Tourism and Culture

Tourism In Cairo, Egypt

Tourism In Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt’s sprawling capital, is set on the Nile River. At its heart is Tahrir Square and the vast Egyptian Museum, a trove of antiquities including royal mummies and gilded King Tutankhamun artifacts. Nearby, Giza is the site of the iconic pyramids and Great Sphinx, dating to the 26th century BC. In Gezira Island’s leafy Zamalek district, 187m Cairo Tower affords panoramic city views.
Population: 9.5 million (2017)
The Giza Pyramids

The Giza Pyramids stand 13km from Cairo’s city center, visible from many parts of the city. Three pyramids, the Great Sphinx, minor tombs, a workers’ village and several ancient cemeteries make up the archaeological site on the Giza plateau. They are one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a UNESCO site and the one attraction you should see if you have time for nothing else while in Cairo. The pyramids were built as burial tombs for three generations – the grandfather, Khufu was buried in the Great Pyramid; his son, Khafre is buried in the second pyramid and his son Menkaure was buried in the smallest of the pyramids.

The Great Pyramid of Giza (Pyramid of Cheops or Pyramid of Khufu) was built in approximately 2560-2540BC. This is the largest and best preserved of the pyramids made of about 1,300,000 blocks each weighing between 2.5 tons and 15 tons and reaching a height of 137 meters. There are a number of tunnels and burial chambers in this pyramid and the others. Visitors enter the pyramid into a narrow tunnel with a low roof so that you have to remain bent over while ascending a flight of stairs to the burial chambers.

In front of the Great Pyramid is the Boat Museum which houses an ancient royal vessel which was discovered dismantled in a pit south of the pyramid. The boat (and another boat which remains in a different pit) would have been used as a funeral boat or as a symbolic solar bark for the king to use in his afterlife. The boat has been painstakingly restored and reconstructed.

The Pyramid of Khafre (Pyramid of Chephren) is smaller than the Great Pyramid and recognizable by the original casing stones at the peak of the structure. It was built as a burial chamber for the 4th Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre who ruled c.2558-2532BC. This pyramid stands 136 meters tall but is on a higher part of the plateau so appears to be taller than the Great Pyramid. The burial chamber in this pyramid is below ground and reached via a passageway which descends at a 25° angle. The burial chamber holds a black sarcophagus.

The Pyramid of Menkerinos (Pyramid of Mykerinos) is the smallest of the three pyramids. It was built in c.2510BC as a burial tomb for the 4th Dynasty Pharaoh Menkerinos. This pyramid stands 62 meters high and has a different kind of outer stone casing than the other two pyramids. Inside the pyramid has a subterranean burial chamber.

It is possible to enter the pyramids but they are never all open at the same time as they are open on a rotational basis and there is a limit to the number of tourists allowed inside the pyramids each day. To enter the pyramids you will need to first pay your ticket from the ticket office.  It is possible to get a camel or horse ride at the foot of the plateau.

Egyptian Museum

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is one of the must-see attractions on any itinerary to Cairo. The museum holds the most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world. The museum is housed in the first purpose-built museum building in the world on Tahrir Square. The neoclassical building was designed by Marcel Dourgnon and has 107 halls with artifacts spanning from the prehistoric period through the Roman era. The majority of exhibits are focused on the pharaonic era with 160,000 artifacts covering 5,000 years of Egyptian history.

If you’ve ever tried to see “everything in the Louvre” then this is on a par – don’t expect to cover all the 107 halls in one visit, rather focus on what most interests you and on the most famous artifacts. The ground floor covers the collections in chronological order while the upper floors display artifacts grouped according to tomb or category. Among the highlights of the museum there are the treasures of Tutankhamen including his solid gold death mask. There are also statuettes of divinities; papyrus; coins; ancient everyday household items;  sarcophagi; a rare group of Faiyum portraits and wooden models of daily life.  On the second floor the exhibits are focused on the New Kingdom royal mummies. Exhibits are labeled in Arabic and English. Note that no photography is allowed in the museum and cameras must be left at the entrance.

Mosque of Muhammad Ali

This famous mosque is within the Citadel complex is also called the Alabaster Mosque as the lower 11.5 meters of the mosque and forecourt walls are faced with alabaster. The mosque was commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha, ruler of Egypt from 1805 to 1849 in memory of his son, Tusun Pasha who died in 1816. The mosque was based on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul and completed in 1848. The Ottoman style mosque is the largest mosque constructed in the first half of the 19th century. It has a distinct silhouette with twin minarets and elegant cascading domes which can be seen from across the city thanks to the Citadel’s elevated position.

When Ottoman ruler Muhammad Ali took over Cairo he had the Citadel’s Mumluk structures destroyed and the entire complex rebuilt including the mosque. At the time Ottoman law allowed only the sultan to build mosques with more than one minaret; when Muhammad Ali had his Cairo mosque built with two 82 meter high minarets he was sending a message to the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul that he was not planning on being submissive to their authority. The mosque has an intricately decorated ceiling, hanging globe lamps and a large cavernous interior. Some elements of the interior design reflect French rococo influences. The mihrab and two minbars (pulpits) are unique in having old scalloped edges and one of the pulpits is covered in alabaster while the other is in the Art Nouveau style. As you enter the mosque notice the white marble monument to the right where Muhammad Ali is buried. In the mosque courtyard there is an ablution fountain and a clock which was gifted to the Ottomans of Cairo by the French in exchange for the obelisk which now stands in Paris’s Place de la Concorde.

