JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH AHMED WALEED SAMY FROM CAIRO, EGYPT !
Ahmed Waleed Samy is a twenty six years old, freelance photographer and editor, who specialises in heritage photography and products for more than eight years. He has been capturing moments with both mobile and camera and has participated in several exhibitions in Egypt inside and outside Cairo.
Egypt is a country linking northeast Africa with the Middle East. Its spectacular history and the mystery that surrounds its ancient civilizations dates to the time of the pharaohs. Memphis was the capital city of Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period. A centerport point it had trade relationships with the Ottoman Empire, The Romans, British and most ancient civilisations.
Cairo, the present capital of Egypt, is the third largest and second-most populous city in Africa. The capital is known for preserving the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is roughly triangular in shape, narrowest in the south and widest in the north.
The city lies primarily on the eastern banks of the river Nile, the longest river in the world. There are two islands within the river, the beautiful Zamalek Island, located between downtown Cairo and Giza and Rhoda Island, located in central Cairo. Some parts of the city are very close to the water like Garden City and Downtown Cairo.
Cairo is a city of visual contrast and can be split into two distinct areas – the old and the new. Its historic core was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and is famous for its mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains. Islam is the dominant religion in Cairo. Also, the oldest and the largest film industry of the Middle East is based in Cairo.
The city is referred by various names – “The City of the Dead”, “Gift of the Nile” or “The City of a Thousand Minarets”. Minarets are towers built into or adjacent to a mosque and used to project the Muslim call to prayer. Cairo has been known to have the most minarets than any other city in the world.
Please tell us about your experience of growing up in Egypt.
Being born and raised in Egypt is a great thing! You experience a lot of things you will never see anywhere but Egypt, the traditions, the places and the language; almost everything is different and unique here.
Egypt is a year-round destination, however, according to you, when is the best time to visit Egypt ?
I see that you can visit Egypt during all times of the year. You can visit –
Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Alexandria in Winter and Spring.
Siwa and Saint Catherine in Spring and Autumn.
Hurghada, Sharm Al- Sheikh, Gouna, Taba and Nuweiba at all times maybe.
Do you think the Pyramids overshadow the beauty of the rest of Egypt?
The Pyramids are used from a long time ago to represent the Egyptian identity in movies and stuff. However, there are a lot of places and each one of them represents a specific unique era of Egypt, not only The Pyramids and everyone should know that!
Which according to you are the top three places to visit in Cairo?
It’s really hard to pick only three places in Cairo because it has a lot which deserves to be seen, but if I’ll try to choose, I’ll pick –
Moez Street, because it’s almost the largest open Islamic museum in the world. A long street it has many Islamic antiquities from all of the Islamic eras from Fatimid till Ottomans. Al Moezz, was the fourth Fatimid Caliph and it was during his caliphate that the center of power of the Fatimid dynasty was moved from Northern Africa to the newly conquered Egypt.
Situated in the heart of Old Cairo, the street is lined with a dozen of historic landmarks. The must see spots on this street are El Hakem Mosque, Bayt Al-Suhaymi, the Complex of Sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun, Hammam Inal, the mosque, Khanqah & Mausoleum of Al Sultan Al Zahir Barquq, the School and Mausoleum of Al Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun. You will also find Le Riad boutique hotel here.
How to Reach : It’s located in the walled city of historic Cairo. Easily reached by taxis.
Also The Mosque and Madrassa of Al-Sultan Hassan AKA the pearl of Islamic architecture. It lies next to the Saladin Citadel and is open daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm. The complex is composed of a four-iwan jami‘ masjid (Friday Mosque), a madrasa (secondary school or college), and a qubba, or mausoleum.
The interior and exterior domes of the mosque are extremely ornate. A monumental iwan (a rectangular hall that is open on one side) opens up on each of the four sides of the interior square courtyard.
How to Reach : It is located in Salah al-Din Square in the Citadel district. Easily reached by taxis.
Finally The Egyptian Museum or the Museum of Cairo located in Tahrir Square. It is famed as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. It is one of the largest museums in the Middle East. It has 120,000 artifacts consolidated from the various archaeological sites of Egypt including the most unique piece in the world, Tutankhamun’s golden mask discovered by Howard Carter and his men. The Egyptian Museum lies close to the Ritz Carlton, American University and Nile Corniche.
