Cairo was once a Fatimid city known as “Al-Qahira” and walled with many gates. Only three ancient gates still stand and the second-to-last sightseeing today was a visit to Bab Zuwayla, built in 1092. Bab Zuwayla is one of Cairo’s major landmarks and the last remaining southern gate from the 11th and 12 century. Bab Zuwayla has twin minarets (towers) that were used to scout for enemy troops and a famous platform/logia. The Sultan would stand on this logia…View image… to watch the beginning of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Musicians would play to announce royal Fatimid processions and executions took place below the platform. The heads of executed prisoners were then hung on spikes along the walls as late as the 1800′s.
Bab Zuwayla was also locally known as “Bab Al-Mitwalli.” This name is associated with a local saint, Mitwalli Al-Qutb who lived near the gate and performed miracles. Residents in this area believed, and probably still do, that his spirit inhabits the eastern door…View image and coins and talismans are placed in cracks as well as hung on nails to allay fears, ease pain and fulfill wishes…View image
You would not believe the vehicular congestion (a constant din of horn blowing), horse drawn carts and constant procession of foot traffic all trying to squeeze through the Gate of Bab Zuwayla at the same time. This is the most ancient area of Cairo and our driver finally gave up on finding a parking spot, dropped us off and Ahmed would call when we were done sightseeing. FYI: “Fatimid” refers to a dynasty that ruled North Africa (909-1171) on the basis of descent from Fatima, a daughter of Muhammad the Prophet.
The entrance of Bab Zuwayla has a Visiter’s Center with information about the old gate posted on walls including the architecture and a few cases of historical relics…View image. From there, you begin ascending several flights of stairs up to the roof for wonderful panoramas of Old Cairo. Great, great views. Looking down on the narrow and busy streets, decrepit shacks…View image. Umpteen mosques and minarets stretching into the far distance in different shapes and heights…View image…quite a scene. …View image…
Down the stairs from the roof of Bab Zuwalya with stops to marvel at bits of the remaining old houses here and there with incredible detail carved into walls…View image… while other sections were completely demolished. A top floor might have been a shell, but a shop still flourished on the bottom level.
Bab Zuwayla is constantly being reconstructed and had a myriad of steel posts supporting it both inside and outside the gate. It was around 6:00 p.m. and too late to visit the Nilometer (the last item on today’s sightseeing schedule). The Nilometer closes at 5:00 p.m. This was just as well since we were exhausted physically and mentally. My brain was running on a non-stop loop trying to process the gazillion images and information from the last 11 hours of sightseeing! And I could empathize with women sitting on the curb while waiting for a bus. Completely pooped.
Back to the Movenpick where it so happened they had beautifully framed pictures displayed on a wall that gave a great idea what Bab Zuwayla looked like “way back when”… and still looks like now. It really hasn’t changed much other than heads hanging off the gate.