t eaten all day so I didn’t waste anytime going to work on it.  I have to say, it was good.  It taste like chicken.  You knew I was gonna say that, right?  But it did.  It wasn’t at all strong or gamey tasting like I thought it would be.  I’ve had dove before and this was much milder.

iPhone 6+
iPhone 6+

We finished off the evening with a hot tea at another local hotspot.  What was supposed to be a quick trip out for dinner turned into an all night affair lasting until the wee hours of the morning.  I’m most grateful for this unexpected adventure and all the kindness shown to me by everyone I met.  This is one of those experiences whose memories lasts forever.

I have two more photos I’ll include that are not related.  They’re just some scenes from around Cairo.

Sunset over the Nile.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro (3rd Gen)

The view from the roof of my office.

iPhone 6+
iPhone 6+

 

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5 thoughts on “Exploring Old Cairo at Night

  1. The Ginger Sheik… wow.. just WOW, Tom!! I’ll not be getting that picture out of my mind soon! You cut quite the image…
    What amazing experiences you continue to have….. more than a lifetime’s worth of adventures.

    Like

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