May 5, 2012

Cairo in Festive Mood, 1863

Cairo in Festive Mood, 1863
G.A. Hoskins

Cairo in Festive Mood
The festivals of Cairo are very interesting, but travellers, spending almost all their time on the Nile, have seldom an opportunity of seeing them.

The Mooled el Hassaneyn is a grand festival to celebrate the birth of El Hassaneyn, whose head is buried in his mosk, and, except the Mooled of the Prophet, excels everything of the kind celebrated in Cairo. I witnessed it on the last and best night Tuesday, the 7th of November. It was almost a scene from the Arabian Nights.

After driving through dark and narrow streets, deserted, except by a few straggling passengers, each with his long paper lantern, carried by himself or his servant, we burst into long bazaars, brilliantly illuminated by a line of entirely glass chandeliers, lighted with oil; the smallest had from thirty to forty lights, the largest about two hundred. I observed two with fourteen rows of lights, having the appearance of so many chandeliers, one above another. The stems and designs of these chandeliers were almost always beautiful. At the base there was generally a large globe of glass, pure as crystal, about six to nine inches in diameter. Above these were similar globes, or sometimes half-globes, coloured gold, blue and red. The chandeliers appeared to be what we should call in Europe old Venetian glass, and lighted up admirably the beautiful street architecture, the glorious white and red mosks with their picturesque doors and minarets, and the elegant fountains. Awnings of various colours covered portions of the bazaars, giving a gay and tentlike appearance to the scene.

It was, however, the people that interested me most. The bazaars and streets appeared a sea of white turbans, not one in a hundred wearing only the red tarboosh. The shops or stalls were all lighted up, and the citizens were seated on the benches before them, often on Persian carpets, smoking their pipes. Fickees were reciting the whole of the Koran; many were listening, whilst grey-beards, with spectacles on their noses, were reading portions of the sacred volume, making prayers and recitals for the sake of El Hassaneyn.

Beyond the gates of Cairo are the Tombs of the Caliphs in the City of the Dead, the Northern Cemetery, where the Mamluk sultans have been laid in great splendor since the fifteenth century. In 1326 the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta visited another great cemetery to the south of Cairo.

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