Cairo is the capital of Egypt. Cairo is home to one of the world’s seven wonders, the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Cairo is not only Egypt’s largest city but also the largest city in Africa. Cairo serves as a critical economic, political, and cultural hub in North Africa and the Middle East.
Where is Cairo?
Cairo is located in northeastern Egypt, near the Nile River flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s situated on the eastern bank of the Nile, about 165 kilometers (around 100 miles) inland from the Mediterranean coast.
Cairo’s location has historically made it a central hub for transportation and trade, linking Africa with the Middle East and Europe. Geographically, it is nestled between the Western Desert and the Eastern Desert, leading towards the Red Sea. To its north lies the fertile Nile Delta region, a rich agricultural area.
Regarding latitude and longitude, Cairo is approximately 30.0444 °N latitude and 31.2357 °E longitude.
History of Cairo
Cairo’s history is long and complex, spanning thousands of years and multiple civilizations. Here are some critical periods and events that have shaped the city:
The area now known as Cairo has been inhabited for thousands of years. Before the Islamic era, the Romans established a fortress town called Babylon in Egypt. This would later become part of Old Cairo, home to critical Christian sites like the Hanging Church.
How and when did Cairo become the capital of Egypt?
Cairo became the capital of Egypt in 969 CE when the Fatimid dynasty established it as the seat of their new caliphate.
The Fatimids were a Shia Islamic dynasty that originated in North Africa, and they controlled a significant region stretching across North Africa to the Middle East. They founded the city of Al-Qahirah, which means “The Victorious” in Arabic, as the capital of their empire. Over time, Al-Qahirah came to be known as Cairo. The location of Cairo was strategic for the Fatimids. It was close to the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.
After the Fatimid period, Salah ad-Din (Saladin), the first Sultan of Egypt and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, seized Cairo in 1171. Saladin built the Cairo Citadel, a fortress to protect the city from Crusader attacks.
In the Mamluk period, Cairo grew as a city of great architectural beauty, constructing many mosques, madrasas, and mausoleums. During this time, Cairo became one of the world’s leading centers of learning and culture. The city’s population increased, making it the largest city west of China.
The Ottoman Empire took control of Egypt in 1517, making Cairo the provincial capital. The city’s political importance declined during this period, but it remained a vital economic and cultural center.
Cairo in the Modern Era
In the 19th century, under the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha, Cairo underwent significant modernization projects. The city expanded beyond its medieval boundaries, and modern infrastructure was introduced. The iconic Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, also known as the Egyptian Museum, was established in Cairo during this time.
Cairo played a significant role during the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, leading to the monarchy’s end and the establishment of an independent republic. It continues to be an important center of political activity in Egypt and the Arab world.
In recent decades, Cairo has seen rapid growth and expansion but faces population density, traffic congestion, and pollution challenges. Its rich and diverse history is still evident today in its varied architecture, cultural institutions, and the daily life of its inhabitants.
Features of Cairo
Cairo is known for its unique blend of ancient and modern characteristics and is notable for a variety of features of its prosperous history, reflected in its many historical landmarks and museums that house ancient Egyptian artifacts.
While Cairo retains much of its historic charm, it has embraced modernity. The city boasts modern skyscrapers, a metro system, and large Nile bridges.
Geography and Climate
The city’s climate is desert, hot and arid, classified as a hot desert climate (BWh) under the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system. Summers (May to October) are hot and sunny, with high temperatures often exceeding 35 °C (95 °F).
Winters (November to April) are mild and somewhat cooler, with daytime temperatures averaging around 20°C (68°F). Rainfall is rare and occurs mainly in the cooler months.
The greater metropolitan area of Cairo is home to more than 20 million people, making it the largest city in Africa and one of the largest in the world. The city’s population comprises mainly Egyptians, and Arabic is the most widely spoken language.
Cairo is known for its diverse blend of cultures, traditions, and religions. Most of the population is Muslim, which is a common religion in Northern Africa, but there is also a significant Christian community, primarily Coptic Orthodox. The city also hosts a variety of expatriates from different countries, contributing to the city’s multicultural fabric.
Cairo is the economic heart of Egypt, contributing a significant portion to the nation’s GDP. The city’s economy is diverse, with sectors such as tourism, manufacturing, construction, and services playing crucial roles.
Due to Cairo’s rich history and cultural heritage, tourism is a crucial industry. Landmarks such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum, and the bustling Khan El Khalili Bazaar attract millions of tourists each year.
