Saturday, July 31, 2010

Photo Essay: The Mosque & Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir #photography #cairo

Here is the Mosque and Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir on the Sharia al-Muizz li-Din Allah. Built in the 18th century, I couldn;t find anything on the net about the builder or the provenance of this mosque/Sabil.
Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
It's next to the Sirgani Jewellers, which is a bit run down, at least the shop front is but apparently this is a chain of Jewellers across the city. I did not realise that there was a historical building next to it.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
The mosque front is narrow, but beautiful. It has a water fountain in front (hence Sabil). The idea being, you drink from the fountain and bless the sponsor of this building. The very large window is covered with a strong iron grille.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
It has a scalloped sea shell frame on the top with a cloud and stalactite based stone carving. A beautifully carved balcony. This side of the building is the Kuttab, the educational institution. The top of the balcony also has a beautifully constructed lead/iron roof. You can just imagine somebody sitting there, peering closely at the roll of metal and punching out the complex patterns.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
On the wall, there is this strange looking iron roundel. It has a number on it and then the word, Electricitie, French for Electricity and the number could signify the location. Something like a junction box.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
I entered the mosque and peered into a strange looking entrance. Took off my shoes and kept it in the reception area which you can see on the right hand side photograph. It has a central area which is open to the skies. The left hand side photograph shows the narrow entrance and the right hand side photograph is looking back at the entrance.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
A lovely wooden balcony is up high on the wall in the skylight. This is where the women would stay or pray.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
This is the Mihrab, or the sign which points to Mecca, so that the worshipers can orient themselves towards Mecca during prayers. It can be considered to be the passageway to Mecca. Originally, it was supposed to be representing a throne room, but the Prophet Mohammad used this term for his private prayer room, and then it developed into something that points to Mecca. It reminded me of the false doors that I have seen in Egyptian tombs, which are supposed to be the gateway of the Ba (the soul) to the world of the dead. Strange how these architectural elements and similarities crop up.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
Moving into the mosque proper. It had a skylight with a dome over it. Nice restful ambiance till they switched on those horrible lights.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
Here is the minbar (pulpit) and lovely pillars topped with striped stonework.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
At the back of the mosque, there is this extraordinary mezzanine level wooden platform which has a low highly carved railing. People are supposed to climb up to this platform, sit there and recite the Quran or other religious texts. So that people in the hall can hear properly across the mosque.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
Here is the Mihrab inside the main room of the mosque, much more ornate than the one in the front room. Granite, marble and gilt edging on the pillars.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
A beautifully carved window cum cupboard
Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
I turned around and noticed this highly carved wooden partition.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
Seems like this is where the mother of the maker of this Sabil and Mosque was buried. On a smaller enclave on the right, which I couldn't photograph as it was very dark (and filled with cats), was another grave of a saint.

Mosque Sabil Kuttab Aly El Mutahhir,Cairo
Peering through the window back at the entrance in the far corner. Serious window grill, eh? Here is the slideshow with more photographs and bigger resolution. A lovely little mosque, very peaceful indeed. But it was time to move on to the next sight.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Photo Essay: Church of St. Stephens, Rochester Row

This church has a rather interesting history. The church of St. Stephens was built in 1846/1847 by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts of the Coutts banking family after being encouraged by Charles Dickens.

She further extended the church in 1890.

Here’s a woodcut showing how it looked like back then. Interesting enough, the rated capacity of the church is 1000 worshippers but i very much about that, you will have to stack them up to fit them all in.

When I first saw it, it was extraordinary, in a way, its taller (200 feet) than its length and its quite narrow. Almost like they wanted to fit in a tall landmark in a very small corner plot. It was closed so I was unable to take photographs of the inside, but here’s a good site to see the internal decor.


The spire is the most eye catching piece, very tall and singularly fated with bad luck for being the spire of a House of God. Even the people who saw it back in the late 19th century thought the spire was too attenuated. It was struck by lightening in the late 19th century, then the Germans dropped bombs all over it and then British Health and Safety Departments got involved, the top was removed and it was only in 1994 that a replacement was constructed by workers abseiling inside the spire. I am sure it would have looked a bit strange.


The belfry has some good bells apparently and while researching this church, came across a recording of how they sound.

Here are some photographs of the bells concerned which were cast in 1850. Can you imagine? these have been in operation now for 160 years, still pealing out across the parish to call the faithful to prayer and mark celebrations.

There are four statues of saints up there, but not sure what’s the point of putting these statues up there at the base of the spire where nobody can see them? They look a bit weather beaten anyway.

Stained Glass windows. Looked nice from outside the little I could make out, but the wtf was the bits at the bottom of the arches. Can you see the heads?


What’s rather extraordinary about this church is (and something that I haven't seen anywhere else) is the profusion of small carved heads and animals. These heads were carved by Peter Wright of Vauxhall Bridge Road who left some really interesting faces decorating various corners and edges.

