Thursday, August 28, 2008

Layers of Culture- Part ΙΙΙ

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Being one of the first civilizations of history, literature and art have always been an integral part of the Ancient Egyptian Culture. The oldest Egyptian text is the Pyramid Text (the mythology and rituals carved around the tombs of rulers). And during the Greco-Roman period (332 BC–AD 639), Egyptian literature was translated into other languages, giving us the Rosetta Stone, which became the key to unlocking the mysteries of Egyptian writing to modern scholars. During the Christian era, Egypt was the main source of ascetic literature in the Coptic language and under Islam, Egypt continued to be a great source of literature but in the Arabic language. Through out time modern society and culture in Egypt have become a mixture of the layers of history. And here are a few of the people who added richness to this complex mix.
The 1988 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Naguib Mahfouz, is one of the most outstanding novelists in modern Arabic literature. A large number of his novels have been translated into many foreign languages. He was born in 1911 in the old quarter of Cairo, El-Gamaliyya, which has set the stage for many of his novels. For over more than a century, and since his first novel in 1939 he has since written 32 novels an 13 collections of short stories, the most famous being, "El Bedaya Wal Nehaya" (The Beginning and the End) and "The Harafish". Through his ability to present both a critical view of the very local society to which he belonged, that of modern Cairo, and a more universal perception of the troubles of man in the modern age, Mahfouz has gained this great literary appeal both in the Arab and international world.

Abdel Halim Hafez is among the most popular artists in the Arab world. Not only did he have a magical romantic voice, that entranced the crowds, but they loved him on the big screen too. He was born on the 12 of June 1929, in the small town of Halawat, in the Nile Delta. By the age of 5 both his parents had passed away, so he moved to live with relatives in Cairo, where he graduated from the Academy of Arabic Music in Cairo. Abdel Halim may have recorded many albums, but much of his work is only available from live recordings as he was mainly a live performer, and during the war years he contributed the proceeds of many of his concerts to the Egyptian Government. In March of 1977 he died in London, UK from Bilharzia which he had contracted as a child. It is estimated that the crowd that followed the funeral procession was about 100,000, one of the largest crowds at a funeral ever in Egypt.

Fathy Salama was born in Shobra (Harlem of Cairo) on March 27, 1969. This Grammy (Best Contemporary World Music Album) and BBC Award winner started playing the piano at the age of six and by age thirteen was gigging in Cairo's clubs. Traveling to Europe and to New York to learn jazz with great artists as Barry Harris, Sun Ra and Pat Patrick, his music creations link together modern music and the music of the Orient. Through his group Sharkiat, Fathy has made many hits in the 80's and has won two prizes for his film sound tracks for Fallen Angels Paradise and Signs of April.

In 1953, Omar El-Sharif became an over night screen idol with his first role in the Egyptian film, Sira' Fil Wadi (The Blazing Sun). He first started working in his father's successful lumber company, then converting to Islam and marring renowned actress Faten Hamama in 1955. He starred in a total of 22 films from 1954-1961, before his first debut in an English language film "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1962. Omar El-Sharif's best remembered role is David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago", where his son Tarek Sharif appeared as Yuri at the age of 8. Omar El-Sharif is fluent in Arabic, English, Greek and French and can also speak some Italian and Turkish. He has been nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, and a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor, Most Promising Newcomer award and in November 2005 was honored with a UNESCO medal in recognition of his significant contributions to world film and cultural diversity.

Umm Kalthum (1904-1975) is one of the most famous Arab singers of the 20th century. She was known for her powerful, pure voice and her moving renditions of both neoclassical and colloquial Egyptian lyrics. After the Egyptian defeat in the Six-Day War (1967), Umm Kulthum toured the Arab world on behalf of Egypt, donating the proceeds from her concerts to the Egyptian government. During her career, Umm Kulthum recorded more than 300 songs and made 6 motion-picture musicals. She became associated with President Gamal Adel Nasser, and in many interviews and avenues to the public she has promoted both the Egyptian and Arab culture.

Youssef Chahine born in 1926 in Alexandria to a Christian family established himself from the start as a director with an independent mind, ready to challenge authority. All his films have adopted some controversy or other, whether it be criticizing U.S foreign policy or Egyptian/ Arab social issues. He has been recognized on the international scene as early as 1951, where he was invited to the Cannes Film Festival and in 1978 won a Silver Bear at Berlin for his film "Alexandria…Why?". Chahine has also received the 50th Annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. He has made more than 40 films, the last "This is Chaos" premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2007. Chahine died this August at the age of 82 after several weeks in coma.

