Ancient egypt art guide  

Cairo (egypt)
By Kristian

Cairo (Egypt) (Arabic Al Qāhira, meaning “the Victorious”), capital of Egypt and the largest city in Africa. Located on both banks of the Nile River near the head of the river's delta in northern Egypt, the site has been settled for more than 6000 years and has served as the capital of numerous Egyptian civilizations. Cairo is known locally as Misr, the Arabic name for Egypt itself, because of its centrality in Egyptian life. Greater Cairo is spread across three of Egypt's administrative governorates: the east bank portion is located in Al Qalyobīyah Governorate, while the west bank is part of the governorates of Al Jīzah and Al Qalyobīyah. Cairo is marked by the traditions and influences of the East and the West, the ancient and the modern. However, the city also reflects Egypt's growing poverty, and it struggles to cope with problems caused by massive population growth, urban sprawl, and a deteriorating infrastructure.


The city of Cairo covers an area of more than 453 sq km (more than 175 sq mi), though it is difficult to separate the city from some of its immediate suburbs. Bracketed by the desert to the east, south, and west and bounded by the fertile Nile delta to the north, Cairo sits astride the river, though it spreads farther on the east bank than the west. Cairo also includes several river islands, which play an important role in the life of the city. As the region's principal commercial, administrative, and tourist center, Cairo contains many cultural institutions, business establishments, governmental offices, universities, and hotels, which together create a dense pattern of constant activity.

The center of downtown Cairo is Tahrīr Square, located on the east bank. A hub of tourist activity, the vast, open square contains numerous attractions, including the Egyptian Museum, the Arab League headquarters, and the modern Umar Makram Mosque. Extending from north to south along the east bank is Al Kūrnīsh (the Corniche), Cairo's main thoroughfare. Located nearby is the narrow strip of land known as Garden City, one of the city's newer residential areas.

In the center of the city is the river island of Zamālik (also called Jazīrah, meaning “the Island”), which contains the upscale residential and commercial neighborhood also known as Zamālik, the Cairo Opera House (founded in 1869), and the Cairo Tower (1957). Three bridges link the island with both banks of the river. The island of Al Rawdah, located to the south, is linked to the mainland by two additional bridges, while another bridge to the north carries road and rail traffic across the Nile.

Also outside the city's central area on the east bank, spanning from the northeast to the southeast, are the neighborhoods of Islamic Cairo. These neighborhoods are known for their narrow streets, crowded suqs (bazaars), and hundreds of mosques, many dating back to the medieval period. South of the Islamic district is Old Cairo, where some of the city's oldest architectural monuments can be found. Old Cairo is the home of Cairo's Coptic Christian community, and the site of the Coptic Museum and a number of Coptic churches.

The irrigation of Cairo's desert periphery has allowed for the development of suburbs, such as Heliopolis, located to the northeast. Other modern suburbs are interspersed with recently created migrant neighborhoods that accommodate the city's growing population. Industrial areas further crowd the city, restricting its growth. Cairo is served by an international airport, situated approximately 24 km (about 15 mi) northeast of the city; the Ramses train station and a bus terminal are located near Tahrīr Square in downtown Cairo.


Cairo is the chief commercial and industrial center of Egypt. Local industries manufacture cotton textiles, food products, construction supplies, motor vehicles, aircraft, and chemical fertilizers. Iron and steel are produced at Ḩulwān, just outside the city. Cairo is also a center for government activities and service industries. Because of the city's warm climate and numerous historical and cultural attractions, tourism plays an important role in its economy.

Cairo receives goods shipped on the Nile at the river port of Būlāq, located at the northern end of the city. From Cairo, products are sent by road, railroad, and waterway to the Mediterranean ports of Alexandria and Port Said. The city is connected by train service to other major cities. Traffic congestion is a growing problem in Cairo. A subway system opened in the city in 1987.

Cairo is an important center for publishing and other forms of media. Its newspapers, which include Al Ahram (founded in 1875) and Al Akhbar (1952), exert wide influence within the Islamic world, as does Radio Cairo.


In 1998 Cairo was estimated to have a population of 6.8 million. The people of

Cairo are known as Cairenes; nearly all of them are Egyptian Arabs. The city is an important center of the Islamic faith, and Cairenes are predominantly Sunni Muslims; however, the city also is home to a sizable Coptic community, which traces its origins to the Christians who populated Cairo before the arrival of Islam (see Sunni Islam; Coptic Church; Coptic Language; Coptic Art and Architecture). The number of Jewish residents has decreased significantly in the latter half of the 20th century, largely due to emigration to Israel.

Cairo's population swells daily as workers flow into the city from the surrounding area, clogging roads and rail lines every morning and evening. Many Cairenes are recent arrivals from villages along the Nile. These rural migrants arrive with few skills or resources, and compound the existing problems of unemployment and scarce housing.


The most famous educational institution in Cairo is the Al Azhar University, the oldest in the Islamic world. The institution has grown up around the Al Azhar Mosque, which was founded in 970 by the Fatimids, eighteen years before the university. Al Azhar University is an authoritative voice throughout the Islamic world, and its positions on important issues are influential in Egypt and the Arab world. Other institutions of higher education include Cairo University (founded in 1908) and Ain Shams University (1950), which together enroll more than 100,000 students; and the American University in Cairo, founded in 1919, where the children of Egypt's elite mingle with students and faculty from abroad.

