This sample itinerary can be tailored to your precise requirements and interests. That is what the Egypt specialists at Pomegranate Travel excel at!
Jews and Egyptians have a long history as the bible tells us, but the first fully documented Jewish presence in Egypt was on Elephantine island where Jewish mercenaries were garrisoned. Later, it is well known that Maimonides joined the Medieval Jewish community of Cairo, wrote many important works, and indeed died there. In more recent times it was the opening of the Suez canal and subsequent trading hub which brought nineteenth century Jews from all over the Ottoman empire, Italy and Greece, to Egypt. Indeed the Egyptian authorities put in place special privileges to attract well educated immigrants and the Jewish community of Cairo became well embedded in Cairo society, playing an important role not only in trade but also in art and culture having a major influence on newspapers and cinema. In the later part of the nineteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews also sought refuge from Pogroms in Europe. Unfortunately, with the rise of Zionism and subsequent Arab-Israeli wars, the position of the Jews of Egypt became far less stable and each incident saw the eviction of large swathes of the community. During this special tour we will visit sites more than a thousand years old, and will marvel at the glamour and sophistication of later Jewish communities. In addition to Jewish history, the tour incorporates classic sites in Alexandria and Cairo.
Welcome to Egypt
Arrive Cairo airport where you will be met and assisted through airport procedures. You will then be transferred to your hotel in Alexandria.
Together with your specialist guide whose family descends from the Jewish community of Alexandria, you will resurrect the once thriving Jewish world of Alexandria, starting at the spectacular Eliyahu HaNabi synagogue which brings to life the glamour and sophistication of the now lost Jewish community of Alexandria. Many visitors will find this visit extremely moving, it evokes an entire world which is no more. A synagogue was originally erected at this site in the fourteenth century, and was destroyed in the Napoleonic attack of 1798. In 1885 Mohamed Ali rebuilt the synagogue, but it again fell into great disrepair in the twentieth century after the Jewish population was forced out of the country. The current Egyptian government has restored the abandoned place of worship to its nineteenth century glory of pink marble columns and grand chandeliers. The restoration has taken care to include the smallest details, such as returning the correct name plaques to individual synagogue seats. There are also places where visitors can peer into dug out sections and view the underlying original fourteenth century structure. The synagogue grounds include a small administrative office containing a collection of photographs of Jewish Alexandria.
We will continue to visit the Jewish cemeteries of Alexandria, in particular the Mazarita cemetery, hidden away behind a high wall, which the community has struggled to maintain. Here you can still read touching inscriptions to loved ones, and one gets a sense of the cosmopolitan and multilingual nature of Jewish Alexandria, with inscriptions in Hebrew, French, English and Italian. We will also visit the Jewish sections of the British Commonwealth War Graves at Chatby where we pay our respects to Jewish soldiers who fell during both World War I and World War II. During both wars Alexandria was used by the British as an important hospital centre.
Alexandria is a modern city on the Mediterranean, and there is much to discover of its important past. For many years it was one of the most important cities in the world, its great library the repository of a world of scientific knowledge and literary achievement. Alexandria’s historic remains include the fascinating catacombs which demonstrate the merging of Hellenic and Egyptian cultures and religions; Pompey’s Pillar which towers more than 25 meters high and provides access to an ancient library – appearing like a series of catacombs for manuscripts; the Roman amphitheatre of Kom El Dekka; and from the Mamluk period the impressive Citadel of Qaitbay which stands on the site of the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria. We will also visit the present-day great library of Alexandria which stands on the site of its famous antique predecessor which Caesar destroyed. The library is an architectural marvel, which echoes the niches of ancient libraries and arouses a poignant experience of being at a quasi-sacred ongoing site of knowledge and learning. Alexandria is a laid-back coastal city and we recommend enjoying a super fresh lunch at a local fish restaurant with views onto the sea.
Pyramids of Giza
Today we start with an early morning transfer to Cairo, stopping at the Grand Egyptian Museum.
The long-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum is set for late 2023, and is perhaps the world’s most anticipated museum unmasking. The museum is almost twenty years in the making, and will be the successor to the world-famous Egyptian Museum which has long been the jewel in Cairo’s crown. When the Grand Egyptian Museum fully opens, it will be the most impressive and largest archaeological museum complex in the world and home to more than 100,000 artifacts. For the first time ever, King Tutenkhamun’s entire treasure collection will be on display to be marvelled at. Through witnessing the collection one gains a truly unique appreciation of the wealth and sophistication of the ancient world. The museum also boasts superb artifacts from prehistoric times through Egypt’s many thousands of years of pharaonic civilization through the comparatively more modern ancient Greek and Roman periods of Egyptian history.
We will continue to the great pyramids of Giza, of the seven wonders of the ancient world, this is the only one remains today. If that’s not certified unmissable, we don’t know what is. Giza emerges as a sublime structure, the miraculously accurate realisation of an ideal structure inside which the kings would journey to the next world and emerge as gods. Despite their age, these structures still overwhelm and overpower visitors. You will visit all three of the pyramids at Giza, and also witness them from a panoramic view point where you can see the grandeur of all three together. You will have a chance to enter a pyramid should you so wish. Proceed to the Great Sphinx with its head of a man and body of a lion, gazing imposingly across the valley and try to unravel some of the mysteries behind this monument together with your guide.
