Cairo (pron.: /ˈkaɪroʊ/ kye-roh ) is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa. Its metropolitan area is the 16th largest in the world. Located near the Nile Delta, it was founded in 969 AD. Nicknamed «the city of a thousand minarets» for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region’s political and cultural life. Cairo was founded by the Fatimid dynasty in the 10th century AD, but the land composing the present-day city was the site of national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo. Cairo is also associated with Ancient Egypt as it is close to the ancient cities of Memphis, Giza and Fustat which are near the Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza.
Egyptians today often refer to Cairo as Maṣr ([mɑsˤɾ], مصر), the Egyptian Arabic pronunciation of the name for Egypt itself, emphasizing the city’s continued role in Egyptian influence. Its official name is القاهرة al-Qāhirah , means literally «the Vanquisher» or «the Conqueror»; Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [elqɑ(ː)ˈheɾˤɑ], sometimes it is informally also referred to as كايرو Kayro [ˈkæjɾo]. Cairo has the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab world, as well as the world’s second-oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University. Many international media, businesses, and organizations have regional headquarters in the city; the Arab League has had its headquarters in Cairo for most of its existence.
With a population of 6.76 million spread over 453 square kilometers (175 sq mi), Cairo is by far the largest city in Egypt. With an additional 10 million inhabitants just outside the city, Cairo resides at the centre of the largest metropolitan area in Africa and the Arab World as well as the tenth-largest urban area in the world. Cairo, like many other mega-cities, suffers from high levels of pollution and traffic, but its metro — one of only two metros on the African continent (the other the Algiers Metro) — ranks among the fifteen busiest in the world,[better source needed] with over 1 billion annual passenger rides. The economy of Cairo was ranked first in the Middle East and 43rd globally by Foreign Policy’s 2010 Global Cities Index.
See also: History of Egypt and Timeline of Cairo history
A rendition of Fustat from A. S. Rappoport’s History of Egypt
The area around present-day Cairo, especially Memphis, had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt due to its strategic location just upstream from the Nile Delta. However, the origins of the modern city is generally traced back to a series of settlements in the first millennium. Around the turn of the 4th century, as Memphis was continuing to decline in importance, the Romans established a fortress town along the east bank of the Nile. This fortress, known as Babylon, remains the oldest structure in the city. It is also situated at the nucleus of the Coptic Orthodox community, which separated from the Roman and Byzantine church in the late 4th century. Many of Cairo’s oldest Coptic churches, including the Hanging Church, are located along the fortress walls in a section of the city known as Coptic Cairo.
Foundation and expansion
Further information: Egypt in the Middle Ages
Cairo map 1847
In 969 the Fatimids were led by General Gawhar al-Siqilli with his Kutama army, under the moral flagship of Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi, the Shiite Ismaili Imam of that time and ancestor of the current Aga Khan, to establish a new capital for the Fatimid dynasty. Egypt was conquered from their base in Ifriqiya and a new fortified city northeast of Fustat was established. It took four years for Gawhar to build the city, initially known as al-Manṣūriyyah, which was to serve as the new capital of the caliphate. During that time, Jawhar also commissioned the construction of al-Azhar Mosque, which developed into the third-oldest university in the world. Cairo would eventually become a centre of learning, with the library of Cairo containing hundreds of thousands of books. When Caliph al-Mu’izz li Din Allah finally arrived from the old Fatimid capital of Mahdia in Tunisia in 973, he gave the city its present name, al-Qahira («The Victorious»).
The Cairo Citadel, seen above in the late 19th century, was commissioned by Saladin between 1176 and 1183
For nearly 200 years after Cairo was established, the administrative centre of Egypt remained in Fustat. However, in 1168 the Fatimids under the leadership of Vizier Shawar set fire to Fustat to prevent Cairo’s capture by the Crusaders. Egypt’s capital was permanently moved to Cairo, which was eventually expanded to include the ruins of Fustat and the previous capitals of al-Askar and al-Qatta’i. While the Fustat fire successfully protected the city of Cairo, a continuing power struggle between Shawar, King Amalric I of Jerusalem, and the Zengid general Shirkuh led to the downfall of the Fatimid establishment.
