Cairo has its roots in the ancient settlement of Memphis, now 24km (15 miles) southwest of the city, which is believed to have been founded in 2,000 BC and rules by King Menes who united Upper and Lower Egypt. In the 1st century, the Romans constructed the Babylon fortress on the Nile, the oldest structure in the city.

Muslim Arabs who immigrated there from the Arabian Peninsula in AD 641 later called the site Al Fustat. When a dissident branch of Muslim believers known as the Fatimid conquered Egypt in AD 969, they established their headquarters in the city and called it Al-Qahira (Cairo).

In the 12th century, Christian Crusaders attacked Cairo, but they were defeated by a Muslim army from Syria led by Saladin, who went on to found the powerful Ayyubid Dynasty in the city who went on to commission many more important buildings. Then in the mid 13th century, the Mamaluks seized control of the capital in Cairo. Under them, the city became renowned throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The rising Ottomans conquered Cairo from the Mamaluks in 1517, and with the rise of their capital city Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), Cairo began to collapse. The bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, struck the city and reduced the population.

The Ottomans 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 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 during the war 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 resulted from the influx of refugees from cities along the Suez Canal that were damaged in the Arab-Israeli wars of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Many new residential, commercial, and governmental structures have changed the city's landscape as well. Tourist attractions have proven an important source of foreign revenue for Egypt, and have thus drawn correspondingly heavy investment from the government. Cairo has also benefited from Egypt's growing international prominence. The rich cultural life is further enhanced by local theatre, cinema, dance, and music, in addition to the city's vibrant community of journalists and fiction writers. 

1. The Pyramids Of Giza

There is probably no other city in the world where modern architecture is topped by such a magnificent 4,000-year-old complex of royal pyramids, temples and causeways. Any trip to the Egyptian capital must start with these majestic creations. They go from Menakaure, the smallest pyramid, to Khafre, the second largest, to Khufu, better known as the Great Pyramid of Giza. To avoid the smog, head down in the afternoon.

2. The Sphinx

On the Giza plateau you will find the Sphinx, another enigmatic symbol of ancient Egypt. An aged marvel, the reclining lion with a human head sits proudly on the Nile‘s west bank. For thousands of years, the mysterious Sphinx has been looming over Giza, guarding the only remaining of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. It has greatly inspired the imaginations of emperors, poets, artists, scholars and travelers for centuries, and remains a truly enigmatic feature of Cairo.

3. The Egyptian Museum Of Antiquities

Back in the centre of Cairo, just outside Tahrir Square, visitors will find the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, one of the many museums in the city that invite people to explore Egypt’s glorious past. Definitely a must-see while in town, the museum houses a unique collection of more than 160,000 pieces of ancient Egyptian history. Take the time to browse through the museum’s chambers, dedicated to some of Egypt’s most prosperous dynasties, and discover what life was like during the reign of the Pharaohs.

4. Old Cairo

Stretches for one mile, this side of Cairo is the oldest place of settlement and religious worship in the region, combining Islamic, Christian and Jewish histories. Taking in the warren of narrow streets, you will find yourself at a cultural and religious crossroads. Discover the Amr Mosque, the first one to be built in Cairo, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, dating back to the 9th century, as well as some of the world’s oldest churches, such as the Church of St. Gergius, or the Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary, erected in the 4th century.

5. The Khan el Khalili Bazaar

Step into Medieval Islamic Cairo for an oriental fantasy trip into the land of spices, luxury fabrics and perfume. The area displays several monuments and mosques from the Islamic period, but its gem is undoubtedly the Khan el Khalili Bazaar. Established in the 14th century, it is one the world’s first markets, as well as a maze of winding and narrow alleys. Almost anything can be bought here and if one merchant doesn’t have what you’re looking for, he’ll happily find somebody who does. Don’t forget to haggle though!

6. Cairo Tower

This 187 meter-high tower is Cairo’s second most famous landmark after the Pyramids. Commissioned in 1961 as a stylized lotus plant, the tower’s 360-degree views are best enjoyed late in the morning, after the smog of the city below burns off. Visitors can also book a table at the Sky Garden cafe, which sits one floor down from the observation deck and offers some great dinner-time panoramas.

7. Cruise On The Nile

No trip to Cairo is complete without a trip on the mighty Nile. You can choose between floating restaurants and cruise boats, but nothing really compares with a relaxing and rewarding river experience on board a felucca. Come dusk, when the call to prayer echoes around Cairo, board one of these traditional sailing boats and experience the marvelous serenity only the Nile can offer. Sailing down the same river Cleopatra did so many centuries ago is a real treat.

8. Cairo Citadel of Saladin

Sprawling over a limestone spur on the eastern edge of the city, the Citadel was home to Egypt's rulers for some 700 years. Their legacy is a collection of three very different mosques, including the Mosque of Mohamed Ali, several palaces and a couple of terraces with city views. The area was fortified around 1180 to protect it from the Crusaders. In the 1860s, ruler Khedive Ismail moved to newly built Abdin Palace, ending the citadel's role as the seat of government.

Interesting Souvenirs:

1. Cartouche pendant

This is a unique gift idea that will certainly attract attention and give a verve to your style. Impress your loved one with a unique personalized egyptian cartouche bearing their name, worn only by the pharaohs of ancient egypt.

2. Papyrus Manuscripts and Paintings:

Explore the past via this purely-Egyptian paper, made of Papyrus plants cultivated in the river Nile's delta. Egyptians kept their secrets and stories in writings and paintings on this paper, which is largely credited for their exceptional survival throughout the centuries gone by. The papyrus-making process was invented thousands of years ago and disappeared for centuries until rediscovered again by egyptologists during 1940s. Ever since modern artists found it a very good material to illustrate history in paintings as well as typography, the papyrus has regained its well-deserved place in the arts' world.

The Sphinx
The Sphinx
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
The Pyramids of Giza

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