Cairo is a modern city built on the ruins of older settlements. It’s links with what’s termed ‘ancient Egypt’ are different than cities like Luxor and Aswan, which exist almost solely because of ancient ruins. Yet Cairo is indispensable on a journey to Egypt. It is not merely the capital, but dominates the country because of its huge population, cultural influence, and government jobs. For those interested in ancient Egypt, the museum and the pyramids of Giza are the main attractions, followed by its close proximity to Saqqara, Memphis and Dashur. My wife and I recently visited Cairo to see my parents, and, naturally, take some time to see many of its sites.
The core of Cairo has been continuously inhabited since at least Roman times. Memphis, the ancient capital, lies about 30km south, where the Nile used to branch off into the Delta (now located north of Cairo). Cairo has grown into a massive city and now covers the area including the ancient city of On (Heliopolis), Giza, the Roman fortress of Babylon (not to be confused with Mesopotamia’s Babylon), and the Arab army barracks that grew into the city of Fustat. It relatively recently gobbled up the islands of Zamalek and Rhoda, and sprawled outward into the desert. Medieval Islamic Cairo was located north of Fustat and 19th century central Cairo was built closer to the current course of the Nile, where Khedive Ismail made a city of wider promenades, European style buildings and large squares. This ‘downtown’ now forms the core of the city and is where tourists go to visit the Egyptian museum.