Cairo Things to Do Tips by Tijavi
Cairo Things to Do: 1,553 reviews and 3,064 photos
Hanging Church facade
Egypt was one of the first countries to embrace Christianity, which became an official religion in 4th century A.D. Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, hence, the name Coptic Cairo for the area where they first settled. Coptic Cairo is uncharacteristically tranquil and quite a pleasant area to walk around.
Very little, however, remains of the original settlement as the annual inundation of the Nile had destroyed most of the original structures. What visitors see now are mostly reproductions or restorations. There are so many points of interest within Coptic Cairo. my favorites from which are:
1) The Hanging Church - built in 9th century A.D. on top of the Water Gate of Roman Babylon (hence, the name) in honor of the Virgin Mary. I love the light filtering through the windows above over the church's colorful interiors - very solemn. Its 13 columns are said to represent Christ and the 12 disciples with the darker one symbolizing Judas.
2) Church of St George - built in honor of the Mar Girgis (St George), its colorful stained glass is beautiful. The original church was built in the 10th century, but had to be rebuilt several times following several fires. Look for the image of St George housed in some special enclave to your left when you enter the church.
3) Coptic Museum - this offers an excellent glimpse into the Coptic Christian culture featuring architecture, religious art, textiles and garments and literature. The exhibits are well laid out and professionally labeled. One drawback are the rude tourist police at the entrance who treat every camera-toting tourist with intense suspicion.
4) Greek Orthodox Cemetery - peaceful and serene (pun not intended), the shady trees provide respite from the scorching sun, while you read epitaphs and take snaps of interesting tombs and mausoleums.
Address: Old Cairo
Directions: Cheapest way to Coptic Cairo is to take the Metro towards Helwan. Get off Mar Girgis station, the 4th station after Midan Tahrir. Coptic Cairo is right beside the Metro station. One-way ride costs one pound.
Touts are rare here, just friendly locals
One of the most relaxing things to do after a hard day at the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum is to take a walk on the Corniche, the riverside promenade. The best time to start your walk would be around dusk when the Corniche starts to buzz with ordinary Cairenes enjoying an evening stroll with their friends and family. It's the most opportune time to mingle with them, chat with them, and get to know more about them. These are your ordinary Cairenes, so touts are rare. And it is generally safe as long as you stick to the main areas around Qasr el-Nil/Nile Hilton.
One of the most extraordinary sights would be the sunset on the west bank - it is beautiful. The transformation of Cairo's skyline from a one giant urban eyesore to a glittering spectacle is fascinating. If you're tired of it, a change in perspective could do the trick - from one of the many colorful boats that take passengers on a short leisurely ride on the Nile.
For more scenes from the Corniche, click here to go to my travelogue Strolling down the Corniche.
Directions: Around Qasr el-Nil bridge and in front of Nile Hilton.
One of the Medieval Gates
I don't know why, but unlike Istanbul's Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar) which was clearly a tourist trap, I just fell in love with Khan el-Khalili, Cairo's (and arguably Egypt's) largest souk, which began as a small trading outpost in the 14th century A.D. Could it be the unpaved, dusty alleys lined with screaming hawkers? Or the colorful spice souks and the atmospheric ahwas (coffeehouses) filled with tourists and locals alike? Or is it simply the fact that most of the rough and tumble trade that goes on here are genuine, day-to-day activities carried out by the locals themselves in contrast to the contrived, mainly-for-tourist atmosphere that was characteristic of Kapali Carsi, which was how I initially expected Khan el-Khalili to be?
Lucky me, I was wrong all along. While many souks, especially those close to Al Hussein Mosque, cater to tourists' insatiable appetite for trinkets and souvenirs, the inner souks, hidden behind medieval gates and known only to Khan el-Khalili regulars and adventurous tourists, are genuinely functioning markets where the trading of all things essential and not-so-essential had been going since the Medieval period. All does one need is a genuine sense of adventure and curiosity not to mention patience, in discovering these hidden nooks and crannies. A good camera also helps in capturing these priceless scenes.
Address: From Al Azhar St.,Cairo
Directions: Taxi is easiest way to go, about EGP 5 from Midan Tahrir to Al Hussein Mosque. You can also take the Metro (to Al-Marg from Midan Tahrir station), get off at Ataba station, which would cost EGP 1 one-way. From Ataba, it's a 10-min walk via Al Azhar St.
Al Azhar Mosque
Cairo is known as the city of thousand minarets for obvious reasons. While it is not uncommon to see a mosque on every corner (or every other corner for that matter) in other Muslim countries, Cairo's case is special - that is because these mosques have been built ages ago and are laden with history.
The Al Azhar Mosque across Khan el-Khalili is one of the more special mosques. Built in 970 A.D., it was of the first in the city. Its sheikh is regarded as the highest Islamic authority among Egyptian Muslims. Its other claim to fame is its university, which is said to be the oldest surviving university in the world.
Directions: Across Khan el-Khalili on Al Azhar St.
The ornate dome (click to enlarge)
From the outside the Mohammed Ali Mosque is an imposing structure, built on classic Ottoman style. Built within the walls of the Citadel on a hilly location, it is the dominant structure on the Cairo skyline - on those rare occasions where smog does not envelope the whole city.
From the inside, it is stunning, especially the dome - resplendent and glowing in hues of gold, orange and black. I don't understand why the mosque has not enjoyed positive reviews from critics. I was blown away by the intricate dome - which to my untrained eye, was more awesome than that of Istanbul's Blue Mosque.
The mosque was built by Mohammed Ali, the Albanian lieutenant in the Ottoman army who became ruler of Egypt during the Ottoman empire's reign in Egypt. He is regarded as the founder of modern Egypt and his successors ruled the country until mid-20th century. For more information on Mohammed Ali, click on this Wikipedia site.
Address: South-East Cairo
Directions: The mosque is within the Citadel. The easiest way to go there is by taxi - about EGP 7 from downtown Cairo. Entrance fee to the Citadel is EGP 40 as of May 2007.
Baehler Building on Midan Talaat Harb
Downtown Cairo, mostly developed during the mid-1800s during the reign of French-educated Ismail - a Fatimid ruler who reigned for 16 years (1863-79) - deserves at least a half-day's worth of exploring. The area is regarded as the commercial capital of modern Cairo, but the buildings here, mostly pooly-maintained turn-of-the-century (of Belle Epoque vintage) architecture, are anything but modern.
A typical route would be to start from Midan Tahrir down Qasr el-Nil up to Midan Talaat Harb, from where the boulevard branches into Talaat Harb towards Midan Mustafa Kamel, and into Talaat Harb towards Midan Orabi. It is advisable to have a good street map - I find the one sold at AUC's (American Univ in Cairo) bookshop quite helpful.
There are really no individual standout attractions here - it's the resulting old-meets-new world ambiance coming from a heavy concentration of once-glitzy shops housed in turn-of-the-century buildings, the hustle and bustle of thousands of Cairenes going about their daily lives, and the respite offered by the many ahwas (coffeehouses) littered around. Among the more interesting buildings are the Baehler building and Groppi cafe (in picture) on Midan Talaat Harb, and the Risotto Club (in picture) on Midan Mustafa Kamel.
For movie buffs, there are also cinemas offering the usual Hollywood fare as well as local productions. With its prolific entertainment industry, Cairo is considered the movie capital of the Arab world. The only catch is, these don't have English sub-titles.
Directions: Around Midan Tahrir, Midan Talaat Harb, Midan Orabi, and Midan Mustafa Kamel
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