피라미드와 스핑크스를 넘어 이집트의 속살을 본다
[아시아엔=아시라프 달리 <아시아엔> 아랍어판 편집장, 아시아기자협회 회장] 카이로를 가로 질러 흐르는 나일 강에 떠다니는 보트, 수상 레스토랑 그리고 배에 적혀 있는 문구들은 특별한 뜻을 담고 있다. 카이로 방문객이나 주민들에게 나일강의 이야기를 들려주는 듯 말이다.
이집트에서 도시 딱 하나만을 고르라고 하면 카이로를 꼽게 되는데, 그것은 카이로가 이집트를 가장 상징적으로 반영하는 곳인 동시에 나일강에서 이집트 여행이 시작되기 때문이기도 하다. 나일강 하류에서 문명이 발생하고 그곳에서 역사와 삶이 이어져 왔으니 이집트는 나일강이 가져다 준 최고의 선물이고, 카이로는 그 자손이라 할 수 있다.
세상에서 가장 오래된 석조건물인 계단식 사카라 피라미드는 고대 수도 멤피스 무덤을 내려다보고 있다. 맑은 날씨에는 카이로 시내 초고층 건물에서 육안으로도 볼 수 있다. 파라오들이 무덤을 만들어 놓은 기자(Giza) 고원은 카이로에서 40분 채 안 걸린다.
14세기 카이로는 유럽에서 가장 큰 도시였다. 당시 인구는 50만명으로 파리의 두배가 넘었다. 중세 카이로는 콘스타니노플의 5배 크기로 지금의 뉴욕과 비슷한 면적이다.
카이로는 이슬람 건축양식인 마메루크(Mameluke)식 건물들로 유명하다. 약 700년 전에 지어진 성전·왕궁·분수대·병원 등 200개가 넘은 고대양식의 건축물이 자리잡고 있다. 특히 술탄 핫산 모스크는 ‘이슬람건축의 피라미드’로도 불린다. 마메루크 시대의 최대 이슬람사원으로 웅장함과 화려함이 특징이다.
15세기 후반 콜럼부스의 미 대륙 발견으로 유럽의 항해 지도가 바뀌면서 카이로 인구에도 변화가 왔다. 상인들의 경로였던 나일강은 중요성을 점점 잃게 된 것이다.
비행기를 타고 북쪽에서 카이로를 향해 오다 보면 나일강 삼각주가 빚어낸 아름다운 광경을 목격할 수 있다. 도시 중심에는 섬이 두개가 있다. 한 섬에는 카이로타워, 이집트 현대미술관 등이 있고 또 다른 섬에는 고층건물이 즐비하게 늘어서 있다.
카이로는 잠들지 않는 도시다. 새벽에 모스크를 찾아 기도하고 알라신을 공경하는 사람에서 시작해 나일강을 찾는 사람들로 하루종일 북적거린다. 나일강은 카이로에서 일어나는 일들을 지켜보고 있으며, 때론 인간들의 갈등, 무기력, 고통, 그리고 욕망에 대해 애써 모른 척 하기도 한다.
The Nile in Cairo
By : Ashraf Aboul-Yazid
The Silk Road Literature, Editor-in-chief
Those were not just names carried by signs on small boats, floating restaurants and vessels sailing on the waters of the Nile in Cairo, but to me they represented moving signs of Nile tales about Cairo’s visitors, transit travelers and residents, as they were moments written on the crest of the waves. The names were not the only things carried by the signs, but these carried brief inspiring phrases as well. The stylish restaurants adhered to foreign names, reflecting marked class divisions, even on the surface of the Nile which has taken in all meanings and their significance.
If you are able to reduce Egypt to a city, you may choose Cairo , being aware, however, that there are other cities bearing different hallmarks. Nevertheless, the capital alone distils Egypt as the sky distils rain gathered from countless clouds after crossing wide borders. If you choose Cairo as a place which reflects Egypt, nobody will argue, as Egypt’s journey would not have been possible but for the River Nile. Its civilization grew only on its banks, and life started and continued only with the flow of its waves which quenched the thirst of both land and man. Egypt is the gift of the Nile…..Yes…… and Cairo is its daughter.
