The beginnings of the site of
today’s Cairo can be tracked back to when the capital of
Egypt was Memphis, which is said to have been founded in the
beginning of the 4th millennium BC near the head of the
banks of the Nile delta which was south of the current
Cairo. The city spread to the north along the east bank of
the Nile, and its present situation has attracted political
dominance ever since.
It was in Cairo that the Romans built their city named
Babylon. The area was later known as Al Fustat by Arab
Muslims who relocated there from the Arabian Peninsula in
When a rebellious branch of
Muslims known as the Fatimids took over Egypt in 969, they built their seat of
government in the city and named it Al Qāhira (Cairo). The 12th century saw the Christian Crusaders attack
Cairo, but they lost to the Muslim army from Syria
which was led by Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid
dynasty in the city.
The Mamluks built their capital
in Cairo in the 13th century, and the city became
famous throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. The
decline of Cairo occurred after the middle of the
14th century when the bubonic plague known as the
Black Death hit the city, killing hundreds, causing
a decline in population. In 1517 the Ottomans
invaded and conquered Cairo until Napoleon I of
France captured the city during an expedition in
1798. But years later, Ottoman rule was restored in
Egyptian foreign debt by the middle of the 19th century
and the decline of the Ottoman Empire attracted greater
European influence in Cairo. Ismail Pasha, the viceroy who
ruled from 1863 to 1879, constructed many European-style
buildings and monuments in Cairo and took the opportunity of
the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal northeast of
Cairo in 1869 to display the city for the European powers.
Unfortunately, much of the improvements that happened during
this time were funded by foreign loans, which caused an
increase in the country’s debt and left the capital a
“sitting duck” to British dominance. Great Britain
consequently ruled the country from Cairo from the second
half of the 19th century through the time after World War I
from 1914 to 1918 when the colonial presence in Cairo
started to lessen.
During the interwar
years, Cairo's population grew rapidly reaching over
2 million by the start of World War II in 1939.
Since then, Cairo has continued to progress in terms
of both population and development. In part, this
population growth was a result of the influx of
immigrants from cities along the Suez Canal that
were destroyed in the 1960s and late 1970s during
the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The city’s landscape has been modified by many new
residential, commercial, and governmental
structures. Tourism has become an important source
of foreign revenue for the country, and as a result
has drawn a lot of investment from the government.
The city has also
progressed from Egypt's growing international distinction.
The birth in 1945 of the Arab League made Cairo a political
capital. Egypt's ongoing efforts in the Middle East peace
process has also helped put the country on the map.
The assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 by
Islamic fundamentalists within the army was a tragic event
for the city as it happened during a military parade. The
1992 earthquake that hit the city caused a fatality of more
than 500 and injured about 6500 others.