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Historical Description[]

Though the pharaohs ruled Egypt from Memphis just to the southwest, modern Cairo was then uninhabited. The first settlement at the site was a Roman fortress confusingly dubbed Babylon. When the Arabs conquered Egypt in the 640s, they founded a new provincial capital called Fustat nearby. The Fatimid dynasty established Cairo as their royal seat in 969 and funded huge construction projects like Al-Azhar University, still the Islamic world’s leading educational institution. Fustat was merged into Cairo around 1171 by the legendary warrior Saladin.

Under his Ayyubid dynasty and their Mamluk successors, Cairo became the center of Islamic culture and learning. However, the Black Death struck in 1348, and Portuguese sea trade routes undercut its importance as a link to the East. The Ottomans seized the declining city in 1517 and made it again a mere provincial capital, eventually overshadowed by Alexandria. Cairo’s resurgence began in the nineteenth century under Isma’il Pasha. It soon regained its preeminent position in Egypt and indeed the Islamic world, and it is now the largest city in Africa and the Middle East.

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