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Lying on the banks of the Nile River, Cairo extends over roughly 175 square miles (450 sq km), about half the size of New York. A journey through Cairo starts at Memphis, Egypt's oldest capital, founded five thousand years ago. It travels along centuries of Persian, Byzantine, Coptic and Islamic civilizations. Growing from Babylon, old Cairo, to Fustat, Al-Askar, Al-Qatayeh and Fatimid Cairo, it has now reached its modern character of a wellspring of culture and an international center for intellectual, social, economic and political activity. Through centuries, Cairo has always figured as a meeting-place absorbing visitors and outsiders from all over the world thus acquiring its renowned title of Om Al-Dunya, Mother of the World.

Points of Interest
» The Pyramids
Among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Pyramids of Egypt are still standing in our actual world. Modern visitors still continue to find the Pyramids no less wondrous and mysterious than the ancients did.

Believing in resurrection and immortality, the ancient Egyptians built the Pyramids with the aim of building sepulchers for their Pharos, to preserve their bodies. The Pyramids have two fundamental characteristics: They are big and old. But exactly how big, it is still hard to grasp. As recently as the 19th century, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, built 4,400 years earlier, was the tallest building in the word.

» Egyptian Museum
Exhibiting the legacy of the pharaohs, the Egyptian museum has more than 120,000 items of antiquity on display, ranging from delicately crafted jewelry to towering granite colossi of kings. The most famous and exciting in this museum is the magnificent Tutankhamen collection. Though many Western museums contain impressive collections of ancient Egyptian antiquities, none rival the riches on display at Cairo's Egyptian Museum.

» Islamic Cairo
UNESCO, the cultural wing of the United Nations, includes Islamic Cairo on its select World Heritage list, which puts it on a par with the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, and Venice. It is a historic area that contains the greatest concentration of medieval Islamic monuments to be found anywhere. The skyline is a spiky signature of minarets and domes, reflecting a time when Cairo was the wealthiest capital in the world.
  • Al-Azhar Mosque Cairo has several hundred old mosques; if you visit only one, it probably should be the Al-Azhar Mosque. Founded in A.D. 970 as a place of worship and learning, the mosque remains one of the most important centers of Islamic theology more than a thousand years later, annually receiving a new intake of Muslim students from all over the world.

  • Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar Merchants have trading on the site since at least the 14th century. In 1384 an emir named Al-Khalili built a great khan here, a three-story hostelry intended to accommodate traveling merchants and their wares. Buyers visited the Khan for the goods brought in on the merchant caravans, and the selling and bartering spread to the streets around. Al-Khalili's khan was demolished in the 16th century, but by then the area had become firmly established as the city's commercial center. The earliest surviving parts of the bazaar today are several great stone gateways that date back to the 1500s.

  • Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar From its raised rocky platform on the city's edge, the Citadel dominates Cairo's eastern skyline. It was begun in 1176 by the famed Muslim general Saladin, who had its muscular walls and towers constructed with stones stripped from the Pyramids at Giza. The fortress served as Egypt's seat of power for the next 700 years, remodeled in the image of each successive dynasty.
» Coptic Cairo
Archaeological evidence suggests that Coptic Cairo is where the modern city began. But successive later conquerors shifted the urban center ever northward, so that Coptic Cairo now lies out on the southern fringes, well away from all the clamor and noise. Its high stone walls enclose a compound of silent narrow lanes, ancient holy places, and an important small museum.

For a few hundred years after the decline of the old pharaonic religions and before the arrival of Islam, Egypt was Christian. Alexandria was the seat of power and the country's only city of importance. Cairo-to-be existed as a modest port and river crossing in use since pharaonic times, and as a Roman fortress called Babylon-in-Egypt.

- Church of St. George
- Church of the Virgin Mary

Day Trips
» Alexandria
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» Fayoum Oasis
Fayoum, 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Cairo, is Egypt's largest oasis and a popular getaway for smog-choked city dwellers. While it has temples and archaeological sites and a history of settlement that goes back to pharaonic times, people are drawn to Fayoum's greenery and serenity, beautiful from the vantage point of a rented rowboat. The views can also be enjoyed from the promenade café of the Auberge du Lac, a Luxury hotel that was once King Farouk's hunting lodge, where King Ibn Saud and Winston Churchill held talks in February 1945.

Lake Qarun supports a huge number of birds, most of which are migrants and winter visitors.
  • Wadi al-Rayyan Out in the desert west of Fayoum, Wadi al-Rayyan is a large depression among the dunes into which excess water from the oasis has been channeled to create three freshwater lakes and a shallow waterfall. Stocked with fish, the lakes are a major nesting ground for birds and a big draw for picnicking visitors.

» Wadi El Natrun
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