Egyptian history is displayed and preserved in the city's numerous museum collections. Founded in 1902, the Egyptian Museum contains hundreds of thousands of works, including more than 1700 pieces from the collection of Tutankhamun; the Museum of Islamic Arts (1881) contains a vast collection relating to early Islamic civilization; and the Coptic Museum (1910) traces the history of the Coptic community in Egypt. Other Cairo museums maintain collections relating to more modern themes; these range from the Al Gawhara Palace Museum, built in 1811 in the Ottoman style, to the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, founded in 1963, which contains works by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Peter Paul Rubens, and other European and Egyptian painters of renown. Cairo's rich cultural life is further enhanced by local theater, cinema, dance, and music, in addition to the city's vibrant community of journalists and fiction writers; Cairo residents take great pride in the work of Nobel Prize-winning author and Cairo native Naguib Mahfouz, whose fiction has provided a chronicle of the city.


The pyramids of Egypt, which served as tombs for the ancient pharaohs, and the statue of the Sphinx, which dates from about 2500 bc and is probably the country's most famous monument, are located just west of Cairo in the suburb of Giza. Depite the desert background usually depicted in photographs, the pyramids are extremely close to Cairo and are likely to be affected by the city's continued expansion.

Cairo contains numerous religious and governmental structures. The ornate architecture of the Citadel, in eastern Cairo, enhances the city's skyline. Begun by Saladin in 1176 and modified and expanded by later sultans, the Citadel is famous for its mosques, museums, and fort; within the complex the Mohammad Ali Mosque (1830) is particularly notable, with its storied domes and twin minarets. The Coptic church known as Al Mu’allaqa, located in Old Cairo, is believed to be the earliest known site of Christian worship in Egypt; the church was built in the 3rd century, though it has been almost entirely replaced through successive restorations. Old Cairo also contains the Ben Ezra synagogue, the central house of worship for Cairo's small Jewish population, and the distinctive and imposing gates of Bāb Zuwaylah, Bāb al Nasr, and Bāb al Futūh. Once part of a wall that encircled the city, these three gates are all that remain of the original eight. Among Cairo's modern buildings are the Cairo Tower, which stands at a height of 187 m (about 614 ft) and commands a view of the pyramids and the Citadel, and the Mugamma building, where many of Egypt's government organizations are housed. Cairo also contains a number of parks, gardens, and recreational facilities, including the Al Urman botanical garden and the Cairo Zoo.

Linking the city's past and present are the twin cemeteries on the eastern periphery known as the City of the Dead. Today, because of housing shortages and poverty, about 500,000 Cairenes live in these tombs and mausoleums of the deceased. Although this situation is not officially sanctioned, it has become somewhat formalized over time, and the city now provides electricity and water service to those living in the cemeteries.


The origins of the site of present-day Cairo can be traced back to the Egyptian capital of Memphis, which is believed to have been founded in the early 4th millennium bc near the head of the Nile delta, south of the present city. The city spread to the north along the east bank of the Nile, and its location has commanded political power ever since. It was there that the Romans constructed their city called Babylon. The site was later called Al Fustat by Muslim Arabs who immigrated there from the Arabian Peninsula in ad 641. When a dissident branch of Muslims known as the Fatimids conquered Egypt in 969, they established their headquarters in the city and called it Al Qāhira (Cairo). In the 12th century Christian Crusaders attacked Cairo, but they were defeated by a Muslim army from Syria, led by Saladin, who founded the Ayyubid dynasty in the city. The Mamluks established their capital in Cairo in the 13th century, and the city became renowned throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. Cairo declined after the mid-14th century, however, when the epidemic of bubonic plague known as the Black Death struck the city, decimating its population.

The Ottomans conquered Cairo in 1517, and ruled there until 1798, when the area was captured during an expedition led by Napoleon I of France. Ottoman rule was restored in 1801, but by the middle of the 19th century Egypt's foreign debt and the weakness of the Ottoman Empire invited greater European influence in Cairo. The viceroy Ismail Pasha, who ruled from 1863 to 1879, built many European-style structures in the city and used the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal northeast of Cairo in 1869 to showcase the city for the European powers. However, much of the development that took place during this period was funded by foreign loans, which led to an increase in the national debt and left Cairo vulnerable to control by Great Britain. The British effectively ruled Egypt from Cairo from the late 19th century through the period after World War I (1914-1918), when the foreign presence in Cairo began to diminish.

Cairo's population grew rapidly in the interwar years, reaching 2 million by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Since that time the city has continued to boom in terms of both population and development. Some of this population growth has resulted from the influx of refugees from cities along the Suez Canal that were damaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many new residential, commercial, and governmental structures have changed the city's landscape. Tourist facilities have proven an important source of foreign revenue for Egypt, and have thus drawn heavy investment from the government. Cairo has also benefited from Egypt's growing international prominence. The founding of the Arab League in 1945 made Cairo a political capital, as has Egypt's ongoing participation in the Middle East peace process. However, in 1981 the city witnessed a tragic event when Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated at a military parade by Islamic fundamentalists within the Egyptian army. In 1992 the city was shaken by an earthquake that killed more than 500 people and injured about 6500 others.

The United Nations' third International Conference on Population and Development, which brought an estimated 20,000 government officials, activists, and journalists to Cairo in September 1994, was considered a high point in the city's efforts to strengthen its economy. At the same time, the conference addressed many of the issues that trouble Cairo, particularly poverty and rapid growth rates. While the city has maintained its status within Egypt and the Arab world, many of its residents lack fundamental goods and services. Cairo's rapidly expanding population has also taxed the city's infrastructure. Leaks in Cairo's pipes and sewers have caused the water table to rise, destabilizing the ground underneath the city, and causing a number of structures to collapse under their own weight.

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