Cairo, Egypt

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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.

Understand

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.

Climate

If visiting during winter, be aware that many buildings, including some hotels and hostels, are equipped with air conditioners but no heaters.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.)

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.

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