Simply Travels | My Travel Blog


Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye Egypt | Cairo Egypt Day 9

It was fast approaching the time to say goodbye to Egypt. The flight out of Cairo was at about 5 pm. But because of traffic and all, we had to leave the hotel by 1.30 pm. We were told that we could buy our lunch at the airport.

I decided to have one last walk around the Giza district in Cairo near our hotel in the morning. Unfortunately, the weather decided to be uncooperative. It was extremely windy that morning. Sand was flying all over. And this was the day I went out without a scarf. If not, I could have tied it around my face to protect it from the winds and flying sands.

The shops in the nearby malls were not open in the morning. They only started opening at about 11.30am to noon. All the shops started their day by playing a surah reading from the Quran. It was a surreal experience entering a shop and looking for clothes and hearing the Quran being recited! I have never experienced that before in all of my life. But it was a good feeling to know that people started their day with the remembrance of God.

Here are some shots taken from my walk.

I stopped at a mall and bought a tunic sweater top - it was made in Turkey. But the design was nice and appeared to be a popular style choice during winter in Egypt. Before I knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel. I arrived at the hotel just after 1 pm. A quick washing of the face, and we were off to the airport.

Cairo International Airport departures area is not the best place to be if you are a non-smoker. It seemed that every smoker was inside puffing away - the smoke was trapped indoors and was it felt suffocating! That is one negative thing about Egypt - it appeared to me as if a majority of Egyptian men smoked! If not cigarettes, the shisha. Terrible!

After passing through the check-in, we went to buy lunch. Of course, it is expected that we would have to pay high prices for food at airports. But the prices at the Cairo airport were extremely high - especially when we converted it to US dollars. We should have bought our lunch at the Giza district, but we did did not think of it! In the end, I had a slice of mushroom pizza, which was not very good. Nevertheless, it was a large slice so it kept me filled for the flight back home via Qatar.

That's it for my Egypt adventure.

Next post, I will summarize with some of my thoughts on Egypt and its people.

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Step Pyramid | Saqqara Egypt Day 8

We were fast approaching the end of our trip in Egypt. The first site visited on the second last day of our trip was to the Step Pyramid. The step pyramid was the first pyramid structure built that resembled the more impressive pyramids we are accustomed to seeing - for example, the Pyramids of Giza.

The very first tombs built for the Pharaohs were actually flat-roofed and raised structures called the mastabas.

Intended to hold his mummified body, Pharaoh Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara began as a traditional, flat-roofed mastaba. But by the end of his 19-year reign, in 2611 B.C., it had risen to six stepped layers and stood 204 feet (62 meters) high. It was the largest building of its time.

Extensive use of stone—here and there carved to resemble wood, reeds, or other softer materials—made the tomb more durable than its mud-brick forebears. Such pioneering techniques led many ancient historians to credit the chief architect, Imhotep, with inventing stone architecture.

The Step Pyramid complex was enclosed by a 30-foot (10-meter) wall and included courtyards, temples, and chapels covering nearly 40 acres (16 hectares)—the size of a large town in the third millennium B.C.

As in earlier mastaba tombs, the Step Pyramid's burial chambers are underground, hidden in a maze of tunnels, probably to discourage grave robbers. The tomb was nevertheless plundered, and all that remains of Djoser, the third king of Egypt's 3rd dynasty, is his mummified left foot.

Imhotep was the architect of the Step Pyramid. he was a physician, priest, and founder of a cult of healing. He was deified 1,400 years after his lifetime. His name appears in the temple built next to the Step Pyramid.

Step Pyramid

For the simple reason that the Step Pyramid was the last ancient Egyptian site I would be visiting, I took many pictures of it from many different angles. But I will not post them here and bore you!

