Cairo is the capital city of Egypt in northeastern region of the country. About 16.1 million people live in Cairo’s metro area, making it the most populous city in Africa. In Arabic, its name is Al-Qahirah, which means “The Triumphant,” though it’s often known simply as Masr, the Arabic word for Egypt. Cairo is the cultural and economic center of the region, and has been for thousands of years.
Cairo is located at the southern tip of the Nile Delta, where the area makes the transition from desert to fertile plain. The oldest part of the city is just east of the river, but urban expansion means that the city now straddles the Nile, along with occupying some of the islands in the river. Much of the city is now in the desert itself, aided by the expansion of the water supply.
Old Cairo, or Al-Fustat, was founded in AD 648, when conquering Muslim tribes chose the location for it’s strategic value. It’s location on the Nile put it in position to take advantage of the natural transportation route the river offered, along with the fertile ground provided by the floodplains. It’s location put it just north of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. In 969, Cairo was founded under its current name, and it absorbed Old Cairo and surrounding areas. Throughout the centuries, it’s been under Arab, Ottoman, French, and British rule. A trip through it’s streets turns into a virtual historic fieldtrip, as the buildings and monuments from the different eras cohabit the vibrant city.
Cairo is very much the cultural hub of Egypt. Nearly all of the country’s media production goes on in the city and surrounding area. Also, Cairo has long been associated with education, and has the majority of Egypt’s universities and teaching hospitals. It also has much of the country’s manufacturing and shipping facilities.
The city can seem hectic and confused at first glance, but soon a method to the madness becomes evident. Cairo’s population density is extremely high, more so than either Hong Kong or Tokyo. Compounded by the ancient narrow roads and seeming disregard for traffic laws, driving can seem impossible, and it is usually better to take public transportation or a taxi. The city has the only metro system on the continent, and it is cheap and efficient.
Cairenes, as residents of Cairo are known, are generally polite and slightly more conservative than Americans. Still, Cairo is much more westernized than other countries in the Middle East. Partially due to tourism, many people speak some English, though any attempts at Arabic are appreciated. Egypt is officially an Islamic country, but other religions are tolerated, and Christmas is a state holiday. Overall, Cairo is a fascinating city with an incredible history that comfortably straddles the ancient and modern.