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Cairo, City of a Thousand Minarets

Capital Cities

What: Current Capital City of Egypt 

Where: Cairo, near old Egyptian capital of Memphis 

When: Origins from a series of settlements in 1st Millennium 

Who: Romans to the Muslims, Fatimids to Saladin, Mamluks to the Ottomans, and on to the Modern Era 

The Commencement 


Muslim conquest by AMR IBN AS and al Fustat became the 1st Islamic Capital of Egypt


Overthrow of UMAYYAD Caliphate by ABBASIDS

They create a settlement to the North East of al Fustat, called al Askar which remains today as the prominent Islamic Center of Egypt


Rebellion of AHMAD IBN TULUN led to the abandoning of al Askar and building at al QATTA’I, north of Fustat. Which was centered around a Mosque and Palace which is now known as the Mosque of Ibn Tulun

905AD: ABBASIDS foisted control and al Fustat became prominent again whilst al QATTA’I burnt to the ground

Bedrock and Extension 

968AD   The Fatimids: Led by General JAWHAR AL SIQILLI.  They established a capital at al Fustat which took 4 years to build and included al Azhar Mosque which became the 3rd oldest University in the World 

973AD: Caliph Al Mu’izz-li Din Allah arrived from Tunisia and named the capital Cairo 

1168AD: al Fustat was set on fire by Vizier Shawar to prevent its capture by the Crusaders. Cairo was expanded to include al Fustat and al Azhar and al Qatta-i. Power struggle between Shawar, King Amalric I of Jerusalem and Zengid, General Shirkuh which led to the eventual downfall of the Fatimids 

1169AD: An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub known as Salah ad-Din or Saladin is appointed as Vizier by the Fatimids and 2 years later he seizes power


Can be considered as the first Sultan of Egypt. He established the AYYUBID Dynasty which was aligned to the ABBASIDS in Baghdad. He ordered the construction of the Citadel which continued to serve as the seat of the Egyptian Government until the middle of the 19th Century


1250AD: The slave soldiers known as the MAMLUKS seized control of Cairo and the Fatimid Palaces and their lands were sold on or they were replaced by newer buildings to wipe out all memories of the Fatimid rule. New projects were implemented which pushed the outskirts further out from the center and brought new infrastructure to Cairo. As a result, Cairo flourished as a center of Islamic Scholarship and became a crossroad and meeting place on the Spice Trade Route 

Mamluks continued

1340AD: The population had grown to nearly half a million people and was the largest city west of China 

1347AD: The Bubonic Plague struck an was responsible for up to 20,000 deaths per day at its height


1348 – 1517: The Black Death struck over 50 times during this period 

1497 – 1499: VASCO DE GAMA discovered a Sea Route around the Cape of Good Hope which allowed the Spice Traders to bypass Cairo altogether. This diminished Cairo’s international influence massively 

1517: The Ottomans supplanted Mamluk power and Sultan Selim I, who ruled from Constantinople in Turkey, relegated Egypt to a province 

16th-17th Century: Cairo used its influence to remain important. They managed to arrange the facilitation of the transportation of goods to and from Mecca during the Hajj period and Yemeni Coffee and Indian Textiles to Anatolia, North Africa and the Balkans. Whilst Islamic scholars ensured that the al Azhar University reached the height of predominance 

16th Century: City expanded to South and West, employing the use of high rise apartment buildings where the lower 2 floors were for commercial purposes 

18th Century: By this time roughly 20% of the population was religious minorities and foreigners from the Mediterranean area

1798: Napoleon arrived and occupied Egypt.  He discovered that the population was now less than 300,000, meaning that it had dropped 40% lower than at the height of the Mamluks 

22nd June 1801: French surrendered Cairo to the British and Ottoman forces after a siege

1803: The British departed from Egypt; leaving the Ottomans, the Albanians and the Mamluks to jostle for control

1805: The Albanian MUHAMMAD ALI PASHA rules as Viceroy

Modern Era

MUHAMMAD ALI PASHA earned the title Founder of Modern Egypt based on the number of social and economic reforms that he introduced from 1805 until his death in 1848

Larger changes arrived under ISMA’IL PASHA who continued to modernise based on his grandfather’s legacy and built downtown Cairo based on Paris 

He also established a Public Works Ministry, a Theatre and the Opera House, crowning these off with brining Gas and Lighting to Cairo 

European Control of Egypt resulted from the debt which came about through these modernisation projects this ended up with the British invading once more in 1882. Cairo’s economic centre moved westerly toward the Nile and away from historic and Islamic Cairo and to the European-style areas built in Downtown. By the 19th Century, Cairo was populated by 5% of Europeans who held most top government positions

In 1905 a new style of architecture was promoted in a new suburb called Heliopolis, roughly 10kms from the center of Cairo.

Egypt’s Independence

Independence from the British occupying forces finally arrived in 1922, after Nationalists staged large-scale demonstrations in Cairo

Though the British remained in Egypt until 1956

Ever expanding Cairo gained new bridges and transport links, and former suburbs (such as Garden City, Zamalek, and Heliopolis) became part of the sprawling metropolis

The Black Saturday Riots occurred in 1952 which left Cairo devastated with the loss of about 700 Shops, Cinemas and Hotels in the Downtown area.

Cairo Today: The Victorious City 

At the time of publicaion, Cairo is the largest city in the Arab world : Its metropolitan area has a population of over 20 million. Making it the largest in Africa, the Arab world, and the Middle East, and the 6th-largest in the world.

Cairo has the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab world. 

Many international media, businesses, and organizations have regional headquarters in the city; the Arab League has had its headquarters in Cairo for most of its existence.

Cairo is now established as a political and economic hub for North Africa and the Arab world, with many multinational businesses and organisations, including the Arab League, operating from the city itself.


25 January 2011 saw Tahrir Square become the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution against the former president. Under the latest President, work has nearly finished on the building of the new administrative capital of Egypt looking to be a new, modern, green city.


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