Carpet Factory in Saqqara

After the Step Pyramid, we went to a carpet school/factory located in Saqqara. The school takes in young children to train them to make carpets by hand. I saw children as young as seven there, both little boys and girls. It is an arduous task - time-consuming! I tried making a knot myself - the process itself is easy, nothing too complicated. But imagine doing it repeatedly all day to finish a large carpet! The trained ones seem to do it very fast, but still I would imagine it could take months to complete a good-sized carpet.

I took pictures with a small girl who was working on a carpet. She did not want to smile initially. And I spent some time talking to her, asking simple questions in Arabic such as what is your name, and then telling her my name. Then she smiled - so cute. I did not have anything to give her, but luckily the tour leader gave me some sweets to give to her. I think I should have brought such candy treats with me for distribution to children I meet in the future - I actually had the thought, but I did not act on it while I was packing for the trip!

The salesmen then took us to the carpet showroom. The silk carpets were just beautiful. They are termed "magic" carpets because they change color at different angles. For instance, the carpet can look darker or brighter with just a turn of the carpet! The prices were high, a small carpet - what one could use for Muslim praying for instance cost about 450 USD! A small sized carpet for the living room was about 1500 USD. Of course, this was way above my budget.

At the time, I did not contemplate much on the ethics behind the concept of a carpet school. I took it at face value - these kids were being trained in a skill that would ensure them money through their working years. But later when I was discussing the school, I realised that these children were being deprived of an education. They are working on something that will benefit the owners of the carpet factory where the carpets are sold for far more than the carpet-makers would ever get for their hard work!

Kids working on a Carpet

The question that remains in my mind, would a regular education actually benefit these children given the high rate of unemployment in the country? I do not know. But I feel sad thinking that this is their life that had been handed to them.

Then we went to lunch. The restaurant was located nearby - I think it was called the Saqqara Oasis or Club house. We had a delicious buffet spread. Afterwards, I had my picture taken with a two-month old lionness. She was so cute, but huge for a baby lionness. Imagine it hungry at adulthood - shudder.

Memphis - Colossus of Ramses

After lunch, we visited the MIT Rahina Museum at Memphis. There was a colussus of Ramses - that man is not called great for no reason, he was the longest ruler of Egypt (67 years) and he made his mark felt, to this very day!

The Colossus of Ramesses is an enormous statue carved in limestone. It is about 10m (33.8 ft) long, even though it has no feet, and is located near the village of Mit Rahina. A small museum has been built to house this magnificent piece. The fallen colossus was found near the south gate of the temple of Ptah, located about 30m from the huge limestone statue of Ramesses. Some of the original colors are still partly preserved.

After this visit, we were dropped off near a local shopping area in the Giza area. This is where we said goodbye to our Egyptian tour guide - I suppose he had to go meet up with a new tour group (apparently, it was peak season for tourists). We shopped at the METRO grocery store nearby - I bought a huge box of hibiscus tea (karkaday) amongst other things. About an hour or so later, we met up and went for lunch. But since we had a late lunch (3pm) and dinner was at 6.30 pm, we were still too full to eat! I ate something anyway.

When we returned to the hotel, the others retired to their rooms to pack. We had to leave for the airport the next day at about 1.30 pm. But I and my friends hired a taxi through the hotel to go to Khan el Khalili (we agreed on 130 Egyptian pounds for the trip to and from, plus waiting time while we shopped).

The driver was polite - and drove us there in good time. We were told it would take more than one hour because of the traffic. But we made it in about 40 minutes or less. Once there, he told us to take our time and that he would wait.

We shopped at the bazaar, but I think I much preferred it during the day time. When we arrived it was near 9.30pm and although the stores were still open, a good number were already closed. It was also less busy than when we had been there two days ago in the afternoon. I think the sellers were also tired - and they did not harass too much to check their wares - although there was still some of that!

I bought more Egyptian tunic tops and scarfs. I could have stayed longer and explored more shops, but two of my friends appeared too tired and sleepy to continue. Such people I was wide awake though! Sigh....

