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Cairo City Guide


Cairo, the capital of Egypt, contains worlds within worlds, full of charm and contradictions. It is a maddening city with its incessant crowds, noise and pollution. Yet, it beckons you to linger and explore the various districts, each with its own characteristics, evoking a fragment of Cairo's rich 7,000 year history. A walk down any street in Cairo is a feast for the senses, and exploring beyond the popular districts below will not fail to fascinate.

Most tourists find themselves interested in only a handful of the main districts, including the downtown area, Old Cairo, the Citadel area and remote Giza – site of the great pyramids.

Central Cairo

The current heart of Cairo, the downtown region roughly centred on Midan Tahrir, stretches east to Ramses Station and south to Garden City. It is relatively young, as only in the mid 1800s was this area west of Ezbekiya to the Nile drained and developed. The architecture of the downtown cacophony of shops, restaurants, theatres, offices, apartment buildings, and hotels possesses an old-world elegance.

The area also boasts numerous museums and contemporary art galleries. The Egyptian Museum, with its monumental collection of antiquities, is located on Midan Tahrir and requires several hours to peruse the collection. The recently opened Abdeen Palace Museum displays a collection from pre-independence times. Bookworms will want to browse among the dozens of small second-hand stalls at Ezbekiya, near Midan Opera, where there is a good selection of both Arabic and foreign language books and magazines.

Old Cairo (Masr el Qadima)

Sometimes known as "Coptic Cairo", this area provides a historical link between Cairo's Pharaonic and Islamic periods. It is likely that the area was settled during the 6th Century BCE. It was here in 130 CE that the Roman emperor Trajan erected Babylon Fort, the core of the old city. The area features several old Coptic churches as well as Ben Ezra Synagogue, the oldest in Egypt. The ruins of the old city of Fustat are also nearby. Many potters and ceramicists used to work in the area, but have recently been relocated.

Islamic Cairo

The name of this district is misleading, as this fascinating part of the city is no more "Islamic" than any other. It seems to be the conventional way to describe the area that became the city centre during medieval times. This area is very rich in history and culture, and takes days to explore thoroughly.

Highlights of this district include the Citadel; the vibrant Khan el Khalili bazaar, which is full of small shops, craftsmen's workshops, restaurants and coffee houses; Al Azhar Mosque, a thousand year old centre of Islamic study; the Gayer-Anderson Museum; and the Cities of the Dead, cemeteries that are also home to hundreds of living residents. Throughout the district, there are dozens of beautiful mosques with many different architectural styles and that are open to non-Muslim visitors. There are also several old houses and secular buildings, which have been converted into museums or public spaces.

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