Thursday 25th March 1915- Diary of HV Reynolds
Diary of an ANZAC
Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.
‘Obtained leave to visit Cairo. Went out to the Citadel with R Clarke, we spent a most interesting time there, especially with some Indians. They showed us through their hospital and we had a good long talk to 2 officers. One had been trained at the military college at Sandhurst, England and spoke the English language equally as well as we ourselves, they spoke on many subjects, and gave us a great deal to think about over many things we have given little though to. They both said much about our attitude towards their nationality in respect to the White Australia Policy. All the patients here were wounded in the recent fighting on the Suez Canal and though mostly all of them were unable to make themselves understood they nevertheless gave us to understand we were welcome.
After leaving the hospital we has a look through the Mohamed Aly mosque. At the gateway to the courtyard you are compelled to acknowledge the ancient custom and slip on a pair of carpet slippers. In the centre of the large courtyard is situated a sort of well which is used as a place for the followers of the Mohamedon religion to wash their feet at before paying tribute to Allah their God. Upon entering the mosque itself one is struck by the weird oriental vastness surrounding you.
The place gives one and uncanny feeling, underfoot the magnificent carpet yields beneath your tread and around you is silence dead as the grave, to describe the interior as beautiful is all that can be done. It is necessary to see it to realize in full its beauty. The interior of the walls are mostly alabaster, and away above you the dome, fitted with beautifully arranged coloured lights gives the place a remarkable appearance, then in the middle hangs a magnificent glass chandelier, said to have been presented to Mohammed Aly by King Louis of France. One wonders what the appearance of the interior must be when it is lighted up, it must be really magnificent. In the corner of the entrance, enclosed in a beautifully worked partition id the tomb of Mohammed Aly, only on very rare occasions is the partition ever opened.
After leaving the Citadel we went through Mahmudich mosque, it is a very ordinary one and is not to be described as altogether clean. We climbed the minaret of it and had a fine view of the city, though an equally fine view of Cairo is to be had from the citadel which overlooks the city. The feature of viewing Cairo from the minaret of the Mahmudich mosque is that it stands below the Citadel and the Mohammed mosque but far enough away to give you a splendid view of them. Against the sky the twin minarets and the great dome of the mosque stand out above the citadel and upon turning around, the surrounding city with its hundreds of minarets is in full view. Just across the road stand two fine mosques, so we made our way to one of them the El Rifare mosque, which no one is allowed to enter except on special occasions. We managed to see the inside of the chambers containing the tombs, the tomb of the previous Khedive being one of them. There are 2 chambers being magnificently fitted up, silver being lavishly used in the process. The place is kept well locked up and a guard accompanies all visitors when they are inside the place.
After seeing this place we decided that we had seen enough of the mosques for one day so got on a tram and went into the main parts of the city and saw what is almost beyond believing, but seeing is believing and it is the only way yo realize what sot of a place certain parts of this city really are. It is impossible to try and describe it, the streets are filthy and very narrow being only a few feet wide on most cases. The buildings are rotten hovels at the best and the whole place reeks from filth which is everywhere allowed to collect and remain, the place is positively loathsome, even the atmosphere is intolerable. It is something of a shock to have to realize that such a place exists, a huge fire would do the world a good turn if it swept through certain parts of these cities and consumed all the contained.’