Founded in the 10th century, Islamic Cairo is also known as Medieval Cairo or Historic Cairo. It is a part of Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, with a rich history dating back to the Muslim conquest in 641 CE. This area is home to some of the oldest and most significant Islamic monuments globally, making it a must-visit destination for history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, and anyone seeking to immerse themselves in the Islamic world's rich heritage.
The History of Islamic Cairo
The district of Islamic Cairo is a historic area of the city that predates the architectural complex of Downtown. This area dates back to the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century and is a testament to the city's long and diverse history. It was built by the Fatimid dynasty in 969 AD as a new capital to the north of the existing city, serving as the caliphate's administrative center.
The new city was named Al Qahira, where the modern part of the city's name comes from. Fustat, Egypt's first Islamic city, was destroyed by fire in 1168 to prevent the Crusader armies from conquering Cairo.
Islamic Cairo is a living reminder of the city's past, with many monuments and beautiful mosques still standing along the historic streets. While most of the ancient walls have collapsed, the district remains unique as a historic area due to its extraordinary vitality.
Despite its outdated buildings and crumbling style, Islamic Cairo is still one of the most populated areas of Cairo. Its monumental backdrop is intertwined with the daily traffic of millions of Egyptians, as the city's population moved within the walls during the 12th century and has not been abandoned since.
To this day, Islamic Cairo is still often referred to as “Fatimid Cairo” or “Medieval Cairo”. After Cairo was founded in 969, it grew steadily, and as it did, it slowly but surely swallowed up all the smaller neighboring cities, including Fustat.
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Main attractions of Islamic Cairo
The area is home to the famous Al-Azhar Mosque and Citadel of Saladin, offering a glimpse into the city's Islamic heritage. Visitors can also explore the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar for a taste of local culture and cuisine.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Islamic Cairo is the Al-Azhar Mosque, founded in 970 AD and considered one of the oldest universities in the world. It remains a center for Islamic learning and scholarship, drawing students and scholars from around the world.
The district is also home to the Citadel of Saladin, a medieval fortress built in the 12th century by the famous Muslim commander Saladin. Within its walls, you can explore three important mosques. The oldest, the Al Nasir Muhammed Mosque, was built in Mamluk style in 1335; the Suleyman Pasha Mosque, built in 1528, after Egypt came under the control of the Ottoman Empire; and the Ali Alabaster Mosque, with its impressive Ottoman architecture and panoramic views of Cairo.
The Sultan Hassan Mosque is located below the Citadel. It was built in the 14th century by Sultan Hassan as a religious school. The mosque has stunning architectural decorations. The Ibn Tulun mosque is situated at the same distance from the citadel as the Sultan Hassan mosque. It is one of the oldest and largest mosques, built in 872 A.D.
In addition, the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is a bustling marketplace in Islamic Cairo where you can immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the city. Here, you can shop for traditional Egyptian crafts, jewelry, and spices and enjoy local cuisine in historic cafes.
You can also visit the Gayer Anderson Museum, a 12th-century mansion that was restored by a British colonial officer in the 1930s. It's located in Islamic Cairo and is close to the Citadel, the Sultan Hassan Mosque, and the Ibn Tulun Mosque. You can easily visit all these sites in one day.
The park of Al Azhar is a recent addition to Islamic Cairo. In the past, the people of Cairo used to throw their rubbish outside the walls, which created a large garbage mountain. In the 1990s, the Egyptian government started a project to turn this area into a beautiful green space. Today, Al Azhar is a 74-acre park, which is something rare in a city that doesn't have many green spaces.
This park offers a beautiful view of the city. There are also cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal. Watching the sunset from this park while listening to the echo of prayer from thousands of minarets is a memorable experience.
Please note that policies for non-Muslims visiting mosques in and around Islamic Cairo may change at any time. While there are many mosques that you can visit, it's important to be aware that a mosque that is open to non-Muslims today may not be open to non-Muslims in the future. Always dress appropriately and be respectful of local customs when entering a mosque, as they are sacred places of worship.
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A visit to Islamic Cairo is like stepping back in time. From the magnificent mosques and historical monuments to the bustling markets and charming coffee shops, there's much to see and experience in this part of Cairo. Whether you're a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or just a curious traveler, Islamic Cairo offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the Islamic world's rich history and vibrant culture.
So pack your bags, put on your walking shoes, and embark on an unforgettable journey through history in Islamic Cairo!