Cairo (city, Egypt)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Cairo (city, Egypt)

Cairo (kī´rō), Arab. Al Qahirah, city (1996 pop. 6,789,479), capital of Egypt and the Cairo governorate, NE Egypt, a port on the Nile River near the head of its delta, at the boundary of ancient Upper and Lower Egypt. The city includes two islands in the Nile, Zamalik (Gezira) and Roda (Rawdah), which are linked to the mainland by bridges. Cairo is the largest city in the Middle East and in Africa. It is Egypt's administrative center and, along with Alexandria, the heart of its economy. Cairo's manufactures include textiles, food and tobacco products, chemicals, plastics, metals, and automobiles. Tourism is central to the local economy. The first railroad in Africa (built 1855) linked Cairo with Alexandria, and today Cairo has extensive rail facilities and is also a road and air hub.

Points of Interest

Much of Cairo is modern, with wide streets. Its famed mosques, palaces, and city gates are found mostly in the older sections. The mosques of Amur (7th cent.), Ibn Tulun (876–79), Hasan (c.1356), and Qait Bay (1475) are especially noted for their bold design. Khedive Ismail's palace on Zamalik island is a notable 19th-century structure. The Mosque of Al Azhar (970) and adjoining buildings house Al Azhar Univ., considered the world's leading center of Qur'anic studies. Cairo also is the center of Coptic Christianity.

The city is the seat of the American Univ. in Cairo, Cairo Polytechnic Institute, the Higher Institute of Finance and Commerce, the College of Fine Arts, and the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts. The Univ. of Cairo is nearby, in Giza. Among Cairo's many museums, the Egyptian National Museum is especially noted for its holdings of ancient Egyptian art. The museum is on Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which was the site in 2011 of massive demonstrations against President Mubarak. The Nilometer, a graduated column dating from 716 and used to measure the river's water level, is on Roda island, where tradition says the infant Moses was found in the bulrushes.

History

Almost directly across the Nile from Cairo was Memphis, an ancient Egyptian capital. Babylon, a Roman fortress city, occupied what is now a SE section called Old Cairo. Cairo itself was founded in 969 by the Fatimid general Jauhar Al Rumi to replace nearby Al Qatai (established in the 9th cent. by an Abbasid governor of Egypt) as the capital of Egypt. In the 12th cent. Saladin ended Fatimid rule and established the Ayyubite dynasty (1171–1250). To defend the city against Crusaders, Saladin erected (c.1179) the citadel, which still stands, and extended the walls of the city, parts of which remain. Cairo prospered under the rule of the Mamluks, who added many buildings of artistic merit, but the city declined after it was conquered (1517) by the Ottoman Empire.

At the time of its capture (1798) by Napoleon Bonaparte's forces, the city had about 250,000 inhabitants. British and Turkish forces ousted the French in 1801, and Cairo was returned to Ottoman control. Under Muhammad Ali (ruled 1805–49), it became the capital of a virtually independent country and grew in commercial importance; many Europeans settled in the city. During World War II, Cairo was the Allied headquarters and supply center for the Middle East and the site (1943) of the Cairo Conference. The Arab League is headquartered in Cairo. In the late 20th cent. the city has been plagued by poverty and overcrowding, which has forced many Cairenes to settle in the City of the Dead, a vast expanse of cemeteries to the S and E; the area is not administered or serviced by the city.

Bibliography

See M. Rodenbeck, Cairo: The City Victorious (1998); N. Alsayyad, Cairo: Histories of a City (2011); D. Sims, Understanding Cairo (2011).

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