Though it was ‘only’ founded in 969 under the Fatimid Caliphate, Cairo and the surrounding region has been a focal point of Egypt for thousands of years due to its position at the apex of the Nile Delta. The city is located just a few kilometers from the ancient capital of Memphis and the first Islamic capital at Fustat.
Since Cairo’s founding, it has been host to a succession of kingdoms: starting with the Fatimids, then the Mamluks, a ruthless caste of soldier slaves, then the Ottomans, then the French under Napoleon, then the British – all the way up to the recently deposed (or is it…) military dictatorship. Modern Cairo was born in 1863, when the ruler Isma’il Pasha expanded the city along the Nile in the style of the great European cities; however, his efforts put the country in debt and paved the way for British rule.
Under the British, Cairo began to grow exponentially. Foreigners built new, upscale neighborhoods like Heliopolis and Garden City. After independence in 1952, growth continued to overwhelm the best efforts of city planners. New satellite cities in the desert have failed to urban encroachment into the Nile delta. Despite its problems, Cairo has become the cultural capital of the Arab world. It is home to a burgeoning film and television industry that exports its product all over the region.
For all its faults, the “City of Minarets” is an unforgettable and enchanting place, backed up by thousands of years of civilization.