quarta-feira, 23 de dezembro de 2015


When the Nile is increasing,…. with its level rising eighteen ells [an ell is roughly one and a half feet – Ed.] above the winter level, the heads of the canals and channels are closed throughout the land. Then the canal called al-Khalij, which begins in Old Cairo and passes through New Cairo, and which is the Sultan’s personal property, is opened with the Sultan [al-Mustansir, reigned 1036-94, Ed.] in attendance. Afterward, all the other canals and channels are opened throughout the countryside. This day is one of the biggest festivals of the year and is called Rokub Fath al-Khalij (“Riding Forth to Open the Canal”).

When the season approaches, a large pavilion of Byzantine brocade spun with gold and set with gems, large enough for a hundred horsemen to stand in its shade, is elaborately assembled at the head of the canal for the sultan. In front of this canopy are set up a striped tent and another large pavilion. Three days before the Rokub, drums are beaten and trumpets sounded in the royal stables so that the horses will get accustomed to the sound. When the Sultan mounts, ten thousand horses with gold saddles and bridles and jewel-studded reins stand at rest, all of them with saddlecloths of Byzantine brocade and buqalamun woven seamless to order. In the borders of the cloth are woven inscriptions bearing the name of the Sultan of Egypt. On each horse is a spear or coat of armor and a helmet on the pommel, along with every other type of weapon. There are also many camels and mules with handsome panniers and howdahs, all studded with gold and jewels. Their coverings are sewn with pearls.

Were I to describe everything about this day of [the opening of] the canal, it would take too long…. On the morning when the Sultan is going out for the ceremony, ten thousand men are hired to hold the steeds we have already described. These parade by the hundred, preceded by bugles, drums, and clarions and followed by army battalions, from the Harem Gate up to the head of the canal. Each of these hirelings who holds a horse is given three dirhems. Next come horses and camels fitted with litters and caparisons, and following these come camels bearing howdahs. At some distance behind all of these comes the Sultan, a well-built, clean-shaven youth with cropped hair, a descendant of Husayn son of Ali. He is mounted on a camel with plain saddle and bridle with no gold or silver and wears a white shirt, as is the custom in Arab countries, with a wide cummerbund…. The value of this alone is said to be ten thousand dinars. On his head he has a turban of the same color, and in his hand he holds a large, very costly whip. Before him walk three hundred Daylamites wearing Byzantine gold-spun cloth with cummerbunds and wide sleeves, as is the fashion in Egypt. They all carry spears and arrows and wear leggings. At the Sultan’s side rides a parasol bearer with a bejeweled, gold turban and a suit of clothing worth ten thousand dinars. The parasol he holds is extremely ornate and studded with jewels and pearls. No other rider accompanies the Sultan, but he is preceded by Daylamites. To his left and right are thurifers burning ambergris and aloe. The custom here is for the people to prostrate themselves and say a prayer as the Sultan passes. After the Sultan comes the Grand Vizier with the Chief Justice and a large contingent of religious and governmental officials.

The Sultan proceeds to the head of the canal, where court has been set up, and remains mounted beneath the pavilion for a time. He is then handed a spear, which he throws at the dam. Men quickly set to work with picks and shovels to demolish the dam, and the water, which has built up on the other side, breaks through and floods the canal.

On this day the whole population of Old and New Cairo comes to witness the spectacle of the opening of the canal and to see all sorts of wonderful sporting events. The first ship that sails into the canal is filled with deaf-mutes, whom they must consider auspicious. On that day the Sultan distributes alms to these people.

There are twenty-one boats belonging to the Sultan, which are usually kept tied up like animals in a stable, in an artificial lake the size of two or three playing fields next to the Sultan’s palace; each boat is fifty yards long and twenty wide and is so ornate with gold, silver, jewels, and brocade that were I to describe them I could fill many pages.

From “One Thousand Roads to Mecca”, edited by Michael Wolfe

É uma das minhas descrições preferidas da vida quotidiana no Mediterrâneo medieval. Trata-se do relato do persa Naser-e Khosraw (1004-1088) de um cerimonial praticado no Cairo fatimida. O que o autor descreve passa-se no verão de 1047. O cerimonial em torno da cheia do Nilo tinha lugar sempre que o nível do rio atingia um determinado ponto no nilómetro. A estrutura, hoje desativada e avistável apenas para fins turísticos, situa-se na ilha de Roda, em pleno Cairo.

Foi uma imagem do nilómetro que usei, há dias, para ilustrar o texto dos 26 meses de mandato autárquico. Et pour cause...

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