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City Profile: Cairo

Cairo was founded in 2,000 BC and ruled by King Menes who united Upper and Lower Egypt. In the 1st century, the Romans built the Babylon Fortress on the Nile, the oldest structure in the city.

22 November 2016

Cairo itself was established as the City of Fustat, Egypt’s first capitol, by the Fatimids in the 10th century.

Located on the banks of the Nile River, Cairo is Africa’s largest city, as well as the largest city in the Arab world. In the course of its thousand year history it has been the capital of the great Egyptian dynasties of the Middle Ages, a British colonial enclave, and a modern industrialized city. 

Today it is a teeming, vibrant national capital with one of the world’s highest population densities per square mile. Even as the city struggles with the social and environmental effects of overcrowding, it dominates Egypt politically, economically, and culturally and remains a prime tourist destination.

Stops to make….

Of course you’re going to make trips to pyramids. It’s Egypt and it’s what you must do. However, there are a few other places to visit while you’re in Cairo. Tahrir Square, also known as “Martyr Square, has been the location and focus for political demonstrations in Cairo, most notably those that led to the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Take trip up the Cairo Tower. As the tallest structure in Egypt and one of the tallest in Africa, its sometimes considered Egypt’s second most famous landmark after the Pyramids of Giza, offers spectacular views of the city and beyond.

The Manial Palace and Museum is a former Ottoman dynasty era palace and grounds on Rhoda Island on the Nile. The palace and estate has been preserved as an Antiquities Council directed historic house museum and estate, reflecting the settings and lifestyle of the late 19th- and early 20th-century Egyptian royal prince. The residence compound is surrounded by Persian gardens within an extensive English Landscape garden estate park, along a small branch of the Nile.

At the former boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt, is the ancient city of Babylon Fortress. Within the fortress you’ll find the Coptic Museum, a convent, and several churches, including the Church of St. George and the Hanging Church.

Towering over the city is the great Mosque of Muhammad Ali. This Ottoman mosque, the largest to be built in the first half of the 19th century, with its animated silhouette and twin minarets, is the most visible mosque in Cairo. The mosque was built in memory of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s oldest son, who died in 1816.

Don’t forget the Egyptian Museum. It houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities and boasts 107 halls filled with artifacts dating from the prehistoric through the Roman periods, with the majority of the collection focused on the Pharaonic era. The museum houses approximately 160,000 objects covering 5,000 years of Egypt’s past.

Downtown Cairo, whose center is the plaza of Maydan Tahrir, is a bustling district of shops, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial establishments, as well as museums, gardens, and art galleries. It also affords a scenic view of the Nile River.  To the east of central Cairo is the walled medieval section of the city known as Islamic Cairo, which includes historic architecture dating back over a thousand years, and the bustling Khan Khalili marketplace. Its main street, Shar’a Mu’iz, is lined with buildings from several eras of Egyptian history, including those of the early dynasties before the Ottoman Era.

Garden City, south of Maydan Tahrir, is an upscale district with expensive homes and numerous embassies. To the east is the area dominated by the Citadel, a medieval fortress that was home to Egypt’s rulers for some 700 years. In the vicinity are three mosques and several museums.

No matter where you venture, you won’t find yourself with a lack of fascinating sites to see.

A few fun facts…..

• When it was finished, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure in the world for nearly 4,000 years.

• Cairo’s Al-Azhar is one of the world’s oldest universities, dating back to the late 10th century.

• The Arabic name for Cairo is al-Qahirah, which means “the conqueror,” “the vanquisher” or to some, “the victorious. Most Egyptians call Cairo “Masr”, the Arabic for Egypt. Cairo is also called the City of 1000 Minarets, and Umm al-Dounia, the “Mother of the World.”

• Across the Nile from Cairo, Giza, is home to the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Great Pyramid at Giza.

• The Nile runs through the city of Cairo and there are two large islands in the middle of the city

Listen to the language …..

The official language of Cairo is Arabic, as Egypt is an Islamic Country. In the suburbs of Cairo, most shopkeepers speak English, but many people don’t so it’s important to learn some basic Arabic to make your life easier.

Maa ismuk?: what is your name?

Ismii Tom: my name is Tom

Anaa assiid jiddan bimuqaabalatak: I am very glad to meet you

Hal tatahaddath al’ingiliiziyya?: do you speak Engilsh?

