Essay on History of Cairo


Cairo has been a fulcrum in the culture, architecture, trade, transportation and governance for Egypt as it is the capital of the country and also the largest in scale among all of Middle East (Stewart, 1999, p.10). It was center of trade and a stepping stone for the development of transportation sector in Egypt. Cairo, being a central part of Egypt has been influenced over the years by many different types of cultures and religions which has shaped the current face of Cairo as a city and society in various dimensions. In order to gain a deeper level of insight into the history of Cairo, it is essential to observe the critical aspects of Cairo’s rich history (Stewart, 1999, p. 1). In the current scenario Egypt has been a member of the WTO since the year 1995. Despite a good potential, the trading has decreasing with other nations and also there is a decrease in the volume of trade. Political instability has been pinpointed as a reason and tourism is a great contributor in the GDP of Egypt. There is still dependence on oil exports as agriculture and industries are not well developed (Economy Watch, 2010).
Transportation was one of the first things that developed in ancient Cairo before other parts of the world. The most ancient method of transport through the desert was walking but there are specific pieces of evidence which point out that the paved roads in around Cairo are the earliest instances ever found on earth. They were used to transport sandstone and limestone for the pyramids. The trade routes which connected Egypt to the rest of the world passed from Cairo due to the presence of river Nile which also gave rise to internal trade routes inside Egypt through Cairo. Horse-drawn carriages and The Cairo metro, was first among the metros in Africa and the Arabic countries which initiated in 1987 (Antoniou, 2002, p. 18).


Observing the demographic factors of Cairo as a city, there is a high level similarity between the demographic factors of overall Egypt and if specifically Cairo is observed for these factors. Local Ethnic groups from a major part of the population of Cairo which is constituted mainly of Bedouins, Berbers and the Egyptians. Due to a diverse history of Coptic Christians coming to Egypt, which followed by the rule of Ottoman Empire, the factor of religion is very diverse. While 90% of the population is Muslim, rest of the population is Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and other kinds of Christian people (Warner, 2004, p. xii). Due to a large gap in the birth rate and the death rate of the population, the population growth rate has been high.

Figure 1 Population Growth of Cairo

Due to the arrival of many types of cultures into Cairo over centuries, it can be perceived how detailed and rich it is. The rich culture of Ancient Cairo thrived on Byzantines in which the socially elite group of people would present their writings and poetry while in the time of Mamluk culture, many mosques and madrasas were built. The city center which contains old buildings and narrow streets is also a part of the historic culture of Egypt and is declared a UNESCO site of cultural heritage. The arrival of the Ottomans also made a huge impact on the culture of Cairo as a city (Antoniou, 2002, p. 29).The negative impact was that Cairo lost its significance and became merely a center of administrative trade. The cultural shift came after the evacuation of Napoleon and the invitation to foreigners with talent to Cairo for transforming it into a modern city. This had an impact on the architecture of city as initially Turkish style buildings became noticeable.

Cairo is situated at the bank of river Nile which gives an idea regarding how the river played the role in the settlement of the city of Cairo since the ancient times. The city is located 100 miles away from the Mediterranean Sea and resides on the bank of the Nile River. Due to the major river, Cairo flooded at times in history. The climate of Cairo gets humid due to the river despite having a desert around it. The city of Cairo occupies 453 square kilometers of land area (Briney, 2015). From the ancient times, Cairo used to be a populated area due to the access to river Nile which attracted a lot of settlers in the area. The same factor led Cairo to become a major hub of international trade in times when trade occurred through ships and sea routes and Cairo allowed trade into the internal areas of Africa. The advantage of transportation propagated international trade with Cairo. Its proximity to other cultures and the influence of Great Travelers influenced the culture of Cairo to a great extent. Even in today’s date, Cairo has one of the busiest metros. Cairo is still a center of economic activity in Egypt due to its prime location and proximity to the Nile River (Briney, 2015).


Looking at Cairo through a political viewpoint, it can be observed that throughout history, Cairo went through four major political shifts which changed the government of Cairo vastly. During the Islamic period which began in 969 A.D., in which Cairo belonged to Ayyubids, Mameluks, and the Ottoman respectively. The imperial Era began in 1798 when French occupied Cairo which were later replaced by the British in 1882. The Arab Socialist Era began in 1952 when the British were overthrown by the Arabs. The events which led to the uprising and the rebellion of the Arabs and the resulting revolution are termed as the Arab Revolution in the pages of history. The current system of government began in 1987 which can be termed as the transitory or modern period (Stewart, 1999, pp. 130,134).

Internal trading through markets began as Souqs in which multiple kinds of trade occurred. The market in Bab al-Futuh which is existent till date was built in the year 1087. The international trade began in the Byzantine Empire in which the trade connection was established between the Asian countries of Far East and European countries (Antoniou, 2002, p. 11).

Cairo became a trade hub with a market situated in the Al-Mu’izz Street which was the spice market. There also used to be a slave market in the same area along with a perfume market. Cairo was successful in becoming an ideal location for Trade because of its strategic location between Europe and India (Antoniou, 2002, p. 33). Egypt was a part of the Silk route which gave Egypt a good amount of trade activity. Egypt traded in wood, copper, incense, precious stones, slaves, and animal products like Ivory. Trade was also a method of propagating friendship which involved gift-giving. Trade remained a vital source of livelihood for many Egyptians throughout many centuries (, 2009).

Cairo still remains a reflection of its rich and diverse history. Currently it is not developed as compared to many major cities in the world but it still remains highly active with hustle and bustle of its many occupants. Cairo witnesses many tourists due to its markets and places of interest which attracts many tourists from across the world. Historically, Cairo has been observed as a very significant city of trade which was occupied by different tribes and dynasties through history. Currently many parts of Cairo can distinctly remind us of that opulent history which made its mark in the city.


Antoniou, J. (2002). HISTORIC CAIRO: A Walk through the Islamic City. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
Briney, A. (2015). Geography of Cairo. Retrieved from
Kadi, G. E. (2005). Modern Heritage in Cairo: history and current outlooks. Museum International, 129-135.
Stewart, D. J. (1999). Changing Cairo: The political economy of urban form. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 128-147.
Warner, N. (2004). The Monuments of Historic Cairo. New York: The American University in Cairo Press.


Posted on

March 7, 2018

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