Old fortress built by Salah El Din Al Ayoubi, founder of the Auobbid Dynasty
(1171 to 1250). The Citadel encompasses the mosque of Mohamed Ali, the
magnificent architectural masterpiece the Madrasa of Sultan Hasa ( Koranic
school) and the Police and Military Museum. There is also the Well of
Joseph, 90 metres deep, which supplies the water for the whole of the
Citadel. Old Cairo is also home to the city's remaining Jewish population.
The area's Ben Ezra Synagogue, Egypt's oldest, is said to be where the
prophet Jeremiah gathered the Jews after they fled from Nebuchadnezzar,
destroyer of their Jerusalem temple. There is also a spring which is supposed
to mark the place where the pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the reeds,
and where Mary drew water to wash the baby Jesus.
Founded in 1902, this unique museum, with well over 100,000 exhibits in
107 rooms and galleries, contains some of the world's finest ancient Egyptian
relics. One day's viewing cannot do justice to the vast amount of splendid
collections on display. The golden sarcophagus and treasure of Tutankhamun
has the power to hold visitors in quiet contemplation for hours. One of
the favourite rooms contains a large collection of mummies.
This 180-metre tower was built in 1960. The first of the top two storeys
has a restaurant and cafeteria. Visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of
Cairo from the observation platform.
This suburb of Cairo was conceived as an exclusive 'garden city' in the
desert, intended to house the European officials who ruled Egypt, although
it also attracted the Egyptian upper classes. Construction on a desert
site northeast of Cairo began in 1906, using an odd European-Moorish architectural
style - a European fantasy of the Orient set in stone. In the 1950s, however,
overcrowding in Cairo caught up with this not-so-distant neighbour and
the former desert barrier was breached by a creeping tide of middle-income
high-rises. Ranks of apartment buildings festooned with satellite TV dishes
now greatly outnumber the graceful old villas, but Heliopolis remains
an upmarket address: the president resides here, as do most of his ministers
and the odd deposed head of an African state. While there are few must-see
sights in this elegantly faded suburb, the area is a great place to stroll
free from the crowds of Downtown. It's at its best around dusk, when pinkening
skies add atmosphere and bats start to flit between the trees. The suburb's
most extraordinary sight is the Baron's Palace (Qasr al-Baron). The personal
residence of Baron Empain, it was modelled - for no known reason - on
the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Other highlights include the Basilica,
a miniature version of Istanbul's famous Aya Sofia, and Sharia Ibrahim
Laqqany, lined with fantastical architecture. The best way to get to Heliopolis
is the airport bus (No 356), which can be caught behind the Egyptian Museum
in Midan Abdel Moniem Riad.
Pyramids of Giza
On the border of the Nile valley and the Sahara sits a small plain, now
a suburb of Cairo, that is home to some of the world's most important
historical monuments, the Pyramids of Giza. Over 4500 years old, they
were built by Kings Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu. The engineering and design
skills required to develop the perfect form has surrounded the pyramids
with an aura of mystery and made them one of the Seven Wonders of the
World. Several points of interest are contained on the site including
the Boat Museum, housing the transport for treasures and possibly bodies
to the pyramids, the Eastern Cemetery and the Great Sphinx.
18 kilometres south-west of central Cairo. Crouching at the entrance of
the ruined Sphinx temple is the monumental limestone figure believed to
originate from the middle of the third millennium BC. The twenty metres
high, fifty-seven metres long half man, half lion is the guardian of a
sun temple to the east of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu of Giza. The
Greek mythological riddle of the Sphinx eventually solved by Oedipus is
still asked of school children today. What has four feet in the morning,
two at noon and three at night?
Chill out on the Nile aboard one of the most traditional means of transportation
in Egypt, the felucca, a legendary sailing boat or set sail upon the Nile
on board Marquise, Grand Hyatt Cairo's Private Yacht.
The Alexandria Library
Only a two-hour drive from Cairo will take you to the most modern library
in Egypt. At the meeting point of the three continents, Asia, Africa and
Europe, Egypt has been the cradle of civilisation since ancient times.
The ancient city of Alexandria was, at the beginning of the 3rd century
BC, the birthplace of the great plan to build a library, the Bibliotheca
Alexandria, but a fire, which ravaged Alexandria, destroyed the library,
this vast storehouse of learning. The Egyptian government, in cooperation
with UNESCO, has decided to resurrect the old dream to endow this part
of the world with an important focal point for culture, education and
Ibn Tulun Mosque
One of the largest mosques in the world and among the finest in Cairo.
