Cairo is the capital of Egypt. It is the largest city in Africa and the Arab world and the 16th largest in the world. It covers an area of 453 sq km and had an approximate population of 9,120,350 in 2011. It is also called the city of the thousand minarets for its predominantly Islamic architecture.
The region around Cairo has long been the focal point of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The origins of the modern city can be traced back to the settlements that grew here in the beginning of the first millennium. The Romans founded a fortified settlement called Babylon when Memphis began to decline. This fortified structure is the oldest part of present day Cairo. The city was constructed in 969 AD as a new capital for the Fatimid dynasty. It became the permanent capital of Egypt in 1168 and in 1169 Saladin became the first sultan of Egypt. In 1250, the Mamluks established their rule here. In 1517, it became a part of the Ottoman Empire. The importance of the city declined as a new sea route was discovered and Cairo was bypassed by the spice traders. In 1805, Muhammad Ali Pasha became the viceroy of Egypt and instituted a number of reforms. So, he is called the founder of modern Cairo.
Cairo is a fan-shaped city located at the head of the Nile delta. The river was highly susceptible to floods and changes in course which affected the shape of the city and the cityscape. This factor is now of reduced importance as a number of dams has been constructed to control the river. The most notable of them is the Aswan dam.
The city is located 165 kms to the south of the Mediterranean Sea. The city narrows towards the south where there are desert escarpments on both sides and it is widest in the north. The change in the course of the river has encouraged the expansion of the city towards the west.
Since the city lies on the border of the Sahara desert, it experiences a hot desert type of climate. Hot weather prevails for eight months and winters are cool. High humidity because of the river makes the weather uncomfortable. Rainfall is sparse but sudden showers cause floods. Winds from the desert also affect the climate.
How to reach (transport)
You can easily travel to Cairo in the following ways:
- The city is served by the Cairo International airport. Regular flights are available to all major cities of the world.
- You can travel to Cairo from anywhere within Egypt by train as the rail network is well developed and the train station is located in the heart of the city.
- Cairo is the nodal point of an extensive road network. Cars and buses can be used to travel to the city from anywhere in Egypt.
When to visit
The best time to visit Cairo is from November to March when the temperatures are cooler and daylight is available for a longer period of time. The brief spring from March to May is also pleasant.
Culture (fairs and festivals) and traditions
A number of events and festivals are celebrated in Cairo throughout the year. These are:
- Coptic Christmas services are held on 7th January and a number of festivities are held during the first week.
- The Cairo International book fair held in January or February is a huge affair with 3,000 participants, discussions, seminars, etc.
- The Cairo International fashion show is a mega event drawing designers from all over the world.
- The Flora Egypt fair held from 11th to 14th January is a huge exhibition of fresh cut flowers.
- The Al Nitaq festival in February showcases Egyptian heritage and culture through music, poetry, visual and performing arts.
- Shem Al Nessim is the first day of spring. It is celebrated in April with picnics and outdoor events.
- The Cairo International song festival is a festival of songwriters and singers of international importance. A huge competition is the major attraction.
- The Wafa-Al-Nil festival on 15th August upholds old tradition by throwing a wooden doll in the Nile. It celebrates the ties of the city with the river.
- The Cairo International film festival is one of the oldest of its kind. Previews of global films are often shown here.
Points of interest (places to visit)
There are a number of things to see in Cairo. Some of them are:
- The pyramids of Giza and Sphinx are the most famous tourist attractions of the city.
- The Egyptian Museum contains one of the largest collections of Egyptian art and antiquities in the world.
- The Pharaonic Village showcases ancient Egypt with live demonstrations of how ancient people lived and worked.
- The Citadel and Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha is a grand castle built by Saladin, and a part of the old pipe system used to carry water from the river to the castle can still be seen.
- Apart from these, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging church, the Cairo tower, the Al Azhar Park etc are other important landmarks.
Cairo offers a vast range of accommodation for travelers of different budgets. The five star hotels include Conrad Cairo, Four Seasons, Ramses Hilton, and Cairo Marriott, while four star hotels include Hilton, Novotel, and Golden Tulip. There are several three star hotels like Windsor, President, Cosmopolitan, Horus House, and King Hotel. Budget accommodations are plentiful in the city though mid-range hotels are fewer in number.