Christian churches at Cairo—The Esbekie-square—Theatre—Howling dervishes—Mashdalansher, the birthday of Mahomet—Procession and religious ceremony—Shubra—Excursion through the desert to Suez— Hardships of the journey—Scenes in the desert—The camel—Caravans— Mirage—The Red Sea—Suez—Bedouin camp—Quarrel with the camel-driver—Departure for Alexandria.
I visited many Christian churches, the finest among which was the Greek one. On my way thither I saw many streets where there can hardly have been room for a horseman to pass. The road to the Armenian church leads through such narrow lanes and gates, that we were compelled to leave our asses behind; there was hardly room for two people to pass each other.
On the other hand, I had nowhere seen a more spacious square than the Esbekie-place in Cairo. The square in Padua is perhaps the only one that can compare with it in point of size; but this place looks like a complete chaos. Miserable houses and ruined huts surround it; and here and there we sometimes come upon a part of an alley or an unfinished canal. The centre is very uneven, and is filled with building materials, such as stones, wood, bricks, and beams. The largest and handsomest house in this square is remarkable as having been inhabited by Napoleon during his residence at Cairo: it is now converted into a splendid hotel.
Herr Chamgion, the consul, was kind enough to send me a card of invitation for the theatre. The building looks like a private house, and contains a gallery capable of accommodating three or four hundred people; this gallery is devoted to the use of the ladies. The performers were all amateurs; they acted an Italian comedy in a very creditable manner. The orchestra comprised only four musicians. At the conclusion of the second act the consul’s son, a boy of twelve years, played some variations on the violin very prettily.
The women, all natives of the Levant, were very elegantly dressed; they wore the European garb, white muslin dresses with their hair beautifully braided and ornamented with flowers. Nearly all the women and girls were handsome, with complexions of a dazzling whiteness, which we rarely see equalled in Europe. The reason of this is, perhaps, that they always stay in their houses, and avoid exposing themselves to the sun and wind.