Cairo Travel Guide
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ITINERARIES

Old Cairo
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.

Egyptian Museum
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.

Cairo Tower
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.

Heliopolis
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.

The 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?

Nile Cruise
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 science.

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.

Islamic Cairo
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.

Al-Fayoum Oasis
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.

Dahshur
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.

Port Said
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.

Saqqara
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 Kingdom Egypt.

Wadi Natrun
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.

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