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More Cairo and a Little Alexandria, EG

February 10th, 2022

Today, Thursday, we had to ourselves in Cairo but first had to check out of our hotel.  Our friend, Josée told us about the Marriot near Giza that she thought looked wonderful, so we booked two nights out there on Doug’s points hoping for a pyramid view.  We left all our bags at reception at the Isis Hotel and first walked over to the museum of Civilization. This museum is ginormous with lots of empty space around the articles and mummies.  There was a room full of the latter where no photos at all were allowed.



  • A messenger was told to inform the public of the death.
  • Family made arrangements to mourn, for body preparation, and ceremony.
  • This was important because Egyptians believed the soul left the body at death.
  • For eternal life, the body and soul had to be united after burial.


  • Embalming began in a special tent called ‘ibu’.
  • The body was first cleansed with palm wine.
  • Water from the Nile River was used to rinse the body.
  • This step was done to purify the body.


  • Egyptian embalmers removed the brain first.
  • Because the function of the brain was not understood, it was considered garbage.
  • A long hook was thrust into the nose and the brains were pulled out.
  • The brain was placed in water to dissolve.


  • Embalmers took out the internal organs through a left-side cut in the stomach.
  • The liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs were taken out and mummified.
  • Each organ was stored in a small coffin called a Canopic Jar.  
    • The tops of the jars represented the Four Sons of Horus.
    • Hapi watched over the lungs and had the head of a baboon.
    • Duamutef looked after the stomach and was depicted with a jackal head.
    • Qebehsenuef protected the intestines and had the head of a falcon.
    • Imset guarded the liver and was shown with a human head
  • Lotions, palm oil,and preserving fluids were used to wash the body’s insides.
  • The body was packed with straw and linen to keep the person’s form.


  • The body was placed on a tilted slab and covered with natron salt.
  • Natron absorbed water from the body which was collected in a bowl.
  • Rotting of the body was prevented by removing moisture.
  • For forty days the body was laid outside to dry.


  • The Eye of Horus was positioned over the abdomen slit and the body blessed.
  • Hundreds of yards of linen were used; fingers and toes wrapped individually.
  • Charms and papyrus were arranged inside the layers to protect the body.
  • Priests wrote on the linen layers and recited ritual prayers.
  • All wrappings were held together by a binding shroud.
  • Mummia, or a type of glue, was finally applied to hold it all together.Cosmetics and artificial eyes were used on the mummy’s face.
  • A portrait mask covered the mummy’s head.
  • This allowed the dead person’s soul to recognize its body
  • The body was finally placed in a decorated coffin.


  • Friends and family walked through town crying on their way to the tomb.
  • The more mourners the greater the dead’s chance at entering the after world.
  • Before being placed in the tomb, the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony occurred.
  • The family recited spells and the priest touched different parts of the mummy’ face.
  • This ceremony allowed the mummy to eat, see, hear, and move in the afterlife.\
  • The Book of the Dead, Canopic jars, and belongings were placed in the burial chamber.
  • The book of the dead contained 200 spells and instructions for reaching eternal life.
  • “Weighing of the Heart” occurred after the tomb was sealed and witnessed by no one.
  • The heart was the most powerful part of the person and center of the person’s being.
  • The heart was never removed from the body because it was used to judge one’s life.
  • Gods of the underworld judged the heart on how well one behaved in life.
  • Goddess of truth, Matt, weighed the heart against the “Feather of Truth”.
  • Anubis, god of the underworld, made all final judgements.
  • If the heart balanced the feather, eternal life was granted.
  • If not, the soul was doomed and the heart was fed to the monster, Ammit.

We then made our way through the other exhibits.

We felt they did a good job selecting pieces to put on show and all information boards were in Arabic, English and French.  It was enough not to overwhelm you in a 90 minute visit.

It was now around one and we walked over to the Coptic Christian part of the city.  This area is surrounded by an iron fence with controlled access.

The Babylon Fortress is an ancient fortress in the Nile Delta, located in the area known today as Coptic Cairo. It is situated in the former area of the Heliopolite Nome, upon the east bank of the Nile, at latitude 30°N, near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal (also called Ptolemy’s Canal and Trajan’s Canal), from the Nile to the Red Sea.

It was at the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt, where the river craft paid tolls when ascending or descending the Nile. Its origin is not clear but the opinion of greater probability, attributes its structure to some Babylonian followers of Cambyses, in 525 BC. The Romans built a new fortress nearer the river, with typically Roman red and white banded masonry.

