Cairo: The Yellow City

Some cities have a dominant colour scheme; Cairo is dusty yellow …

Cairo, from the Saladin Citadel

Everything in Cairo is yellow,  covered in a film of desert dust. As the city emerges from the strip of land next to the Nile, the desert is never far away. And as the city expands,  the desert doesn’t retreat. It invades the streets, the air, the hair, the breakfast; it invades everything and everyone that abides in Cairo 

The City is built from materials which looks like the desert or plastered with sand coloured coating so the end effect is of a yellow city, a city dominated by mustard yellow. The yellow cityscape – made of buildings from every era – medieval to modern – crouches below a dusty yet bright blue sky and enjoys a dry, gentle breeze which is often idyllic but also brings more dust.

The dull yellowness is monotonous but also soothing and relaxing to the eyes. While “poor” London is red brick and “rich” London is white, Cairo is pure Dijon. The colour scheme is replicated across Egypt, from what I could see through the windows of the trains I’ve taken. It’s almost as if everyone agrees on a uniform, monochromatic mono-sensory yellow,  with only the occasional disruption of a red towel or a green sheet on a wash line.

Back street. The cats are ripping open the garbage bags; the dog is satiated.

(I’ve often wondered how long you can leave your washing out on the line here without it becoming just a mass of  dust. I haven’t yet tried putting my own washing out but it seems as though everybody else does, so maybe I’m being too picky.)

With 20 million + people and countless automobiles: cars, tuktuks,  trucks and motorbikes, isn’t Cairo polluted? When I first got here I found it quite overwhelming, but then I came from locked up London and I’d barely left my house.  I soon got used to Cairo’s miasma because it’s dry; the fumes don’t linger in the air the way they do in more humid climes. Some areas like Maadi and  Zamalek have a lot of trees and greenery,  which sucks up most of the pollution.

(The thing that is a bit harder to take is the spilt plastic waste, slowly fragmenting in the sun but never quite going away.  Seeing it made me reflect on the horrors of a Western “convenience” culture inflicted on this ancient culture. Plastic now blights the entire planet.  Its not “convenient”, not one bit.)

Returning to the idea of yellow,  one thing I’ve always been fascinated by is how ancient Egyptians developed and perfected mineral pigments. They experimented in all different ways with earth pigments and pigments from all different sources  creating lake pigments and colours of such rich intensity that even today the ancient artefacts  are still brilliant. Archaeologist say the Egyptian temples (and probably the houses and other long lost buildings) were very brightly painted,  which must have looked  beautiful. And, very occasionally, you seen that one flat out of maybe 100 in a building has its balcony area painted a vibrant colour. I’m hoping to photograph some of them but so far I haven’t been able to. Nevertheless,  I think Cairo is, and shall remain, the yellow city.

One comment

  1. You have given me a new way to look at cities and I thank you for that. As soon as we can get back to international travel, I will look for colors.

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