How to Reach : Take Metro to Sadat station ( Ground zero downtown). This station is under Midan Tahrir and just minutes from the Egyptian Museum. Its tunnels double as a pedestrian underpass.
Egypt has a large number of royal palaces, dating from the time of the Pharaohs. Please suggest a few.
You can walk in the footsteps of royalty by visiting some of Egypt’s royal palaces.
The Manasterly palace established by Hassan Fouad Pasha Al-Manasterly is one such palace. It is located at the southern tip of Rhoda Island, right in the middle of Cairo. The palace is famous for its beautiful decorative style with floral and animal motifs colored in scarlet. In the outer courtyard of the palace is the Nilometer. In the olden times, it was used to estimate the height reached by the Nile during its annual floods. Now, the palace houses the International Music Centre, which holds musical events over the year.
Another ornate palace located on the Rhoda Island on the Nile in southern Cairo is the Manial palace. Built by Prince Mohammed Ali, the palace housed his extensive art, objects and medieval manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages. The ceramic tile work of the entrance as well as the mosque were created by an Armenian ceramist. It is now a public art and history museum, with historical gardens, and forested nature park.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Cairo?
I guess visiting The Pyramids of Giza or Saqqara district are great choices for having day trips around Cairo.
Giza is a plateau southwest of modern Cairo which served as the necropolis (ancient cemetery) for the royalty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. It is most famous for the Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, Menkaure built in descending order of height. Over 4500 years old, it is also one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Saqqara is home to the 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid, Egypt’s oldest surviving pyramid and is the largest archaeological site in the country. It is about 200 years older than the more-famous Pyramids at Giza.
Built by Imhotep during the rein of Pharaoh Djoser, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara was the Egyptian’s first successful attempt to build a pyramid. Nobles were laid to rest here particularly when nearby Memphis was the capital city.
If time is a constraint, which pyramid should one visit Giza or Saqqara?
For those coming to Egypt for the first time or need to see the Greatest Pyramids of Egypt, I recommend visiting Giza Pyramids over Saqqara.
The pyramids sit in the Giza Necropolis. Apart from the pyramids, the Giza pyramids complex holds the world’s oldest and biggest statue of the Sphinx and the house of mummification, the Valley temple. The Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed as a tomb for king Khufu and has the height of 146.7 meters which makes it one of the tallest structure in the world made by human hands, before the Eiffel Tower was built. Over two million blocks of stone were used in the construction of the pyramid which took around 20 years to be built.
If you want to go inside the Pyramids you’ll need one or two tickets depending upon how many you want to visit. Only two pyramids are open at a given time, the Great Pyramid plus another one on a rotation basis.
However, if it’s not your first, Saqqara will be a great choice for sure. I mean, the priority goes to Giza ones.
Any suggestions on how to get to the Pyramids ?
You have several options to get to The Pyramids. You can go by regular Taxi, Uber/Careem, Join a tour or Hire a guide with a driver. From central Cairo, you can take the large white CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) buses out to Giza. Routes 355 or 357 from around EL Tahir Square and the Egyptian Museum go to the Pyramids. Bus numbers are often written in Arabic. You can purchase tickets from the bus conductors. There are two entrances into the pyramid. The Great Pyramid entrance (located near the Marriott Mena House hotel) and the Sphinx entrance.
Note : There is no metro station in the direct vicinity of the pyramid complex, but Giza metro station is located about 10 km away. From the El Giza Station or Moneeb Station take a bus to Haram Mashaal near the pyramids OR just take a taxi.
You can know more about how to hire a guide from here: https://www.egypttailormade.net/en/
Also if you are visiting the Pyramids –
In spring and the beginning of the summer : Better in the morning to avoid direct sun (9 AM till 12 PM is perfect).
In winter : Better to visit in midday after 12 PM
Tip : Avoid Fridays and Saturdays since they are the official day offs in Egypt. The place tends to be more crowded than the other days.
Please give us some tips to avoid scammers.
Well there are some of things to know before getting there –
If you’re taking a taxi or Uber, there are some people who will jump infront of the vehicle and tell you that you can’t pass further or that you must rent a camel or horse to get there and you have to buy a ticket from here. Ignore them, lock your doors and windows and tell the driver that you want to get to the hill inside the gates. You will find the tickets selling window there and it’s only from there you can buy your ticket safely.
