There is no mincing of words about the inception of Cairo, which took place in the middle of the first millennium A.D. Nor is there is any reason to escape the fact that by its founding in 969, the Al Azhar University had already made its mark, four decades earlier, in 925.
Cairo, Egypt, is the most opportune city in Africa for any archaeologist, music professional, art analyst or political analyzer, who wants to get into the core of civilization. Indeed, if it is the performing or visual arts, Cairo has the largest motion picture, as well as, oldest industry in the Arab world. If it is political persuasion, demagoguery never got better of man than here, strategically because not only is the metropolis the largest in the continent, but the highly enlightened, if emotionally-charged, population takes to the streets easily.
Historically, Cairo has had its firsts. It was here that the leader that Time magazine named the man of the century in the 12th century, Saladin, ruled once. It was also in Cairo that the Greeks made their long claim to Egypt, albeit the glorious center that they paid homage to was Alexandria. It was also the center of perpetual rule that defined the latter-day Ottoman Empire that had its reach to the Upper Nile Sudan.
Cairo has also had a share of demographics, not African. Indeed, the philosophical novel, by Algerian-French writer, Albert Camus, The Plague, may have had a fictional setting in Algeria, but it still could be reminiscent of the bubonic plague that crossed the Mediterranean, during the Medieval Age and spiraled over the warmer Cairo climate.
Finally, Cairo has had a share of all sociopolitical a la carte menus that define all extra-large urban centers, in one way or another. The 20th century saw the sacking of the city’s business quarters by an inferno, reminiscent of Dante Alighieri’s in a metaphoric sense, after fire destroyed seven hundred shopping outlets, movie stations, accommodation venues and gambling houses, in 1952’s downtown part of the city. Interestingly, it was in 1952 that the revolution that toppled the British began. The latter-day happening zooms into the 21st century: the occurrences in the Tahrir Square, where the Arab Spring began and doused its flame by removing the ex-leader, Hosni Mubarak.
Sights & Attractions
Where to start
There is no sober, clear-headed way to start exploring the marvelous side of a city that is too huge to dissect by a mere map of references. There are great landmarks, in suburbia and downtown, as well as, satellite towns, but simply one has to resign to the stubbornness of irresolution and start somewhere.
Why not start with: Tahrir Square
To see the bubbling id, ego and social temperaments of Cairo’s populace rage and explode into constructive or destructive fervor of action, then the Tahrir Square, in the heart of the city, is the place to begin. International media recently painted a bleak, and alternately inspiring, picture of the square that first came to life in 1919 as the place of an earlier revolution, despite its being in existence since the md-1800s.
What else is around: Next to Tahrir Square are diplomatic sights, including the block of the American University in the city. There is also The Arab League headquarters in the country.
Go down memory lane: The Egyptian museum
To continue on this labyrinthine way of trying to find a common denominator of sights to see, escape the Damascus-narrow lanes of Cairo and find refuge in the Egyptian Museum. It has a more apt appendage, “antiquities,” which literary gives the student of archaeology an opportunity to get through what Pharaoh and co., left behind for the world to speculate on, centuries later. There is no coming out of this edifice soon for there are a hundred thousand quaint pieces of history or archaeology to view.
What to see next:
To keep the spirit of historical cobwebs in perspective, why not make a dash for the Old part of the City? If Egypt to you means religious polarities, then this is the place to seek and get even with the Coptic Church, which was one of the very first splinters of the Orthodox Church, and which helped found the current site of Cairo. Next to it is Babylon, another fortress that the beginnings of the town, when it moved from the more southern Memphis fortification, have to count on. There is also a famous Jewish synagogue, alongside an Arab place of worship. Need one add that a Greek place of worship also stands here?
Turn a notch higher into history with: Khan El-Khalili
There is nothing that helps know how the middle Ages operated in Africa than the Khan El –Khalili, whose pun on Cairo semantics is apparent. Since the late 14th century, the place was a bazaar for trading, whose nucleus of activity defined the merchant class of the day in many parts of the city.
An artificial feed of the eye: Cairo Tower
To move up in history of our times, make a date with the landmark inside an island, on the Nile, within the heart of the city that vaunts rivalry with the pyramid that is just a fifteen-kilometer distance away, at Giza, for height. It is a hundred and eighty seven meters high, which dwarfs the more majestic pyramid, which stands at 144 meters. The Cairo Tower is a television construction.
