Cairo and Giza Egypt

To say Cairo is a city of contrasts is perhaps an understatement. It is an astonishing mix of reminders from an ancient world that sit, surprisingly comfortably, with modern day life. You can see historic buildings and market squares in Old Cairo, fabulous Mamluk and Ottoman mosques, Christian churches, swish hotels and contemporary commercial offices in Greater Cairo, lush parks, residential areas and the amazing area where the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in Giza dominate the skyline and the city meets the desert.

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Giza, Sphinx and the Pyramids
SphinxTo say Cairo is a city of contrasts is perhaps an understatement. It is an astonishing mix of reminders from an ancient world that sit, surprisingly comfortably, with modern day life. You can see historic buildings and market squares in Old Cairo, fabulous Mamluk and Ottoman mosques, Christian churches, swish hotels andcontemporary commercial offices in Greater Cairo, lush parks, residential areas and the amazing area where the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in Giza dominate the skyline and the city meets the desert.

Add to this the chance of visiting the Egyptian Museum where exhibits are too ancient and too fabulous to comprehend, the streets of Khan el-Khalili, the oldest bazaar in the world, and the huge museum and cultural centre complex of the Opera House and you have a city that captivates. To visit Cairo, one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world with a population said to be almost 8 million in the metropolitan area alone, will be a thoroughly memorable, if hectic, and at times bewildering, experience.



Tutankhamum’s treasuresMillions of Egyptian live and work in the city, with the total number of people bolstered by tourists from every corner of the world at most times of the years. Spring and autumn tend to be the busiest times as the sun is not so hot, although winter and summer see many visitors too. Expect to hear Japanese and Chinese, American voices, Canadians, French, Italian and English among the throngs of people who gather to see the sights of this glorious city.

Cairo lies on the banks of the Nile River, at the point where it splits in a fan-like manner for its onward route north through the low-lying Nile Delta to the Mediterranean. It is a warm city, although has a raising humidly level due to the Nile. July to August are the hottest months when temperatures tend to be 30-40°C (107.6oF), while in winter it is cooler at around 24-30°C (86oF). It has little rainfall.

Cairo is divided into several main areas, each with their own character and many attractions that should be a ‘must’ on every visitors’ itinerary. Central Cairo, or Greater Cairo, is where the administrative heart of the city, and indeed the country, is located. It lies to the north of the city and takes in part of Giza on the western side of the river and a large expanse of area to the east. The area feels contemporary and modern with a network of wide 19th century boulevards resembling the layout of cities such as Paris, shiny futuristic buildings, parklands, swish restaurants and hotels. It is quite different to almost all other areas of the city.

The Corniche el-Nil runs along the length of the Nile on the east side and offers bridges across the water to the island of Gezira in the Zamalek district, and in turn to the west bank. The Cairo Tower, a tall television tower with a lattice-like exterior, is a famous landmark of the island and can be seen for some distance. You can go to the top for a great panoramic view of the city. Central Cairo contains some fabulous sights, such as the 19th century Midan Opera andMidan Ataba, the Mausoleum of former Prime Minister Saad Zaghloul, Manial Palace which was once a royal home and the new sprawling Opera House complex where residents and visitors can hear classical music and opera, and see dance performances, theatre and ballet.
The Citadel
Midan Tahrir is the busy heart of Central Cairo, and it is here where there are numerous shops, cafes and restaurants in streets such as Qasr el-Nil. There’s also the American University housed in a grand neo-Islamic building, plus the city’s absolute ‘must do’ attraction, the Egyptian Museum. You can reach it via the Sadat subway station.

Housed in a neo-classical building colour washed in pink, it is the home of the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world. In fact, it is said there are around 120,000 pieces on display, including mummies, numerous sarcophagi and, of course, the world famous Tut Ankh Amum (Tutankhamun) collection of gold and alabaster treasures found when the boy pharaoh’s tomb was discovered in 1922.
The Egyptian Museum
You can also see a replica of the Rosetta Stone in the foyer as you enter the museum.
The original was discovered in RosettaRashidon the north coast and was The Citadel instrumental in deciphering hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian form of handwriting that dates from before Pharaonic Egypt times. If visiting the museum you can book a guided tour or purchase a book and wander around at your own pace. Allow several hours or, if a dedicated Egyptologist, many days.

