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                    By A.I Makki                                                        Part Three

The Wonders of the Arab

World in Africa


  Among the great wonders of the ancient and the modern world, the Pyramids of Giza are the most imposing surrounded by other group of pyramids standing on the edge of the desert in the vicinity of Cairo. The largest of them all is the Pyramid of Kheops, which was built nearly five thousand years ago. The sides of the pyramid, each 746 feet long, face the points of the compass; its height is 450 feet and the area covered is nearly 13 acres of land. Some idea of the enormous amount of labor involved is the Pyramid consists of 230,000 blocks of stone, each weighing two and a half tons. The second pyramid is that of Khephren, is only slightly smaller, but the third of Mykerinos is about half the size of the Pyramid of Kheops. Nearby, is the Cemetery of Kings, with the tombs of the members of the royal household and high officials of the court. And, far away in the distance are seen other smaller pyramids.


  The Citadel that commands Cairo was originally built by the great Salahuddin (famous for his battles against the Crusaders) from stones near the Pyramids of Giza. It was also called as a Mountain Citadel. It was completed during his lifetime but he never moved into it. He ordered a well to be dug inside the fortress to bring up potable water. It was intended to be a secure source of water in case of siege. The well of Yusuf as it was called was considered as a great achievement. It was dug in solid rock to a depth of 86 meters, formed of two parts: the upper and lower part. The upper part of the well is surrounded by a flight of steps cut into the rock leading down to a middle platform. A water wheel was placed on this platform was turned by animals to lift water from the lower parts of the well. Sweet water flowed at first from the well, but with further digging, salt water from the sea seeped through and the Sultan, therefore, continued to live in the wazirite quarters. His nephew and successor Al-Kamil moved to the Citadel, but after building a canal on the top of the eastern wall of the Citadel to carry water into it from the River Nile. The picturesque walls and minarets of the Cairo fortress still continue to decorate the landscape of Egypt.


  The Mosque of Al-Azhar in Cairo was completed in 971 CE, but frequently rebuilt and enlarged by its benefactors, the rulers of Egypt,  and has been from its inception one of the principal universities of the Islamic world. Muslims all over the world traveled to it on their way to Makkah and to seek knowledge. Frequented by students, professors, and foreigners from different parts of the world, it became famous as a place for teaching the Holy Qur’an and other sciences. Instruction is free and the complete course of studies lasts fifteen years. The library of Al-Azhar has one of the best collections of rare books and valuable manuscripts. Al-Azhar is one of the main authorities in Sunni Islam today, and the university that grew out of it is the oldest Islamic university in the world.



  The Suez Canal was constructed by the genius of Ferdinand de Lesseps at a cost of nineteen million British Pounds. It links the Mediterranean Sea directly with the Red Sea, shortening the sea route to India by 5,500 miles. The Canal is about 104 miles long with minimum bottom width of150 feet and has a depth of 33 feet. It formed an important link of the maritime communications of the British Empire during the Second World War. Today, Suez is one of Egypt's largest ports.


  Not all of Sahara is arid waste. On its fringes and scattered in the interior of the desert are great numbers of oases. The center of the oasis is a water pool resulting from springs coming to the surface. These pools make their immediate neighborhood most fertile and support a vast number of date palms and other vegetation. People living in the desert inhabit most of the oases.


  On the island of Rawdah in the Nile, near Cairo is the famous Nilometer erected by Caliph Sulaiman in the year 716 CE to measure the level of the river, and when a certain height was reached the signal used to be given for a general release of life-giving water into the irrigation channels. The rate of taxation in Egypt was calculated on the height of water recorded in the Nilometer.

  At first, the measuring devices were installed in open air, but as the surface of water remained unstable with the changing winds a device had to be thought of to keep the water surface stable enough to give accurate readings. The Arabs designed a device in the form of a deep well surrounded by walls and connected with the Nile at the same time. The result was what is known as the Nilometer in the Rawdah Island. The selection of mortar used in the building of the walls shows that the Arabs had a good knowledge of building materials, since it has resisted erosion from water for more than a thousand years!


  Erfoud, a walled town, one of the several in the oasis of Tafilalet, lies deep in the heart of Saharan Desert of Morocco. Despite its isolation, it has been serving as an important market place through the centuries as a market place and acts as a meeting-point of traders from all over the Sahara Desert. It has a remarkable market place, an enormous area with elaborate arcades. For a thousand years, this was a principal trading post for caravans traveling across the Sahara Desert, where gold was exchanged for salt and sugar. Even to this day, it is the meeting place for desert tribes who come there to swap silver jewelry and rugs for vegetables, salt and other goods.


 These extraordinary pillars of rock are to be seen in Tassili-des-Ajjer, in the Eastern Sahara about fifty miles north of Djanet. The soft sandstone of a rocky ridge has been worn into fantastic shapes in the course of centuries by the constant friction of countless particles of windblown sand. (Figure 1)


  Mulai Idris who died in 791 CE was the Sultan who first introduced Islam into Morocco, and is considered by the Muslims of Morocco as a holy man. The whole town of Mulai Idris, Zarhoun, the scene of his death is regarded as a sacred sanctuary. Its chief claim to distinction, however, is its remarkable site. The whole town of Zarhoun has been built completely over a huge steep rock crag that rises from the floor of the valley. (Figure 2)

                     Figure 1                                       Figure 2



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