Capital of Egypt, and the largest city in Africa and in the Middle East, situated on the east bank of the River Nile 13 km/8 mi above the apex of the delta and 160 km/100 mi from the Mediterranean; population (2006) 6,786,600. The city is the leading commercial and industrial centre of Egypt; its industries include the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, leather, cement, processed foods, vegetable oils, and steel. At Helwan, 24 km/15 mi to the south, an industrial centre is powered by electricity from the Aswan High Dam. With the attractions of the pyramids and sphinx at Giza and the Egyptian museum, which has one of the world's leading archaeological collections, there is also a very substantial tourist industry, while the film and publishing industries serve most of the Middle East.
History El Fustat (Old Cairo) was founded by Arabs about in about AD 642, and Al Qahira in about 1000 by the Fatimid ruler Gowhar. Cairo was the capital of the Ayyubid dynasty, one of whose sultans, Saladin, built the Citadel in the late 1100s. Under the Mamelukes (1250–1517) the city prospered, but declined in the 16th century after conquest by the Turks. It became the capital of the virtually-autonomous kingdom of Egypt established by Mehmet Ali in 1805. During World War II it was the headquarters of the Allied forces in north Africa.
In October 1992 an earthquake in a suburb of the city left over 500 dead. In 1994 Cairo hosted the United Nations Conference on Population and Development.
Features Cairo is the site of the mosque that houses the El Azhar university (972). The Mosque of Amr dates from 643; the 12th-century Citadel contains the impressive 19th-century Mehmet Ali mosque. The city is 32 km/20 mi north of the site of the ancient Egyptian centre of Memphis. The Great Pyramids and Sphinx are at nearby El Gîza. The government and business quarters reflect Cairo's position as a leading administrative and commercial centre, and the semi-official newspaper al Ahram is an influential voice in the Arab world. There are several secular universities: Cairo University (1908), Ein Shams (1950), and the American University (1919), which, together with El Azhar University, make Cairo a leading centre for higher education in Africa and the Arab world.
The city has an international airport near the suburb of Heliopolis, 24 km/15 mi to the northeast.
Location The southeast part of the city, including the citadel, rises on the rocks of the Mokattam Hills; however the greater part of the city is built over the alluvial plain in the river valley.
AD 968 to 19th century Cairo, the fourth Muslim capital, was founded in AD 968 by Jauhar el-Kaid, who called it El-Qahira. The ruins of the first capital, Masr, established in 641, together with some towers of the Roman fortress at Babylon, a colony founded in 525, can still be seen at Masr-el-Atika, or old Cairo, which lies just to the south of the modern city. Shortly after 1176, Saladin erected the citadel and a portion of the city walls. Under the dynasty of the Mameluke sultans the capital prospered, and the town of Bulak was founded, which is now the flourishing port (and suburb) of Cairo, and which lies at its northeastern extremity. Sultan Selim overthrew their sovereignty in 1517, and from this date until 1798, when the city passed by conquest into the hands of the French, Cairo was the conservative metropolis of Turkish Egypt. Three years later it was taken by combined English and Turkish forces, and returned to Ottoman rule. In 1811 Mehmet Ali, the Turkish viceroy, having massacred the Mamelukes, took control over the city, which became the capital of an independent kingdom. During his reign, and even more under Ismail Pasha, who ruled from 1863, rapid changes
took place; new suburbs were designed and new thoroughfares opened out, and following the British occupation in 1882 the improvements multiplied, including the development of a water supply and drainage system.
20th century During World War I, Cairo became the administrative headquarters of the allied campaigns in Egypt and Palestine. In 1917 foreigners constituted more than 10% of Cairo's population of 800,000. Following World War I foreign control began to diminish, however, and as local people began to take over the functions of foreigners in business, technology, administration, and the army, middle-class and working-class zones for Egyptian residents expanded rapidly. The gross differences in lifestyle between the elite and the rest of the city were largely obliterated by the revolution of 1952 and in 1956 when royalty and most of the foreigners were driven out.
After World War II the city experienced a huge growth in population. The economic structure supporting this increase was a mixture of corporate large-scale businesses and small-scale bazaar units.
The modern city Present-day Cairo is the fourth city founded in succession on the same site, and it preserves remains of the
former cities: old walls and gateways, narrow streets and latticed houses, together with many mosques. Place Atabet, to the southeast of the Esbekiya gardens, is the central point for the electric tramways. The fine boulevard Muhammad Ali runs southeast as far as the citadel, while on the southwest the shari'ah Kasr-en-Nil leads down to the Great Nile bridge, which connects the island of Gezira Bulak with the mainland. To the north of the bridge are the large Kasr-en-Nil barracks and the museum of Egyptian antiquities, built in 1902. Originally founded at Bulak by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, it contains the finest collection of Pharaonic relics in the world. The national library and Arab museum, opened in 1903, lie off the boulevard Muhammad Ali. The library contains some 200,000 volumes, the majority being of Eastern literature, while the museum encourages the preservation of the monuments of Arab art, which were for centuries neglected. Cairo's earliest Arab building is the mosque of Omar dating from 643. From Place Atabet the Muski runs straight into the old city, which lies to the east, while the modern part is occupied by government offices, public buildings, luxury hotels, and residential quarters. In the eastern part there are the quarters of the Copts. Wealthy Cairenes live in Garden City, a residential suburb on the banks of the river; in Gezireh, a long thin island in the Nile; or in the suburbs of Heliopolis, Maadi, and Helwan. Bazaars include the Khan-el-Khalili, the Hamzawi, and the Brass bazaar, though the Muski, which leads to them, has lost much of its traditional character. El-Azhar University, established in 971, is the chief centre of Muslim intellectual life. Cairo is a city of many churches – Coptic, Greek, Maronite, Armenian, Syrian, and Roman Catholic – besides some 400 mosques, many of which are of magnificent architecture. The three gates of the city, Bab-en-Nasr, Bab-el-Futuh, and Bab-Zuweyleh, are good examples of the massive yet simple effects which Islamic architects produced with the fine ashlar masonry. Beyond the eastern wall of the city lie the so-called tombs of the caliphs. They are really the mausoleums of the Mamelukes, whom Mehmet Ali killed. Mehmet Ali built the alabaster mosque in the citadel, whose dome and slender minarets form one of the notable landmarks of Cairo, and in the centre of which is the celebrated Joseph's well. The northernmost part of the city consists of broad boulevards, with European-built villas and hotels.
Planning by the Cairo municipality has taken account of the need for a better distribution of social services and public utilities, and many of the rural-style slums in the city have been cleared. The two extremes of Cairo society are thus disappearing: the modern city is no longer dominated by affluent foreigners, and the purely rural enclaves have gone from the centre and are fast vanishing on the periphery.
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Full text Article Map of Cairo, from 'Civitates Orbis Terrarum' by Georg Braun (1541-1622) and Frans Hogenberg (1535-90), c.1572 (coloured engraving)
Artist: Hoefnagel Joris (1542-1600) (after) Location: Private Collection Credit: Map of Cairo, from 'Civitates Orbis Terrarum' by Georg Braun (1541-