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, 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 of the 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 of 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 Mosque.
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 decorations 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.