Cairo: Remnants of glory

city of cairo

Wafts of fresh pita bread and spice stalls swim through the market air, thick with life. Follow the scent, weaving between energetic children and bakers with trays of bread on their heads; past the sellers of spectacular fabrics; past the elderly women sitting unobtrusively. Pass the shoes of the devout outside the mosque; step carefully around the boisterous horse; watch out! that family on a sagging motorbike nearly ran you over. 

In the coffeehouse to your right, three older men consider you silently as they exhale shisha smoke. Smell the strawberry taint in the tobacco as its fumes spiral toward the sky. Shake off their heavy gaze and continue along the narrow laneway, walled by 1940s British architecture on either side. Like the rest of Cairo, the buildings here hint at former days of splendour. The city wants you to know it was once glorious. Now it's coated in a slick film of desert dust, glued on with a dried soup of grease and neglect.

In many ways, that's the message of Egypt: we were once glorious. See the pyramids and remember the pharaohs. Stride through the Egyptian Museum, note that they invented the jewellery you're wearing and the paper in your hand. Scribble down a note-to-self and realise that without the Egyptians, you might not be writing in the first place. 

Outside, there's a man spitting in the dust and a child preparing to run away with your wallet. He will breathlessly dash home beside a flowing brown pool of filth you know as the River Nile. It was once glorious.

A stall in the middle of the road beside Tahrir Square - which is actually essentially a large roundabout - sells fresh food.

A stall in the middle of the road beside Tahrir Square - which is actually essentially a large roundabout - sells fresh food.

A local sells homemade pots at his roadside stall beside the Nile river.

A local sells homemade pots at his roadside stall beside the Nile river.

At the markets in Cairo's Muslim quarter.

At the markets in Cairo's Muslim quarter.

Street food stalls offer fresh roasted sweet potatos and chestnuts in Cairo.

Street food stalls offer fresh roasted sweet potatos and chestnuts in Cairo.

Sailing on the Nile.

Sailing on the Nile.

Sunset at the Citadel, a medieval fortress in Cairo's Islamic quarter with magnificent views of the city.

Sunset at the Citadel, a medieval fortress in Cairo's Islamic quarter with magnificent views of the city.

Overloaded trucks like this are a common sight at Cairo's markets.

Overloaded trucks like this are a common sight at Cairo's markets.

A stallholder at the Islamic markets in Cairo.

A stallholder at the Islamic markets in Cairo.