Cairo

Short history

Cairo, Egypt’s vast capital, was established in 969 AD by the Fatimids, benefiting immensely from its prime location alongside the Nile River, which placed it at the heart of the region’s political and cultural activities. The city rose to prominence during the medieval period as a vital Islamic academic and trading center. Its significance only grew in the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, reinforcing Cairo’s role as a crucial cultural and political center in the Middle East.

The advent of British rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the introduction of European architectural styles, which added to its Islamic and Coptic roots. Following Egypt’s independence, Cairo expirienced a wave of modernization and growth that mirrored the country’s 20th-century ambitions and hurdles. Despite current challenges like pollution and overcrowding, Cairo remains a city that honors its history while moving towards an energetic future.

Geography

Cairo is prominently located along the Nile River’s banks in northern Egypt. The city’s placement in the Nile Delta ensures a terrain that supports its growth and urban sprawl. The Sahara Desert‘s proximity greatly influences Cairo, leading to a hot desert climate with intensely hot summers and moderately cold winters, which profoundly affects the city’s culture and lifestyle.

The Nile River is essential for Cairo, bringing crucial water supplies and acting as a main channel for transportation and farming. The city is surrounded by ancient landscapes, including the Giza Plateau to its west, where the celebrated Pyramids and the Sphinx stand. The contrast between the Nile’s nourishing attributes and the Sahara’s desert features highlights Cairo’s distinctive geographic identity.

Population

Cairo, with its staggering population of over 10 million residents, is the most populous city in Africa and the Arab world

The city’s ethnic composition is predominantly Arab, reflecting the broader demographic trends of Egypt. However, Cairo is also a home to a number of communities including Nubians, Bedouins, and smaller numbers of Berbers, who all contribute to the city’s cultural richness. 

Arabic language is the lingua franca, with the Egyptian dialect being the most widely spoken. English and French are also prevalent, reflecting the city’s historical ties with the West.

Religion holds an important place in the lives of Cairenes. The majority of the population is Muslim, adhering mainly to Sunni Islam, which influences the city’s architecture, calendar, and daily routines. The Islamic call to prayer echoes through the city five times a day, marking the rhythm of life for many of its residents. Meanwhile, Cairo’s Christian minority, primarily Coptic Orthodox, adds another layer to the city’s religious identity.

Main sights

  • The Pyramids of Giza: Iconic symbols of Egypt’s ancient civilization, these pyramids are remarkable for their architectural precision and historical importance.
  • The Sphinx of Giza: This statue combines a lion’s body with a human head, symbolizing strength and wisdom, and serves as a protector of the Giza complex.
  • The Egyptian Museum: Situated in Tahrir Square, this museum is home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts globally, including the famed treasures of Tutankhamun.
  • Khan El-Khalili Bazaar: A historic marketplace with everything from handmade crafts to spices and jewels.
  • Al-Azhar Mosque: Established in the 10th century, this mosque is an educational and religious center, home to one of the world’s oldest continuous universities.
  • Cairo Tower: A modern monument that provides sweeping views across Cairo, the Nile, and the Pyramids from its observation deck.

Food

  • Koshary: This blend of rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, spicy tomato sauce, and crispy onions, is a vegetarian delight of Egyptian cuisine.
  • Ful Medames: Essential for starting the day, this dish combines slow-cooked fava beans with garlic and lemon. It is a breakfast that’s been a staple in Cairo for ages.
  • Shawarma: Levantine classic with marinated, spit-roasted meats enveloped in pita bread, accompanied by vegetables and a swirl of tahini or garlic sauce.
  • Mahshi: An example of culinary finesse of stuffing vegetables, whether it be bell peppers, zucchinis, or vine leaves, filled with a seasoned mixture of rice, herbs, and occasionally minced meat.
  • Molokhia: This soup is made with finely chopped jute leaves, garlic, and coriander, and frequently served alongside chicken, rabbit, or beef.

Fun facts

  • The Great Pyramid of Giza, just a short distance from Cairo, remains the last surviving wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  • Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, established between 970 and 972, holds the title of the world’s second-oldest university still in operation.
  • The “City of the Dead” in Cairo is an expansive cemetery complex, acting as both a key historical site and an active burial place.
  • Cairo Tower, at 187 meters tall, is often thought to be a TV tower but is actually designed to resemble a lotus flower, reflecting Ancient Egyptian symbolism.
  • The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has the largest collection of pharaonic antiquities globally, featuring treasures from Tutankhamun and ancient mummies.