Which takes the shape of a paper fan, the Pharaohs established their capital, Memphis . The Sakkara step pyramid, the oldest stone building in the world, is still overlooking the Memphis tombs which can be seen with the naked eye from atop high-rise buildings in Cairo, unless shrouded by pollution. The Pharaohs built their main tombs on the Giza Plateau, which is only 40 minutes by Bus 8 from the center of Cairo, Tahrir Square , as reported by Desmond Stewart in his book “Cairo Forty Years Ago”. In a painting by the French artist Nestore Lahotte (1878) in his book “Panorama of Egypt and Nubia ” we see how the4 Nile was playing at a stone’s throw from the Pyramids, and on it travel the boats of the sun and people. The goods carried by the travellers to Cairo or its location were not only for trade but they carried religious ideas as well, which the Nile carried from north to south, and from south to north alike
Layer upon layer, like onion layers, as the popular saying in Egypt goes “the lover’s onion is a lamb”, each layer representing a different cultural layer depending on the color and thickness of its texture. In AD 1384 the Italian merchant Leonardo Friscobaldi wrote that Cairo ’s streets were more crowded than Florence ’s. The population was less than half a million, almost double the population of Paris , the largest European city in the fourteenth century, and five times as much as that of Constantinople . Max Rodenbeck said in his book “ Cairo , the Victorious City ” that Cairo in the Middle Ages was like New York today.
Since that golden age, Cairo has known the grandeur of Mameluke architecture, which represented the crown jewel of Islamic architecture in Egypt: tall, impressive minerals, stone domes, fine marble and coloured stone mihrab inscriptions and wooden Quranic verses. Marks of the past carried by almost 200 antiquities in Cairo, including mosques, palaces, public fountains, hospitals and museums built over seven centuries ago, but most of which are still being used for the same purpose, including Sultan Hassan Mosque, which for its splendour and magnificent architecture -in addition to its huge costs-was described as “ the pyramid of Islamic architecture” and the crown jewel of Mameluke architecture. It was not only a mosque but a school for teaching the four sects and a hospital. More famous as the pyramids may be, the Mameluke archtecture in Cairo will be more majestic if properly attended to. That was before Cairo, Egypt and the Arab countries fell behind the Ottoman iron curtain, and Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the Cape of Good Hope route (1498) and the discovery of America six years earlier, when Columbus set foot on the New World, which made Europe chart is navigational maps and changed Cairo’s demography and diminished the importance of its Nile as far as its transit traders were concerned.
Cairo needed centuries to regain its importance, either through expeditions to discover the sources of the Nile or military expeditions which recognized the secret of its timeless location.
The Nile Corniche
When you come to Egypt by plane from east or west and look through the window when the captain announces that Cairo is in sight, you will see nothing but desert on the right or left of the Nile, but when you come from the north it is a different story, as the green Delta prepares you to receive the great river and the capital which crosses it. I hold my camera closer to the window and take many shots of Cairo and its Nile, where two islands lie in its heart, the one marked by the Cairo Tower, the Opera and Museum of Egyptian Contemporary Art, and the other Rawdah Island, at the tail-end of which the Nilometre is located. Rawdah and Gazeera’s green disappears gradually and is cut by ugly cement high-rise towers which devour millions of pounds from the people who want to live by the Nile, but to their dismay, discover that it is all but hidden and they need to put a mirror in its sky to be able to see it or just hang its pictures on the wall. Except for the hotels and lucky towers close to the Nile, almost nobody in Cairo can see it.
You will ask yourself : who goes to the Nile earliest? Fishermen, walkers, travellers or elegant restaurant- goers ? As a matter of fact contact between the Nile and the people of the unsleeping city continues round the clock. As mosque-goers at dawn praise and glorify Allah, they take over from the unsleeping, noise never abates for the duration of the day. The Nile sees what goes around it, and is seen by all. But what’s the relationship between the silent giant and screaming little beings inflicted sometimes by tension and feebleness, and by misery and greed other times.