Our guide to road tripping through the Delta cities By Lamia Hassan
Arguably the best way to see Egypt, a road trip proves that there is far more to this nation than big, bustling cities and cookie-cutter tourist towns. Smaller towns off the beaten path have a certain magic you won’t find in places like Sharm El-Sheikh and Alexandria. Rev up your engine and embark on a road trip through the cities of the Delta, where the Nile sprawls out in the shape of a lotus, dividing into two branches — the Damietta and the Rosetta — with cities lying on both sides. Along the coast, the Delta stretches from Alexandria in the west to Port Said in the east. You might have already dropped by one or two Delta cities on a school trip or driven through on a previous road trip, but try devoting a full weekend solely to exploring some of Egypt Today’s top picks in the area.
Sitting on the east branch of the Nile, Damietta is about 200 kilometers north of Cairo — a two-hour car or bus ride. It is one of only two cities in the Delta where the Nile meets the Mediterranean, which gives it a sense of natural wonder so often lacking in the nation’s bigger cities.
Damietta is famous for its furniture industry. The locals have done an extraordinary job in making a name for themselves as one of the best furniture manufacturers in the country. Check out some of the furniture-making workshops or factories and snap some shots of how a piece of furniture is transformed from raw materials to finished product. The craftsmen are usually welcoming to visitors and are often happy to let you watch them work their magic. The city also has a wealth of history. Damietta was important in the Abbasid era (circa 800 AD), when it was a port on the route to India. During the early 1200s, the Crusaders knew that controlling Damietta meant controlling the Nile and access to their ultimate goal of retaking Jerusalem. Because of its importance to the Crusaders, Mamluk Sultan Baibars later destroyed the city and rebuilt it with stronger fortifications a few kilometers from the river.
One of the historic sites worth visiting is the famed Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque (sometimes referred to as Al-Fath): the second mosque to ever be built in Egypt and Africa. Despite having been converted to a church twice in its history, the mosque still mirrors much of the architectural design of the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque in Fustat, which was the first mosque built in Egypt. Damietta also houses mosques dating to the Mamluk, Ottoman and Abbasid eras that are open to visitors.
Another site worth visiting is what residents call El-Kobry El- Adeem (The Old Bridge), which dates to the 1900s. The bridge is identical to Cairo’s Imbaba Bridge, but the one in Damietta is particularly scenic due to its proximity to the shore.
Situated on the western branch of the Nile is another must-stop on your Delta road trip: Rasheed City, baptized Rosetta during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The city gave its name to the famed Rosetta Stone, which was discovered there. Unfortunately, you cannot see the stone in its namesake since it was moved to the British Museum 200 years ago. What you can see is the Rasheed National Museum. Not quite like seeing the stone that was the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but interesting nonetheless as the museum provides a comprehensive history of the city. The museum is open 1–9pm every day except Wednesday. Tel: +2 (045) 292-1733.
The city’s name may not ring a bell, but the story of this small city located on the Damietta branch of the Nile in the Gharbia province is quite unique. During the British occupation in 1919, revolutionaries in the city decided to declare independence from the Republic of Egypt, and named their city the Republic of Zefta. Its residents were also active in resisting British occupation, no doubt fueled by their earlier ‘independence’ from Egypt.
Today, Zefta has a number of textile factories that you might want to check out during your visit. You might also want to bring your fishing gear to try and catch your own dinner before you gear up for the drive to your next Delta stop.
Just west of Zefta is Tanta, the largest and most populous of the Delta cities. Almost an hour and a half away from Cairo, Tanta is known for its bustling moulid celebrations. The spectacularly designed El-Sayyid El-Badawi Mosque is quite a sight, particularly during the October moulid honoring the mosque’s namesake. The eight-day celebration features music, spiritual gatherings and Sufi dances. The area also bursts at the seams with carnival
games, local merchandise and, especially, sweets. They say no one goes to Tanta without sampling the local moulid sweets, including Turkish delight and nut pralines fresh from the factories that produce them. However, meshabbik is what Tanta does best. Watch street vendors make these funnel cakes drenched in simple syrup is probably half the fun of eating them. et