In 1169 Saladin was appointed as the new vizier of Egypt by the Fatimids and two years later he would seize power from the family of the last Fatimid caliph, al-‘Āḍid. As the first Sultan of Egypt, Saladin established the Ayyubid dynasty, based in Cairo, and aligned Egypt with the Abbasids, who were based in Baghdad. During his reign, Saladin also constructed the Cairo Citadel, which served as the seat of the Egyptian government until the mid-19th century.
In 1250 slave soldiers, known as the Mamluks, seized control of Egypt and like many of their predecessors established Cairo as the capital of their new dynasty. Continuing a practice started by the Ayyubids, much of the land occupied by former Fatimid palaces was sold and replaced by newer buildings. Construction projects initiated by the Mamluks pushed the city outward while also bringing new infrastructure to the centre of the city. Meanwhile, Cairo flourished as a centre of Islamic scholarship and a crossroads on the spice trade route among the civilizations in Afro-Eurasia. By 1340, Cairo had a population of close to half a million, making it the largest city west of China.
Further information: History of Ottoman Egypt
See also: Muhammad Ali’s seizure of power
Although Cairo avoided Europe’s stagnation during the Late Middle Ages, it could not escape the Black Death, which struck the city more than fifty times between 1348 and 1517. During its initial, and most deadly waves, approximately 200,000 people were killed by the plague, and, by the 15th century, Cairo’s population had been reduced to between 150,000 and 300,000. The city’s status was further diminished after Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, thereby allowing spice traders to avoid Cairo.
Cairo in the 19th century
Cairo’s political influence diminished significantly after the Ottomans supplanted Mamluk power over Egypt in 1517. Ruling from Constantinople, Sultan Selim I relegated Egypt to a mere province, with Cairo as its capital. For this reason, the history of Cairo during Ottoman times is often described as inconsequential, especially in comparison to other time periods. However, during the 16th and 17th centuries, Cairo remained an important economic and cultural centre. Although no longer on the spice route, the city facilitated the transportation of Yemeni coffee and Indian textiles, primarily to Anatolia, North Africa, and the Balkans. Cairene merchants were instrumental in bringing goods to the barren Hejaz, especially during the annual hajj to Mecca. It was during this same period that al-Azhar University reached the predominance among Islamic schools that it continues to hold today; pilgrims on their way to hajj often attested to the superiority of the institution, which had become associated with Egypt’s body of Islamic scholars. By the 16th century, Cairo also had high-rise apartment buildings where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants.
Under the Ottomans, Cairo expanded south and west from its nucleus around the Citadel. The city was the second-largest in the empire, behind only Constantinople, and, although migration was not the primary source of Cairo’s growth, twenty percent of its population at the end of the 18th century consisted of religious minorities and foreigners from around the Mediterranean. Still, when Napoleon arrived in Cairo in 1798, the city’s population was less than 300,000, forty percent lower than it was at the height of Mamluk—and Cairene—influence in the mid-14th century.
The French occupation was short-lived as British and Ottoman forces, including a sizable Albanian contingent, recaptured the country in 1801. The British vacated Egypt two years later, leaving the Ottomans, the Albanians, and the long-weakened Mamluks jostling for control of the country. Continued civil war allowed an Albanian named Muhammad Ali Pasha to ascend to the role of commander and eventually, with the approval of the religious establishment, viceroy of Egypt in 1805.
