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Cairo History

Cairo has its roots in the ancient settlement of Memphis, now 24km (15 miles) southwest of the city. It was founded in 2,000 BC and ruled by King Menes who united Upper and Lower Egypt. In the 1st century, the Romans built the Babylon fortress on the Nile, the oldest structure in the city.

Cairo itself was established as the city of Fustat by the Fatimids in the 10th century. So began a period of huge construction of prominent landmarks, including Al-Azhar mosque. As Cairo was a key link on the east-west spice route, the market streets of Khan el-Khalili became a bustling centre of trade.

The 12th century brought Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt, who commissioned many more important buildings. Then in the mid-13th century, the Mamaluks seized control of Egypt. Under them, Cairo became an important centre of Islamic learning.

The rising Ottomans took over from the Mamaluks in the 16th century, and with the rise of Constantinople as their capital, Cairo declined. The Black Death struck the city countless times, reducing the population by hundreds of thousands.

After resisting Napoleonic rule, Muhammad Ali Pasha founded the modern Egyptian state in the early 19th century, with social and economic reforms and huge construction ensuing. Broad boulevards and circular plazas inspired by Paris can still be seen around today’s Downtown Cairo.

The British used Egyptian debt as a pretext for occupying the country from 1882. Huge protests led to the declaration of independence in 1922, but colonial dominance continued until the Egyptian revolution of 1952. Under the iconic Nasser, Cairo developed into a modern metropolis with Egyptians from all over the country pouring in. It eventually became the largest city in the Islamic world, and one of the biggest in Africa.

In 2011, millions of protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, leading to the resignation of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. The quest for democracy has not been smooth since, with President Morsi removed by military coup in 2013.

Did you know?
• When it was finished, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure in the world for nearly 4,000 years.
• Cairo’s Al-Azhar is one of the world’s oldest universities, dating back to the late 10th century.
• Constructed by Saladin, Cairo Citadel was the seat of Egyptian government between the late 12th century and the 1860s.

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Hotel El-Hussein

If you want to be in the thick of Khan el Khalili, this is the place. Overlooking the mosque Al Hussein, rooms are basic, but large. Water is usually hot, and there is a ceiling fan but the air-conditioning – when working – is noisy, and bathroom might be a little grubby. However the real draw is the huge balconies overlooking the square, a fantastic spot for watching the world go by. Service can be surly, especially for the (very basic) breakfast, but overall it’s great value.

Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza

This Cairo hotel offers 366 luxury rooms, including 101 suites, all with wonderful views of the Nile, the city and citadel, and many with private terrace. Facilities include a rooftop pool deck with adult and children's pools, and an excellent beauty and wellness spa. The hotel has six restaurants, headed by the seafood restaurant Aqua.

Le Riad Hotel De Charme

Located on a charming street in Islamic Cairo, this brand new boutique hotel has been converted from an Ottoman house, complete with architectural features like domes, arches and mashrabiye (latticed wooden shutters). Elegant suites are filled with antiques, plus modern touches like free laptops and Wi-Fi.

Mena House

Originally the palace of the Khedives Ismail, with fabulous views of the pyramids, this is one of the most glamorous and romantic hotels in Cairo. Since opening in 1887, it has hosted kings, emperors and movie stars, with four luxury suites enhanced by antiques, murals and tapestries. Try and book a pyramid-view room.

Hotel Longchamps

Very popular small family-run hotel in a relatively peaceful area, this Cairo hotel has been going strong since 1953. Comfortable rooms are bright and clean, with a hint of a colonial flavour, and the real gem are the two leafy terraces. Always busy, so advance booking is essential.

Cairo Marriott Hotel

The hotel's twin towers are a distinctive landmark rising 20 stories high and providing magnificent views of the Nile and six acres of gardens. This former palace offers 977 updated rooms, 111 elegant suites, 15 restaurants and a world-class casino - it's got all the bases covered.