Cairo is the largest city in Africa and Egypt’s most populous city. Its official name is Al-Qahira, although the name informally used by most Egyptians is “Masr” (Egyptian Arabic name for Egypt), from the original name of Egypt’s first Arab capital Fustat, Misr al-Fustat, “City of the Tents”. The capital of the Arab Republic of Egypt has a population of about 7.7 million people, while its metropolitan area encompasses about 17.285 million people, making it the sixteenth most populous metropolitan area in the world.
Cairo is located on the banks and islands of the Nile River in the north, immediately south of the point where the river leaves its desert bound valley and breaks into two branches into the low-lying Nile Delta region.
The oldest part of the city is east of the river. There, Cairo gradually spreads west, engulfing the agricultural lands next to the Nile. These western areas, built on the model of Paris by Ismail the Magnificent in the mid-19th century, are marked by wide boulevards, public gardens, and open spaces. The older eastern section of the city is very different, having grown up haphazardly over the centuries. Old Cairo is filled with small lanes and crowded tenements. While western Cairo is dominated by the government buildings and modern architecture, the eastern half is filled with hundreds of ancient mosques that act as landmarks and give the city its appellative of “City of the Thousand Minarets”.
A journey through Cairo is a virtual time travel: from the Pyramids, Saladin’s Citadel, the Virgin Mary’s Tree, the Sphinx, and Heliopolis, to Al-Azhar, the Mosque of Amr ibn al-A’as, Saqqara, the Hanging Church, and the Cairo Tower.
Cairo is of course most famous for the majestic Pyramids and the Sphinx, located on the western edge in the Giza plateau. The Pyramids of Giza are the most visited attraction in Egypt. Standing in the shadow of their greatness, it’s easy to see why. While there are actually over one hundred pyramids in Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza are by far the most famous. Time fears the Pyramids, the only standing of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The view of the three pyramids (Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure) rising from the sands with the Cairo skyline in the background is magnificent, the photo opportunity of a lifetime. Most tours allow visitors to enter inside one pyramid, but this is not recommended for people with claustrophobia.
A short drive across the plateau finds you standing at the feet of the Sphinx, eternally facing east to the rising Sun God Re. The Sphinx has come to represent the essence of Egypt for thousands of years. With the body of a lion and the head of a king, there is much mystery and legend inspired by its symbolic nature.
Behind the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Keops) is the Solar Boat Museum, housing the reconstructed funerary boat of Khufu, whose dismantled pieces were found in 1954 buried on that very site. The visitor can walk around the breadth and length of the boat for a stunning close up view. The Solar Boat is fully capable of navigating, and ropes and not a single nail (Egyptians hadn’t invented nails yet) are used to keep the pieces together. It may have been used only once, on the pharaoh’s ceremonial final journey.
Cairo Egypt by Night – Entertainment and nightlife in Cairo for Egypt tourists and travelers
After sunset, you can see the Pyramids of Giza illuminated against the night sky as the Sphinx tells you its story during the famous Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids. The one hour show begins with the illumination of the Sphinx who narrates the history of the Pyramids and their builders. Using laser beams and light projections on the walls of the Mummification Temple, desert sands, Pyramid walls and the Sphinx itself, a condensed story of Egypt unfolds. The accompanying soundtrack complements the surroundings and the voice of the Sphinx is suitably booming and mystical!
Cairo tours also include visits to the great necropolis of Saqqara and to the ancient city of Memphis, the former capital of Lower Egypt. Saqqara is home to the world’s oldest pyramid. Built by the venerated and deified vizier Imhotep for pharaoh Djoser in 2650BC, the famous Step Pyramid is the first large scale man made structure in stone. The recently inaugurated Imhotep Museum is a modern facility with a fine collection of Old Kingdom artifacts.
Memphis, founded around 3,100 BC, is the legendary city of Menes, the King who united Upper and Lower Egypt. Tradition says that Menes founded the city by creating dykes to protect the area from Nile floods. Afterwards, this great city of the Old Kingdom became the administrative and religious center of Egypt. In fact, so dominating was the city during this era referred to as the Memphite period, it became a cosmopolitan community and was probably one of the largest and most important cities in the ancient world.
