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Historical Cairo: The City of Thousand Minerates

Historical Cairo is now a part of Cairo Governorate, the capital city of Egypt, located in Northern Egypt, and considered one of the largest cities in Africa.

Historical Cairo, as an important city on the World Heritage list, is a very important touristic site, not only for its Islamic Monuments, but as a site that witnessed the cradle of civilization; 6000 years ago.

Its breathtaking sites in Giza take you back to the ancient Egyptians, travelling through history to the Age of the Pyramid builders, to visit the spectacular pyramids, temples and tombs.

Coptic Cairo is a unique area within Old Cairo which is largely built around the Byzantine fort of Babylon upon the remains of its walls, where you will be able to witness the transition of civilization from the centuries between the decline of the pharaonic era and the arrival of Islam. A unique area where you can visit a Church, a Jewish Synagogue and the oldest mosque in Egypt, all together.

Cairo “City of Thousand Minerates” is also full of masterpieces of medieval art and architecture reflecting the status of Egypt as the center of several significant Muslim eras.

And finally, in the heart of modern Cairo; you can visit its museums, Cairo Tower, and walk through the seventeenth century Khedivede downtown districts, and enjoying Zamalek, Dokki and Mohandseen, and the nineteenth century suburbs: Heliopolis and Maadi.

The Ancient City

The spectacular history of the city begins right from Abu Rawash: El-Hassana Dome Protectorate which depicts an open-air museum that shows full records of ancient life; its environment and climate during the late cretaceous age, 100 million years ago, and a Neolithic Culture (Merimde Beni Salama) flourished at the same location, in 4800 BC. 

On the other side of the Nile, towards the south, specifically at Maadi; settlements were discovered layers beneath ground, which date back to the Maadi-Buto culture (3900 BC). Artifacts from this culture are preserved at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  

Ancient Heliopolis is believed to be a religious capital since the early Old Kingdom, and Djoser was the first to dedicate a small shrine there. Later, it flourished as a center of the Solar Cult.  

Helwan is a distinctive site, where you can witness the development of the lithic tools through Naqada III, and until the Funerary stela that depicted the tomb owners of the first and second Dynasties. Artifacts from this period were transferred to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) and Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). 

Upon the unification of Egypt in (3100 BC), Giza became a part of the Memphite Necropolis located on the western bank of the Nile, site of the cemetery of the nobles and the cenotaph of the royals of the first and second Dynasties. It started from Saqqara, where the first large stone complex in the history was constructed, under the rule of King Djoser (Third Dynasty). It is considered as a turning point in the royal architecture; from a Mastaba to a Step Pyramid. 

By the time of the Fourth Dynasty "Age of the Pyramids”, the Egyptian kings who will always be remembered in history as the Pyramid Builders, starting from King Senefru, who built a “Bent” pyramid at Dahshur, which is considered as a trial, followed by the “Red Pyramid”: the first successful trial in building a straight pyramid. Senefru’s successors; Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, built the three magnificent Pyramid Complexes of Giza and the Sphinx, which are the only remaining of the seven wonders of the ancient world. 

Although it was a great dynasty, there were some unresolved problems between the heirs of Khufu, that led his son Djedefre to leave Giza and build a pyramid complex at Abu Rawash.  

With the rise of a new dynasty (Fifth Dynasty), Abusir became the new royal burial site for the Sons of the Sun god Re (according to the ancient Egyptian mythology, Papyrus Westcar). Meanwhile, the well-known “Sun Temples” are considered the architectural innovation of this dynasty. 

Kings of the fifth Dynasty went back and forth from Abusir to Saqqara, but the last king of the dynasty, Unas, will always be remembered for his mystical pyramid complex, with the oldest religious literature known as “Pyramid Texts”: long hieroglyphic inscriptions that are cut into the walls of the chambers of the pyramid. These religious texts are the base for later religious and mythological books. More than 200 spells were combined to reflect the formation and development of the religious thoughts, and kings of the sixth Dynasty continued the same trend. 

The increase of the power of the high officials of the fifth and sixth dynasties, reached its peak during the long reign of King Pepi II, and eventually led to the fall of the Old Kingdom. 

After an intermediate period, kings of the Middle Kingdom built their pyramids at Dahshur, and in the Fayoum Governorate. King Senwosret I built a temple at Heliopolis, from which the great red obelisk remains until now, standing in a modern square at Matareya. 

The invasion by the Hyksos left the Memphite Necropolis for a time in the shade, to be re-highlighted by the high officials of the New Kingdom, with magnificent tombs located at Saqqara including the tomb of Horemheb, Maya, and many others. 

During the New Kingdom (pre and post Amarna), the Delta (Lower Egypt) played an important political and administrative role. Akhenaten, despite concentrating his building pojects at Amarna, built a great temple at Heliopolis dedicated to spreed his new Aten-religion. Later, King Ramses II built a new capital Pi-Ramesses near the ancient Hyksos capital, Avaris. At Mit Rahina, the Temple complex of the Memphite triad (Ptah-Sekhmet-Nefertum) was built in the Middle Kingdom and was expanded throughout the ancient history by several kings: Sety I, Sheshonq I and most importantly Ramsess II, whose huge colossal statue lying which can be admired in the Mit Rahina Open Museum. It is remarkable that there is hardly a site, or monument in Egypt where Ramesses II’s name is not found. 

The Memphite Necropolis flourished during the Saite Period, especially Saqqara where tombs of high officials were found 30 m deep under the ground, that leads to fully carved sarcophagus-shaped chambers. A unique recent discovery there of a mummification workshop and three undisturbed stone coffins, will be transferred to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC).

