Cairo, the “City of a Thousand Minarets”, the “Victorious City”, the city whose superlatives can never match its beauty, its grace! The largest, busiest, and noisiest city in, not only Egypt, not only Africa, but the whole of the Middle East AND Africa! Amongst its estimated 20 million plus population you will find: Egyptians, Berbers, Bedouin, Hamitic Arabs and Nubians, with the vast majority of the Egyptians being Sunni Muslims, though the Egyptian Christians, who are mainly of Coptic origin, are thought to comprise about 10-15% of the population. Nowadays more foreigners are settling in Cairo, making it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Africa and the Middle East also.
When the age, and history, of Egypt is considered, Cairo is just a baby. Although Egypt is thought to date back anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years, depending on which Egyptologist you believe, Cairo’s history really begins in 641CE with the formation of a military encampment, called Al Fustat, by the Arabic commander Amr Ibn Al As. Over the next few centuries it slowly developed into a major port city on the River Nile, and in 969CE Jawhar, the leader of an Islamic sect called the Fatimid’s, created a new city near Al-Fustat, which was initially named Al Mansuriyah, eventually having its name changed to Al Qahirah (Cairo). Once the Fatimid’s had become the rulers of Egypt, Cairo became their capital.
But this does not mean that Cairo does not have a direct link to ancient pharaonic Egypt. During those bygone times, one of the most important places in Egypt was called Iunu, where a massive solar temple was built for the god Atum. This sun temple lasted for centuries and when the Greeks conquered Egypt they changed its name to “City of the Sun”: Heliopolis! Though the sun temple is now lost underneath the hustle and bustle of the present day area of Cairo that still carries the Greek name, an obelisk, dating back to the 12th Dynasty reign of Senwosret I, still stands in situ (in its original location) at Al Masalla, within the Al Matariyyah district of Heliopolis. Standing an impressive 68 feet (21 metres) high, and made from Aswan red granite, it weighs about 120 tons (121,925 kilogrammes). It is one of those sites that very few tourists get the opportunity to visit, but screams history at any that do.
From its humble beginnings Cairo has blossomed into one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With a metropolitan population of over 20 million, 50% of whom actually live in the city, it is the most populous metropolitan area in Africa and the Middle East, ranking 16th amongst the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Though remaining primarily Islamic, Cairo’s culture is influenced by many other countries, especially when the high proportion of tourists is taken into consideration and how certain things have to be adjusted to accommodate their needs.
Sites to see:
Coptic Cairo and the Coptic Museum
Dashur: the Bent and Red Pyramids
Giza Plateau: Khufu's Pyramid (Great Pyramid); Khafre's Pyramid; Menkaure's Pyramid; Sphinx
Khan El Khalili
Museum of Islamic Art
Saqqara: Pyramid of Teti; Pyramid of Unas; Step Pyramid of Djoser; Serapeum;
The Citadel of Saladin
The Grand Egyptian Museum (opening in 2015)
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
The Pharaonic Village