Port Said, Egypt

Friday, March 8, 1929

It rained today for a change, but only a shower or two. I tried to do some good on a boat to India by some other line, but it appears that about all ways are exhausted and the only thing left is to sit tight till the 25th or thereabouts—me and my 75¢. Had two letters from Mort saying they would probably be in tomorrow. The Tigris and a Jap boat were in today with two or three smaller ones.

I might visit Alexandria but I doubt if it is really worth it to me. It is a city of 450,000, a great seaport of Egypt and also for the Sudan, and is pretty in spots. Little is known or remains of the old port excepting some tombs and Pompei’s Pillar, a misnomer because it was erected in honor of the Emperor Diocletian and had nothing to do with Pompei. As to the classic Alexandria, “Its antiquity is not to be compared with that of the rest of Egypt. Before the day of Alexander the Great, its founder, there used to be a village on the spot, but it was unknown. Struck by its useful position between the sea and Lake Mareotis, and flanked by Pharos Island, Alexander turned it into the premier seaport of his empire. The Ptolemys, his successors—most famous among them Cleopatra, the queen enamored of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony—made of it the most beautiful, magnificent city in the Eastern Mediterranean with a wealthy Greek and Jewish population and magnificent buildings of which not a vestige remains today. The birth of Christianity saw the city swept with fanatic strife and bloodshed, but her actual decay began when Constantine in an evil moment founded Constantinople. The invading Arabs saw little to interest them in the port, and thus Alexandria lingered on until in the 19th century, the Khedive Mohammed Ali brought the Mahmoudieh Canal from the Nile to Alexandria and a subsequent ruler spent millions on the great harbor and attracted thither the shipping of Europe, now again greatly diverted to Port Said. The British occupation of Egypt began with the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.”

From Port Said to El Kantara the RR, road, and a small canal and the Suez Canal skirt the eastern shore of Lake Manzaleh. El Kantara was used during the war as a base for operations for Palestine. From time immemorial the invaders from Asia have penetrated into Egypt by this route. England gained a control of the Canal when it bought up the shares of the Khedive Ismail Pasha, though at first it had been opposed to the Canal for political reasons.

Cairo — “Although the Cairo of today is the direct offspring of the medieval city of Al Tahira the Victorious, founded in the tenth century, it is in reality of vastly greater antiquity, for the area of which it is the center has been from time immemorial of capital importance. In very remote times there was an ancient Egyptian city in the same neighborhood, bearing a similar name. Then came Memphis which was for centuries the seat of the dynasty and the most important city of the empire. Memphis gave way in time to a city which the Greeks called Babylon, founded during the 6th century B.C., during the Persian domination, which in its turn was the parent of Al Fostat, the Camp, built upon the ruins of Babylon by the Arab conquerors in the time of the Caliph Omar in the 7th century A.D. Al Fostat is now known as Old Cairo and, although not altogether without interest, the site of the old city consists mostly of mounds of rubbish in which potsherds are the commonest relics. Al Fostat was destroyed when Gohar, with an army of the Fatimite Caliph, conquered Egypt in the tenth century, and present-day Cairo was founded to the north of the old city.

“The name is said to be derived from the Arabic name for the planet Mars, Al Kahir, the Conqueror, which was high in the night heavens at the time and to this day the Arabic name of the city is Al Qahira The Victorious. The name was certainly appropriate for within a very short time Cairo became the greatest city of Islam, the center of learning by virtue of the great university of Al Azhar, which has provided Islam with learned doctors for ten centuries, and the center of political power by virtue of the ascendancy of the Fatimite Caliphs.

But no other city except Constantinople had a more sanguinary history. As in Turkey the Janissaries dominated the sultans, so in Egypt the Mamelukes assassinated or massacred all who stood in their way. Through the centuries the story of Al Qahira is that of bloody plots and counter-plots, of homicidal maniacs like Hashim who forced the populace to worship him, and Mameluke leaders who deposed sultans for their own ends, and were themselves destroyed by the sword, torture, or poison. It is doubtful, indeed, whether even Constantinople can excel the amazing story of Cairo, with its relationship to the mighty cities of antiquity, like Memphis and Heliopolis, the Biblical On, its early connection with the mighty world power of Persia, and its headship of Islam during the brilliant period of Moslem culture and power, even after the conquest of Egypt by the Turks in the sixteenth century. In comparatively modern times the story of the city is replete with romance, for it was captured by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and after the British occupation of the country in 1882, rose once again to the status of one of the world’s greatest cities. Heliopolis is now the flying center of Egypt as well as a very fashionable suburb of Cairo.”

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