Within the fortress’s enclosure are the Coptic Museum, a convent, and several churches, including the Church of St. George and the Hanging Church.  During the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the Byzantine fortress held out for about seven months before finally falling in December 640 to the Arabs.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Christian church based in Egypt, servicing Africa and the Middle East. The head of the church and the See of Alexandria is the Pope of Alexandria on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark, who also carries the title of Father of fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, Ecumenical Judge and the thirteenth among the Apostles. The See of Alexandria is titular, and today the Coptic Pope presides from Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the Abbassia District in Cairo. The church follows the Coptic Rite for its liturgy, prayer and devotional patrimony. With approximately 25 million members worldwide, it is the country’s largest Christian denomination.

According to its tradition, the Coptic Church was established by Saint Mark, an apostle and evangelist, during the middle of the 1st century (c. AD 42). Due to disputes concerning the nature of Christ, the Oriental Orthodox Churches departed from the rest of the Chalcidonians after the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, resulting in a rivalry with the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Here we visited the Hanging Church although didn’t really see why it was called that.

We then walked over to an island in the Nile where the Nilometre can be found. Being an engineer, Doug was very impressed by the design; not many people come to visit this.  We were taken inside by a guide and although the signs said “no photos” he allowed us to use Fran’s phone to take a few snaps.

A nilometer was a structure for measuring the Nile River’s clarity and water level during the annual flood season. There were three main types of nilometers, calibrated in Egyptian cubits: (1) a vertical column, (2) a corridor stairway of steps leading down to the Nile, or (3) a deep well with culvert. If the water level was low, there would be less food. If it was too high, it would be destructive. There was a specific mark that indicated how high the flood should be if the fields were to get good soil.

Nilometers originated in Pharaonic times, were also built in Roman times, and used until the Aswan Dam rendered them obsolete in the 1960s.  There are currently three still in existence in Egypt. 

At one o’clock, we returned to our hotel, leaving a few bags behind so we didn’t have to lug them around for the next two weeks and went to buy some beer and took an Uber to the Marriott.  We were upgraded to a partial pyramid view

and we had an okay dinner in the 139 Restaurant with a better view of the pyramids.

Friday morning Sayed picked us up at 6 at the gates of the Marriott resort to go to Alexandria on the coast – about 220 km away.  It took nearly 3 hours to get there on a super highway with not much of anything to see along the way.

Alexandria is the third-largest city in Egypt, known to the locals as “Bride of the Mediterranean”, and is the largest city on the Mediterranean. The city was founded in c. 331 BC by Alexander and grew rapidly. It retained its status as a major centre for almost a millennium, through the period of Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) rule until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, when a new capital was founded at Cairo.

Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), its Great Library (the largest in the ancient world), and the Necropolis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages).  It was the intellectual and cultural centre of the ancient Mediterranean for much of the Hellenistic age and late antiquity. It was at one time the largest city in the ancient world before being eventually overtaken by Rome.

The city was a major centre of early Christianity and by the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, the city had already been largely plundered and lost its significance before re-emerging in the modern era. From the late 18th century, Alexandria became a major centre of the international shipping industry and one of the most important trading centres in the world, both because it profited from the easy overland connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and the lucrative trade in Egyptian cotton.

Our first stop was the Necropolis: the Kom El Shoqafa catacombs tucked almost hidden in an older part of the city.  Turned out they didn’t open until 9 and we got here at 8:30 so we went for tea with Sayed.  (Egyptians love to say “in five minutes” which means nothing even close to that – we were told when asked what time they open “five minutes” three times before finally being told 9am.)


The catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa (meaning “Mound of Shards”) are a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.

The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funerary cult. Due to the time period, many of the features of the catacombs merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock during 2nd century AD. The facility was then used as a burial chamber from the 2nd century to the 4th century, before being rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. To date, three sarcophagi have been found, along with other human and animal remains which were added later. It is believed that the catacombs were only intended for a single family, but it is unclear why the site was expanded in order to house numerous other individuals.

In 2017 a project was initiated and completed two years later to lower the ground water to preserve the catacombs.  On this signboard at the bottom, you can see the before and after of the project.

Sayed insisted we should see the old tram here in Alexandria as he claimed “people would not believe we’d been to Alexandria without a photo with the tram” so we obliged him:

We then made our way to visit the rebuilt Alexandria library only to be told it was not open on Fridays – we were quite disappointed and annoyed that Sayed had not known this ahead of time (weekends in Egypt are Friday/Saturday not Saturday/Sunday although many things do not actually close all weekend).  We knew this wasn’t going to be the original library from centuries past, but it continues to hold cultural significance.