We returned to the taxi about two and a half hours later. The driver brought us back safely. And we gave him a tip of 10 Egyptian pounds - total 140 Egyptian pounds - cause he was patient while waiting for us. So it cost us about 7 USD per person for this trip to Khan el Khalili at night. Worth it, I think!

At the hotel, I packed my bag in preparation for departure the next afternoon.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Montazah Palace Gardens | Alexandria Egypt Day 7

These gardens cover an area of 370 feddans and contain trees, palms, and flowers. There is also a museum, several natural bays and beaches, as well as a complete tourist centre, a hotel, restaurants, bungalows and a children's park 4.5 feddans in area.

Built on a low plateau east of Alexandria and overlooking a beautiful beach amid about 370 feddans of gardens and woods, the Montazah palace comprises a number of buildings, the most important being Al-Haramlek and Al-Salamlek, the summer residence of the former royal family. This palace was started by Khedive Abbas II in 1892, who built a large palace inside the complex called the Salamlek. In 1932, King Fuad built a larger palace and called it the Haramlik. His son, King Farouk, built a bridge to the sea to act as a water front. It is now a presidential residence, after being restored for 7 million pounds by President Sadat. It is closed to the public, but there are gardens of Palm trees cover the area around the palace. This is a wonderful spot to enjoy the beauty of Alexandria. It is situated 25 km from Alexandria train station. Gardens of pine trees and drought resistant plants surround the Montazah palace lying between it and the sea. It's a nice restful place to go and walk.

I wish we had more time to walk around. But we only spent about 35-40 minutes there. We managed to watch the sunset there.

Montazah Palace Gardens Pictures

View of the Mediterranean Sea

Date Palm Trees - Common in Egypt

After the visit, we got back into the bus for the 3 hour ride back to our hotel in Cairo.

Sunset Viewed from the Bus on Way Back to Cairo

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Qait Bay Fort | Alexandria Egypt Day 7

After lunch, we visited the Qait Bay Fort, which was located just by the Mediterranean Sea.

The Citadel of Qaitbay (or the Fort of Qaitbay) (Arabic,قلعة قايتباي) is a 15th century defensive fortress located on the Mediterranean sea coast, built upon/from the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt. It was established in 1477 AD by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa'it Bay.

The founder of the Citadel of Qaitbay is Sultan Al-Ashraf Abou Anasr Saif El-Din Qaitbay El-Jerkasy Al-Zahiry (1468-1496 A.D) who was born about 1423 A.D (826 H). He was a Mamluke who had come to Egypt as a young man, less than 20 years old. Bought by Al-Ashraf Bersbay, he remained among his attendants until Al-Ashraf Bersbay died. Then the Sultan Djaqmaq bought Qaitbay, and later gave him his freedom. Qaitbay then went on to occupy various posts. He became the Chief of the Army (Atabec Al-Askar) during the rule of the Sultan Tamar Bugha. When the Sultan was dethroned, Qaitbay was appointed as a Sultan who was titled Almalek Al-Ashraf on Monday 26th Ragab, 872 H. (1468 A.D). He was one of the most important and prominent Mameluke Sultans, ruling for about 29 years. He was a brave king, who tried to initiate a new era with the Ottomans by exchanging embassies and gifts. He was fond of travel and made many prominent journeys.

Qaitbay was so fond of art and architecture that he created an important post among the administrative system of the state; it was the Edifices Mason (Shady Al-Ama'er). He built many beneficial constructions in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. In Egypt there are about 70 renovated edifices attributed to him, among them are Mosques, Madrasas(school) , Agencies, Fountain houses (Sabils), Kuttabs, houses, military edifices like the Citadels in Alexandria and Rosetta (Nowadays the city of Rashid). These Citadels were built to protect the north of Egypt, mainly against the Ottomans, whose power was increasing in the Mediterranean.