Since 1942, and in her pursuit of free studies in art Inji Eflaton, participated in the exhibition of the "Art and Freedom Group". At the time modern Egyptian art, was conformed by bonds of academism and formalism and this was the first society to attempt to free art from its bonds. Starting March 1952, she had her first of 28 solo exhibitions in Egypt and world wide, including Rome, Venice, Paris, Dresden, Warsaw, Moscow, Prague, New Delhi, San Paolo and Kuwait. Inji Eflaton who died in 1989, received from the French Ministry of Culture, in 1986 a medal of merit called "Cavalier of the Arts and Literature".

Taha Hussein (1898- 1973) was born to a lower middle-class rural family and lost his eye sight at a very early age. His father was keen on giving Taha the best in education, he was among the first to join and graduate with a Ph.D from the, then newly founded university. He received a scholarship to France and was the first Egyptian to obtain a BA from Montpellier University, and then a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne on Ibn Khaldoun (the fourteenth century Arab thinker). Taha Hussein became one of the leaders of the Arab culture renaissance, through his powerful will, craving for knowledge and his ability to challenge the established values.

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Egypt Tours

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Bit More Culture- Part Ι

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A tour in Cairo would probably include dinner on a boat floating smoothly down the Nile, the deep dark waters lite up, reflecting back the lights of Cairo by night. Sounds enchanting and mesmerizing, well it defiantly is. But on a trip like this that won't be the only sight to spellbind you. The program would also include, among other things, a belly dancer and a tanoura dancer (an Egyptian folk dance derived from the Sufi religion) as entertainment.

And after a visit to the Pyramids, the Citadel and the enormous Egyptian Museum of Antiquity, you'll probably go home impressed. But that’s just the tip of the ice berg. A people whose ancestors left behind a culture that has always captivated the world, and who over time have been exposed to a myriad of invasions by foreign cultures, must have more to show, and they do!

There are quiet a number of places with significant cultural importance, and an endless list of annual festivals and exhibitions, but we'll only mention the most popular ones.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquity displays 136,000 items with a couple of hundred thousand others in its basement store room, making it home to the most expensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world. With the new Grand Egyptian Museum being built near the Pyramids area, many more of these stored items will finally be displayed and get the attention and glory they deserve.

The old Khedive Opera House or Royal Opera House was built in November 1, 1869 and burned down on October 28, 1971. Seventeen years later on October 10, 1988 the National Cultural Center (Cairo Opera House) was built with the help of the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), making Egypt the soul country in the region with two opera houses built within one century. The Cairo Opera House has recently hosted concerts by the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and Bolshoi Theatre of the Republic of Belarus.

A not too known place of historical interest is The Cairo Geniza. The Geniza holds almost 200,000 Jewish manuscripts. These have been found at the Ben Ezra Synagogue (built in 882) in Fostat (now Old Cairo), the Basatin Cemetery east of Fostat and some were bought in Cairo in the late 19th century. These documents date back from 870 to 1880 AD.

Not to be missed are the beautiful gardens of Al Azhar Park. The sunset over the panoramic view of the old city of Cairo is an unforgettable site from one of its green hills. The park has running streams, waterfalls, restaurants, Islamic archways and lush landscaped gardens. Al Azhar Park is located near Darb Al-Ahmar district. It was a gift to Cairo from His Highness the Aga Khan, as his ancestors were the Fatimids who founded the city of Cairo in 969. During the development of the park parts of a 12th century Ayyubid wall was discovered, which has led to a major project for the restorations of several mosques, palaces and historic houses.

Erected on the same site as the ancient library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in October 2002. The main reading room is striking with its glass-paneled roof that resembles a sundial. The library has shelving space for eight million books, with the main reading room covering 70,000 m² on eleven cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center; specialized libraries for the blind, for young people, and for children; three museums; four art galleries; a planetarium; and a manuscript restoration laboratory.

