Since returning to Egypt, I’ve had to hit the ground sprinting in order to catch up with the workload I had waiting to ambush me when the plane landed. Yesterday, a good friend of mine took the notion to escort me around Cairo, Egypt to go see some of the ancient mosques of the city to help clear my head. Getting out of the office and away from my computer was a welcomed stress relief, especially in the company of my friend, Ahmed.
A selfie of Ahmed and me atop the massive walls of Salah El-Din Citadel.
This trip to Egypt I was uneasy about bringing my camera due to the changes in laws which require that I now store in my checked baggage any electronic device larger than an iPhone. My computer and camera equipment are insured but I didn’t feel like bothering with all the nonsense of claims should my gear go missing. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d even have a chance to get out this time to do any photography. The trade-off in my paid exposure to the world is that the many responsibilities of my job must come first. So, this unexpected mini-adventure called for the use of the only camera I could get my paws on, the iPhone7+ in my pocket. I struggle to accept my phone as an actual camera. Compared to my A7RII, it has many shortcomings. With no other options available to me, I proceeded with pushing this diminutive little gadget to the limits of whatever it’s capable of producing – not expecting much.
The morning started out early with a visit to Mosque of Al Rifai and Mosque of Sultan Hasan. Both are exquisite examples of this culture’s architecture. The craftsmanship and artistry is just overwhelming to look at. Considering the fact that most of what you see was created in place, carved directly into the structural components of the mosque, it takes a few minutes to really wrap your mind around and appreciate what these people went through to make manifest these creative designs. The immensity of the exterior is impressive enough to behold but, to me, it is the interiors where the eye is held captive the longest.
On the left is Mosque of Sultan Hasan and to its right is Mosque of Al Rifai.
Large fleur de lis medallions are found decorating the exterior of Mosque of Sultan Hasan. Hints of the influence of other cultures are found all throughout these mosques.
Inside Mosque of Sultan Hasan.
In a gated-off corridor inside the mosque, I came across a neat view. This is one of those scenes where I wish I had my A7RII. The light pouring through the window made subtle shafts of light in the darkness. The iPhone just didn’t have the range and sensitivity to capture it. Even taking different exposures to bring them out, I couldn’t seem to get them to show up in the picture. They were not very bright but I had no problem seeing them with my eyes. Oh well. It’s still a decent shot and it certainly is better than no shot at all. The iPhone did fit between the bars of the gate better than my big camera would have – now there’s a ray of light for the situation. 🙂
A shot of the ceiling inside the entryway to Mosque of Al Rifai.
Inside Mosque Al Rifai.
Look at this incredible woodworking! Even with modern tools it would be difficult to replicate that. These Dudes-of-Old did it with basic hand tools and a whole heap of patience and skill. This panel was part of the base of a Minbar – basically a towering pulpit with stairs that lead up to the seat from where the teacher would speak to the crowd.
After visiting those two mosques, we paid a visit to the nearby Gayer-Anderson Museum. I didn’t pay the fee to take photos so… sorry. Gayer-Anderson was a British officer who chose to retire in Cairo in an impressive home that sits adjacent to the Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun. His home was full of really unique art, including an unfinished painting from Salvador Dali. Fun fact: A few scenes from James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me was filmed there.
Since we were already next to it, we took a quick walk around inside the Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun.
The mosque’s vast, desolate courtyard with the Ablution Fountain for cleansing before prayer.
Aside from the world famous pyramids, the Citadel of Salah El-Din is one of the most signature structures in Cairo. Resting atop Mokattam hill, it is the center of Old Cairo from which all modern construction radiates outward. Built in 1183AD it represents the rich history of Cairo’s numerous foreign occupations, liberations and eventual merging of the two cities of Cairo and Fustat, by the efforts of Salah El-Din (aka Saladin). Over the centuries, the Citadel has been upgraded with walls, mosques, palaces, military camps, etc. From the walls of this ancient mound you’re invited to one of the best views of the city.
In the top left corner, you can see way off in the distance the Pyramids of the Giza Complex. The big mosques on the right side of frame you may recognize as the two I visited earlier in the day: Mosque of Al Rifai and Mosque of Sultan Hasan. If you look at the roofs in the nearest foreground you’ll see little hut-looking things. Those are ancient air-conditioners. The cool breeze from the Nile river is captured by these and sent into the living spaces below.
Within the walls of the Citadel lies The Great Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha. Built between 1830-1858, this mosque is what everyone recognizes in the distance as the site of the Citadel. The towering minarets, cascading domes, and the fact it sits high on a hill, makes it one of the easiest places to spot from just about anywhere in the city.
On the Northwest side of the Citadel is where the Police Museum is located. I really liked its clear, west-facing view. Off in the distance you can see the pyramids. I wonder how old that tree is?
After walking around in the sun for several hours, it was time to call it a day and get back to my laptop to finish some work.
I hope you enjoyed the photos and the little bit of information I’ve managed to pick up along the way in exploring Cairo.
Oh yeah… regarding the use of the iPhone7+ as a camera: While I can’t say I enjoyed using it, it did fill in the gap with pretty decent results. For the purpose of sharing web-sized images here, it does better than I expected, however, if I wanted the option to make a large, high-quality print from any of these shots, I’d be hard-pressed to get much larger than 11″x14″ without compromise. If space and weight are absolutely critical, I’d have my NEX-5T before the iPhone. Ultimately, my A7RII is irreplaceable when I want the most options with the absolute best quality and fewest compromises. Another issue I see with iPhonography is that throughout the day I was seriously eating up my battery taking photos. Being that much of Egypt is still on 3G networks, my phone drains even faster than normal without sucking it down even faster by fiddling about with its camera. The last thing I need is to be out funning around, using my phone as a camera to later wind up someplace where I need my phone to work and it’s run out of juice. Yes, I could carry my 5,000mAH battery pack to recharge it but if I’m going to the trouble of filling my pockets with more stuff, I’d rather just carry a proper camera.