Conquering dynasties of Egypt, growth of Cairo and the pyramids

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, ©a rancid amoeba/Flickr

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, ©a rancid amoeba/Flickr

Cairo, with its beautiful pyramids and landscapes is the capital of Egypt tand the largest city in the Arab world and Africa. Egyptians have two names for the city: Masr, meaning both the capital and the land of Egypt, and Al-Qahira (The Triumphant). These two names are symbolized by two dramatic landmarks: the Pyramids of Giza, which is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza and Mosque of Mohammed Ali, situated in the Citadel of Cairo in Egypt and commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848. Its population is today estimated at around twenty million and is swollen by a further million commuters from the Delta and a thousand new migrants every day.

Birth of Cairo – Brief history

The first capital of pharaonic Egypt, named Memphis was founded around 3100 BC. By the centuries Persian, Greek and Roman rule was trying to eliminate the city, a new town had developed on the east side beginning the tale of cities named “Old Cairo.

Old Cairo, ©HannahPethen/Flickr

Old Cairo, ©HannahPethen/Flickr

Babylon’s citizens, oppressed by foreign overlords, almost welcomed the army of Islam that conquered Egypt in 641. For strategic and spiritual reasons, their general, Amr, chose to found a new settlement beyond the walls of Babylon – Fustat, the “City of the Tent”, which evolved into a sophisticated metropolis.

Conquest of dynasties – Fatimid and Ayyubid Cairo

The country continued to enlarge, under successive dynasties of caliphs who ruled the Islamic Empire from Iraq, three more cities were founded. In 969 the Shi’ite Fatimids took control and they created the city of Al-Qahira. The Fatimids were known for their exquisite arts. A type of ceramic, lustreware, was prevalent during the Fatimid period. Glassware and metalworking was also popular. The Ayyubid dynasty was a Muslim dynasty founded by Saladin in 1193.

 

Saladin Citadel of Cairo, ©Francisco Antunes/Flickr

Saladin Citadel of Cairo, ©Francisco Antunes/Flickr

Mamluke and Ottoman rule

Throughout Fatimid and Ayyubid dynasties, thousands of Mamluk servants and guards started to be employed, and even took high offices, including governor of Damascus. Mamluke Cairo encompassed all the previous cities, Saladin’s Citadel (where the sultans dwelt), the northern port of Bulaq and vast cemeteries and rubbish tips beyond the city walls.  Under the Ottomans, Cairo expanded south and west from its nucleus around the Citadel.  The Islamic Cairo history section relates their stories, the Turkish takeover, the decline of Ottoman Cairo and the rise of Mohammed Ali, who began the modernization of the city.

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, ©a rancid amoeba/Flickr

Mosque of Muhammad Ali, ©a rancid amoeba/Flickr

Times of modernization

Under Ismail, the most profligate of Mohammed Ali’s successors, a new, increasingly European Cairo arose beside the Nile – see the “Central Cairo” section. By 1920, the city’s area was six times greater than that of medieval Cairo, and since then its residential suburbs have expanded relentlessly. When revolution hit Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011, Cairo was of course its epicentre, with events in Tahrir Square in particular an inspiration for the entire Arab world.

 

Tahrir Square, Cairo, ©James....../Flickr

Tahrir Square, Cairo, ©James……/Flickr

Most of the events of that revolt played out in the square, on 6th October Bridge, and in the streets of Qasr al-Aini, in particular around the Interior Ministry, whose control was vital to the military in their bid to rein in the revolution and cling onto power.

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