Cairo is also a center for business and commerce, hosting numerous local and multinational corporations. Several industries, including textiles, food processing, and pharmaceuticals, have a strong presence in the city.
Like many global cities, Cairo faces economic challenges, including unemployment and underemployment, income inequality, and the informal economy. However, its strategic location, rich cultural heritage, and large, youthful population provide significant potential for future growth.
Things to Do and Places to See in Cairo
Cairo is a monumental canvas that beautifully paints the story of time and boasts diverse, engaging activities and captivating sights. Let’s delve into some of the city’s most renowned destinations and attractions:
1. Visit the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx
Standing on the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx represent some of the most extraordinary architectural achievements of an ancient civilization. The complex consists of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and Menkaure, several smaller structures, and the iconic Sphinx.
These monuments, which date back to around 2,500 BCE, provide a profound sense of awe and unparalleled insight into ancient Egyptian history and culture.
We strongly advise you to opt for a guided tour for a thorough and insightful understanding of the site’s archaeological importance.
2. Explore the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
The Egyptian Museum, officially known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is a treasure trove of artifacts. It houses the world’s most extensive collection of pharaonic antiquities, including the dazzling treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb and numerous other objects of historical, artistic, and cultural importance.
The museum’s thousands of exhibits offer a comprehensive journey through Egypt’s ancient history, making it an essential visit for history enthusiasts.
3. Walk around Old Cairo
Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo, is a historic district in the heart of Cairo in medieval times. It’s a magical area filled with ancient churches, synagogues, mosques, and remnants of old fortifications. Highlights include the Hanging Church, named for its location above a gatehouse of an old Roman fortress, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
The quiet, narrow lanes and timeless architecture give Old Cairo a unique atmosphere that’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern Cairo.
4. Wander through the Khan El Khalili Bazaar
The Khan El Khalili Bazaar is a labyrinth of narrow alleys teeming with colorful stalls selling everything from jewelry, ceramics, and textiles to perfumes and spices. Steeped in history, this bustling market offers a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells. It’s not just a place to shop; it’s a cultural experience.
Don’t miss the chance to haggle over prices, a practice that is a fundamental part of shopping in this market, and take a break at a traditional café like El Fishawy, which has been serving visitors for over two centuries.
5. Visit the Cairo Citadel and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali
The Cairo Citadel, known as the Saladin Citadel, is a medieval Islamic fortification on Mokattam Hill. It was built by Salah al-Din (Saladin) and was the seat of government for many centuries. Within its walls, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali stands proudly.
Known as the “Alabaster Mosque” due to its extensive use of this stone, it’s one of Cairo’s most beautiful mosques, with its prominent dome, minarets, and intricate interior decoration. From the citadel, you can also enjoy panoramic views of Cairo.
6. Take a Felucca Ride on the Nile
The Nile River is the lifeblood of Cairo. One of the most delightful ways to enjoy it is by riding on a traditional wooden sailboat called a felucca. These simple yet sturdy boats have been used on the Nile since ancient times. A sunset or nighttime ride can be magical, offering a relaxed and peaceful respite from the city’s heat and hustle.
7. Explore Al-Azhar Park
Al-Azhar Park is a beautifully landscaped oasis in the heart of Cairo, offering a perfect escape from the city’s bustle. The park provides stunning views of Cairo’s skyline and historic mosques, especially at sunset.
It’s an excellent place for a leisurely walk, a picnic, or to relax and watch the world go by. The park has several restaurants, cafes, a lake, and historical sites, including the 12th-century Ayyubid wall.
Before it was transformed into a park, the site was a massive mound of rubble and landfill that had accumulated over centuries. It was one of the world’s oldest dumps, having been used for this purpose for almost 500 years.
8. Take a Day Trip to Memphis and Saqqara
Just a short drive from Cairo, the ancient capital of Memphis, and the Saqqara necropolis provide a fascinating insight into Egypt’s ancient history. Memphis was once a thriving metropolis and remains an open-air museum with statues, sphinxes, and architectural ruins.
Saqqara, home to the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, was the burial ground for Memphis. It’s a vast and complex site, demonstrating the evolution of pyramid construction.
Beneath the pyramid, a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms was carved into the rock, including a central burial chamber for the pharaoh. This underground structure is quite complex and includes storerooms that hold offerings and the king’s possessions for his afterlife.
