May 4, 2012

Streets, Houses and Palaces of Cairo Egypt

Streets, Houses, and Palaces of Cairo, c. 1612
George Sandys

Some of those streets I have found two miles in length, some not a quarter so long; every one of them is locked up in the night, with a door at each end, and guarded by a musketeer, whereby fire, robberies, tumults, and other disorders are prevented.

Palaces of Egypt
Without the city, towards the wilderness, to stop sudden incursions of the Arabs from abroad, there watch on horseback four Sanjiaks, with each of them a thousand horsemen.

This city is built after the Egyptian manner, high, and of large rough stone, part of brick, the streets being narrow. It hath not yet been above one hundred years in the Turks’ possession, wherefore the old buildings remain; but, as they decay, the new to be after the Turkish manner, poor, low, much of mud and timber; yet, of the modern fabrics, I must except diverse new palaces which I have seen, both of Turks, and such Egyptians as most engage against their own country and so flourish in its oppression. I have oft gone to view them and their entertainments, . . .

The palaces I found vast and high, no state or flourish outwardly; the first court spacious, set with fair trees for shade, where are several beasts or rare birds, and wonderful even in those parts; the inner court joined to delicious gardens, watered with fountains and rivulets; beside the infinite variety of strange plants, there wanted no shade from trees of cassia, oranges, lemons, figs of Pharaoh, tamarinds, palms, and others, amongst which pass very frequently chameleons.

Cairo Houses

The entry into the house, and all the rooms throughout, are paved with many several-coloured marbles, put into fine figures; so likewise the walls, but in mosaic of a less cut; the roof laid with thwart beams, a foot and a half distant, all carved, great and double gilt; the windows with grates of iron, few with glass, as not desiring to keep out of the wind, and to avoid the glimmering of the sun, which in those hot countries glass would break with too much dazzling upon the eye. The floor is made with some elevations a foot high, where they sit to eat and drink; those are covered with rich tapestries; the lower pavement is to walk upon, where in the chief dining chamber, according to the capacity of the room, is made one or more richly gilt fountains in the upper end of the chamber, which, through secret pipes, supplies in the middle of the room, a dainty pool, either round or four-square, triangular or of other figure, as the lace requires ... so neatly kept, and the water so clear, as make apparent the exquisite mosaic at the bottom; herein are preserved a kind of fish of two or three feet long, like barbells, which have often taken bread out of my hand, sucking it from my fingers at the top of the water.

But that which to me seemed more magnificent than all this was my entertainment. Entering one of these rooms, I saw at the upper end, amongst others sitting cross-legged, the Lord of the Palace, who beckoning me to come, I first put off my shoes, as the rest had done, then bowing very often, with my hand on my breast, came near; where he making me sit down, there attended ten or twelve handsome young pages, all clad in scarlet, with crooked daggers and scimitars, richly gilt; four of them came with a sheet of taffety and covered me; another held a golden incense with rich perfumes, wherewith being a little smoked, they took all away; next came two with sweet water, and sprinkled me; after that, one brought a porcelain dish of coffee, which when I had drunk, another served up a glass of excellent sherbet. Then began our discourse. ... In their questions and replies, I noted the Egyptians to have a touch of the merchant or Jew, with a spirit not so soldier-like and open as the Turks, but more discerning and pertinent.

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