Egypt--the land of the Pharaohs--is a remarkably diverse country rich in both history and culture. As a child, I remember daydreaming of climbing the pyramids or discovering a tomb of an unknown queen/pharaoh! As an adult, thoughts of the pyramids stirred romantic images of a dusty plain, far from the reaches of society where sand dunes marked the time of the ancients and the Bedouins were the keepers of the pyramids. When I finally had the chance to visit, I was shocked to see urban life bearing down on these testaments to time. While cast in the shadows of the Great Pyramids, the rich mosaic of Old and New Cairo with Giza as a backdrop is no less remarkable and enhanced the charm and mystic in the eyes of both the child and the adult. Follow along as I explored parts of this magnificent city; perhaps you, too, may gain a new perspective.
Cairo, itself, is broken into governable districts, but more easily understood through "Old Cairo" (which some say includes Giza), "Cairo", and "New Cairo". I began in the outskirts of Giza, Egypt's third largest city, as it was waking up to a hazy morning sun. Although within the city limits, the more rural areas away from the Nile blend rural traditions with 21st century needs. Horse-drawn carts full of food and wares shared the busy roads with pedestrians, hand-pulled carts, over-laden bicycles, cars, and taxis.
Old Cairo is home to the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt.
Most of the mosque's in old Cairo were built similar to a fortress with outer walls, median walls, and an inner courtyard. The Ibn Tulun mosque, designed by a Coptic Christian architect, was likewise fashioned after a fortress. According to our guide, some Muslims were angered by what they perceived to be Christian crosses atop the outer walls. The architect explained that the design represented warriors prepared to defend the mosque and its patrons.
Other wonders of this amazing city include pigeon roosts found throughout all the districts, and touristy as well as local markets. Cairo is also home to Cairo University, and of course the infamous riots at Tahrir Square.
Of course, one of the biggest draws to Cairo is the magnificent pyramids of the Giza plateau. Human expansion has pushed 21st century Egyptian urban life to the very edges of the monuments that mark some of the earliest beginnings of the country.