At Matareya, a recent discovery unearthed parts of the first colossal statue dating to the Late Period, with the name of Pismatik I carved on the back pillar of the colossus. It will be reassembled and displayed at Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). 

With the arrival of the Romans and the emergence of Christianity, ancient Egyptian beliefs are given up, which can be seen in the Serapeum at Saqqara: a sacred bull catacomb cemetery that was suddenly abandoned. 

With the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century, they founded a new capital called El-Fustat and later Cairo, both built largely with stones of dismantled monuments of the Memphite Necropolis. 

Coptic Cairo

The land of Egypt was given the honor to be a part of the Journey of the Holy Family, and especially in Cairo, where the Virgin Mary and Jesus stayed at the site of St. Sergius and Baechus Churches, which are now a part of the Religious Complex in Old Cairo. 

Matareya (Heliopolis), was also a site blessed by sheltering Virgin Mary under one of its trees, which can still be visited, and it is believed that the naming of Matareya comes originally from (Mother). 

Its only on the land of Egypt where you can find a place with the three Heavenly Religions intertwining to form a complex, that consists of Ben Azra Synangogue built 882 CE: which according to local folklore is located on the site where baby Moses was found, The Hanging Church which is one of the oldest Orthodox Churches in Egypt, built on one of the gates of the Byzantine Fort of Babylon, and the Mosque of Amr Ibn Elas which was the first mosque to be built in Egypt. 

Moving back to Saqqara, ruins of The Monastery of St. Jeremias can be found, whereas the splendors from the monastery are found now in the Coptic Museum. 

Carved into the Mokattam plateau is the magnificent Church of St. Samaan with its beautiful, heavenly reliefs depicting the Holy Family. 

Islamic Cairo

The history of Islamic Cairo began with the arrival of by Amr Ibn Elas in 640 AD, who built his new capital city Al-Fustat, with its mosque, which lies now within the Religious Complex.  

During the Abbasside Caliphate, Ahmed Ibn Tulun proclaimed himself in Egypt as the first independent ruler to split from the Caliphate. This period is well known for the Malwiya (twisted) Minerate Tower in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, which reflects the architectural influence from the Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. 

A new Caliphate from northern Africa, The Fatimids, came and settled in Egypt, and the Caliph El Muizz ordered his General Jawhar El-Seqilli to build a new capital El-Qahira (The Victorious), which was built in 4 years, and surrounded by Walls of Cairo, with its famous gates. 

El Azhar Mosque is the second oldest Islamic university in the world, it was the center of the Fatimid rule during the Caliphate, until the formation of the Ayyubid Dynasty by the famous Saladin El-Ayubi, who built the fortifications of Citadel of Saladin to defend Egypt against the Crusaders. It also served as the seat of Egyptian government, and later during the reign of Mohammed Ali, he built a mosque inside the citadel, which was influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and in modern times, a military museum was established inside the fort to witness the Egyptian Military history. 

Cairo flourished during the Mameluke period; with many architectural and artistic renovations that included Madrasas, Hammams, Forts, Mosques, Souqs, despite the political struggle over the throne. The renovations are clearly and perfectly witnessed at the Muez Street and adjacent area. 

El-Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa is one of the best examples to enjoy the beauty of Islamic architecture and art.  

The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo is one of the largest Museums to show Islamic art in the world, with its exceptional collection of rare woodwork and plaster artefacts, as well as metal, ceramic, glass, crystal, and textile objects of all periods, from all over the Islamic world. 

The Modern Capital

Cairo is the city where history comes alive, you come in search of history in a living, modern city, which remained centered around the Fatimid era core throughout the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman eras. Today, Cairo is a vibrant city, full of life, the capital of Egypt, and one of the important Metrópoles in the world, a major center for business, trade, education and culture. 

Its modern history can be traced back to the luxurious palaces of the Royal Family, heirs of Mohamed Ali Pasha, who turned the city into the European architectural style. Qasr El-Nile bridge for example was built to celebrate the grand opening of Suez Canal in 1869! 

In the 1800s and early 1900s, Cairo was completely stylized by Belgium and French architects, who built several upper-class districts like: Zamalek and Manyal where you can visit the Palace of Prince Mohamed Ali. Cairo Downtown is one of the best examples of the European Architecture, and you can visit there the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue (lit. Gate of Heaven) which was built in a style evoking the ancient Egyptian temples. 

Heliopolis was built in the northern suburbs and connected to Cairo by a tram, and there stands the breathtaking Baron Palace, which was built by the Belgian architect El Baron Empain. Historically, Heliopolis is the city of great Egyptian pioneers: the city of the genius Architect-later defied- Imhoptep, the builder of Djoser complex, and the city of the Historian, Manethon, a high priest in the temple of Heliopolis, who was the first one to record the Egyptian History during third century BC and divided the Egyptian history into 30 royal dynasties. 

Far to the south, in Helwan, King Farouq built a lounge currently known as Rokn Farouk Museum, which was commemorated by the Egyptian Cinema in a beautiful love story starring Omar ElSherif and Faten Hamama. And in 1919, Zulfuqar Pasha dedicated a botanical garden to El-Sultan Hussein, built in the Asiatic style, and currently known as the Japanese Garden. 

In celebration and commemoration of the 1952 revolution, President Gamal Abdel Naser built the Cairo Tower, the tallest structure in Africa until 1971. From the top view of the tower, you can enjoy a Panoramic view of the vast city on the banks of the Nile. A city where the past intertwines with the present in a very beautiful scenery viewed in a Birdseye perspective from the restaurant and open-air gallery, more than 170 m high: The Cairo Tower. 

Cairo is the capital of Egypt, located in Northern Egypt, and one of the largest cities in Africa.