9. Attend a Performance at the Cairo Opera House
The Cairo Opera House on Gezira Island is Cairo’s leading performing arts venue. It hosts a variety of performances, including ballet, opera, symphonies, and traditional music. The modern design of the building inaugurated in 1988, contrasts with the city’s older architecture, and its world-class performances offer a cultural night out in the city.
The Cairo Opera House also has a role in arts education and training. It’s associated with the Talent Development Centre, which offers classes in music and ballet.
Over the years, the Cairo Opera House has hosted performances by many notable figures in music and dance, including famous conductors, instrumentalists, singers, and dance troupes.
10. Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan
The Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan was built during the life of Sultan Hassan bin Mohammad bin Qalawun, who reigned from 1347 to 1361 during the Mamluk Dynasty. Construction began in 1356 and was completed in 1363, although Sultan Hassan didn’t live to see the monument’s completion.
One of the most iconic Islamic structures in Cairo, this grand, fourteenth-century religious complex serves as a mosque and a school (madrasa). Its striking features include a massive central courtyard, impressive minarets, and a mausoleum. The architectural style represents the apogee of Mamluk design, making it a must-visit for those interested in Islamic architecture.
The structure functioned as a mosque for prayer and a madrasa, or school, for studying Islamic law, astronomy, and other subjects. It was one of the earliest mosques to incorporate a madrasa.
11. Amr ibn Al-A’as Mosque
The Mosque of Amr ibn Al-A’as, also known as Taj al-Jawamie (Crown of Mosques), in Cairo, was established by the Muslim commander Amr ibn Al-A’as in 641–642 AD; the mosque is a testament to over a thousand years of Islamic history.
Although it has been modified and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, it retains an aura of serene spirituality. Simple yet spacious, the mosque is a peaceful retreat from the bustling city.
The mosque has traditionally been the site of celebrations held on the first day of the Islamic year, with a parade beginning at the mosque and proceeding through Cairo.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to visit Cairo?
The best time to visit Cairo is during the cooler months between November and April, when the temperatures are more comfortable for sightseeing. However, these are also the busiest months for tourism.
Is it safe to travel to Cairo?
As with any major city, staying alert and aware of your Cairo surroundings is important. While it’s generally safe for tourists, it’s advisable to follow local advice, avoid crowded places, and be cautious in traffic, as Cairo is known for its bustling streets.
What is traditional food like in Cairo?
Cairo is a paradise for food lovers. Traditional Egyptian cuisine is flavorful and varied, with dishes like
• Koshari: a mixture of rice, lentils, chickpeas, and pasta topped with tomato sauce
• Ful medames: fava beans cooked with oil and spices
• Molokhia: a soup made from jute leaves and often served with meat
What are some local customs I should be aware of when visiting Cairo?
Egyptians are known for their hospitality. However, as a predominantly Muslim country, modest dress is appreciated, particularly in religious places. Tipping, known as “baksheesh,” is customary in restaurants, hotels, and even for those who provide a personal service such as guides and drivers.
What language is spoken in Cairo?
The official language of Cairo is Arabic. However, English is widely understood and spoken in tourist areas, hotels, and restaurants.
What currency is used in Cairo?
The official currency of Egypt is the Egyptian pound (EGP). Credit cards are accepted in many places, but carrying some cash for smaller vendors and taxi fares is a good idea.
What should I learn to respect the local culture and environment in Cairo?
• Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites.
• Avoid photographing people without their permission.
• Try to learn a few basic phrases in Arabic, as this is often appreciated.
• As for the environment, avoid littering, stick to designated paths when visiting historical sites, and consider using a reusable water bottle to minimize plastic waste.
How can I get around Cairo?
Cairo has an extensive public transportation network, including the Metro, buses, and taxis. Ride-hailing services like Uber are also available. Traffic can be heavy, so it’s advisable to allow extra time when traveling.
Cairo is a city that genuinely captivates and enchants with its fusion of the ancient and the modern, offering an immersive, cultural, and historical experience that is hard to match. Its timeless treasures promise unforgettable memories and unique insights into a civilization that has shaped the world.
Despite its challenges, such as the bustling traffic and the hot summers, the city’s allure lies in its complexity and vibrancy. Cairo’s engaging locals, delightful cuisine, and countless cultural experiences add to its charm.
A trip to Cairo is more than just a visit; it’s a journey through time and a testament to human civilization’s resilience and creativity. It is, without a doubt, a city that deserves a place on every traveler’s itinerary.