Cairo’s Agricultural Museum: The Wedding Scene

Fellaha Statue
This statue of a fellaha (rural woman) stands outside the Agricultural Museum in Cairo.

The Agriculture Museum in Cairo, Egypt is a treasure that most tourists visiting Egypt have never heard of, and never been to. It resides inside a former palace, so even the architecture is well worth taking a moment to enjoy.  I think maybe the museum opened in the 1950’s, but I could be wrong about that. It’s very kitschy, in a way that I find very appealing! The museum is near the Giza zoo and the Cairo Opera House.

On the ground floor, there is a series of tableaux showing what a rural wedding was like as of the 1950’s. It provides insight into what people wore, and what their customs were surrounding weddings.

Wedding Preparations

Fortuneteller in Agricultural Museum
A fortuneteller casts the stones to view omens for an upcoming wedding.

The above photo shows a fortuneteller casting the stones to view the omens for an upcoming wedding.

In Muslim tradition, weddings do not involve a religious ceremony the way traditional Christian weddings do.  Instead, there is a legal contract, which is signed by the men of the two families with witnesses. The photo below shows the men conducting this business.

While the men of the bride and groom’s families complete the contract transaction, the women of the households prepare for the wedding party that will follow.

The tableau pictured below shows a woman bringing a tray of drinks from the kitchen to serve to the other women as they wait.

As the women wait, one of them goes to the roof to the pigeon hut, to select a pigeon to serve for the meal at the celebration.

The photo below shows a belly dancer and a drummer performing for the bride and the women of her family while they wait for the men to be ready for the procession.  The dancer, of course, is the one with the most vibrant makeup!

A dancer entertains the bride and her family in this tableau of a wedding at the Agricultural Museum.

The Procession

One of the wedding-related exhibits shows the zeffa (bridal procession) in which the people of a village carry a bride in a litter to the wedding party.

The photo below shows the men leading the zeffa, playing musical instruments and doing balancing tricks. Behind them is a camel carrying a large decorated wooden box with the bride sitting inside.

Wedding Procession
Performers lead a wedding procession in this tableau at the Agricultural Museum.

This photo shows a closeup of the camel bearing the front part of the bride’s litter.

The next photo shows the bride inside her litter.  This angle of the photo doesn’t show it, but inside the litter there is a little boy with her.  His role would be to leave the litter and fetch anything she needs.

Wedding Procession Bride
In this tableau of a rural Egyptian wedding procession, the bride is carried inside a litter.

I have visited the Agricultural Museum several times, and it’s always fun to see it again.  In addition to the scenes of rural life, the main building also houses many other exhibits, including farm animals, insects, and more.   A separate building is dedicated to exhibits of Syria, referencing a period from 1958 to 1961 when Egypt and Syria banded together to create the United Arab Republic.

About My Egypt Travels

For several of my trips to Egypt, I have traveled with Sahra Kent, through her Journey Through Egypt program.  This Agricultural Museum is one of the places I have discovered through traveling with her.  I highly recommend the Journey Through Egypt program to anyone who is interested in a cultural perspective of Egypt.

Exploring Nilometers in Egypt

A Nilometer (Nile-o-meter) is a structure in Egypt for measuring how high the annual flood of the river Nile rises each year. Before the 20th century, each year the Nile River would flood in the spring, spreading silt across the land it covered.  This inundation brought life to the region, because the silt it deposited enhanced the fertility of the soil.

The government used the Nilometer readings to determine the taxes for that year.  If the flood level was measured as low, then taxes that year would be low, due to reduced rich silt deposits and possible drought. If the flood level was medium, taxes that year would be high, because medium was the ideal level. If flood level was high, there would be no taxes because the flood was destructive and people needed to recover.

In my travels to Egypt, I’ve seen 3 different Nilometers.  There are others that I have not (yet) had the opportunity to see, but perhaps I’ll get to see them on a future trip! I’ve seen reports that as of today there are fewer than 24 known Nilometers which have been found by archaeologists.

Cairo

The Nilometer in Cairo is on Rhoda Island, a short walk from the Oum Kalthoum Museum. If you visit Cairo, it’s worth a trip to the island to visit both.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

This Nilometer is one of the oldest structures in Egypt built after the Arab conquest. The original building at this site was erected in 751 CE, though archaeologists believe there was probably an older Nilometer at this site in Pharaonic times.   This initial structure was destroyed by a heavy flood in 861 CE, so the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil commissioned the current building to replace it.