Qait Bat Fort, Egypt Pictures

Egyptian Cat in Alexandria
I would term Alexandria the "City of Cats"
for the sheer numbers of well-fed stray cats
Egyptians leave packets of food for the cats
along the banks of the sea-line for the cats!

Mediterranean Sea

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Alexandria Egypt Day 7

We had to set out early for our visit to Alexandria. From our hotel in the Giza district in Cairo, it would take us about 3 hours to reach Alexandria. We set out at about 7 am. I spent much of the time looking out of the window.

Tolls at Giza Cairo - Leaving

Rest Stop Along the Way to Alexandria

One thing you will notice when you use public restrooms is that there are no toilet paper. Instead, there will always be someone outside the restroom "selling" toilet paper. But it is customary to pay 1 Egyptian Pound to enter the toilet even if you have your own toilet paper with you. Keep in mind that Egypt is a poor country and that people are just looking for a way to earn a living.

The public restrooms are frequently washed - so it is common to walk into a toilet that is all wet. I noticed that there is almost no nasty smells perhaps because of the frequent washings. Just be sure to hitch up your pants before lowering them so it does not touch the wet ground!

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

We drove to the first site of the day - Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. We were told that it was located in a poor neighborhood. The lanes got narrower as we went deeper into this small town. The bus driver did a fantastic job maneuvering the bus - there were many other big tourist bus attempting to either enter or leave one narrow street leading to the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. It was amazing how calm all the bus drivers were as they moved the bus around.

Maneuvering Tourist Bus

Tiny Street Near Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (meaning 'Mound of shards' or 'Potsherds') is a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt 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 funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa 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 the age of the Antonine emperors (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. The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa is, according to some lists, also one of the seven medieval wonders of the world. One of the more gruesome features of the catacombs is the so called Hall of Caracalla. According to tradition, this is a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla.

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Pompey's Pillar

Then we visited the Pompey's Pillar. An approximately 25m red Aswan granite column with a circumference of 9m, was constructed in honor of the Emperor Diocletain. Originally from the temple of the Serapis, it was once a magnificent structure rivaling the Soma and the Caesareum. Nearby are subterranean galleries where sacred Apis bulls were buried, and three sphinxes. After his defeat by Julius Caesar in the civil war, Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered in 48 BC; mediaeval travelers later believed he must be buried here, and that the capital atop the corner served as a container for his head. In fact, the pillar was raised in honor of Diocletain at the very end of the 4th century. Diocletain captured Alexandria after it had been under siege. The Arabs called it "Amoud el-Sawari", Column of the Horsemen. The Pillar is the tallest ancient monument in Alexandria.

Pompey's Pillar

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Egyptian Museum | Cairo Egypt Day 6

After our stop at the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, we were brought to lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. I was a bit upset at that because I did not want to have American food in Egypt. But thankfully, it was not burgers and fries after all. We had a buffet spread of a mix of Egyptian and American style of food, which suited me fine.

We then went to the Egyptian Museum. The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities contains many important pieces of ancient Egyptian history. It houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, and many treasures of King Tutankhamen.

Egyptian Museum, Cairo Egypt

Unlike many of the tombs discovered in Egypt, that of King Tutankhamun was found mostly intact. Inside the tomb there is a large collection of artifacts used throughout the King’s life. These artifacts range from a decorated chest, which was most likely used as a closet or suitcase, to ivory and gold bracelets, necklaces, and other decorative jewelry, to alabaster vases and flasks. The tomb is also home to many weapons and instruments used by the King. Although the tomb holds over 3,500 artifacts, it should be noted that this tomb was not found completely intact. In fact, there have been at least two robberies of the tomb, perhaps soon after Tutankhamun's burial. The most well known artifact in King Tutankhamun’s tomb is the famous Gold Mask, which rests over the bandages that wrap around the King’s face. The mask weighs in at 24.5 pounds of solid gold, and is believed to represent what the King’s face really looked like. Many features of the mask the eyes, nose, lips and chin are all represented very well.