All over the church.


Here’s a pig on the left and what appears to be a hairless, wrinkly, large leaf shaped ear wielding, upside down dog on the right. This smaller spire also has a whole set of gargoyles.


One of the smaller spires seems to have been repaired or cleaned, and its looking a bit spotty..

Here’s the porch. It was closed, but i could see a parking attendant in there, there were two others and believe it or not, they were dancing inside. Seriously wtf.

The traffic wardens cleared off and then I could take a photo of the door.

St. Stephen I presume with another two disembodied heads grinning insanely on both sides. Presumably these were local / church worthies being immortalised. Looking at the history of St. Stephen, I was a bit confused, he was tried by the Jews for blasphemy against Moses and God, against the Temple and the Law. Then he was stoned to death by a mob which was encouraged by Saint Paul? Very curious story.

Then there is a thoroughly modern sign warning thieves off the property.

I think the roof can do with a spot of elbow grease and cleaning, getting quite mossy there.

A small door hidden behind the buttress wall.

And a list of notices, with one saying Be Quiet for Lent. Full slideshow with all the photographs in higher resolution is here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Photo Essay: St. Olave of Silver Street, a church that vanished for many centuries

This is a story about a lost church which spans centuries and countries. It begins with a gentleman called as Olaf Haraldsson, also known as St. Olaf or St. Olave after his death. He ended up in England and fought the Danes alongside Ethelred II. This was around 1010-1015. So obviously he was well known in England at that time. Then he got made into a Saint mainly because he did so much to popularise Christianity in Norway, so much so that he is known as the patron saint of Norway. He got beatified on August 3, 1031 in Norway.

Here’s the gentleman concerned.

But we now enter into unknown territory as far as the church is concerned. The first reference to an actual church in London seems to come from the 12th century time where a mention of St Olave de Mukewellestrate is found. There has been a Scandinavian community in London for a long time so its not surprising that they will raise a church in their patron saint’s name.

Curiously, then we leap forward four centuries to 1609 where there is the next  mention that it was newly built. Does this mean that there was an even older church on this site? that got decayed, and destroyed in the interregnum? Could well be. Then in 1619, it was repaired and beautified. In 1632, a new gallery was added. We also know two notable people were buried in the church:

Here under this Stone lieth buried the Body of John Darcy, second Son to John Lord Darcy of Ehie, who died in Anno 1593. aged 33 yeeres.

Here lieth Griffeilde Windsore, Daughter of Henry Lord Windsore, and Lady Anne his Wife; Daughter and Heyre of Sir Thomas Rivet, Knight. Who departed this life the seven and twentieth day of June, and in the yeere of our Lord God, 1600.

This historical record of two burials before 1609 tells me that there must have been a church there before and a completely new church was built on the site. Interestingly as an aside, Shakespeare is supposed to have lived in a house just yards from this church. But in 1666, the great fire of London completely obliterated this church. Burnt it down. Did a Norwegian Blue on it (if you excuse the pun). Whatever was left of the remains was destroyed in the constant building and rebuilding of London down the centuries and then the Germans put paid to anything that was left by dropping couple of bombs down this place.

Not only the church remains but also the street has disappeared. So what is left? (See here for the full slide show with higher resolution photographs)

This looks like a baptism font. Nothing else is known

The text is unclear but from what I could make it, it says,

“St. Olave’s Silver Street. This churchyard was ??? backing on the road ??? eight feet by this Commissioners of Seners at the Request of the Vestry Anno Dommini 1?65. HK Cunnins Rector , FA Harris, CE Wilson Church Warden”. “

Below the skull and crossbones, the inscription reads:

"This was the Parish Church of St. Olave Silver Street, Destroyed by the Dreadfull Fire in the Year 1666"

There is some doubt about the age of this inscription, some think this dates back to the 19th century rather than the 17th century.

And this is what remains of the courtyard, with a gravestone on the right. That’s it, a vanished church with few remains. What happened to the people who would pray here? who were buried here? those who celebrated marriages, baptisms and masses? And now nothing left other than couple of signs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photo Essay: The Statues of Waterloo Place

We were out taking photographs on our monthly photo walk in the centre of town. I was walking from the Serpentine back to the Patisserie Valerie where couple of large moist pastries and a hot chocolate were calling for me. But on the way, I saw several statues and decided to take some photographs. Only few of the photographs are shown here, rest of them are up on this slide show here.


First you have two statues of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth his wife, the Queen Mother. King George was the last Emperor of India, the Last King of Ireland, the first Head of the Commonwealth and the father of the current Queen Elizabeth II. His wife, Queen Elizabeth was much loved and she died in 2002. Lovely lady she as too. King George seems to have had an extraordinary life (do see the wiki article), he was never expected to gain the throne, was in the Royal Navy during WW1 and then was destined to be one of the lesser Royals. Till his brother, Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 over his love for Wallis Simpson and he was pitch forked straight into the throne and World War II. He lived through perhaps the most traumatic times for the British Royalty between the World War and losing most of the major Empire possessions till he died in 1952 when the current Queen took over.