Jewish Cairo & More
This morning meet your specialist guide and one of the last remaining members of the Jewish community of Cairo, as well as your Egyptologist guide. You will start your visit at Old Cairo, founded in 641 as the city of the first Muslim rulers of Egypt. Here the three monotheistic religions are well represented, reminiscent of times of comparative religious tolerance, and their holy houses can be visited. >From the conversion of Constantine to the arrival of the Islamic order, Egypt’s official religion was Christianity, and Coptic Cairo is home to the famous Hanging Church which was the seat of the Coptic Pope, and marks the refuge site of the Holy family fleeing from the Roman ruler Herod in modern day Israel. Cairo remains home to tens of thousands of Copts, and services at the Hanging Church are still held in Coptic, a fascinating language which takes many elements from the tongue of the Pharaohs. One of Judaism most ancient synagogues, that of Ibn Ezra (currently being restored) is found in the Coptic quarter, and is also known as the Genizah synagogue after the famous Genizah found there in the nineteenth century containing thousands of important documents including works by Maimonides who spend his final years in this area of Cairo and indeed died there. The simply but beautifully designed Mosque of Amr ibn al-As is well worth a visit (subject to completion of restoration works).
Unsurprisingly the ancient Bassatine cemetery is located close to Old Cairo, and this is our next visit. The 1200 year old Bassatine Cemetery is the most ancient Jewish cemetery in the world which is still in use, following only the Mount of Olives. According to tradition dear to the Jewish community of Egypt, this means that at the time of the Messiah and resurrection, the Jews of Bassatine will be next to rise after their brethren laid down in Jerusalem. The cemetery itself is huge, covering 70 hectares of space, and descending at least three layers deep. It is divided into three main sections for the Karaites, Sephardis and Ashkenazis, with special sections for great spiritual leaders such as the Kabbalist Rav Haim Capusi. A visit to the cemetery provides an insight into the huge span of time during which diverse Jewish communities made Egypt their home. The story of restoration – which is still ongoing – is also fascinating. It has been a joint project between the local Jewish heritage NGO and the British Haredi community who have rescued the cemetery from a state of total disrepair – parts of it were previously used to shelter animals, and as a rubbish dump. Together they have returned a sense of sacredness to these grounds, and a visit to the cemetery honours the lives and deaths of the countless Egyptian Jews interred here.
Our final stop for the day is the National Museum of Civilisation, a new and excellently laid out modern museum boasting a collection of 50,000 artefacts, covering Egyptian civilization from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum encourages visitors to engage on both a chronological (Archaic, Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic, Medieval, Islamic, modern and contemporary) and thematic (Dawn of Civilization, The Nile, Writing, State and Society, Material Culture, Beliefs and Thinking and the Gallery of Royal Mummies) basis. Look carefully to discover the Jewish artefacts in the display! In the basement of the museum are 22 mummies, 18 kings and four queens, which come from the Egyptian Museum – quite a sight to see!
This evening experience a different side of Cairo, experiencing the city by evening and night. We will introduce you to a young, easy going and knowledgeable resident of Cairo, who is also an expert of the evening food and drink scene. Together you will explore Downtown Cairo, built in the 1860s today it still maintains character and charm because of how central and walkable it is, due to its promenade streets with large sidewalks. People from all walks of life live and work in Downtown Cairo, and it has a bustling shopping scene, and a diverse food scene with a mix of authentic eateries and belle-epoque style cafes. This area is also a great place for people watching and seeing how Egyptians unwind after work, enjoying street food and ice cream, while artists and intellectuals can often be found in specific cafes and cinemas showcasing indie films. With tons of hidden gems in Downtown, we will visit a few different stops including a place selling the Egyptian national dish of Koshary, an Arab sweet store, and we will round off the evening sipping a cold beer on the rooftop bar of a vintage hotel.
Jewish Cairo & More Cont.
This morning we will visit the grandest of the Cairo synagogues – Sh’ar HaShamayim at Adly street. The building is impressive, with a Pharaonic Art Deco style, and one can feel how well established and well-heeled the community once was. This is a truly fasciating and moving experience.
We will continue to the Egyptian Museum (also known as the Cairo Museum) which has long been the jewel in Cairo’s crown, and one of the most famous museums in the world. Inaugurated at the turn of the twentieth century, pre-GEM it houses the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world including the iconic pure gold death mask of Tutankhamun, together with many of the other treasures found in his tomb. The glamour and design of these riches is absolutely staggering, and provides an insight into how the Pharaohs and nobles of ancient Egypt must have lived. In addition to visiting the highlights we will view the Merneptah Stele, the only known reference in Egyptology to the Israelites.
Our final visits today will be to some extraordinary lesser known Cairo synagogues, there are a number which can be visiting but we are likely to include a Karaite synagogue which is fascinating for incorporating Mosque-like elements; and a totally dilapidated ancient synagogue which still houses Torah scrolls, an elaborate brit milah chair, and a succah in its yard.
This evening a car and driver are at your disposal and we will be happy to book you an excellent restaurant serving Middle Eastern food.
Airport Transfer or Pharaonic Egypt Extension
Time to enjoy your last day in Egypt before your transfer to the airport for your departure flight, or alternatively extend your journey incorporating the treasures of Pharaonic Egypt at Luxor and/or Aswan by boat or land.