Islamic Cairo, often referred to as Fatimid Cairo, is extremely fascinating, as this part of the city has changed little in perhaps 500 years. It was the centre of Cairo for 8 centuries, from its founding in 969 AD by the Fatimids through the Ayyubid and Mamluke periods, and until the 18th century when Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire. This area is thus the richest architecturally with about 800 listed historic buildings, including some of the most visited historic sites, such as Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, el-Azhar Mosque, the Citadel and many more. Interesting things and amazing architecture await you around every corner. A warning though, you have to be ready to walk through crowded dirty streets as this area is a poorer, and hence neglected, part of Cairo. Most distressing is seeing the magnificent old buildings falling apart, but there is finally now an increasing effort to restore the treasures of old Cairo. Here are a few pictures of old Cairo, including some of the recently restored monuments. Take a look at the Travelogues, "Images from Old Cairo" and Images from Fatimid Cairo for more pictures from this area.
I know it's a huge area, but let me give my experience area-wise.
I've read a lot of stuff weeks before I started this trip to avoid getting lost (much) and looking genuinely stupid. I've been to Memphis, Sakkara, Giza pyramids (twice), Coptic Cairo...so on the 4th day I decided to explore the most popular area in the city called Islamic Cairo. I took a taxi from my hotel (near Tahrir Square) to Bab Al-Futuh, I know I've to start here and walk my way until Bab Zuweila, and that is some kilometer and a half, traversing the length of Al Moez Ldin Allah or Mui'z Street or Moez Street --- if it's arabic, everyone has his own spelling -- sounds like that.
This is the best street to walk along if you want to get to see most of the Islamic Cairo heritage.
I paid the taxi EGP10 or 15, I know he went around again to extend the trip. Anyhoo, about 15 minutes from Tahrir, I reached the Bab Al-Futuh, it's a massive gate, a fortification of the city during the medieval times. I entered the gate and started my walking tour stopping by most of the old structures like the AlHakim Mosque, Qalawun Complex, Bayt Al-Suhaymi, House of Mustafa Jaffar, there was also an underground cistern, so many mosques, medrasas, old houses, buildings, and of course the Khan ElKhalili souq.
Walking along the ElMuiz Street is like being transported in the Islamic past. This street used to be the principal street in Cairo -- those were the days when wide roads and highways are not yet in existence.
El Muiz Street is the way to go if you really want to take in a lot of sights in the Islamic area of Cairo, and you have a limited time.
Read the rest of my "Things To Do" tips starting from the Bab Al-Futuh to find out what I've seen during my own Walking Tour of Islamic Cairo...gooooo!
East of the Nile and Downtown, is the area of Cairo described by guidebooks as Islamic or Fatimid Cairo, a maze of warren-like streets, bustling bazaars, and medieval mosques and madrasas. Further south is the 800 year old Citadel on its hilltop, dominating the skyline.
You can use taxis and the metro to get around, but with a little stamina we found it perfectly possible to walk from Downtown to Khan el-Khalili to the Citadel and back again.
Dress modestly here, and if you're planning to visit mosques, wear shoes you can slip on and off easily.
If you stroll in the suburbs between the Citadel and the Khan el Khalili you will see a part of Cairo that hardly any tourist will see. It is as if time stood still there. There you will see how the poorest of the Caireens live. You will see the ruins of the houses that collapsed during the last great earthquake in Cairo. Houses that are never restored.
But still the general hospitality of the Egyptian people can be felt there; they will greet you, you might even be invited into their house.
I loved Islamic Cairo.
Islamic Cairo is a fabulous area and offers an abundance of things to see and do. I do think that just wandering the streets exposes you to loads, but here you can shop to your hearts content at the Khan El Khali Bazaar, visit mosques and sit in the small Islamic owned cafes drinking tea to sound of the muezzin.
Many tourists go to Giza, the museum, the souq and Coptic Cairo and I must say that is for good reason. My favorite part of Cairo was Islamic Cairo because it offered a vibe like no other in the city. It is one of the best places in the city to see traditional life of Egyptians and your best bet of meeting curious and honest locals. Islamic Cairo is a true highlight of Cairo. It was great!
Since the mosque is just off Khan al Khalil bazar area, you may just pass by to see its large umbrella structure in front which open up to make shade over people who pray outside the mosque when the mosque cannot accommodate everyone inside.
Though not a condition, you are expected to leave an amount at the entrance where caretaker (a group of them, actually) take care of your shoes. After all, this is a highly tip conscious society. We were 3 and we left 10 Elbs at the entrance.
Today the university built around the Mosque is one of the most prestigious Muslim schools. The university classes are conducted in adjacent buildings and the Mosque is reserved for prayer. In addition to the religious studies, modern schools of medicine, science and foreign languages have also been added.
Perhaps a little bit history about this mosque? Here goes..
The Al-Azhar Mosque (the most blooming), was established in 972 in a porticoed style shortly after the founding of Cairo itself. It was originally designed by the Fatimid (based in Baghdad) general Jawhar El-Sequili, that time Cairo used to be ruled from Baghdad. Located in the center of an area teaming with the most beautiful Islamic monuments from the 10th century, it was called "Al-Azhar" after Fatama al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohamed.
The old part of the mosque is really gorgeous with stained glass and beautiful detail work of the upper corners. Each of this Islamic architecture is a great example of how the pices of square blocks make a form of arch and curve. This part of the mosque (or part of it) may date back to 8th century.
Talking about a guide, from my experience, you should keep an eye how much time the guide spent on you and how many people you are. A larger group may pay less per head than a single person or a smaller one.
If price is not settled down in the beginning, you can contribute a sum (should be around 5-10 Elbs (higher if you are only one) per person. Often, the guide will complain about what you pay and that it is too less.
In the old part of the mosque you see some wonderful detail under the dome. There are people working for the mosque, some may voluntarily give you a guided-tour. A tour is often helpful to get an insight, since many of the interesting details you may not find in the guidebooks.
The mosque itself was built and renovated at different times with the mark of architectural styles from different times. This is a mihrab of the new part when you go into the old part you would see the difference (Old part is near the entrance).
This mihrab is from the old part of the mosque. You can see the difference of architectural style. Here more emphsis on caligraprhy and the arch is little wide whereas in the new part the arch is built with colored stones and a little narrow, similar to Gothic arch.