|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.
» Coptic Cairo
- 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.
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
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information about Alexandria >>
» 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
Lake Qarun supports a huge number of birds, most of which are migrants and
» Wadi El Natrun
- 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.
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information about Wadi El Natrun >>