Making notes on Cairo


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day sixteen.

Tuesday, 9 February
After breakfast went to Turkish bazaars, up Muskee St. near our hotel – most wonderfully oriental and novel to English people – miles of winding narrow streets covered over with matting to protect from the sun and some so narrow that the projection from shops overlap each other. People of all nations and tongues there and all costumes – camels driving through and donkeys – no horses generally, and ladies mounted astride on the donkeys enveloped in black …

… All the hotels surround the same square called El-Esbekiah– trellis fence around it. It used to be flooded by inundations but a canal is now made to prevent it. On the west of the square is the palace of Muhammed Bey – in that garden the unfortunate Kleber was assassinated. On the north of the square is the Copt quarter. The town is divided into quarters, the Copt, the Jews, and the Franks, each quarter separated by gates, which are closed at night …

The area around the Ezbekiya from the 1874 Plan général de la Ville du Caire

The area around the Ezbekiya from the 1874 Plan général de la Ville du Caire

… The picturesque old latticed windows standing out from the houses like our oriels are called mushribuh, where the women look through, their faces covered very much, often all over with green, black, or yellow muslin with large coloured patterns on them. … All the natives in Cairo mount donkeys and fine fellows they are … The Cairene mode of building is to project each storey beyond the other so that in the 2nd or 3rd stories the houses often touch or at all events you can shake hands across the street.

Touists on donkeys

Miss Riggs filled about ten pages of her diary with notes today. After visiting the bazaars she and her colleagues dropped in on another American Mission school, recording in her diary that the children there had “not the vivacity and brightness of an English child”. She scribbles information on the khamseen, feast of Bairam, the departure of pilgrims for Mecca and other celebrations. She also comments on the habits of local dogs (they are of “the wolf nature, sandy in colour”) and of the food at Shepheard’s (“tolerable”). Had she been travelling in 2019 she would have been a prolific Instagrammer.

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Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

One Response to Making notes on Cairo

  1. General Jean-Baptiste Kléber (1753-1800) was placed in command of the French Army of the Orient when Napoleon, himself, returned to France in 1799.

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