With the building of the Aswan Dam, the UNESCO attempted to salvage and recover many temples and reallocate them to higher grounds. A large quantity of artifacts was saves and was finally displayed at the beautiful Nubian Museum. The architecture of the Museum and the building walls were intended to evoke traditional Nubian village architecture, as it was along the Nubian Nile before the region was flooded by Lake Nasser.

As-Sawi Water Wheel (in arabic Saqiyet As-Sawi), is a popular cultural center. Located in Zamalek, the center hosts theatrical, musical and cinema performances, plastic art galleries, seminars and training courses. It has become a doorway to unknown artists finding a place on Cairo's culture scene. Holding awareness campaigns (2008 being "The Year of the Minds") it's intent is to protect the freedom of thought and the freedom to enjoy culture.

About the Author:
Egypt Tours

Cultural Festivals-Part ΙΙ

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Picking up from our previous post about culture houses, we decided to follow with festivals. The festivals range from art and book festivals to fishing and horse festivals.

Of the most popular annual festivals that draw crowds in the millions is the Cairo International Book Fair. The first book fair was held in 1969. The Book Fair takes place in mid January and lasts for two weeks. The Fair is one of the biggest in the Middle East and during the course of the exhibition, there are lectures, seminars and special displays held on the grounds.

The Cairo International Film Festival is also another major international attraction, to be held annually in early December, and has been for the past 26 years. Besides the regular competition the festival includes tributes, controversial films, seminars and appearances by international artists, which over the years have included Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren.

The 39th Cairo International Film Festival [15 till 24 November, 2016]

The Experimental Theatre Festival is held in September at the Cairo Opera House. This festival allows young artists from many parts of the world to present experimental theatrical performances based on freedom of thought, creativity and experimentation. And this year's 13th Ismailia International Festival for Folk Arts attracted 24 troupes from 17 countries, performing on 9 stages, also proved to be a success.

Cairo holds three international music festivals. During the month of August Cairo hosts the International Song Festival, which attracts not only Arab performers but talent from the international scene. The second being the Arab Music Festival which is held in the Cairo Opera House during the month of November and celebrates a tradition of Arabic music. In its 11th year the festival boasted the live performance of 44 singers during the course of 18 concerts. But the most popular is the Citadel Music Festival held in late July early August. It features beautiful voices like the Algerian Souad Massi and this year witnessed the appearance of the Grammy and BBC Award winner Fathy Salama, among others.

The Arab Horse Festival, which is being held at the moment in El-Sharkya Governarate, on the Cairo-Belbas road, includes competitions for show-jumping, horse beauty and horse manners. Another sure attraction held Mid June at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, is the annual Belly Dancing Festival. The most recent of festivals which has rapidly gained good reviews is the International Yoga Festival. The last event was themed "the Wonders of the World", taking participants from the Khufu Pyramid, in Cairo through the Jordan Rift Valley to the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. Still on the agenda is the Health and Beauty Exhibition taking place from the 8-11 this coming October, and the seventh Egyptian Marathon on the 13th of February 2009 and the second Alexandria Run in October 2009.

El-Sharkia 18th Arab Horse Festival held in Egypt

Considered to be second only to the famous Dakar Rally, the annual Pharaohs Rally is a seven-day, seven-stage event across the Sahara. The race starts on the Pyramids plateau and in the shadow of the Sphinx in Giza. It is a race a grueling 3,000km (1,850 miles) circular course that ends up back in the bustling capital. A test of endurance for drivers and their vehicles, this tough event attracts more than 130 vehicles and 100 motorcycles from all over the world. This year it starts on the 5th and ends on the 12th of October. The sport of fishing has two popular festivals during the year. An International Fishing Festival in Hurghada that takes place during the month of February and a National Fishing Festival in Sharm El Sheikh that takes place in November.

Sun Festival at Abu Simbel in Aswan, is observed twice annually on 22nd of February and on 22nd of October. These dates mark the birthday and the ascension to the throne of the Emperor Ramses ΙΙ. On these days, shafts of sunlight enter into the temple and illuminate the face of the statues of the great King Ramses II and the two Sun gods Re-Horakhte and Amen-Re seated beside the Theban god Ptah, the god of darkness. As the temple remains in absolute darkness through out the year and receives sunlight on these two very special days, the rare phenomenon is a scene that you just cannot afford to miss. Celebrated in a big way by the locals, undoubtedly the Sun Festival at Abu Simbel is one of the most uncommon and astounding festivals in the world.