Public parks, outdoor spaces, beaches, zoos and Nile cruises in Egypt were filled with millions of visitors on Monday to mark ancient Egyptian spring festival, also known as Sham el-Nessim, despite economic difficulties and security threats.
Since the very early hours of the morning, Egyptians nationwide flocked to their planned destinations to welcome the spring amid tight security beef-up across the North African country.
Sham el-Nessim, which means in English "breathing the breeze," is a one-day Egyptian public holiday marking the beginning of spring. It always falls on the Monday after the Eastern Christian Easter and is celebrated by Muslims and Christians alike.
The name of the holiday is derived from the Egyptian name of the Harvest Season, known as Shemu, which means a day of creation.
"I must celebrate this festival with my family ever year," Nuha Mohammed said as she enjoyed her holiday meal with her family at Cairo's renowned Azhar Park. "I really wait for this holiday because it is celebrated by both, Muslims and Christians."
Sitting under blossoming trees to shelter from the strong sunbeams, the 18-year-old girl said it is one of the very few occasions that connect the modern Egyptians to their pharaonic customs and traditions.
During the feast, Ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities. This tradition is still followed by Egyptians nowadays.
"Sham el-Nessim is a special festival for every Egyptian to eat salted fish and colored boiled eggs on this occasion," Mohammed added.
Facing potential security threats and terror attacks, some Egyptians see that the celebration should be used as a message to promote tourism and prove that Egypt is safe.
"It is an important day in Egypt and it is going on so well so far. This should be a message to the international community that Egypt is a safe place for all tourists," said 45-year-old Emadd Sarrar.
Tourism in Egypt, a main source of income, was heavy blown following the Russian airplane crash in North Sinai last October, and thereafter the suspension of flights to Egypt by several countries, including Britain and Russia.
However, even before the crash, Egypt had suffered a sharp decline in tourism due to three years of political turmoil, including two mass uprisings which toppled two former presidents, forcing several countries to ban their citizens from visiting Egypt for safety reasons.
Egypt also witnessed anti-government attacks killing hundreds of police and army personnel since the military removed former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 in response to mass protests against his one-year rule.
Near Giza Zoo in Giza Governorate, hundreds waited in long lines to buy tickets to celebrate the day in the Middle East's largest home for wild animals.
"The zoo is always busy on this day, we have received some 50,000 people until noon," said Raafat Abdullah, head of the zoo, expecting that the number might climb to 80,000 by the end of the day.
Inside the zoo, children gathered around the cages and the pools to watch the animals, while parents at the zoo gardens prepared the salted fish, known as Fesikh in Egypt, for lunch.
Lovers also had a romantic moment, breathing the soft spring breeze amid the high leafy green trees of the zoo.
"The zoo is very crowded, but this makes it a happy day because everyone is happy here," Ahmed Tawfiq said as he sat with his fiancee under a tree.