EGYPT

第5章

At the end of this esplanade there is a kind of balcony from which one may see the whole of the town, and an unlimited extent of verdant plains and yellow desert. It is a favourite view of the tourists of the agencies, and we meet again our friends of the mosque, who have preceded us hither--the gentlemen with the loud voices, the bellowing guide and the cackling lady. Some soldiers are standing there too, smoking their pipes contemplatively. But spite of all these people, in spite, too, of the wintry sky, the scene which presents itself on arrival there is ravishing.

A very fairyland--but a fairyland quite different from that of Stamboul. For whereas the latter is ranged like a great amphitheatre above the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmora, here the vast town is spread out simply, in a plain surrounded by the solitude of the desert and dominated by chaotic rocks. Thousands of minarets rise up on every side like ears of corn in a field; far away in the distance one can see their innumerable slender points--but instead of being simply, as at Stamboul, so many white spires, they are here complicated by arabesques, by galleries, clock-towers and little columns, and seem to have borrowed the reddish colour of the desert.

The flat rocks tell of a region which formerly was without rain. The innumerable palm-trees of the gardens, above this ocean of mosques and houses, sway their plumes in the wind, bewildered as it were by these clouds laden with cold showers. In the south and in the west, at the extreme limits of the view, as if upon the misty horizon of the plains, appear two gigantic triangles. They are Gizeh and Memphis--the eternal pyramids.

At the north of the town there is a corner of the desert quite singular in its character--of the colour of bistre and of mummy--where a whole colony of high cupolas, scattered at random, still stand upright in the midst of sand and desolate rocks. It is the proud cemetery of the Mameluke Sultans, whose day was done in the Middle Ages.

But if one looks closely, what disorder, what a mass of ruins there are in this town--still a little fairylike--beaten this evening by the squalls of winter. The domes, the holy tombs, the minarets and terraces, all are crumbling: the hand of death is upon them all. But down there, in the far distance, near to that silver streak which meanders through the plains, and which is the old Nile, the advent of new times is proclaimed by the chimneys of factories, impudently high, that disfigure everything, and spout forth into the twilight thick clouds of black smoke.

The night is falling as we descend from the esplanade to return to our lodgings.

We have first to traverse the old town of Cairo, a maze of streets still full of charm, wherein the thousand little lamps of the Arab shops already shed their quiet light. Passing through streets which twist at their caprice, beneath overhanging balconies covered with wooden trellis of exquisite workmanship, we have to slacken speed in the midst of a dense crowd of men and beasts. Close to us pass women, veiled in black, gently mysterious as in the olden times, and men of unmoved gravity, in long robes and white draperies; and little donkeys pompously bedecked in collars of blue beads; and rows of leisurely camels, with their loads of lucerne, which exhale the pleasant fragrance of the fields. And when in the gathering gloom, which hides the signs of decay, there appear suddenly, above the little houses, so lavishly ornamented with mushrabiyas and arabesques, the tall aerial minarets, rising to a prodigious height into the twilight sky, it is still the adorable East.

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