Memphis offers splendid views of the Nile with its surrounding vegetation and the Great Pyramids in the desert background. The highlight is a visit to the fallen colossus of Ramses II.
Dahshur is located at the southernmost area of Memphis and contains a number of pyramid complexes and monuments. It is noteworthy for being the site that best demonstrates the change from the “step” pyramid to the “true” pyramid that occurred during the 3rd and 4th Dynasties. You will also see Snefru’s Bent Pyramid and have the opportunity to view the interior of the Red Pyramid.
Housing 165,000 Egyptian artifacts, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo attracts millions of visitors a year. The highlights are the priceless treasures of King Tutankhamen and the Royal Mummies Room. King Tut’s 6 gold gilded coffins dominate the main hall, while his magnificent death mask is the must-see item of the day. At the Royal Mummies Room, you can see the mummies of many Egyptian rulers, including the Great Ramses II and Thuthmose III, the “Napoleon of Egypt”. Throughout the rest of the museum you will find countless ancient Egyptian artifacts dating back thousands of years. The museum was built in 1902, meant to exhibit around 10,000 antiquities. It has no air conditioner and the objects in exhibition are not properly labeled.
A brand new Grand Egyptian Museum is scheduled to be ready by 2011. It will be located next to the Great Pyramids, right on the edge of the desert and it will transform the visitor’s experience.
Islamic Cairo Tours
The Alabaster Mosque at the Citadel of Salah el-Din sits atop a limestone hill overlooking Cairo and is the most important mosque in the city. Still used a place of worship today by the Muslims of Cairo, the architectural masterpiece opens its doors to visitors of all faiths. The lower part of the Mosque is clad inside and out in translucent alabaster, while the top part is constructed from the limestone cladding removed from the Pyramids of Giza.
Legend has it that Salah ad-Din chose the site for its healthy air. The story goes that he hung pieces of meat up all around Cairo. The meat spoilt within a day everywhere except in the Citadel area, where it remained fresh for several days.
The Mosque and Madrassa (school) of Sultan Hassan was built between 1356 and 1363, and is believed to be one of the finest examples of Mamluk architecture in Cairo. The mosque is also considered one of the largest, not only in Cairo but in the whole Islamic world, measuring some 492 feet (150 meters) long and 118 feet (36 meters) high. The highest minaret is 223 feet (68 meters) tall.
At Khan el Khalili bazaar, tourists stroll through the maze of streets and try their luck bargaining with the shop owners for souvenir to bring back home.
Restaurants in Cairo: Satisfying most edible desires, Cairo, Egypt is home to a never-ending source of eateries. Inexpensive food is always easily accessible everywhere about the streets, as restaurants and snack stalls are all over the place. The highest-rated dining opportunities are most often, but not always situated in hotels and Nile boats. Read more
Coptic Cairo Tours:
The Hanging Church (The Church of the Virgin Mary) is built into the walls of the Water Gate of the Roman fortress and is possibly the oldest Christian church in Egypt, dating to around the 4th-century. It was built on top of one of the old fortress gatehouses with its nave suspended over the passage. Dedicated to Virgin Mary and properly known as Sitt Mariam, or St. Mary, it is also one of Cairo’s most beautiful churches.
The Monastery and Church of St George is actually not an old church, dating only from 1909, but there has been a church in Coptic Cairo dedicated to the Martyr since the 10th-century. It is also one of the few remaining circular churches in the Middle East.
According to tradition, Abu Serga is one of the places where the Holy Family rested after fleeing to Egypt from Israel’s King Herod. At the turn of the century this little church, which dates from the 10th-century, was the most important pilgrimage spot in Old Cairo for visiting Christian tourists. There are 24 marble columns lining the central court, and a series of 12th-century icons depicting the 12 apostles.
Ben Ezra is one of the oldest synagogues in Egypt. Set in a shady garden, it was built on the site of 4th-century Christian church, which the Copts had to sell in the 9th-century to enable them to pay taxes. The synagogue was severely damaged by Arabs after the 1967 war with Israel, but it has been almost completely renovated.