Islamic Cairo, also known as Medieval Cairo, is home to the region’s most historically significant mosques and Islamic monument, but it has even more to offer.
Whatever you do, don’t expect Islamic Cairo to be anything like modern day downtown Cairo. The two areas are quite literally worlds apart, but in a way which makes it even more necessary to explore this ancient district.
A Brief History of Islamic Cairo
The district known today as Islamic Cairo was originally founded in 969 by the Fatimid caliphs who subsequently turned it into a royal enclosure, not far from Futstat, which had by then been adopted as the country’s economic and administrative capital. It served as Egypt’s capital from 750 to 868. During the years that followed, the area grew to become the regional center for Islam, and as a result, several mosques and other Islamic monuments were constructed. It is primarily due to this that the area came to be known as Islamic Cairo.
To this day, Islamic Cairo is still often referred to “Fatimid Cairo” or “Medieval Cairo”. After Cairo was founded in 969 it grew steadily, and as it did, it slowly but surely swallowed up all the smaller neighboring cities, including Fustat.
Islamic Cairo as it Stands Today
The stark contrast between downtown Cairo and Islamic Cairo is almost indescribable. In this medieval district, many of the inhabitants occupy premises located right alongside some of the world’s most historically important mosques and monuments. Most of them are very poor, struggling to make ends meet from one day to the next.
This blend of antiquity and poverty does however lend the area a very special and very unique sort of charm. Generally speaking, the people are friendly and welcoming, and a stroll through the narrow streets will without doubt leave you with many precious memories. It’s a wonderful part of Cairo to explore and great for people watching as well as they locals go about their daily activities. Of course while you’re in the area, don’t forget to visit some of the Cairo attractions found in the vicinity.
Midan Hussein and the Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque
This mosque is generally the first one to grab the attention of tourists, but please be warned, the Al-Hussein Mosque is not open to non-Muslims. It is one of Islam’s most sacred mosques, not only in Cairo, but in the entire Middle East. The reason for this being that it is believed to be the place where the head of Ibn al-Hussein, Muhammed, the Prophet’s grandson, is buried.
The mosque was constructed in 1870 on the site of a12th-century mosque which was demolished to make way for the building of the Al-Hussein Mosque. The Midan or “town square” which is located just before the mosque provides convenient access to the infamous Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. The bazaar is an attraction you really don’t want to miss, but allow yourself plenty of time to explore because it really is huge.
The Cairo Citadel
The Cairo Citadel is a famous Cairo landmark, built by the Muslim caliph who defeated the Crusaders, between 1176 and 1183. It became the center of Egyptian government and continued filling that role until Khedive Ismail moved to the new Abdeen Palace in 1860. The citadel is famous for its mosque; breathtaking views of downtown Cairo, and very pleasant cool breezes. It also home to a very nice military museum.Occasionally, musical events are performed at the citadel in the evenings.
The best way to find out about such events is to check local entertainment guides, or if you’ve booked a Cairo Tour through us, simply ask the tour guide that’s assigned to you for more information. Our guides are very experienced and incredibly knowledgeable, and should be able to answer any questions you might have.
Sultan Hassan Mosque
The Sultan Hassan Mosque was constructed under orders from the Mamluk, Sultan Hassan and was finally completed in 1363. It is located just below the Citadel, near to the relatively new Rifaii mosque. With its vast size, the Sultan Hassan Mosque is remains one of the largest mosques, not only in Egypt, but through the Arab world.
NOTE: There are several other mosques in and around Islamic Cairo which one can visit, but please remember that policies regarding non-Muslims can and do change from time to time. In other words, a mosque that is open to non-Muslims today might not be open to non-Muslims next week; next month or next year.Whenever you enter a mosque, please make sure you are dressed appropriately, and always show respect to local customs. Mosques are after all, very sacred places of worship.
Other Attractions In and Around Fatimid Cairo
If you still feel you have enough energy for further exploration in Islamic Cairo, then a few nice places to visit would include the Gary Anderson Museum; Bayt al Suhaymi and Al-Azhar Park.
The nearby Garry Anderson Museum occupies the mansion that once belonged to this much respected Egyptologist. It does contain all that many artifacts, but still worth a visit nonetheless. Bayt al Suhaymi on the other hand is beautifully restored home located just behind Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. The property once belonged to an Ottoman merchant during the 16th and 17th centuries. It gets very few tourists, which makes it an ideal place to visit if you’re looking for a little bit of peace and quiet.
When you have finally had enough of the noise and chaos, you can make your way to Al-Azhar Park for some tranquility, along with some outstanding views of Cairo and the Citadel. With its lush greenery; pleasant cafes; a modern castle style restaurant and a theatre that hosts music events almost daily, it’s difficult to imagine that the area was once a rubbish dump.
Tour the Best of Cairo Your Way!
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Visit Islamic Cairo with us and allow us to turn your dream into a reality.