The Great Library of Alexandria  was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, which was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. The idea of a universal library in Alexandria may have been proposed by Demetrius of Phalerum, an exiled Athenian statesman living in Alexandria, to Ptolemy I Soter, who may have established plans for the Library, but the Library itself was probably not built until the reign of his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The Library quickly acquired many papyrus scrolls, owing largely to the Ptolemaic kings’ aggressive and well-funded policies for procuring texts. It is unknown precisely how many such scrolls were housed at any given time, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height.

Alexandria came to be regarded as the capital of knowledge and learning, in part because of the Great Library. Many important and influential scholars worked at the Library during the third and second centuries BC.  The Library dwindled during the Roman period, from a lack of funding and support. Its membership appears to have ceased by the 260s AD. Between 270 and 275 AD, the city of Alexandria saw a Palmyrene invasion and an imperial counterattack that probably destroyed whatever remained of the Library, if it still existed at that time.

The idea of reviving the ancient Library of Alexandria in the modern era was first proposed in 1974, when Lotfy Dowidar was president of the University of Alexandria. In May 1986, Egypt requested the Executive Board of UNESCO to allow the international organization to conduct a feasibility study for the project. This marked the beginning of UNESCO and the international community’s involvement in trying to bring the project to fruition. Starting in 1988, UNESCO and the UNDP worked to support the international architectural competition to design the Library. Egypt devoted four hectares of land for the building of the Library and established the National High Commission for the Library of Alexandria. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak took a personal interest in the project, which greatly contributed to its advancement. Completed in 2002, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina now functions as a modern library and cultural center, commemorating the original Library of Alexandria. In line with the mission of the Great Library of Alexandria, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina also houses the International School of Information Science, a school for students preparing for highly specialized post-graduate degrees, whose goal is to train professional staff for libraries in Egypt and across the Middle East.

drawing from its former glory:

The outer walls are covered in writings from all kinds of languages from all over the world and span across time.

Instead of walking back to the car, we told Sayed we’d like to take a walk along the Corniche (this is what we know as the road along the beach/shore and he’d meet us down the road to the Citadel.  To apologize for the library screw up Sayed got us a horse and buggy ride along the Corniche when he caught up to us.  This is the video he took from his car:

It was more enjoyable than we thought to take that ride and upon arriving at the Citadel we opted to just view from the outside since we’d not been that impressed by the one in Cairo and the line up to get in was long.  It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed just being on the Mediterean Sea.

Now for the past couple of days, Sayed has been looking into booking a Nile Cruise for us.  Fran already had one in mind (for later next week) but we hadn’t pulled the trigger yet as he felt he could get us a better deal.  The package he found did have a better price for the cruise than we had but we think it was based on booking all the other stuff with it (like guides in Aswan and Luxor, hotels and the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan).  By 3:45 we’d still not heard back from his agent with answers to questions Fran had so we went ahead and booked one with the company Josée had recommended to us.  Right after confirming our reservation they called back but still didn’t have answers to the questions we had, so we were happy we didn’t wait.  We are booked on the Nora dahabiya from Aswan to Esna which is three nights four days in a suite with a private terrace.  This mode of cruise was recommended by Joe and Josée (she said it was the highlight to of Egypt for her) and we hope it meets expectations.

We got back in the car and Sayed took us a little further down the Corniche to see the most popular beach spot here and the Stanley Bridge.

There are lots and lots of buildings here that have seen better day and you can only imagine what it looked like in better times.

The plan was to stop for lunch at a Bedouin restaurant but before we got there, Sayed’s car began to overheat.  We stopped and he tried to cool it down.  We got back on the road but it began to heat up again and we stopped at a mechanic very close to the place he wanted to take us for lunch.  He asked them to look at his car and then we went to order lunch.  It was served Bedouin style on cushions on the floor and naturally there was way too much food.

So it turns out they thought his radiator thermostat was shot and the car couldn’t be driven. Luckily, a flat bed tow truck was parked outside the restaurant and he made an arrangement with them to tow the car – and us in the car! – all the way back to Cairo.

view from inside the car while we’re being towed on a flat bed

Sayed arranged for us to be dropped at the Marriott as his mechanic was in that part of town anyway.

Upon arriving, Fran went to our room, Doug went to find an ATM and we had a quiet night enjoying our pyramid view from our room.