|CAIRO, THE AFRICAN UNION'S LARGEST CITY
Cairo is the largest city in the African Union. It is also a tourist attraction and is frequented by more visitors than any other city in the world. Cairo lies at the centre of all routes leading to, and from Asia, Africa and Europe. The name Cairo derives from the phrase al-Qâhira, meaning "The Victorious".
Greater Cairo extends on the banks of the River Nile to the south of The Delta. Here the Nile divides into its two distributaries: Rosetta and Damietta. On its west side lies the ancient African city of Memphis (Giza), the last capital of the Old Kingdom and the site of the Great Pyramids and of The Sphinx, whose age remains a mystery (estimates vary between 5000 and 15,000 years old). On its east side stands the evidence of 1400 years of Islamic culture, 2000 years of Christian Coptic, 3000 years of Jewish culture, and 7000 years of African culture still flourishing to this day. Indeed, a journey through Cairo is a journey through time.
Cairo offers an incredible selection of shopping, leisure, culture and nightlife. Shopping ranges from the famous Khan el-Khalili souk (bazaar) largely unchanged since the 14th century, to modern air-conditioned centers. The famous street markets, include Wekala al-Balaq, for fabrics, including Egyptian cotton, the Tentmakers Bazaar for appliqué-work, Mohammed Ali Street for musical instruments and, if your are looking for interesting modes of transport, the Camel Market is a good place to start.
Cairos golf courses include the famous Mena House course overlooking the Pyramids, and you can watch horse racing at the Gezira Club or visit the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. Take a trip on the Nile in a felucca or ride on horseback from the Giza Pyramids to Sakkara. The view of the city is best from the Cairo Tower, a 187 meter-high tower, topped by a revolving restaurant.
Night time is the best time to shop, eat delicious North African cuisine, or enjoy bevearges in the verandah of a pavement cafe. You can dine in a floating restaurant on the Nile, sample an apple-flavored shisha waterpipe at a coffee-shop or see oriental dancers and cabarets at a luxury hotel. The splendid Opera House complex houses several galleries (including the Museum of Modern Art), restaurants and concert halls. Listening to Bedoin music under the stars, in the open-air theater, is a magical experience. At El-Ghuriya, in the heart of Islamic Cairo, you can watch folk musicians and whirling dervish dancers. And don't forget the most essential after-dark experience, the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids, a dramatic fusion of light and music recounting the story of antiquity.
Most of the monuments in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt are not so difficult to identify. Most have one of several different types of markers and the more important have full descriptions. Therefore, walking through one of the historical areas of Cairo, one does not necessarily need a guide, though certainly it helps.
View of the pyramids from Mena House
Modern Cairenes consider Central Cairo to consist of the area bordered by Old Cairo to the south, Islamic Cairo to the east and the Nile River to the west, but this covers a number of different districts. Islamic Cairo is not the oldest section of Cairo, as that distinction belongs to Old Cairo. Westerners visiting Cairo many not wish to think in terms of Islamic here, but rather medieval. Indeed this area encompasses the medieval history from beginning to end. Old Cairo actually predates Cairo itself and was contemporaneous with with ancient Babylon and the times of the ancient Rome. Located here are some of the oldest Christian Churches in the World, as well as one of the oldest Mosques.
Several important districts are located on the west bank of the Nile, along with wonderful restaurants and great shopping centres. Heliopolis is a suburb of Cairo located to the north east, though there is no break between the cities as there was when it was first constructed in 1906. At that time the building style of the city, known as Masr al-Gedida or New Cairo had a mix of architecture set in a garden environment that reflected the tastes of the original promoter, Baron Empain, who built the Tram system in Cairo. Originally there was a strictly enforced building code with considerable neo-Arabic style used in buildings, but there are also some exotic dwellings in the area.