You can also see a replica of the Rosetta Stone
in the foyer as you enter the museum.
The original was discovered in Rosetta
, on 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.
East 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.
To 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.
While 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
, 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. The 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.