The remains of many famous Pharaohs are stored in the Egyptian Museum. One of these is Pharaoh Ramses III, who was an extremely skilled warrior. For many of the mummified pharaohs, it has been very difficult to determine when they were born. Also, historians can only estimate a time when they reigned over Egypt. For Amenhotep IV, historians have estimated that he reigned around 1372 B.C. They knew this because they found out when Amenhotep IV's father, Amenhotep III died. Also, that Amenhotep IV's tomb inscribed five names he gave himself and one of them, Golden Horus, proves that he was crowned on the bank of the Nile, his father's favorite domain. Before he even became pharaoh, however, he was already married to Nefertiti. When Amenhotep IV did become pharaoh, he destroyed the religion of Amun. He did this because he wanted start his own new religion of Aten, the disc which sent out rays ending in hands. King Sneferu was believed to be the first king of the Fourth Dynasty. The year Sneferu was believed to have started his reign over Egypt was around 2620 B.C. Sneferu is believed to have been a fair and just king. Master of Justice or Truth was his other chosen name. Sneferu, like many other kings, built many temples and structures. All of Sneferu’s structures and buildings had a signature. His signature was having a statue of a woman symbolizing the foundation. The statue of the young women is presenting the sign of life and votive offerings, as well as the signs of the city and the stronghold. There are about four or five of these in each province. A lot of the pharaohs had coronation names and they all seemed to be alike. For example, Sneferu, Tut, and Amenhotep all had the name "Golden Horus".

Photographs were not allowed inside the Museum, but I managed to find some pictures of some artifacts I saw at the museum that were very interesting.

Take a look.

Sheikh el-Balad, Arabic title for the chief of the village, was the name given to this remarkable wooden statue discovered by the workmen of Auguste Mariette, the French archaeologist, because it resembled their own village chief.

The statue depicts Ka-aper, the chief lector priest, in charge of reciting prayers for the deceased in temples and funerary chapels. It is one of the masterpieces of the private statuary of the Old Kingdom.

The arms were separately modeled and attached to the body, a technique frequently used in wooden statuary.

A wooden cane supported the left arm, made out of two pieces of wood joined together.

The eyes are inlaid; the rim is made out of copper and the white is of opaque quartz, while the cornea is made out of rock crystal.

Present location: EGYPTIAN MUSEUM [01/001] CAIRO EM
Inventory number: CG 34
Archaeological Site: SAQQARA NECROPOLIS
Category: STATUE
Material: SYCAMORE
Height: 112 cm

Rahotep might have been a son of King Senefru and thus, a brother of King Khufu. He held the titles of High Priest of Ra at Heliopolis, General of the Army, and Chief of Constructions.

He is seen here wearing a short kilt, short hair, a fine mustache, and a heart-shaped amulet around his neck.

Rahotep's wife, Nofret, is described as "the one acquainted to the king." She is seen wearing a shoulder-length wig, decorated with a floral diadem and a broad collar. Her natural hair can be seen under the wig.

We recognize the distinction in the skin coloring of the two statues: reddish brown for the man and cream wash for the woman. This was an artistic convention followed throughout ancient Egyptian history. The colors are well preserved and the faces have realistic expressions.

The torchlight reflecting on the inlaid eyes of these two statues caused the workmen who first gazed at them to be afraid.

Present location: EGYPTIAN MUSEUM [01/001] CAIRO EM
Inventory number: CG 3 , 4
Archaeological Site: MAIDUM
Category: STATUE
Height: 121 cm
Width: 51 cm

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Khan-El-Khalili Bazaar | Cairo Egypt Day 6

After our visit to the Citadel, they brought us to the Khan-El-Khalili bazaar. The bazaar was built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili in the heart of the Fatimid City.