Although the subterranean portion of the ancient building still stands, its dome was destroyed in 1825 by a nearby explosion.  A restoration was created, using a painting by Fredrik Ludvig Nordenas to provide guidance on what the original looked like.

This is the interior of the dome of the Nilometer in Cairo on Rhoda Island, next to the Oum Kalthoum museum. This section was destroyed in 1825 and reconstructed.  Photo was taken from surface level looking up into the cupola on February 9, 2017.

The instrument for measuring the water’s height is an octagonal column divided into cubits located in the middle of the square stone-lined shaft. This photo shows the central shaft, as you look down from the street-level entrance:

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

Today, the tunnels leading from the Nilometer to the Nile are blocked off, and therefore water no longer comes in.

It is possible to descend a flight of stairs into the shaft. There are no handrails along the stairs, so it requires an adventurous spirit to do it! The interior is beautiful.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

Kom Ombo

This Nilometer is located at the temple in Kom Ombo, Egypt, a town that lies between Luxor and Aswan. This is one of the temples that Nile cruises stop at, and it’s a very interesting one to tour because it’s dedicated to TWO gods, Horus the Elder and Sobek.

The Nilometer at Kom Ombo is a deep, cylindrical opening into the ground. At ground level, it doesn’t look like much, just a small circular wall.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

It has a tunnel at the bottom that reaches outside the temple walls to allow the flood water to come in.

PHoto copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

Aswan

I have seen this Nilometer near Aswan from a boat on the river, as we floated past Elephantine Island where it resides. I haven’t yet set foot on the island to see its entrance from above. Archaeologists believe it is the oldest Nilometer in Egypt.

For most of ancient Egyptian history, Elephantine Island was the southern border of the Pharaonic kingdom. For that reason, the flood waters would reach this Nilometer first, before flowing downstream to the rest of the kingdom. It provided early insight into what growing conditions the country as a whole could expect.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel. All rights reserved.

This Nilometer at Elephantine Island was mentioned in the novel River God, by Wilbur Smith.

Ones I Haven’t Seen

Someday, I hope to see other Nilometers in Egypt. There’s one in the Nile delta at the ancient city Thmuis, which is near the modern city of El Mansoura. Archaeologists estimate it was build in the 3rd century BCE. I learned about this one from a National Geographic article about it.

The beautiful temple of Isis that resided on Philae Island had two Nilometers.  However, in the 1960’s, because of Aswan Dam constructions, about 1/3 of the temple’s buildings became flooded year round. The Philae temple was dismantled and moved to Agilkia Island as part of the UNESCO effort to save temples threatened by the completion of the Aswan High Dam. I don’t know yet whether Philae’s surface-level Nilometer structures were moved and reconstructed when the temple was moved. I have toured Philae about 5 times on my various trips to Egypt, and the guides didn’t point out any Nilometer remnants.  Even if they did, it would be only surface level, without the deep hole down into the ground.  I’ll ask about it the next time I go.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Wael Mohamed Ali for assisting me with my questions about the Nilometers in the Aswan area.  I’ve appreciated Wael’s services on some of my visits to Upper Egypt as a tour guide and a translator.  He’s very knowledgeable, and a pleasure to do business with!

African Sunrises and Sunsets

Traveling offers many opportunities to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  In this blog post, I’d like to share my photos taken in Egypt, Morocco, and Senegal.  These are all my original photos, and my property.  Please do not steal them.

Sunrises and Sunsets in Egypt

I have traveled to Egypt 12 times, so naturally I’ve had many opportunities over the years to photograph sunrises and sunsets there.  Here are my favorites.

At the Pyramids of Giza Near Cairo, Egypt

Any post celebrating sunsets in Egypt clearly needs to start with the sun setting behind the Pyramids of Giza!

This sunset photo was taken in February, 2017 when I went to Egypt as part of Sahra Kent’s “Journey Through Egypt 3” tour.  We stayed at the Sphinx Guest House, which is a bed & breakfast place in Giza, Egypt (near Cairo).  This was the view from our window! If you look closely, you can see the Sphinx in front of the middle pyramid.

Sunset over the Pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the pyramids of Giza, Egypt on February 6, 2017. Look closely, and you’ll see the Sphinx hiding in front of the middle pyramid!