After getting in, you might find some scammers asking for your ticket. Well, do not give anyone your ticket except the employees in the gates. Also for them you’ll only need to show them your ticket. Only the scammer will ask for taking it and they won’t give it back to you until you pay them.
If you want to rent a camel or horse, ask carefully about the price of it because they’re also scamming in this. You need to know the price before and maybe you’ll need to negotiate with them to reduce the price.
What is the local cuisine of Egypt? Any suggestions on popular local places to try them in Cairo?
The local cuisine of Egypt includes a lot of delicious choices such as Fava beans and Falafel for breakfast and Molokhiya (stew made with Jute, or Jews Mallow), Mahshi (dish comprising of vegetables stuffed with rice, vegetables, and meat), Fatteh (Pita bread covered with herbs, chickpeas and yogurt) and Koshary which is also the national dish of Egypt for lunch. Koshary is made by combining pasta, rice and brown lentils.
And you can find very good restaurants serving them in Cairo like:
El Tabei El Domiaty, Gad, Arabiata for Fava Beans and Falafel.
Koshary Al Tahrir and Abo Tarek for Koshary.
Al Brens, Al Kazzaz, Mama, and Arabiata –yes again- for the rest.
I know men don’t enjoy shopping as much as we do but am curious, are there any popular markets in Cairo which tourists must visit?
For sure! Cairo has a large market near Al-Azhar Mosque which is the first mosque established in the city of Cairo. Situated in the middle of the historic Cairo district, it is the oldest and biggest Islamic university, attracting students from multiple nations.
Just across the street from Al Azhar mosque is Khan Al-Khalili, an open-air bazaar, located in the alley ways stemming from Al Muizz street. This souq’s layout is filled with alleyways and offers gold, copper ware, textiles, rugs, amber, spices, and leather goods for a splendid shopping experience in Cairo. You can buy great souvenirs from there including papyrus pictures, antiques, metal lampshades and woven textiles.
All of the things you can imagine are there, but you have to negotiate with the sellers as much as you can do to get the best price, I recommend taking a local with you to do the business. If this is the first time in Egypt or if you are not experienced enough with the process of negotiating.
Are there any events or festivals in Egypt around which tourists should plan their holiday to feel the local culture?
A lot of them actually, but I recommend –
The Tanoura show in Wikala of Al-Ghuri. It is a traditional show which takes place in three stages – a part dedicated to vocal performances, then performance by the Egyptian traditional dance troupe “The Tanoura Dance”and the show of spiritual whirling dervishes. It’s a three hour long show which takes place at Wikala of Al-Ghuri Arts Centre.
Omar Khairat concerts in Cairo Opera House. He is one of the most successful and influential Egyptian composers and pianists of all time. His music is said to bridge the divide between contemporary Egyptian and Western genres and often performs at the Cairo Opera House.
The Sound and Light Shows in The Pyramids & Luxor. Misr Company for Sound and Light holds the Sound and Light shows at various archeological sites in Egypt (Sphinx, Luxor, Philae, Abo Simbel, Sphinx, Edfu ). They have four shows – the Pyramids Sound & Light show, the Karnak Temple Sound & Light Show, the Philae Temple Sound & Light Show and the Abu Simbel Sound & Light show. The shows are meant to be a learning experience about ancient Egypt and its significant beginning. During the show, Egyptian Pharaohs rise to narrate their stories of reign and achievements. You can choose between 10 different languages. Book from their website https://soundandlight.show/en
Would you suggest any local shows to drama, music or art lovers which exhibit the culture of Egypt?
I’d love to for sure!
There are some shows will always be timeless and relevant. They are all-encompassing, which means they are not only well-written but also have a beautifully-structured story, dramatic twists, and a distinct Egyptian sense of humor such as Layaly El Helmia, Lan A’ish Fe Gelbab Abi and Wanees.
Oriental Egyptian music are all around internet just search and enjoy as I mentioned before Omar Khairat music, Yehia Khalil, Khaled Hammad, Hisham Nazih and so many more.
And for art I’d love to recommend The artists Helmy Al Touni and Mahmoud Mokhtar, also Mahmoud Mokhktar has a nice museum beside the Opera House.