I had been waiting for this for a long time - being a shopaholic, bazaars are havens for me. In fact, this was so much looked forward to, that when I saw things for sale over the last few days from Luxor to Aswan, I told myself to save the money for shopping at the bazaar. I expected to find great buys at the bazaar. Well, imagine my disappointment when the tour guide told us that we would only be given 45 minutes to shop at the bazaar! What nonsense. How could anyone explore a huge and maze-like bazaar like the Khan El-Khalili in 45 minutes?

I believe that the real reason why we were not given time to shop at Khan El-Khalili was because it benefited only us, and not the tour guide. The tour guides bring tourists to stores where they can get commissions from everything we buy. I suppose that's how they make a living - but I much preferred shopping at the bazaar then other places.

Despite our protests, we only got an extra 15 minutes. We were told that we had to go for lunch after the bazaar, and then after lunch we were headed to the Egyptian Museum. I would have loved to skip lunch, but ah well. When you travel with a tour group, these are such inconveniences you have to deal with.

We rushed to the bazaar, and got trapped in one store right from the beginning. My friends agreed on prices for some t-shirts. After 15 minutes spent on selecting the items, the seller raised his prices. Meanwhile, I was looking at some Egyptian cotton tops, and the seller was smoking right in my face. That was a major annoyance. When he reneged on the agreed upon prices, we stormed out in anger and the seller called us crazy. But we had no time to lose!

We chanced upon a store selling nice Egyptian tops. The seller, an elderly man, seemed to have known that we were in no business for haggling and wasting time. He quickly agreed upon a price - 30 Egyptian pounds for cotton Egyptian tunic tops - and brought us to his larger store where we selected the items. I probably bought more stuff from him that I did with any other seller during my time in Egypt so far.

Because of the limited time we had, we spent all of our remaining time at that shop. Then we rushed back to the bus - we were late by 15 minutes and the rest of the group was waiting for us. I felt disappointed that I did not have enough time to browse around the shops in the bazaar. But I made plans with my friends to return to the bazaar on our own when we found the time - which we did later on our last night in Cairo.

Khan El-Khalili Bazaar Cairo Egypt

The El-Fishawi Cafe, or Cafe of Mirrors
Was once a meeting place for local artists, and is still
frequented by the Nobel Award winning Naguib Mahfouz,
one of Egypt's most well known authors.

It would be a good idea to spend an entire afternoon browsing around the Khan el-Khalili bazaar - amongst the many tacky made in China trinkets, it is possible to find great buys, like lovely scarfs, mirrors and even spices.

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Citadel of Salahaldin | Cairo Egypt Day 6

The first visit of the day was to the Citadel of Salahaldin in Cairo. We had to go through Cairo's usual day-time traffic on the highway to get there!

Cairo Highway Traffic

The Citadel began its life not as a great military base of operations, but as the "Dome of the Wind," a pavilion created in 810 by Hatim Ibn Hartama, who was then governor. These early governors, not realizing its strategic importance, simply used the pavilion for the view it provided of Cairo.

It was was fortified by the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din (Saladin) between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect it from the Crusaders.

The citadel contains the Mosque of Mohamed Ali (or Muhammad Ali Pasha), which was built between 1828 and 1848, perched on the summit of the citadel. This Ottoman mosque was built in memory of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali's oldest son, who died in 1816. However, it also represents Muhammad Ali's efforts to erase symbols of the Mamluk dynasty that he replaced. When Ottoman ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha took control from the Mamluks in 1805 he altered many of the additions to the Citadel that reflected Cairo's previous leaders. One obvious change that Muhammad Ali enacted pertained to the uses of the Citadel's northern and southern enclosures. During the Mamluk period the southern enclosure was the residential area, but Muhammad Ali claimed the northern enclosure as the royal residence when he took power. He then opened the southern enclosure to the public and effectively established his position as the new leader.

Citadel of Salah al-din Pictures

Mosque of Mohamed Ali Cairo, Egypt Pictures

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