Egypt travel guide




Cairo Travel Guide

The City of Cairo

Cairo is the largest town in Africa and the capital of Egypt. The town of Cairo is located on the east bank of the Nile River near the head of the many-channeled delta. There was no town on the spot in the times of the pharaohs or in later Greek or Roman days. It came into existence in the 7th century, after the Byzantine power in Egypt had crumbled before the Muslim armies advancing from Arabia.

In last time the great town of Alexandria, at the western end of the Nile Delta, surrendered without a battle. The victorious general Amribn al-As wanted to make this seaport the Muslim capital. "Behold," he said, "a town ready made for us!" However, Umar I, the Muslim caliph, realized that the Nile floods would cut off Alexandria from the Arabian homeland. He therefore asked Amru to establish a new town east of the Nile River. Amru selected a site on the right bank of the Nile above the delta. In the centuries that followed, the Muslims warred among themselves with the result that the settlement was destroyed and rebuilt several times.

The town of Cairo was founded in 968 by the Fatimids near the earlier site. Cairo was called El Qahira (The Victorious), a name that was subsequently altered to Cairo. In the 12th century the great Muslim ruler Saladin built a citadel at Cairo and began to wall in the quarters of the several different peoples who had settled there. The town of Cairo prospered and grew. However in the later Middle Ages it became the center of trade between Europe and the East and one of the chief seats of Muslim culture. By about 1340 nearly 500,000 people lived in an area 5 times greater than the original Fatimid walled town.

The city of Cairo had become greater than any town in Africa, Europe, or Asia Minor. In 1517 it fell to the Turks, who reduced it to a provincial capital. In 1798 it was seized by Napoleon, but British and Turkish forces drove out the French 3 years later and the town was handed back to the Turks. The British, however, retained special interests in Cairo. A modern European town grew up in the 19th century between the Oriental quarters and the river. The later history of Cairo is merged with that of Egypt.

Cairo spreads eastward from the Nile to the low Mokattam hills, which separate it from the brown wastes of the desert. The citadel of Saladin still stands on a spur of these hills in the southeastern corner of the town. From this height one can look across the island-studded Nile to the Great Pyramids of Giza. Above the flat-roofed houses of Cairo rise the domes and minarets of hundreds of mosques. From the minarets the muezzins call the faithful to prayer 5 times a day. Several minarets are wired for sound.

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