How old is the city of Cairo?
Islamic Cairo is the historic core of
the city. When the Fatimid dynasty conquered Egypt in 969 AD, they constructed
a new capital north of the existing city to serve as their administrative
center. This new city, named Al-Qahira (meaning The Vanquisher in English),
gave the modern city its name.
While it is no longer the center of
Cairo, Islamic Cairo remains a living reminder of the city’s past. Most of the
old city’s walls have long crumbled, but there are hundreds of monuments and
beautiful mosques still lining the historic arteries of Al-Qahira. Islamic
Cairo is unique from many historic districts in that it is still very much a
living part of the city. Although Al-Qahira was filled with palaces and administrative
buildings when it was first constructed, the people of Cairo moved into the
walled city during a 12th-century siege and they never left. Despite its
crumbling architecture and aging infrastructure, Islamic Cairo remains one of
the most populous areas of Cairo, its many monuments weaved into the everyday
lives of millions of Egyptians.
Visiting Islamic Cairo can be a daunting
task. It is quite a large area, including the old Fatimid city as well as the
districts reaching south to Saladin’s Citadel and Ibn Tulun Mosque. There are
literally hundreds of sites of varying size and importance packed in along
these narrow streets. Add to this the fact that it is still a busy commercial
and residential area and Islamic Cairo can present quite a challenge. One could
spend several weeks simply getting lost in these ancient streets without
running out of new sights and experiences; however, there are several areas
where more casual tourists should focus their attention to see much of what
this historic district has to offer in a shorter amount of time.
Highlights of Islamic Cairo:
The greatest concentration of sights in Islamic Cairo is on Al-Muizz Al-Deen
Street. This street was the main street through the city when it was built in
the 11th century and mausoleums and palaces were constructed here. The northern
section of the street (between Bab El-Fotouh and Al-Azhar Street) was recently
restored. This is one of the most picturesque parts of Cairo. The Qala’un
Complex here is one of the impressive in the city.
It is easy to spend a day in this area,
ending up in the evening at Cairo’s famous 14th-century souk, Khan Al-Khalili.
Restoration work on the southern section of the street (from the Ghouriya
Complex to Bab Zuweila) was begun in 2011. Also in the area of Khan Al-Khalili
is Al-Azhar Mosque.
Who founded Al Azhar Mosque? And how old is it?
While there are hundreds of old mosques to visit in Cairo, there is none
that can compete with Al-Azhar Mosque in standing and importance to the history
of Islam. Founded by the Fatimids in 970 AD as a mosque dedicated to both
worship and learning, it developed over the centuries into the most important
center of Islamic theology and learning in the world.
Over a thousand years since its founding, Al-Azhar Mosque and the university
that bears its name draw students from all over the world to learn about the
history of Islam and the different schools of thought that govern the
interpretation of the Koran.
From its founding, Al-Azhar University was an institution that revealed in
pluralism. Founded by the Ismaili Shi’i Fatimid Dynasty, it became a Sunni
university under subsequent dynasties in Egypt, but, in spite tension between
these different theologies, Sunni and Shi’i scholars have worked, taught, and
debated alongside one another at Al-Azhar for most of its history.
Today it is regarded with respect throughout the world as an influential
moderating and regulating authority for Islamic theology.
What are the most famous constructions of Islamic Cairo?
The southern section of Islamic Cairo offers some Cairo’s largest Islamic
monuments. Construction of Cairo’s Citadel began under the Ayyubid general
Saladin (Salah Al-Deen) in the 12th century. Today the Citadel offers
breathtaking views over the city and several museums dedicated to Egypt’s
police and military. There are also three notable mosques inside the walls:
Al-Nasir Muhammed Mosque, Suleyman Pasha Mosque, and Muhammed Ali’s Alabaster
Below the Citadel is the massive Sultan
Hassan Mosque, built by a 14th-century Sultan of the same name. This huge
mosque is built as a madrassa (religious school) and displays some of the most
impressive architectural decoration in any mosque in the city.
Ibn Tulun Mosque is within walking distance of both the Citadel and Sultan
Hassan. Dedicated in 872 AD, it is the oldest mosque in Cairo and the largest
by land area. It is a truly impressive space, owing to its unique Samarran
architectural style to the fact that it was built when Egypt’s rulers were from
Iraq. Additionally, the Gayer-Anderson Museum attached to its outer walls. The
proximity of the Citadel and Sultan Hassan Mosque to Ibn Tulun makes them easy
sights to combine into a day of touring.
Azhar Park is a new addition to Islamic
Cairo. In the 1990s the Egyptian government reclaimed land that had been used
as a landfill for centuries to create a park for the city. Today, Azhar Park
offers 74-acres of park space to a city that has few green spaces. This
beautiful setting offers spectacular views over the city and manicured gardens.
There are a café and a restaurant as well. Watching the sunset from the park as
the evening call to prayer echoes up from Cairo’s thousands of minarets is a
truly memorable experience.
Museum of Islamic Art | Cairo
Ibn Tulun Mosque and Gayer Anderson Museum
Salah El Din Citadel in Cairo | Egypt
Al-Muizz Al-Deen Allah Street
El Ghorya | Attractions in Cairo Egypt
Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun Mosque | Cairo
Souk Al Khayamiya | Tentmakers Bazaar
Al Aqmar Mosque | Cairo | Egypt
Bayt Al Suhaymi in Cairo | Al Suhaymi House
Khan El Khalili Bazaar
Al Azhar Mosque | Cairo | Egypt
Sultan Hassan Mosque & Madrasa | Islamic Cairo
Mu’ayyad Mosque and Bab Zuweila
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