And because I love Egypt and its pyramids so much, here’s a sunset photo I took in February 2016.  This year, too, I accompanied Sahra’s “Journey Through Egypt” tour, and I took this photo from my room at the Sphinx Guest House.

Sunset over the pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the pyramids of Giza, Egypt on February 10, 2016.

I caught the sunset at a different point in February, 2015.  This year was the first time I accompanied Sahra on her “Journey Through Egypt” tour, but it wasn’t my first time in Egypt. This photo offers more light, and therefore a clearer view of the Sphinx.

Sunset over the Pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the Pyramids and Sphinx in February, 2015.

One of my favorite photos that I have taken in my travels is one of the moon rising over the Great Pyramid. I sat with friends in the garden cafe at the Mena House hotel, and this was our view.  I had accompanied my friend Morocco to the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, which was held at Mena House.

Moonrise over the Great Pyramid
The moon rises over the Great Pyramid in June, 2004.

The Overnight Train from Cairo to Luxor

It’s about 400 miles from Cairo, Egypt to Luxor.  An affordable way to make the trip is via an overnight train with sleeper cars.  The train leaves Cairo late in the afternoon, which allows an opportunity to watch the sun set while you’re making the journey.  I took this photo in February, 2016.

I saw this sunset on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor, Egypt in February 14, 2016.

At Lake Nasser, at the Abu Simbel Temple in Southern Egypt

Twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, the rays of the rising sun pierce the inner chamber of the Temple of Ramses at Abu Simbel, Egypt.  On this date, the light shines on Amun-Ra of Karnak, Ra-Horakhti of Heliopolis and Ramses II, but the fourth god in the sanctuary, Ptah of Memphis, remains always in shadow.  I was there for this event on February 22, 2015, when I accompanied Sahra Kent on her “Journey Through Egypt” tour.

False Dawn Over Lake Nasser Just before Sunrise at Abu Simbel
The glow of false dawn appears just before sunrise over Lake Nasser at Abu Simbel, Egypt on February 22, 2015.
Sunrise over Lake Nasser at Abu Simbel
The sun rises over Lake Nasser at the Abu Simbel temple in southern Egypt on February 22, 2015.

The Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria, Egypt

These photos are from my visit to Alexandria, Egypt in June, 2008. My friend Saqra and I went to a family-oriented beach one beautiful afternoon.  Alexandria is a popular place for families from Cairo to spend vacation time during the summer, due to the fact that the sea air gives it cooler temperatures than Cairo. We stayed to watch the sun set, then went to the theater at the Alexandria Library to watch the show titled “The World Dances with Mahmoud Reda”.

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria
The sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria Egypt on June 30, 2008.

Later in the sunset, as the light begins to fade, the sky remains beautiful and the sea takes on a range of colors.

Sunset in Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira is a seaside community in Morocco, facing onto the Atlantic Ocean. It offers beautiful views of the ocean, and also of sunsets.  I was there for Funoon Dance Camp, which was organized by my friend Nawarra.

Sunset in Essaouira, Morocco
The sun sets over Essaouira, Morocco, on September 10, 2017.

 

Sunset over Essaouira, Morocco
The sun sets over Essaouira, Morocco on September 10, 2017.

Sunrises in Dakar, Senegal

These two photos were both taken at sunrise (approximately 7:30 a.m.) in November, 2017, from the Pullman Hotel in Dakar, Senegal.

Sunrise in Dakar, Senegal
The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean at Dakar, Senegal on November 1, 2017.

 

Sunrise in Dakar, Senegal
The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean at Dakar, Senegal on November 2, 2017.

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/

Gratuitous Sunsets in My Own Community!

Although the primary theme of this post is African sunrises and sunsets, I can’t resist sharing some beautiful sunsets from my own neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa.  After all, it’s my blog, and I can include non-African sunsets if I want to!

I don’t have to travel far to see beautiful sunsets.  These two photos were taken from my front door, looking across the street at my neighbors’ houses.

The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa on July 6, 2014.
The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa on July 15, 2016.
Sunset in Iowa City, Iowa November 2017
The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa in November, 2017.

And this photo was taken about a half hour’s drive from our house, at Coralville Lake.

The sun sets over Coralville Lake on October 21, 2016.