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Historic Cairo

Capital of Egypt, largest city in the Middle East and in Africa, Cairo knew settlements as long ago as 6,000 years. The roots of the modern city, however, date from A.D. 969, when Muslim invaders from Tunisia secured and enlarged the site. Major growth came in the 19th century with the opening of the Suez Canal, extending Cairo's dominant status as a hub of trade with Europe, Asia, and Africa. Although Cairo translates as "the victorious," Cairenes call it Misr, meaning "Egypt." Agriculture is the country's economic mainstay. Revenue flows from mining, industry, trade, finance, and tourism, which, despite concerns over political unrest, has substantially rebounded. In recent decades Cairo has seen extreme growth, and housing can be scarce. More than 350,000 people are born there yearly, and nearly 50 percent of the population is 19 years old or younger. But Cairo remains a great city for its size, traditions, learning, and culture.

In terms of Egypt’s history, Cairo is a relatively modern capital, founded in AD 969 by the Islamic Fatimid dynasty over the ruins of earlier Roman and Islamic settlements. Much of the Fatimid city remains today: the great mosque and university of Al-Azhar are still important Islamic resource centres, while the gates of Bab an-Nasr, Bab al-Futuh and Bab Zuweila straddle the city’s main thoroughfares. Despite spilling beyond its walls, Cairo remained a medieval city at heart for 900 years. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it started to change significantly. Before the 1860s, Cairo extended west as far as what is today Midan Opera, surrounded by a swampy plain flooded annually by the Nile. In 1863 French-educated Ismail came to power, inviting architects from Europe to design a modern Cairo beside the old Islamic city. The building boom set in place continues today, with the city’s boundaries constantly expanding into the surrounding desert.

Gates to the Ancient City of Cairo
Cairo was called the citadel or tabia or forte, i.e. stronghold. It looked like a square; 1200m2 in length and 1100m2 in width. It was surrounded with El Bahr El Azeim (the great sea) from the east, the gulf from the west, from the north gardens extended to Mataria and the mount Gabal El Guishi from the south. Tucked away amid the modern urban area of Cairo lies one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, with its famous mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains. Founded in the 10th century, it became the new centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century. Some of Cairo Gates still exist and others are no more. Bab El Bahr was one of the outside Cairo gates at the end of its northern wall from the western side. It was situated at a distance of 150m south of El Zafar Tower. It was the third gate and it still remains in the eastern wall between Bab El Barkia and Bab El Makhrouk. Bab El Husseinia was built on the head of the road that connected between Bab El Fetouh of El Geish Square which is known nowadays as El Husseinia Street and El Bayouin Street. This gate was destroyed in 1895. El Bab Al Akhdar was established of a block of engraved stone. It is the only Fatimid monument existing of the tomb of El Hussein that was built to keep in his head put in a silver box.Cairo contains the greatest concentration of Islamic monuments in the world, and its mosques, mausolea, religious schools, baths and caravanserais, built by prominent patrons between the seventh and nineteenth centuries, are among the finest in existence. Jim Antoniou takes his readers on a guided walk through the very heart of historic Cairo, among many of its greatest architectural treasures. Illustrated throughout with the author's own detailed maps and plans and lively sketches, the walk begins at the monumental gates in the north walls of the Fatimid city, follows the ancient thoroughfare of al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah south past Khan al Khalili and al-Ghuriya to the Street of the Tentmakers, turns left along the famous Darb al-Ahmar of the Arabian Nights and ends at the magnificent mosque of Sultan Hasan at the foot of the Citadel. Over ninety historic buildings along the way are identified and described, many of them open to visitors.