National Geographic : 1972 May
fields in which to graze the goats and lambs. Ah, what a prize Jawhar had plucked for his caliph. The bells rang and the workers dug into the earth with their mattocks. However, this was premature, as the astrologers were still making their calculations. A raven was re sponsible. Coming to perch on one of the ropes, it had set off the signal-and just when the planet Mars was rising. Clearly, this was no time for seizing on good luck and fortune, not with Mars be lieved to be raining down a curse of black forebodings. Too late to turn back the devils of the ill omen, it was decided to appease them by naming the place El Qahira (The Victori ous) after El Qahir (Mars). So goes the legend. True? Probably not. But for Cairenes to assign the history of their city's birth to anything less dramatic would be at odds with their bent for the fanciful. Here, even simple conversation is frilled with the embroidery of emotion. Two friends meet on the street and the greeting becomes a playlet of action and dialogue: embraces, kisses, the laying on of benedictions, clinical reports on current ailments (faulty livers seem to pre dominate), and finally adjournment to the nearest cafe for coffee. No matter how it came by its name, for 500 years after its founding Cairo flourished. As a center of cultural influence in the Islamic world, it had no rival. The city was extreme ly wealthy, too, due in part to its strategic position on the trade route to India and the Far East. This importance diminished when man dis covered in the late 15th century that he could sail around the Cape of Good Hope. By then Cairo was ready for a rest. The years had been filled with exhausting busyness-years that saw the rulers of the great city honor their Prophet with magnificent architectural monuments.