It was built between 876 and 879 and is decorated in a plain yet sophisticated
style that achieves a powerful, simplistic beauty. Standing 40 metres
high, a splendid view of Cairo can be seen from the minaret.
World Heritage-listed Islamic Cairo is the old medieval metropolis, stretching
from the northern walls and gates of Al-Qahira down to Fustat in the south.
Unchanged over the centuries, the neighbourhood is a maze of narrow, twisting
alleyways lined with splendid mosques and medieval facades. Vans compete
for right of way with donkeys and carts, and boys with impossibly laden
barrows. Remember to dress appropriately if you're planning to take in
some mosques, and take your shoes off before entering prayer halls. Most
mosques are closed to visitors during prayer times.
Taking in an area 70km (43mi) wide and 60km (37mi) long, including the
lake Birket Qarun, Al-Fayoum is Egypt's largest oasis. Home to two million
people, it is an intricately irrigated and extremely fertile basin watered
by the Nile via hundreds of capillary canals that were first built by
12th-dynasty pharaohs. It was a favourite vacation spot for 13th-dynasty
pharaohs, who built fine palaces, and later was named Crocodilopolis by
the Greeks, who believed the lake's crocodiles were sacred. These days
the region is revered for its lush vegetation and abundant crops, and
amazing variety of birdlife.
Birqash Camel Market (Souq al-Gamaal)
A visit to Egypt's largest camel market, on the edge of the Western Desert,
makes for a wild contrast to Cairo city life. The market is an easy half-day
trip from Cairo but, like all of Egypt's animal markets, it's not for
the faint-hearted. Hundreds of camels are swapped here daily, most having
made the long haul up the 40 Days Road from western Sudan.
Some 20km (12.4mi) south of Saqqara in a quiet patch of desert, Dahshur
is an impressive field of 4th- and 12th-dynasty pyramids. An off-limits
military zone until 1996, as yet there are few touts or guides so you
can enjoy the monuments in peace. There were originally 11 pyramids at
the site, although only the Bent and Red Pyramids remain intact. The Bent
Pyramid is so named for its change from a 54° to a 43°-angle during
building, after the structure showed signs of stress. A rare thing among
the pyramids around Cairo, it still has most of its outer casing intact.
The Red Pyramid is the world's first true pyramid, and represents the
lessons learnt from the Bent Pyramid. It is named for its red-toned limestone
inner casing, though some say it's due to the red graffiti scribbled on
it in ancient times. Both pyramids were built by Pharaoh Sneferu, father
of Khufu and founder of the 4th dynasty. The same height, the two pyramids
are the third-largest in Egypt, after the Great Pyramid and Pyramid of
Chephren at Giza.
Situated on the northern entrance to the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean
coast, Port Said is a very young city by Egyptian standards. It was founded
in 1859 by ruler Said Pasha when excavations began for the Suez Canal.
Port Said was bombed in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, and again in the
1967 and 1973 wars with Israel; the damage can still be seen here and
there, although the city was extensively rebuilt. The original settlement
was established on land reclaimed from Lake Manzala, and the city sits
on an isthmus connected by causeways to the mainland. Ferries cross Lake
Manzala to Al-Matariyya and across the canal to Port Fuad.
There isn't much left of the former Pharaonic capital of Memphis, 24km
(15mi) south of Cairo, although the museum contains a fairly impressive
statue of Ramses II. The real reason for heading out here is to see the
pyramids, temples and tombs strewn around Saqqara, the heart of Memphis'
ancient necropolis, 3km (1.8mi) away from the former capital. The star
attraction here is Zoser's Funerary Complex, dominated by the world's
first decent attempt at a pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Zoser. Also of
note is the Pyramid & Causeway of Unas, the site of funerary hieroglyphs
known as Pyramid Texts. The Serapeum, where sacred Apis bulls were entombed,
provides an eerie walk through barely lit galleries to see macabre sarcophagi.
The Mastaba of Ti is perhaps the grandest and most detailed private tomb
at Saqqara and one of the main sources of knowledge about life in Old
Wadi Natrun, a long, narrow depression in the desert just west of the
Delta region, shelters several ancient Coptic monasteries. A visit highlights
the endurance of the Coptic Christian sect, for it was to the desert that
thousands of Christians fled to escape Roman persecution in the 4th century
AD. They lived in caves or built monasteries, and developed the monastic
tradition that was later adopted by European Christians. At one time there
were 60 monasteries scattered across the valley, but today just four remain.
All of these holy retreats are surrounded by high, mud-brick walls and
appear similar to desert fortresses, which in effect they once were.