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JUNE 23

Cairo Travel Guide

Cairo History




The city of Cairo is one of the most visited towns in human history. Over the centuries, it is played host to Arabs, Turks, Romans, Greeks, the French and the English, among others. Normally 2 million tourists and travellers continue to flood the city daily.

The History of Cairo

Old Cairo was founded in A.D. 648 near other Egyptian cities and villages, including the old Egyptian capital Memphis, Giza, Heliopolis and the Byzantine fortress of Babylon in Egypt. Also, Fustat was itself a new town built as a military garrison for Arab troops and was the closest central location to Arabia that was accessible to the Nile.

However, Under the dynasties that ruled Egypt over the following centuries, the city grew into a major port town. In A.D. 969 Jawhar, the leader of an Islamic sect called the Fatimids, founded a new town near al-Fustat, initially naming it al-Mansuriyah (its name was later changed to al-Qahirah, or Cairo). When the Fatimids became the rulers of Egypt, founding a dynasty that lasted for 2 centuries, Cairo became their capital.

When Saladin, a Sunni Muslim, defeated the Crusaders and founded the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th century, he retained Cairo as his capital, and it became the center of a vast empire. (Al-Fustat, however, was burned down as part of the "scorched earth" strategy that defeated the Crusaders.)

In the 13th century, the Ayyubids were eclipsed by Turkish military conquerors known as the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt from A.D. 1260 to 1516. During the first 100 years of Mamluk rule, The town of Cairo experienced its most illustrious period. Al-Azhar University, which had been founded in the 10th century, became the foremost center of learning in the Islamic world, and Cairo played a key role in the east-west spice trade. Most of its greatest buildings were constructed during this period.

Era of the Pharaohs (BC 3500 - BC 30)

The pyramids were built much more before, however the southern and northern territories were ruled separately in Egypt. On 5000 years a young prince by the name of Narmer (Menes) unified the White (South) and Red (North) kingdoms and became Egypt's first Pharaoh. It was brilliant a politician and warrior, Narmer chose the site of Memphis as his capital. The town was located at the then Nile Delta tip, along the North South border, and about 25 km south of today's downtown Cairo.

The Romans (BC 30 - AD 641)

Nobody knows the begin of the name of Babylon in Egypt. It can that a corrupted version of the ancient Egyptian per-hapi-n-on, or Nile House of On, a nearby Island. It might have come from the Arabic Bab-ila-on, or gateway to On. Or it may be simply a name the Babylonian prisoners of Pharaoh Sesostris. Anyway, Babylon in Egypt was more a strategic point than an intellectual center. With the re-opening of the canal joining the Nile to the Red Sea, the city became the gateway to Persia and India.

The Islamic Conquest (641 - 969)

On 640 a Muslim army commanded by the Arabian general Amr ibn al-A'as, laid siege to the Fortress of Babylon near what is today Cairo. It was a matter of time before the Byzantine governor of Egypt agreed to peacefully surrender the fortress, and less than a year later, the capital town Alexandria as recorded in the Treaty of Misr. Amr became the first Arab ruler of Egypt and remained so until his death.

The Triumphant City (969 - 1168)

In the 10th Century following the reign of the Abbasid Caliphate and Tulunid dynasty a new power threatened Egypt. Then in this time, the new leader was a Shiite named Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah who established his political and military platform in Tunisia and moved eastward. His legitimacy was supported by his purported claim as a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammed's daughter, Fatima. Egypt was conquered during the reign of one of Billah's successors, Ma'ad al-Muizz Li-Deenillah. In 969, he sent his most skilled general Gawhar, or Jewel, on a campaign to capture Egypt.

Old Cairo

The old Cairo has several fine examples of Arab architecture, most of it is a slum of crumbling mud-brick tenements. Several streets are narrow. Transportation is by camel or donkey. From the Place Ezbekieh, Muski Street runs eastward into the oldest section. On Muski is Cairo's most famous bazaar, where one can buy almost anything. Narrow alleys are lined with tiny shops that are open to the street. In the shops craftsmen sit cross-legged, tooling leather, weaving rugs, or working metal.





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