Kayfa haluk?: how are you?

Min fadlik: please

Shukran: thank you

Sabaah alkhayr: good morning

Tusbih aalaa khayr: good night

As you will be immersed in an Arabic speaking country, it is crucial to learn the language as it is a difficult language to learn. It is also not very easy learn it from the written word. It would be recommended to have audio assistance! For just that, hear is a link to get you started hearing and speaking the language of the land!

Cairo culture…..

It’s always helpful to study up on the culture of where you will be relocating to. Not knowing little idiosyncrasies can be not only embarrassing but can also get you into a bit of trouble you didn’t expect.

It should be understood that Islam is practiced by the majority of Egyptians and governs their personal, political, economic and legal lives. For example, while women are not required to wear a hijab (headscarf) or a robe, be sensible and conservative in your wardrobe choices. At a minimum, keep your legs, chest and stomach covered. The only real acceptable exception to this would be at a pool or beach and then it’s okay to wear a bathing suit.

Another thing you might notice and adhere to is that public displays of affection, don’t happen. Another thing you will have to adjust to is “Egyptian time”.  If an Egyptian tells you they’ll meet at a certain time, maybe multiple that time by 3. And if you hear the word “inshaAllah,” it probably means they aren’t coming at all.

Just always use common sense, caution and understanding of what’s acceptable. When you’re respectful of the culture you make life easier not only for yourself, but for everyone.

Research, research and then research some more!

Eat like an Egyptian….

Egyptian cuisine and some of its recipes date back 5,000 years and archeologists have even revealed the use of food as a means of payment during ancient times. Of course, there have been some adjustments to the dishes over the years, mainly with the addition of ingredients and styles taken from other cultures.

Egyptian cuisine depends heavily on legumes such as beans and lentils as well as vegetables and onions making a regular appearance in most dishes. Vegetarians normally have no problem getting by in Egypt since meat has traditionally been expensive and thus less common. Most meals have an earthy and slightly spiced flavor. Around the Egyptian coast you will find more fish in the meals. The cuisine is mostly mainly characterized by dishes such as ful medames, mashed fava beans, a mixture of lentils called kushari, rice, pasta, and other ingredients like molokhiya, chopped and cooked bush okra with garlic and coriander sauce, and feteer meshaltet.

The Egyptian Bread Aish also forms part of most of the meals. Aish is the Egyptian word for bread and also means life. Also, if you find there is no cutlery, it is common to use your bread to “spoon” the food.

THE dish of Egypt is Koshary. Considered one of the most famous dishes of Egypt, this vegetarian meal contains rice, spaghetti, macaroni, black lentils, chick peas, garlic, and is topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. You can find Koshary being sold cheaply at street stalls and also in restaurants, some of them only specializing in this dish. So basically, you can’t leave Egypt without trying this. It’s a must!

Although you will find plenty of vegetarian dishes, there are meat dishes as well. One of the most popular being Shawarma. This popular Middle Eastern sandwich is made from shaved goat, chicken, lamb, beef, or turkey. It is rolled in pita bread and tahini sauce. This meal has its origin in Laventine cuisine and was incorporated by the Egyptian’s into their own cuisine.  Then there’s Baba Ghanoush. A cousin of sorts to humus, this dip is served with pita and is made from grilled eggplant that is mashed and mixed with tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, cumin and dressed with olive oil and has a rich, smoky flavor.

You can’t have a meal and not try some dessert. Part dessert and part candy, is Halavah. This popular confection in made from sesame paste, sold in blocks, with a slight sweetness and sometimes comes in chocolate flavor. You can actually also find this in gourmet markets in the US. Egypt also has its own version of rice pudding, Roz Be Laban, that is spiced with a hint of vanilla. And last but not least, the decadent Umm Ali with its layers of bread soaked in milk with raisins and topped with nuts served hot for you to enjoy with a cup of Turkish coffee.

Embrace the adventure…..

The Egyptian people are their countries greatest asset. They’re kind, gentle, and have a wonderful sense of humor. You can’t buy their respect or friendship, but once you have it, they will become your Egyptian family.

Cairo is a city in which the past and present are inextricably intertwined. Its history is long, colorful, and turbulent. There are so many great things about Cairo that simply cannot be put into words or on paper. They must be experienced and lived. That’s where you come in! So explore, enjoy and live like an Egyptian.


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