How to Reach : Exit the Opera (Gezira) station for the Opera House. There is an Opera ticket counter in the subway and one exit leads directly into the Opera House garden which is adorned with statues of Egyptian celebrities in the field of culture.
Are tourists expected to dress up in a certain way while touring Egypt?
There is a must-pack list to get with you while visiting Egypt as follows –
- Long, baggy skirts /pants
- Long-sleeved t-shirts
- Comfortable walking shoes
- A scarf for women to cover their hair when visiting mosques
- A light sweatshirt or jacket if travelling in winter
Any dos and don’ts which one should know when visiting Egypt ?
Things you must do –
- Drink plenty of water. You must stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
- Make sure that you have Egyptian money with you. Small restaurants and stores are unlikely to take credit cards or foreign currencies, especially as you travel further out into the desert and away from tourist centres. Only Cash will be expected.
- Desert excursions should only be visited with experienced guides and good drivers.
- Lastly, do buy souvenirs, it encourages local artisans and are excellent mementos for your loved ones.
Things you mustn’t do –
- Respect the monuments and archaeological sites. Do not touch & scratch, or sit on them.
- While there is no official dress code in cities, ladies will feel better at ease if they do not wear shorts or expose their shoulders. This is especially important to remember when visiting churches and mosques.
- Do not forget your camera; you’ll miss out making memories with your loved ones.
- Do not attempt to take any antiquity because this is expressly prohibited.
As a local would you want to give any suggestion to tourists visiting Cairo?
Try to manage your time to visit as many places as possible and enjoy your adventure because there is a lot to do here ☺
THINGS TO KNOW
How to Get Around in Cairo : Cairo is well connected with an international airport. Cairo International Airport is the principal international airport of Cairo and the largest and busiest airport in Egypt. The distance from the airport to the city centre (Tahrir Square / Liberation Square) is 22 kms (13.7 miles). The journey time is about 30 minutes. At peak hours, travel time can be up to an hour. The best ways to get around Cairo are by metro, train or taxi.
By Metro : There are only two metros in Africa – one in Cairo and the other in Algiers. It is one of the most important means of transportation in greater Cairo but also crowded. The metro has 74 stations, of which 3 are transfer stations. There are three lines in the center of the city and metro carry passengers to attractions like the Egyptian Museum and those found in Coptic Cairo. Metro run every day from around 5 to 1 a.m. (or until 2 a.m. during Ramadan).
By Taxi : Taxis are the most convenient way to get around areas that the Cairo Metro doesn’t cover. The city has three types of taxis. Older unofficial/black-and-white cabs. They rarely have air conditioning and are the cheapest. They don’t charge fares based on a meter, so you must negotiate the cost with the driver before setting out. Other newer option is the white cab, which uses meters and have air conditioning. The last type of Taxis is the yellow cabs. These also have a meter but you call them by phone through a company and they come to you wherever you are. These are the most expensive ones of course. You can ask the front desk at your hotel to call them for you.
Where to Stay : There are many accommodations in the city of different categories and some with fabulous views of the Nile or the Pyramids. You will also find economical accommodations and boutique hotels.
Cairo Weather : Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters. Around eight months of summer and four months of winter. Also, daytime and nighttime temperatures suffer great contrasts. In the hottest of the summer months—June, July, and August—the average daily maximum temperature is 95 °F (35 °C), and the average daily minimum is 70 °F (21 °C). The summer temperature has reached as high as 117 °F (47 °C).
During winter the strong Tropic of Cancer sun makes for warm, dry days, but nights are cool and humid. The average daily maximum temperature in January–February is 67 °F (19 °C), and the average daily minimum is 47 °F (8.5 °C). November to April is the best time to visit Egypt.
Egypt Key Facts :
1. National Language : Modern Standard Arabic
2. Currency : Egyptian Pound (EGP).
Egyptian words to learn :
Hello -> Salaam ‘aleikum
Do you know? -> Hal Taerif?
Yes/No -> Aywa/ la
May I-> Mumken
Please -> Min fadlak
Thanks -> Shukran
Goodbye -> Ma’a salaameh
Country Code, Important Telephone Numbers :
- International dialling code : +20
- Tourist Police : 126
- Ambulance service phone: 123
- Police phone: 122
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