Изображения страниц

teract the effect produced upon us by those man-made mountains, girt round with forests of palm-trees. As the sun and the champagne went down, our spirits rose: and, by the time the evening and the mist had rendered the country invisible, we had persuaded ourselves that Egypt was indeed the lovely land that Moore has so delightfully imagined in the pages of the "Epicurean."



While far as sight can reach, beneath as clear
And blue a heaven as ever blessed this sphere,
Gardens, and minarets, and glittering domes,
And high-built temples, fit to be the homes
Of mighty gods, and pyramids whose hour
Outlasts all time, above the waters tower.


MORNING found us anchored off Boulac, the port of Cairo. Toward the river it is faced by factories and storehouses: within, you find yourself in a labyrinth of brown narrow streets, that resemble rather rifts in some mud mountain, than anything with which architecture has had to do. Yet here and there the blankness of the walls is broken and varied by richly-worked lattices, and specimens of arabesque masonry. Gaudy bazaars strike the eye and relieve the gloom, and the picturesque population that swarms everywhere keeps the interest awake.


On emerging from the lanes of Boulac, Cairo, Grand Cairo! opens on the view; and never yet did fancy flash upon the poet's eye a more superb illusion of power and beauty than the "city of Victory" presents from a distance. The bold range of the Mokattam mountains is purpled by the rising sun, its craggy summits are cut clearly out against the glowing sky, it runs like a promontory into a sea of the richest verdure, here wavy with a breezy plantation of olives, there darkened with acacia groves. Just where the mountain sinks upon the plain, the citadel stands upon its last eminence, and widely spread beneath it lies the city, a forest of minarets with palm trees intermingled, and the domes

*"El Kahira,” the Arabic epithet of this city, means "the Victorious;" whence our word Cairo: in Arabic "Misr."

of innumerable mosques rising, like enormous bubbles, over the sea of houses. Here and there, richly green gardens are islanded within that sea, and the whole is girt round with picturesque towers and ramparts, occasionally revealed through vistas of the wood of sycamores and fig-trees that surround it. It has been said that "God the first garden made, and the first city, Cain," but here they seem commingled with the happiest effect.

The approach to Cairo is a spacious avenue lined with the olive or the sycamore; here and there the white marble of a fountain gleams through the foliage, or a palm-tree waves its plumy head above the santon's tomb. Along this highway a masquerading-looking crowd is swarming towards the city; ladies wrapped closely in white veils, women of the lower class carrying water on their heads, and covered only with a long blue garment, that reveals, too plainly, an exquisite symmetry in the young, and a hideous deformity in the elders; there are camels perched upon by black slaves, magpied with white napkins round their head and loins; there are portly merchants, with turbans and long pipes, gravely smoking on their knowing-looking donkeys: here an Arab dashes through the crowd at full gallop, or a European, still more haughtily, shoves aside the pompous-looking, bearded throng. Water-carriers, calenders, Armenians, barbers, all the dramatis persona of the Arabian Nights, are there.

And now we reach the city wall, with its towers, as strong as mud can make them. It must not be supposed that this mud architecture is of the same nature as one associates with the word in Europe. No! overshadowed by palm-trees, and a crimson banner with its star and crescent waving from the battlements, and camels couched beneath its shade, and swarthy Egyptians, in gorgeous apparel, leaning against it, make a mud wall appear a very respectable fortification in this land of illusion.

And now we are within the city! Protean powers! what a change! A labyrinth of dark, filthy, intricate lanes and alleys, in which every smell and sight, from which the nose and eye revolt, meet one at every turn, and one is always turning. The stateliest streets are not above twelve feet wide; and as the upper

stories arch over them toward one another, only a narrow ser. pentine seam of blue sky appears between the toppling verandahs of the winding streets. Occasionally a string of camels, bristling with faggots of firewood, sweeps the streets effectually of their passengers; lean mangy dogs are continually running between your legs, which afford a tempting passage in this petticoated place; beggars in rags, quivering with vermin, are lying in every corner of the street; now a bridal, or a circumcising procession, squeezes along, with music that might madden a drummer; now the running footmen of some bey or pasha endeavor to jostle you towards the wall, unless they recognize you as an Englishman, one of that race whom they think the devil can't frighten, or teach manners to.

Notwithstanding all these annoyances, however, the streets of Cairo present a source of unceasing amusement and curiosity to the stranger. It has not so purely an oriental character as Damascus, but the intermixture of Europeans gives it a character of its own, and affords far wider scope for adventure than the secluded and solemn capital of Syria. The bazaars are very vivid and varied, and each is devoted to a peculiar class of commodities: thus you have the Turkish, the Persian, the Frank bazaars; the armorers', the weavers', the jewellers' quarters. These bazaars are, for the most part, covered in, and there is a cool and quiet gloom about them which is very refreshing; there is also an air of profound repose in the turbaned merchants as they sit cross-legged on their counters, embowered by the shawls and silks of India and Persia; they look as if they were for ever sitting for their portraits, and seldom move a muscle, unless it be to breathe a cloud of smoke from their bearded lips, or to turn their vivid eyes upon some expected customer-those eyes that seem to be the only living part of their countenance. These bazaars have each a ponderous chain hung across their entrance, to prevent the precipitate departure of any thief that may presume too far upon the listlessness of the shop-keeper: each lane and alley is also terminated by a door which is guarded at night. In passing along these narrow lanes, you might suppose yourself in a gallery or corridor, but that ever and anon you meet a file

of donkeys, or a patrol of soldiers staggering along their slippery paths.

If you make a purchase of any value, your merchant will probably offer you a pipe, and make room for you to seat yourself on his counter. If you are sufficiently citoyen du monde to accept the hospitality, you will be repaid by a very pleased look on the part of your host, and a pipe of such tobacco as only these squatters of the East can procure. The curious and varied drama of oriental life is acted before you, as you tranquilly puff away, and add to the almost imperceptible yet fragrant cloud that fills the bazaar. Now, by your host's order, a little slave presents you with a tiny cup of rich coffee, and you raise your hand to your head as you accept it; your entertainer repeats the gesture, and mutters a prayer for your health.

Let us purchase an embroidered vest, or a silk scarf, from the venerable Abou Habib, for the sake of his snow-white beard and turban. He makes a movement, as if to rise, of which there is as little chance as of the sun at midnight; he points to the carpet on which "he hopes to Allah that your beneficent shadow may fall." You ascend his counter, and sit down in the place and attitude of a tailor with perfect gravity. Your dragoman. lounges at the door to explain the sights that pass in the streets, or the sounds that issue from the lips of your entertainer. Conversation is not considered a necessary part of a visit, or of agreeability; and if you will only stay quiet, and look pleased, you may pass for a very entertaining person. You have, therefore, full leisure for observation, while you are enjoying society à l'orientale.

In the absence of any claim on our ears, let us use our eyes and look about us. A house is being re-built nearly opposite, masons in turbans, and long blue chemises, and red slippers down at the heel, are engaged, as if in pantomime, with much gesticulation, but little effect. A score of children are carrying bricks and mortar in little handfuls, chanting a measured song, as if to delude themselves into the idea that they are at play. Now, a durweesh, naked except for a napkin, or a bit of sheepskin round his loins, presents himself, claiming, rather than asking alms: the wild, fierce eyes, in which the gleaming of

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »