Cairo, Capital of Egypt
Cairo (ؓلقاهرة al-Qāhirah) is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (the regions which it conveniently straddles). It is also the 19th largest city in the world, and among the world’s most densely populated cities.
On the Nile river, Cairo is famous for its own history, preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and Coptic sites in Old Cairo. The Egyptian Museum in the centre of town is a must see, with its countless Acient Egyptian artefacts, as is shopping at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, and to the nearby Saqqara Pyramid Complex, where visitors will see Egypt’s first step pyramid built by the architect Imhotep for the third dynasty Pharaoh, Djoser.
Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society. The Midan Tahrir area situated in downtown Cairo area, built in the 19th century under the rule of Khedive Ismail, has strived to be a “Paris on the Nile”. There also are a number of more modern suburbs including Ma’adi and Heliopolis, while Zamalek is a quiet area on Gezira Island, with upmarket shopping. Cairo is best in the fall or spring, when the weather isn’t so hot. A felucca ride on the Nile is a good way to escape from the busy city, as is a visit to Al-Azhar Park.
Since the revolution in 2011, the tourists have fled Cairo to a large extent. This has created an opportunity for unique experiences of Cairo’s and Egypt’s cultural treasures without the crowds. Finding yourself alone inside a pyramid is now a real possibility. Prices are also lower.
Cairo is vast; with more than 17 million people, it’s the largest city in Africa and the Middle East. The central core consists of the following districts:
Midan El Tahrir is the very centre of the modern city: big hotels, transport nexus and the Egyptian Museum, with downtown extending through Midan Talaat Harb up to Midan Ataba. Midan Tahrir (literally, “Liberation Square”) is famous for the massive 2011 protests that ousted president Mubarak. Massive political rallies still occur on this square.
Contains Cairo’s main railway station and a burgeoning retail and accommodation zone.
A suburb close to the city centre and the Corniche el-Nil, a good option for central accommodation.
The centre of historic Cairo, located east of downtown; contains the Citadel, Mohamed Ali Mosque, Khan el Khalili (the main bazaar or souq), historic mosques and medieval architecture, as well as some of Cairo’s turkish baths or Hammams.
Located south of downtown, includes Coptic Cairo, Fustat (Cairo’s historical kernel) and Rhoda Island.
|Dokki and Mohandeseen
Located on the west bank of the Nile, with upmarket restaurants, shopping, and accommodation.
|Gezira and Zamalek
Upmarket suburb on the Gezira island in the Nile, with hotels, the Cairo Tower, the Opera House, as well as some nice shopping, restaurants, cafes, and accommodation. Also, is where the Gezira Sporting Club is located.
Giza district is a sprawling western district of the city overlooking the Nile where the Giza Zoo is located as well as a few other attractions. Giza Governorate contains the Haram district where the Giza Pyramids are located. The Governorates of Cairo and Giza have more or less merged into the same city of Greater Cairo, although originally they were two different cities. The term Giza commonly refers to the district of Giza which is within Cairo, not the actual location of the pyramids!
|Heliopolis and Nasr City
The two of them are actually completely distinct areas. Heliopolis is an older district where well-to-do Egyptians and higher class people live, built by a Belgian architect. Nasr City is newer, and contains City Stars, Cairo’s biggest and most modern shopping mall, and retail social complex. The airport is actually located a bit further east of this area out in the desert near Masaken Sheraton
A more quiet residential suburb catering to many foreign expatriates, located southeast of Cairo, where upper-class Egyptians live.
Situated along the Nile, Cairo has ancient origins, located in the vicinity of the Pharaonic city of Memphis. The city started to take its present form in 641 AD, when the Arab general Amr Ibn Al-Ase conquered Egypt for Islam and founded a new capital called Misr Al-Fustat, “the City of the Tents”, due to the legend of Al-Ase finding, on the day he was leaving to conquer Alexandria, two doves nesting in his tent. Not wanting to disturb them, he left the tent, which became the site of the new city in what is now Old Cairo. The Tunisian Fatimid dynasty captured the city in 969 A.D and founded a new city, Al-Qahira (“The Victorious”) just north of Al-Fustat. Al-Qahira gave the city its English name, Cairo, but the locals still call it Maşr (مصر), the Egyptian dialectal version of Amr’s Mişr. Confusingly, this also the Arabic name of the entire country of Egypt.
|Daily highs (°C)
|Nightly lows (°C)
Source: BBC Weather Centre, World Meteorological Organization
The best time to visit Cairo is during the Egyptian winter from November to March, when daytime highs generally stay below 65°F, with night time lows around 45°F with occasional hot winds blowing from the desert and covering the whole of Cairo in a thick dust, sometimes covering places up to 1 metre deep. These deadly dust storms are a cool change for the city of Cairo and are remarkable for all visiting tourists to see. (You don’t need an umbrella: even the rainiest months of the year rarely top 17cm.)
If visiting during winter, be aware that many buildings, including some hotels and hostels, are equipped with air conditioners but no heaters.
Visitors should always pack a warm jacket for evening wear.
The brief spring from March to May can be pleasant, but summer temperatures, on the other hand, can reach a searing 38°C, which is compounded by the city’s terrible pollution which is at its worst in the fall before the rains.
Today’s Greater Cairo is a city with at least 17 million inhabitants, where skyscrapers and fast food restaurants nestle up to world heritage monuments. Originally, Cairo was the designated name of the city on the eastern bank of the Nile, and this is where you’ll find both the modern Downtown, built under influence of French architecture, today the centre of commerce and popular life, as well as historical Islamic and Coptic sights.
Outside the core on the eastern bank, you’ll find the modern, more affluent suburbs of Heliopolis and Nasr City near the airport, and Ma’adi to the south. In the middle of the Nile is the island of Gezira and Zamalek, more Western and tranquil than the rest of the city. On the western bank is lots of modern concrete and business, but also the great Giza pyramids and, further to the south, Memphis and Saqqara. The city might seem like a lot to handle, but give it a try, and you will find that it has a lot to offer for any traveller.
When you approach any individual or a group of people for the first time, the best thing to say is the local variation of the Islamic form of greeting “Es-Salāmu-`Alēku” which literally means “Peace be upon you”. This is the most common form of saying “hello” to anybody. It creates a friendliness between you and people you don’t know, builds rapport, and helps build respect! It is also considered polite to say this if you approach someone, instead of just asking them for something or speaking to them directly.
Other forms of greeting include “SàbâH el-xēr” (“good morning”), “masā’ el-xēr” (“good evening”), or the more casual “izayak” addressing a male, or “izayik” addressing a female, which means “hello” or “how are you?”.
When leaving, you can say the same “Es Salamu Aleykom”, or simply “Maa Salama”, literally: “with safety” or “with wellness” which is used to mean to say “goodbye”. More educated Egyptians will say “bye-bye” derived from the English “goodbye” or “buh-bye” when leaving others.
Smiling: Most people appreciate a smile, and most Egyptians smile when they speak to someone for the first time. People who don’t smile while they speak are considered arrogant, rude, aggressive, unfriendly, etc.
However, be careful not to be too friendly or too smiley, especially if you’re a female speaking to an Egyptian male, as they might mistake you for trying to befriend them or asking for them to flirt or hit on you. Even in a male-to-male conversation, being too friendly might give the other person the chance to try to take advantage of you some way or another. Always use common sense.
Tone of voice
Most Egyptians tend to have a loud voice when they speak, which is common to some other countries in the region. They are not shouting, and you will know the difference.
Expressing your opinion
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, so say nothing that might be perceived as an insult to Islam or the Egyptian culture. The same applies to any mention of the Middle East as a whole. Your best option is to not discuss religion or politics from a Western point of view at all as this could lead to a series of unfortunate events.
Women and men should wear modest clothing. It is considered disrespectful to the mainly conservative Muslim inhabitants to see visitors walking around wearing clothing which reveal thighs, shoulders, bare backs or cleavage, except at beaches and hotels. Men should also not walk about bare chested or wearing very short shorts outside of hotels or beach resorts.
People do generally tend to dress more liberally at beach resorts, nightclubs, social outings, weddings, or when engaging in any sport, but there are no places to practice nudism or naturism as being nude in public.
Do not enter a mosque with any form of shoes, sandals, slippers, boots, etc. on., as this is very disrespectful. Always take them off before entering as they carry the dirt from the street, and the mosque (a place of prayer) should be clean. However, you can keep socks on.
Etiquette in the Presence of Prayer:
Also, avoid walking in front of persons in prayer. The reason is because when people kneel, they kneel to God. If you stand in front of someone while they are praying or kneeling, it is as if they are kneeling to you or worshipping you, a complete taboo and against the basic foundations of Islam. Otherwise, it is quite acceptable for visitors or Christian Egyptians to carry on as normal in the streets or shops that operate during prayer times.
Public display of affection
Like most other countries in the Muslim world, the Middle East, and even some non-Muslim conservative countries, affection should not be displayed in public. Egyptians are conservative and doing things like making out with your girlfriend/boyfriend in public is considered offensive, rude, or disrespectful. A public hug is less offensive, especially if greeting a spouse or family member you haven’t seen in a while.
You will notice male-to-male kissing on the cheeks when Egyptian men meet their friends, family, or someone they know well. This is not to be confused with the male-to-male kissing of some homosexuals in some western countries. Some Egyptian men like to walk next to their male friend with their arms attached together like a loop inside another loop. Again, this is not homosexual behaviour.