4o4 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
causeth thee to flow, we implore God, the One, the Mighty, to make thee flow.' 'Amr did as he
was commanded, and the Nile, we are told, rose sixteen cubits in the following night." *
The evening before the cutting of the dam the Nile about Rodah becomes very gay and
animated. Boats of all kinds and sizes bring visitors to witness the ceremony, and a great
state barge, carrying cannon and ornamented with lanterns and decorations, sails with much
pomp from Bulak, and moors to the island opposite the entrance of the canal. The land is as
fully peopled as the water ; crowds gather on the mainland near Masr E1-'Atikah and on Rodah,
and tents are pitched for their shelter and refreshment. A Cairo crowd easily amuses itself;
coffee and pipes will generally content it, and the mere prospect of something going to be done
is enough to make it very happy. All that night nobody sleeps. If he wished to, the constant
firing of guns from the big barge, the beating of drums on the other boats, the discharge of
rockets, and general babel of noises would render the desire abortive. But no one harbours so
foolish a wish : the mere sight of the Nile that night is a scene out of fairyland. Boats gaily
decked and covered with coloured lamps pass to and fro, their crews merrily dinning away at
the tar and darabukkeh ; every now and then a rocket flies up against the quiet stars, which
look down in surprise at the disturbance mere sublunaries are making, and the whole air is
alive with sounds and sights of gaiety and innocent frolic. It is like Venice in the old carnival
time, only the voices and dresses are changed, and we cannot help feeling that, like the carnival,
this ceremony belongs to an older state of things and an older religion. As we gaze upon
the crowd we feel dimly that the priest of I sis ought to be there.
Early next morning the workmen are busy cutting away the dam, till only the thickness
of a foot is left. Soon after sunrise the officials begin to appear : the Governor of Cairo rides
up, the Kady reads a formal document, a boat bearing another officer is pushed through the
mud wall, purses of gold are flung about, and the Nile is soon flowing rapidly between the banks
of the Khalig, and rejoicing the hearts of the Cairenes who dwell beside it (see page 394).
Reserve and decency are thrown to the winds, and a mania for bathing seizes the population.
The only monument of any interest at Masr El-Atikah (all that remains of Fustat, the
first Muslim capital of Egypt), if we except some curious Coptic churches—built partly in the
bastions of the old Roman fortress of Babylon, of which considerable remains can be traced—
and some quaint old byways and alleys (see page 401), is the (oft-times rebuilt) mosque of
'Amr, the Arab conqueror. Here, in 1808, when the river seemed to be about to fall at the
time when it ought to have risen, the chiefs of all denominations, Muslim ulema, Coptic clergy,
Jewish rabbis, all assembled together for united prayer, and continued entreating until the river
rose in the usual degree. Amid the general ruin and desolation of Fustat, which was almost
wholly destroyed in 1168 by a fire which continued to burn for fifty-four days, and left little
but the immense mounds we see around, the mosque of 'Amr still survives, with its line
colonnades of strangely incongruous pillars, as a monument, albeit a hybrid one, ol the
Mohammadan conquest. When it falls, they say, Islam will cease to be.
* " The Modern Egyptians," chap. xxvi.