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Islamic Monuments in Cairo

This practical guide to the hundreds of Islamic monuments in Cairo is a rare find -- interesting, factual, and extremely useful. I hauled this on along on the trip (and could only wish we had managed to squeeze more time in Cairo into our trip to follow some of the detailed walking tours of the different sections of the city.

Each major street is described, with all the mosques, fountains, buildings, and houses detailed along the way. Even the most insignificant monument is mentioned, with references to it's historic importance. I loved this book just to read through the varied and interesting history of Egypt's largest city, from the first caliphs to the mamluks to the recent rule of King Farouk. The author, Caroline Williams, is an expert in Arab and Islamic history, and her love of the subject shows through this guide.

The book is designed as a series of walking tours through the different area of the city, starting with the Citadel and walking through the main streets of the old city. You can't walk a block without finding a quiet mosque, a ruined medieval building, or some other interesting relic of the city's history. The directions are very, very clear (even the truly map impaired can probably follow them).

The book has lovely line drawing maps guiding each itinerary, and fine detailed drawings of the architectural details. If you want to know the difference between a mamluk minaret and an ottoman minaret, this is the book to start with. A complete glossary of architectural terms and drawings

Recently, Cairo has tried to make their historical sites more accessible, with better signage and maps, but they haven't quite managed to get things in place yet. If you're used to clear signs and informational placards, this is not the place to look for them! Instead, follow Caroline Williams' clear directions to find the right sites. I was even able to identify a mosque that I took a picture of in Cairo simply by her description -- there are few color photos in the book to compare against -- but her descriptions are so clear and vivid that it was easy to determine which mosque I had been standing in front of.

If you're interested in architecture at all, follow one of the walking tours to get a sampler of the amazing variations of building styles in Cairo. It probably isn't necessary to have a guide to go through these (except, perhaps, in the CIty of the Dead, which is a bit tourist-phobic), but the judicious use of taxis to get to the starting points, and a basic vocabulary (hello, goodbye, yes, no, thanks, please) to get going.

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