Also visit: Mosques with a difference
Al Gahira Fatimia Mosques
Cairo is resplendent with mosques that are as old as the “Vanquisher’ herself, as history likes to call Cairo. They vaunt sleek, streamlined, towering architecture, while, at the same time, vaunting the classical beauty of Greco-Roman architecture. The Byzantine art, Ottoman and Oriental arts are also apparent in these buildings.
Before leaving, do not ever forget: Great Pyramids at Giza
Much has gone into books, film, Fodor’s photo book and Lonely Planet‘s ‘places to visit’ lists, to even need to mention one of the seven wonders of the world. It is fifteen kilometers away but only its physical reconnaissance will prove an once-in-a-lifetime prime.
Entertainment in Cairo is an ensemble of metropolitan culture, religious festivities and eclectic refreshment partaking. Indeed, there are a la carte menus to get a hand on while swaying away to Egyptian folk music.
Start with this trio:
Makan-This is a state-ran cultural facility with the mandate of perpetuating World Music from the heart of Egypt. It also vaunts the age-old women’s dance that is a combination of a musical art with that of therapy.
Bonus: The Makan is quite a close, private place for all who love art at its purest.
Simonds-This is the entertainment café par excellence, that has the chic of being French in design, and a hundred years in its existence record. It now has some new exterior colors that are a clout in the eye, according to conservatives, but still great-looking to lovers of change.
Bonus: An injection of caffeine never did anyone harm if the treat of coffee, here, is anything to go by.
Wikala of Al-Ghouir:This is the one place where the famous Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe does its thing. The performances, according to insiders, are more racy and eclectic than those that the dervishes from Turkey often offer.
Bonus: the spot is quite Middle Ages, even today!
Honorable mentions: Horreyya, TopKapi
Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino
What to glean first: If a traveler’s fantasy is a ‘room with a view’, then the Marriott Omar Khayyam is that place where the magnificent Nile and the skyline of Cairo, of a sultry night, are discernible.
Amenities: Swimming pool, satellite television, minibar, and bath facilities. Fitness gymnasiums, together with spa facilities are also within the premises.
Accommodation/room info: There are 1087 rooms within the aggregate Marriot Hotels and Resorts’ dispensation. These feature standard Double, Standard with Nile View, Standard with Buffet Breakfast, Executive Double and Honeymoon Suite, besides Suite, Presidential Suite and Eugenia at the Palace, all on order of price ascendancy.
Bonus: Gabalay Park is just a stone throw away.
Safir Hotel Cairo
What to glean first: Ten minutes away by foot from the majestic Nile and thirty minutes drive from the Giza pyramids, the Safir Hotel Cairo is the one experience that one does not have to flaunt with if a room with a view, balcony and exterior relaxation facilities is what one dreams of.
Amenities: Extraordinarily posh rooms, Wireless Internet, gymnasium, work station, and independent bath areas. There are also sauna facilities, besides a swimming pool and spa facility. A terrace café offer every cuisine, from all the continents.
Accommodation: In all, Safir Hotel has 284 rooms in its larger chain. These include Deluxe, Single Bedroom Suite, Dual Bedroom Suite, Executive Double, and Standard Double with Breakfast.
Bonus: Touring the Great Pyramids at Giza never got closer.
Fairmont Towers Heliopolis
Quick Facts: A five-star facility that is within the Heliopolis suburb and ten minutes away by surface means from the airport.
Amenities: There are television, air conditioning and cornice-to-ground windows. Besides, a restaurant with Mexico cuisine that provides ice-cream right from the facility steams hot, each day. Swimming pool and tennis court also in the dispensation.
Room Info: 247 rooms in the entire chain.
Bonus: The Fairmont Towers are just four kilometers away from Baron’s Palace, as well as, the City Stars shopping district.
Worthy Mentions: Fairmont Nile City, Intercontinental Cairo Citystars, Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah, Sonesta Hotel Tower & Casino Cairo, Grand Nile Tower, Pyramisa Suites Hotel & Casino Cairo & Conrad Cairo Hotel, among a myriad more top-notch facilities.
The city of Cairo has suffered shortcomings in recent years since the beginning of the Arab Spring, courtesy of the bubbling political tension that anticipated and followed the ouster of President Mubarak. Now, if one can avoid Tahrir Square where anti-Morsi protests were experienced in early 2013, or even return later when tension is over, Cairo is generally a free space of movement where Coptic Christians and Sunni Muslims have co-existed for centuries.
Despite it all, one would almost exclaim at the top of the lungs, Long Live Cairo, Africa’s largest metropolis!