During the 12th century, Abd el Latif, Bagdadi doctor, affirmed “the Egyptian bathhouses were the most beautiful of the East, the most convenient and best laid out”. Today, excluded from the restoration campaigns of the inheritance, the last hammams of Cairo are ineluctably dying in general indifference.
This microstate in the north of the island of Borneo rarely makes the news, wallows in petrodollars and obeys the laws of a sultan with absolute power. Nonetheless, Brunei is said to be an oasis of well-being, a silky cocoon in which one lets oneself be cradled. But at what cost and for how much longer?
On the famous road from Delhi to Benares, Lucknow is not a very popular stopover. The city once coveted by the English for its profusion of treasures has been ignored for many decades now. Wrongly. The “city of silver and gold” deserves to find itself in the spotlight again.
Situated at the finis terrae of the Horn of Africa, bordering on its enemy Ethiopia, Eritrea is one of the least visited countries of Africa and one of the least open in the world. Its capital Asmara and its port Massawa were nonetheless once important places renowned beyond the seas. Today, their isolation shrouds them in a timeless atmosphere.
Who knows Doha? The capital of Qatar is exploding and reaching the same proportions of Dubai's madness, while juggling with the conservatism of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. One of the smallest countries of the world advances itself today as one of the most revolutionary. Its goal : to become the new financial, educational and sporting eldorado but also a touristic landmark.
Once, mentioning Isfahan brought to mind sumptuous blue mosques shimmering in an oasis of greenery. But since the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009, the entire country has been given bad press. Elysian descriptions have given way to those of a dangerous nation, to be boycotted or fought. However in Shah Abbas’ city, symbol of the eternal Persia, nothing has changed…
For years Tripoli would make the headlines, under the rubric “troublemaker” in the so-called international scene. And when playing in the major league, the maverick players are hardly appreciated. Vilified for a long time, the capital of Libya is finally freeing itself of its satanic reputation to today aspire to the title of mentor to the whole of the Mediterranean.
Muslim wedge situated in the very christian country that is Ethiopia, the Harar city has closed itself from the outside world for a thousand years. Trade exchanges with the Arabic Peninsula are over, and Harar is no longer well known as a dynamic muslim teaching centre. The “jewel of the horn of Africa" keeps its treasures secret. Those who will want to explore the Harar region will need boldness, tenacity and patience.
It’s not easy being paradise on earth in a country so often censured by the West… Arising out of the desert four thousand years ago, the capital of Syria again bats her eyelashes to seduce the voyager. Restoration of its palaces, enhancement of its mosques, redevelopment of its souks, Old Damascus is giving itself a beauty treatment. But watch out for a too conspicuous facelift.
Cairo does not know sleep. Its charmed dancers, its traveling merchants and its talkative café owners stay up until dawn. Night birds and insomniacs can not leave it: the nights of the largest city of Africa are more beautiful than its days.
Far from the heights, far from the heart. Far, even, from eyes. Nestling at the foot of the famous Yemeni summits, the Tihama, a coastal plain on the Red Sea, is little by little losing its grandeur. With its sculpted cities of a glorious yet faded past and its abandoned villages of decorated huts, this little known region breathes its last sighs to complete indifference.
Ambitious, the ultra-dynamic town of Hyderabad is taking on the challenges to draw the world’s eyes upon it. Despite its slightly conservative character and its situation in the middle of one of the poorest states in the country, it has vowed to become the ambassadress of modern India.
Sand almost smothered Oualata from the memory of men. The knell sounded for this caravan stage of Mauritania with the end of the trans-Saharian trade on which it once based its fortune. Isolated, ruined and forgotten, it has just won a formidable bet, that of its survival, thanks to the initiatives of a handful of unconditional ones, fallen under its spell.
The Omani of the coast have sea legs. Formerly masters of the oceans, their ancestors hoisted the colors of their flag all the way to Canton, Mombasa and Zanzibar. Their descendants have kept their course, and a major attachment to their littoral. Even if the former navigators have disappeared, giving way to fervent fishermen.
Dubai with delusions of grandeur. To achieve its ambitious goal to become the leading destination of the 21st century, the small Emirate is banking on the international prestige of its ultra futuristic projects. It already houses the only seven star hotel on the planet and is about to inaugurate the eighth wonder of the world.
Al Busayiri, tiny village unknown to international current events and yet umbilical cord to Iraq. Located in Syria, a few kilometers from the Iraqi border, it is the nerve center for trade, sometimes illicit, but also the place with a whiff of freedom for Iraqi lorry drivers.
The island of Lamu, Muslim enclave on Kenyan land, attracts thousands of pilgrims for the celebration of the prophet Mahomet. Little sister to Zanzibar with which it shares a common history, Lamu is also a formidable center of Swahili culture. If it has not escaped the changes of the 20th century, the old island has still been able to preserve intact the capacity to enchant its visitors.
Dreaded by men of faith, rooted within families or adulated by Westerners, belly dancing arouses argument, embarrassment and emotions. In Cairo, the bodies undulate in sensual curves… but the temple of this ancestral art is casting out more and more of its dancers.
If it vies with Damascus for the title of oldest, still inhabited city in the world, Aleppo does not have anything to envy the Syrian capital. Veritable human hive, the Vienna of the Levant, business-minded, music lover and refined, has never ceased affirming its bubbling activity. The silky souvenirs of this caravan city can be read everywhere in the streets of the “medina”. Dusty, enigmatic but so captivating.
These second homes, built with extravagant expenditure, go almost unperceived in the city, which has the most cosmopolitan heritage in the world. While waiting to regain their past glory and to belong to the hot list of the sites impossible to avoid, the follies of Cairo open their doors.
Forgotten the “events” of the 90’s, Algeria commences its take-off. To begin this new millennium, the government of Abdelaziz Bouteflika is not devoted solely to the exploitation of hydrocarbons but also to agriculture. A chance for El Oued, oasis in full expansion.
Overcrowded streets in the day time. Boosted atmospheres at night. It is difficult for Cairo to grant itself a moment of respite. However, to those who know how to seek, to explore, to excavate, El Qahira reveals its peaceful paradises. Luxuriant gardens, sumptuous palaces, deserted museums, forsaken hammams… many places to contemplate and resource oneself.
The pharaoh’s gold has been found ! Thanks to a papyrus from the reign of Sethi Ist, the geologist Sami el Raghy has located, in the Eastern desert of Egypt, the gold mines exploited under the New Empire. Convinced of the profitability of these thousand-year-old deposits situated 600 km from Cairo, he predicts tremendous prospects for the Egyptian economy.
Not all as still as that…
From here, from other places, from there and nowhere.
Grotesque or sad, all garnered along the way.