The history of Cairo starts with the Arab conquest of Egypt in 640 AD. The process that gave birth to al-Quahira extended over nearly six centuries and involved a series of foundations. Fustat (the camp) was established beside the Roman Emperor Trajan’s fort at Babylon by the Arab conquerors in 642 AD. In 750 the ruling Arabian caliphs were superseded by a rival dynasty based in Iraq called the Abbasids.
At the end of the 9th century, the Abbasid ruler Ibn Tulun constructed Al-Qatai (the districts) a new settlement – divided into zones – to the north of Fustat. What we know as Islamic Cairo wasn’t founded until 969, when the Fatimid caliphs from Tunisia usurped Baghdad’s power and built their fabled palace enclosure to the north of the existing area. The Fatimid dynasty derives its name from Fatima, the daughter of prophet Mohamed and the wife of Ali, from whom the caliphs claimed descent. As the planet Mars (Al-Qahir) was in the ascendant, the Fatimid caliph decided to call the city Al-Qahira (from which the word Cairo is derived it also means the Victorious).
In 1176 Salah Ed-Din Ayyub (known as Saladin) ended the Fatimid rule and built the Citadel on an outcrop of the Muqattam Hills. The Ayyubid line (1171 – 1250) – named after Saladin’s father Ayyub, came from Syria to conquest Egypt – ran to only four rulers and resulted in the rise to power of the Mamluks (1250 -1517), a Turkish slave-soldier class. Under the rule of the Ottomans (1517 – 1798) Cairo’s days as a great imperial city were at an end and it was reduced to the level of a provincial city.
The 19th-century ruler Mohamed Ali (1805 – 1849) believed that his family would remain in power as long as they resided in the Citadel. His grandson Ismail (1863 – 1879) ignored his advice. During his 16-year reign he did much to develop Cairo along the lines of Europe’s great cities and set an example by building himself the palace of Abdin in 1874. Five years later he was forced to abdicate.
In 1882 the British came to Egypt and Agents came to power. On January 26th 1952 – European Cairo was set on fire, as an act against the continued presence of the British in Egypt. But already years before, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, formed a semi-underground organization, The Free Officers; led by General Mohamed Naguib determined to drive the British out of Egypt forever.
On July 23rd 1952 they assumed control over strategic military zones within Cairo and elsewhere; on July 26th King Farouk left Egypt and his son Ahmad Fouad was declared King. In 1953 he was deposed and Egypt was declared a republic.
In 1954 Nasser became the country’s head of state. Since his presidency the 1952 military coup is referred to as the 1952 Revolution. When Nasser died in 1970, the Egyptian vice-president Anwar El-Sadat was elected; he ruled the country for 11 years and was assassinated at a military parade. His vice-president Hosni Mubarak, who rules to date, succeeded him.
Since the 1952 revolution, Cairo’s landscape has changed significantly. The city’s population has more than tripled, and several satellite cities became suburbs of Greater Cairo. The once rural regions stretching between the Nile and the Pyramids today are as crowded as downtown; the whole city covers some 214sq km, most of which is on the east bank of the river. Looking at a map of the city of today, the original construction dating back to the early foundation of the capital can easily be distinguished in the jungle of modern architecture. However, the series of earthquakes that hit Egypt in 1992 left their mark on Islamic monuments; Cairo contains the world’s largest collection of medieval Islamic architecture, with more than 800 listed buildings and some scenes still remain unchanged.
A walk through the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar is a trip back in time to the Mamluk and Ottoman days. Salah Ed-Din’s Citadel, Al Azhar, the old city gates, and the spiral minaret of Ibn Tulun, the Fortress of Babylon, the Hanging Church, and the Virgin’s Tree tell of some of the city’s most glorious days. Not to forget the Pyramids, these magnificent structures, 18km southwest of central Cairo considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World still bear witness to the splendor of a civilization that flourished at this very spot some 5000 years ago.
Cairo is a city with a unique flair, a city of contrasts: Donkey-carts beside BMWs and Mercedes, international restaurants and bars, beside coffee shops and shauwerma (traditional chicken sandwich) stands. The traffic seems to be organized chaos and satellite dishes are strewn over the roofs of houses.
People arriving and living in Cairo experience a peaceful co-existence of modern and traditional life. And despite a huge divide between rich and poor residents you are always welcomed with overwhelming hospitality and helpfulness. Discover Egypt