Al-Azhar MosqueEast of Central Cairo is the Islamic part of the city, while to the south is the oldest. Full of atmosphere and charm, they both are characterised by narrow streets and labyrinths of tiny alleyways and lanes, ancient architecture seen on mosques and churches, and residential streets that stretch for several kilometres into the distance.

Khan el-Khalili, the famous network of streets that make up the largest bazaar in the Middle East, and one of the oldest markets in the world, is in the Islamic part of Cairo. It was built by Emir Djaharks el- Khalili who created a khan, a caravanserai for traders. 
From as far back as 1382 traders have plied their goods of gems, gold and silver, copper and highly scented spices. Today, similar items can be found although they are joined by trinkets more suited to holidaying visitors looking for a souvenir to take home.

To wander around the bazaar is fascinating, and good fun.

Nearby, is the great Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, considered the holiest site in Cairo, which is well worth seeing, along with the fabulously old Mosque of al-Azhar, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the 12th century citadel built by Salah El Din to protect the city from invaders, the Mosque of Mohamed Ali on the Citadel and the Wikalat al-Ghouri, a medieval former caravanserai that now houses an arts and crafts centre. The Islamic part of the city is generally bustling, but is a key area for visitors new to Cairo to experience.

MapTo the west of Central Cairo are the Pyramids of Giza on the Giza plateau, not far from the site of the ancient city of Memphis and Saqqara. The last remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the pyramids are the iconic image of Egypt. You can visit the Great Pyramid built for King Khufu of the 4th dynasty, the slightly smallerPyramid of Khafre dated from around 2500 BC and the Pyramid of Menkaure. Dotted around are several smaller pyramids where members of the kings’ families would have been entombed. 

To one side stands the much-photographed Sphinx with its body of a lion and the head of a human, while a short walk away is the Solar Boat Museum that houses a full-size ancient Egyptian boat that was discovered in pieces but put together again with much care. It is fascinating to see.

Saqqara complex of pyramids and monuments, the centrepieces of which are the Step Pyramid of Djoser and the Pyramid of Sekhmket, along with the city of Memphis that during much of the Pharaonic Egypt period was the capital city.

Coptic Cairo, St Georges’ ChurchWhile the Pyramids of Giza and the beautiful Sphinx that ‘guards’ them date from Pharaonic times and are one of the oldest monuments in the city today, Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo as it is known, is where the city actually began. In fact, the area, along withMemphis, Saqqara and Dahshur, predates the city as we know it today.

Old Cairo was founded in around the 6th century AD, at a time when Alexandria was the capital of Egypt and the Pyramids and Sphinx lay way beyond the small community’s boundary. Then the site that was to become Cairo was little more than a few dwellings on the banks of the Nile and a Roman fortress that guarded the route between the ancient cities of Memphis and Heliopolis.

As the stories go, an Arab general, Amr Ibn al-Aas, decided the area was a good spot for establishing a much larger community and began to construct homes and places of worship.
The community grew and grew at a time when the country was predominately Christian. Today, some of the most historic and important Christian buildings and churches in the city can be found in the narrow little alleyways and streets of Coptic Cairo. Be sure to visit the Church of St Barbara, one of the largest in Egypt, is still used regularly for worship.

Other buildings to look out for in this area are the Church of St George, the Church of St Sergius, which is the oldest church in Coptic Cairo and lies a few feet below street level, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the Amr Ibn al-Aas Mosque andthe beautiful Hanging Church, so called because it is built high on top of the old Roman fortress structure, the Babylon Fort. A splendid building, it has a distinctive front façade with twin bell towers and inside a vaulted roof and a series of columns. 

Khan el-Khalili BazaarThe Coptic Museum tucked away down one of the alleyways not far away is well worth a visit too. It hides a lovely courtyard garden behind its walls, which is a quiet place to visit amongst the hustle and bustle of Cairo. Look out for the delicately carved mashrabiya windows. Inside, the museum offers a surprise at every turn. With one of the finest collections of Coptic art in the world, it covers the periods from Pharaonic times through to Graeco-Roman and Islamic. 

On display are pulpits, ancient textiles and embroidered silks, icons, manuscripts and ceramics. 
Cairo’s history is wondrous. It has seen pharaohs, Christians and Islam followers, and has also been the seat of the ruling Royal dynasty, the Fatimid Caliphate, the capital during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, and the centre of Napoleon’s empire when France occupied Egypt in the 18th century. It retained its capital city status under British rule until Egypt became independent in 1922.
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