Further information: History of Egypt under the Muhammad Ali dynasty and History of modern Egypt
Until his death in 1848, Muhammad Ali Pasha instituted a number of social and economic reforms that earned him the title of founder of modern Egypt. However, while Muhammad Ali initiated the construction of public buildings in the city, those reforms had minimal effect on Cairo’s landscape. Bigger changes came to Cairo under Isma’il Pasha (r. 1863–1879), who continued the modernization processes started by his grandfather. Drawing inspiration from Paris, Isma’il environs a city of maidans and wide avenues; due to financial constraints, only some of them, in the area now composing Downtown Cairo, came to fruition. Isma’il also sought to modernize the city, which was merging with neighboring settlements, by establishing a public works ministry, bringing gas and lighting to the city, and opening a theater and opera house.
William Holman Hunt, A Street Scene in Cairo; The Lantern-Maker’s Courtship, 1854-61
The immense debt resulting from Isma’il’s projects provided a pretext for increasing European control, which culminated with the British invasion in 1882. The city’s economic centre quickly moved west toward the Nile, away from the historic Islamic Cairo section and toward the contemporary, European-style areas built by Isma’il. Europeans accounted for five percent of Cairo’s population at the end of the 19th century, by which point they held most top governmental positions.
Nile view of Grand Hyatt Cairo at night
The British occupation was intended to be temporary, but it lasted well into the 20th century. Nationalists staged large-scale demonstrations in Cairo in 1919, five years after Egypt had been declared a British protectorate. Nevertheless, while this led to Egypt’s independence in 1922, British troops remained in the country until 1956. During this time, urban Cairo, spurred by new bridges and transport links, continued to expand to include the upscale neighborhoods of Garden City, Zamalek, and Heliopolis. Between 1882 and 1937, the population of Cairo more than tripled – from 347,000 to 1.3 million – and its area increased from 10 square kilometres (4 sq mi) to 163 square kilometres (63 sq mi).
The city was devastated during the 1952 Cairo Fire, also known as Black Saturday, which saw the destruction of nearly 700 shops, movie theatres, casinos and hotels in Downtown Cairo. The British departed Cairo following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, but the city’s rapid growth showed no signs of abating. Seeking to accommodate the increasing population, President Gamal Abdel Nasser redeveloped Midan Tahrir and the Nile Corniche, and improved the city’s network of bridges and highways. Meanwhile, additional controls of the Nile fostered development within Gezira Island and along the city’s waterfront. The metropolis began to encroach on the fertile Nile Delta, prompting the government to build desert satellite towns and devise incentives for city-dwellers to move to them.
Despite these efforts, Cairo’s population has doubled since the 1960s, reaching close to seven million (with an additional ten million in its urban area). Concurrently, Cairo has established itself as a political and economic hub for North Africa and the Arab World, with many multinational businesses and organizations, including the Arab League, operating out of the city.
In 1992, Cairo was hit by a damaging earthquake, that caused 545 deaths, 6512 injuries and left 50,000 people homeless.
Cairo during 2011 Egyptian revolution
Main article: 2011 Egyptian Revolution
A protester holding an Egyptian flag during the protests that started on 25 January 2011
Demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 8 February 2011
Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak. Over 2 million protesters at Cairo’s Tahrir square. More than 50,000 protesters first occupied the square on 25 January, during which the area’s wireless services were reported to be impaired. In the following days Tahrir Square continued to be the primary destination for protests in Cairo. as it took place following a popular uprising that began on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 and is still continuing as of February 2012. The uprising was mainly a campaign of non-violent civil resistance, which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience, and labour strikes. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Despite being predominantly peaceful in nature, the revolution was not without violent clashes between security forces and protesters, with at least 846 people killed and 6,000 injured. The uprising took place in Cairo, Alexandria, and in other cities in Egypt, following the Tunisian revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the long-time Tunisian president. On 11 February, following weeks of determined popular protest and pressure, Mubarak resigned from office.
6th of October City, west of Cairo, and New Cairo, east of Cairo, are major urban developments which have been built to accommodate additional growth and development of the Cairo area. New development includes several high-end residential developments.