Then for some reason looked up and saw this strange statue perched on top of the building.


Its actually another statue on top of a whacking big column of Frederick, Duke of York, 1763-1827, the second son of King George III, Commander of the British Army twice over. After researching more about him, I think he is a pretty good egg despite the doggerel which was written for him after he made a hash of his first army command. I didn't realise this doggerel was for this fella.

The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

He was responsible for the establishment of Sandhurst, the UK’s military college where commissioned officers are trained. He also fully reorganised the chaotic state of the British Army. One can really argue that he laid the foundations of the success that Wellington and Nelson finally achieved by defeating Napoleon’s French forces. But since his work was organisational, training, administrative, pay and policies, it is not that well known. But the soldiers did know who was to thank for their betterment and each soldier gave up one day’s salary to fund this statue. By the way, he is also in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop at 196 days old. Go read the wiki link on this amusing interlude

Once you have climbed up the stairs below Fredrick’s column, you reach Waterloo Place and all the statues that I speak of below are in this square.

This is a statue of John Lawrence, the 1st Baron Lawrence. He was the Governor of the province of Punjab when the first war of Independence / Mutiny of 1857 broke out, he lead the troops who liberated Delhi from the rebels. Curiously enough, he also tried his level best to stamp out the practise of Sati and was quite concerned about the state of the Indian peasantry. He also made a treaty with Dost Mohammad of Afghanistan, and then went back to the UK. But he was back in India in 4 years to become the Viceroy till 1869. This statue was raised by public subscription from both British and Indian citizens. Hmm, curious.

The next statue is that of Colin Campbell, Field Marshall Lord Clyde, 1792-1863. He seems to have fought all over the world, Europe, USA, India and Crimea. He was the man who relieved the Lucknow siege and was responsible for the overall command of British Forces in India. Two soldiers, both connected to India.

The statue of Colin Campbell is fronted by a lissom statue of Britannia sitting on a lion. 

The next statue is that of Robert Falcon Scott. Every time I read about him or his story, I feel so sad about him. Extreme bravery and ultimate failure, dying in the midst of the snow deserts of Antarctica from exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold. He wanted to be the first person to reach the South Pole, but he was beat out of this record by Roald Amundsen. Here he is wearing Antarctica winter clothing. The plaque below the statue states: Robert Falcon Scott. Captain Royal Navy who with four companions died march 1912 returning from the South Pole 'Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman but these rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.' — From Scott's Diary. Interestingly enough and quite uniquely, I must admit, it was his wife who sculpted this statue.

Then we have a rather pedestrian statue of Edward VII, son and successor of Queen Victoria.
The Edwardian era of British History is so named after him. He was king from 1901 to 1910.

The next statue is that of Sir John Franklin, 1786-1847, who was an explorer and a British Royal Navy Officer. He had a good career during the wars with France (Copenhagen and Trafalgar) and spent a significant time exploring Australia and Canada in the Arctic regions. He is also said to be the discoverer of the North West Passage in Canada, but this last voyage of his is shrouded in mystery as both his ships (Erebus and Terror) were lost and his entire crew died.

The last statue on this side is that of John Fox Burgoyne, 1782-1871, a distinguished soldier who saw action in Spain, France, USA, Portugal, Ireland and Crimea.

Then we have this horse block, something that people used to climb on top of their horses. The plaque says that this was erected by the Duke of Wellington in 1830. Very curious.

  Then we have the Crimea Monument. This was built in 1861 to commemorate the Crimean War, cast in bronze from the cannons captured at the siege of Sebastopol. There are three Guardsmen in the front and there is a pile of cannon in the back. These are the actual Russian guns captured in that horrible war. The Crimean War was frankly one of the most horrible, badly managed and perhaps pointless wars of all times. This is the war which had the Charge of the Light Brigade and also saw the work of Florence Nightingale, the first use of the telegraph and railways in a military sense plus extensively photographed for the first time. On the top is an allegorical figure of Honour or Liberty. But God knows there was very little honour or liberty in that war.

In front of the Crimea monument are two statues. On the left is Florence Nightingale holding a lamp and on the right is Sidney Herbert who was the Secretary of War during the Crimea War. So we come to the end of the essay about some Victorian Era (mostly) hero’s whose statues are in this small corner of London. I stood there and slowly revolved around looking at the various emperors, captains, generals and field marshals. Their exploits have made a massive difference to the world I live in, and I stand here looking at their stone and bronze statues so many moons later. Here is the full slide show with higher resolutions and more photographs.