Walking Tour of Cairo, Egypt
Walk 1 – Central Cairo and East
Cairo, Egypt, is the largest city in all of Africa with over 20,000,000 people and the city is appropriately chaotic, to say the least. It is a true mix of ancient and modern and pulsates with activity at all times of the day or night. However, it is also rich in noteworthy attractions and serves as the primary gateway into the multitude of sights which involve one of the longest-lasting and most important civilizations in recorded history, the Egyptian Civilization.
The main square, at least for tourists, is Midan al-Tahrir (Liberation Square), just outside Old Cairo. Just north of square is one of the greatest museums in the world, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which has a simply incredible collection of artifacts devoted to the history of this great civilization, which began around the year 3,000 BC and continued, with subtle changes, to about 30 BC when Egypt fell under the Roman Empire.
As with all great museums, it is impossible to see everything in a single visit so choices must be made. Below are the must-sees for the typical tourist in Egypt.
The First Floor is the most important destination because it holds the Mummy Gallery, a collection of real mummies from history, and also several rooms devoted to King Tutankhamen, including his death mask and golden throne.
On the Ground Floor, the Amarna Gallery and the Statue of Ka-Aper are particularly impressive.
From the museum, walk west on Qasr el-Nil, and, at the second large intersection, turn right on Mohammed Fasid, and then turn left on Al-Mahdy, to Al-Zabtiyya, to Tahir Bosha, and then right onto Mohammed Ali. This major thoroughfare will bring you to the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, a Mamluk structure, dating to the mid-14th century. Its 266 foot (90 meter) minaret is the city’s tallest. The Mihrab here is exquisite, and the tomb of the Sultan (although he’s not buried in it) is spectacular.
Across the square is the entrance (Bab al-Azab) to the Citadel, home to Egyptian rulers for more than 700 years. The Citadel is a fortress built in 1176 AD by Saladin to repel invading Crusaders and occupies the high ground in the city, thus providing fantastic views. It was destroyed by an explosion in 1824 AD, but palaces and mosques were built over the ruins. Here the visitor will find the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, otherwise known as the Alabaster Mosque, a city landmark which was modeled after the Aya Sophia in Istanbul and dedicated to Mohammed Ali, the independent nation‘s first ruler. Also here is the Al-Hram Palace, built as a harem, but now converted to a museum.
After your visit, walk back out to Midan Salah ad-Din, and then west on Al-Salbiyya, and then left on Al-Rakiba to the The Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, which dates to 876 AD and contains an unusual spiral minaret. It is fairly simple but, nevertheless, elegant. Note the exceptional Pulpit, next to the Mihrab, the niche which indicates to the congregation the direction of Mecca. It is the oldest and, perhaps, the most beautiful mosque in Cairo. It represents, possibly, the first use of the pointed arch, long before the Gothic arch in Europe. Climb the minaret, if possible, for splendid views.
From here, walk north on Al-Rakiba, which becomes a succession of streets (Al-Siymqiyya, Al-Hilimyya, Al-Ganbakiyya), and then turn right on Al-Azhar, to get to the beautiful Al-Azhar Mosque. This mosque is not only the first (10th century) mosque built in the city, but is also the world’s largest university and a leading center for Islamic education.
Then, walk due north, through the busy Midan Hussein, to the Mosque of Sayyidna Hussein, a sight only accessible to Muslims. However, turn left here to reach Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, which dates to 1382 AD. Not only are the sights and smells within the bazaar an indication of the true essence of the city, but the architecture is also significant. The maze of alleys and dead-ends of the bazaar are lined with all manner of goods. The displays are not just for tourists, since residents also shop here. Wander through the huge complex, enjoying the hawking and incessant bantering.
Exit at the southern end of the bazaar and turn right onto Sharia al-Muski, which leads to Midan Ataba. From here, walk southeast on Abdel Azziz, then right on Abdel Salam Arif, across Midan Falaki, to Sharia Tahrir, which takes you back to Midan Tahrir, where you began your journey.
Walk 2 – Old Cairo
Begin at the same point as walk #1, Midan Tahrir, and walk west to the Corniche el-Nil, a riverfront promenade, popular with residents and tourists alike. It is interesting to watch the river traffic as you walk. You will see feluccas, narrow sailboats, as well as commercial ships. Turn left, walking south for three kilometers or so. Now, turn left on Al-Tarzy, and then turn right on Qibs Ibn Said. The Coptic Cairo enclave is on your left. The entrance is through what’s left of the Roman Towers, near the Metro station.
One of the interesting sights in Old Cairo, the ancient walled city within the new one, is the Hanging Church, which dates to the 11th century (some say it’s even older). It was built on the old Roman fortress of Babylon, which gave it its name. Its interior is exquisite and extremely ornate. Note, in particular, the Sanctuary Screens made of cedar with inlaid ivory. Walking the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old City gives a visitor the sensation of stepping into the past. Other sights you might explore here include the Church of St George, the Churches of St Sergius and St Barbara, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Return the way you arrived, or take the Metro back to Central Cairo, where the walk began.