The Citadel

The Saladin Citadel is located on Mokattam Hill and was constructed as part of medieval fortifications built by Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din and founded in 1176. The fortifications were intended to fend off the Crusaders and the hill was chosen for its strategic position. The most advanced building techniques were used to construct an impenetrable bastion in the Citadel. The fortress went on to serve the Ayyubids (1171-1250), Mamluks (1250-1516), Ottomans (1516-1798) and Muhammad Ali’s family (1798-1952).

Most of the Ayyubid buildings were torn down by Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad between 1293 and 1340. In the 1800s when Ottoman ruler Muhammad Ali came to power he in turn had the Mamluk structures destroyed and the Citadel was rebuilt. Of the Mamluk structures the green-domed mosque and part of the striped palace (Al-Qasr al-Ablaq) survived. Of the original Ayyubid structure the northern enclosure walls and towers have survived. The Citadel holds the impressive Ottoman Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Mamluk Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad as well as the Suleyman Pasha Mosque (1528). There is also the National Police Museum; the Harem Palace; a Military Museum and a Carriage Museum. These structures exhibit elegant proportions, ornate minarets, master masonry and Mamluk works of art. In the main courtyard you can see a collection of columns which were brought here from other locations and ancient structures. Visitors can see the structures within the Citadel walls including the mosques, museums and Gawhara Palace. One ticket covers entry to all the Citadel structures.

Tahrir Square
Tahrir Square or Midan at-Tahrir or Martyr Square is Cairo’s main public square in Downtown Cairo. The square has been the site of several major political protests in the history of Egypt. You will most likely travel through the square several times on your visit to Cairo and experience the hair raising drivers in Cairo traffic. On a visit to the square you can see the plaza with a statue of Omar Makram; a national hero who was part of the resistance against Napoleon I’s invasion of Egypt. The historic Qasr al-Ayni Street terminates at the square; Talaat Harb Street connects Tahrir Square to Talaat Harb Square and Qasr el-Nil Street passes through the square leading to the Qasr al-Nil Bridge. It is a transport hub and home to the Sadat metro station. There are several landmarks in close proximity to the square including the Egyptian Museum, American University, the House of Folklore and the mammoth Mogamma government building overlooks the square.
Al-Azhar Park

Finding a patch of green in the bustling city of Cairo can be difficult but thankfully there is Al Azhar Park, an expansive green garden in the historic city center. The gardens are in a tranquil setting on a hilltop so that you have great views of the city. The park has won accolades including being one of the world’s 60 greatest public spaces. The park took more than US$30 million to establish and was funded by a descendant of the Fatimid founders of the city in 969AD, Aga Khan IV. The project was a major undertaking requiring rehabilitation and restoration of the area on Al-Darassa Hill which had up until then just been a dumping ground for rubble and garbage.  Millions of cubic meters of rubble and soil were removed and replaced with good soil and many technical difficulties were encountered. Traditional Islamic landscaped gardens are included in the park design to preserve the city’s historic and cultural legacy. There are orchards, shaded sitting areas and traditional architectural elements like the Fatimid archways, Mamluk stonework, Islamic geometric designs and Persian water features and fountains. The park has playgrounds, scenic observation points overlooking the city and paths.

During removal of the debris and garbage to create the park a section of the original Ayyubid city walls constructed by Salah El Din over 800 years ago were discovered. The park also holds several historic buildings which have been restored including a 14th century mosque, the Darb Shoughlan School and the Khayrbek complex from the 1200s. The park has several cafes and restaurants positioned so that diners have great views of the park as they dine. Within the park there are formal gardens as well as open lawns, a wide tree-lined avenue, a craft shop and a theatre.

Hanging Church

This church is also called El Muallaqa, Sitt Mariam, the Suspended Church and St. Mary Church. The church gets its name from its location built on the gatehouse of the former Roman fortress with its nave suspended over a passage. Wood and stone were used to place on top of the Roman ruins a foundation for the church. The church was constructed in the 7th century and has been rebuilt several times. From 7th-13th century the church was the residence of the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria.

Visitors enter through an ornate gateway into a courtyard with beautiful mosaics. From here there are 29 steps leading up to the church entrance. The church is unique in that it has an ark-shaped timber roof. Within the church there are three sanctuaries dedicated to St. George; the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. There is a painting of the Virgin Mary which is related to a famous local legend. Every inch of the walls is decorated with intricate patterns. The church also has a section in the south-eastern corner with three more sanctuaries and a baptistery. This is the oldest part of the church.  Above the altars are painted stone canopies or baldachins. The church has a unique wooden (iconostasis) sanctuary screen decorated with geometric patterns in ivory and ebony and topped with precious icons. In total there are 101 icons in the church; the most precious and oldest is the 8th century Coptic Mona Lisa. The church’s marble pulpit dates back to the 5th century; the pillars of the pulpit represent the 12 disciples with one grey representing doubting Thomas and one black representing Judas.

 

Culled from VisitACity

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