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CAIRO

 

Cairo (القاهرة al-Qāhirah) is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 17 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (the regions which it conveniently straddles). It is also the 19th largest city in the world, and among the world's most densely populated cities.

Situated on the Nile river, Cairo is famous for its own history, preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and Coptic sites in Old Cairo. The Egyptian Museum in the centre of town is a must see, with its countless Ancient Egyptian artifacts, as is shopping at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, and to the nearby Saqqara Pyramid Complex, where visitors will see Egypt's first step pyramid built by the architect Imhotep for the third dynasty pharaoh Djoser.

Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society. The Midan Tahrir area situated in downtown Cairo area , built in the 19th century under the rule of Khedive Ismail, has strived to be a "Paris on the Nile". There also are a number of more modern suburbs including Ma'adi and Heliopolis, while Zamalek is a quiet area on Gezira Island, with upscale shopping. Cairo is best in the fall or spring, when the weather isn't so hot. A felucca ride on the Nile is a good way to escape from the busy city, as is a visit to Al-Azhar Park.

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Districts

Cairo is vast; with more than 17 million people, it's the largest city in Africa and the Middle East. The downtown core consists of the following districts:

Midan Tahrir

Midan El Tahrir is the very centre of the modern city: big hotels, transport nexus and the Egyptian Museum, with downtown extending through Midan Talaat Harb up to Midan Ataba. Midan Tahrir (literally, "Liberation Square") is famous for the massive 2011 protests that ousted president Mubarak. Massive political rallies still occur on this square.

Midan Ramses

Contains Cairo's main railway station and a burgeoning retail and accommodation zone.

Garden City

A suburb close to the city centre and the Corniche el-Nil, a good option for centred accomodation.

Islamic Cairo

The centre of historic Cairo, located east of downtown; contains the Citadel, Mohamed Ali Mosque, Khan el Khalili (the main bazaar or souq), historic mosques and medieval architecture, as well as some of Cairo's turkish baths or Hammams.

Old Cairo

Located south of downtown, includes Coptic Cairo, Fustat (Cairo's historical kernel) and Rhoda Island.

Dokki and Mohandeseen

Located on the west bank of the Nile, with upscale restaurants, shopping, and accommodation.

Gezira and Zamalek

Upmarket suburb on the Gezira island in the Nile, with hotels, the Cairo Tower, the Opera House, as well as some nice shopping, restaurants, cafes, and accommodation. Also, is where the Gezira Sporting Club is located.

Giza

Giza district is a sprawling western district of the city overlooking the Nile where the Giza Zoo is located as well as a few other attractions. Giza Governorate contains the Haram district where the Giza Pyramids are located. The Governorates of Cairo and Giza have more or less merged into the same city of Greater Cairo, although originally they were two different cities. The term Giza commonly refers to the district of Giza which is within Cairo, not the actual location of the pyramids!

Heliopolis and Nasr City

The two of them are actually completely distinct areas. Heliopolis is an older district where well-to-do Egyptians and higher class people live, built by a Belgian architect. Nasr City is newer, and contains City Stars, Cairo's biggest and most modern shopping mall, and retail social complex. The airport is actually located a bit further east of this area out in the desert near Masaken Sheraton

Ma'adi

A more quiet residential suburb catering to many foreign expatriates, located southeast of Cairo, where upper-class Egyptians live.

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History

Situated along the Nile, Cairo has ancient origins, located in the vicinity of the Pharaonic city of Memphis. The city started to take its present form in 641 A.D , when the Arab general Amr Ibn Al-Ase conquered Egypt for Islam and founded a new capital called Misr Al-Fustat, "the City of the Tents", due to the legend of Al-Ase finding, on the day he was leaving to conquer Alexandria, two doves nesting in his tent. Not wanting to disturb them, he left the tent, which became the site of the new city in what is now Old Cairo. The Tunisian Fatimid dynasty captured the city in 969 A.D and founded a new city, Al-Qahira ("The Victorious") just north of Al-Fustat. Al-Qahira gave the city its English name, Cairo, but the locals still call it Maşr (مصر), the Egyptian dialectal version of Amr's Mişr. Confusingly, this also the Arabic name of the entire country of Egypt!

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Modern Cairo

Today's Greater Cairo is a city with at least 17 million inhabitants, where skyscrapers and fast food restaurants nestle up to world heritage monuments. Originally, Cairo was the designated name of the city on the eastern bank of the Nile, and this is where you'll find both the modern Downtown, built under influence of French architecture, today the centre of commerce and popular life, as well as historical Islamic and Coptic sights.

Outside the core on the eastern bank, you'll find the modern, more affluent suburbs of Heliopolis and Nasr City near the airport, and Ma'adi to the south. In the middle of the Nile is the island of Gezira and Zamalek, more Western and tranquil than the rest of the city. On the western bank is lots of modern concrete and business, but also the great Giza pyramids and, further to the south, Memphis and Saqqara. The city might seem like a lot to handle, but give it a try, and you will find that it has a lot to offer for any traveller!

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