Anyone who has ever visited Egypt before will likely have taken in the majestic sights and sounds of Cairo, the capital city. Cairo is quite unlike any other city in Africa – and it’s certainly one of the most popular with tourists. But what is it about Cairo that proves so popular with travellers from all over the world? Is it the glittering city sights, or the incredible Nile? Chances are, it’s a bit of both, and more besides.
In this fact file, we’re going to head down to Cairo to take a closer look at the city, with a stack of interesting facts about Cairo that might just surprise you before you go ahead and visit on your own.
Location and population
It’s situated in the northern part of Egypt
Cairo is located in the northern quarter of Egypt, about 100 miles (165 km) from the Mediterranean Sea and about 75 miles (120 km) from the Suez Canal.
Cairo’s population density was 44,522 people per square mile or 17,190 people per square kilometre as of 2006, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
With an increase of 2.02% since 2020, the current metro area population of Cairo in 2021 is estimated at 21,323,000.
Its thought that due to its location on the fertile banks of the River Nile, it’s been a human settlement for millennia.
A Roman fortress
In the 4th century, the Romans built a fortress on the banks of the river called Babylon.
When was Cairo founded?
The city was founded in AD 641 and expanded by the Fatimid dynasty in the 9th century.
The medieval era
Marking the renaissance of Egypt, Cairo became the most powerful Islamic city of the medieval era.
From 1348 until the early 1500s Cairo’s growth started to slow down due to the many plagues and the discovery of a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, which allowed European spice traders to circumvent Cairo on their routes east.
The Ottoman Empire took control of Egypt in 1517, and Cairo’s political influence diminished as government functions were mostly conducted in Istanbul.
16th & 17th century Cairo
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Cairo grew geographically as the Ottomans worked to expand the city’s borders out from The Citadel that was constructed near the city centre.
The modernization period
Cairo began to modernize in the mid-to the late 1800s, and in 1882 the British entered the region and the economic centre of Cairo moved closer to the Nile.
A cosmopolitan population
5% of Cairo’s population at that time was European, and from 1882 to 1937 its total population grew to over one million.
Riots and protests
A great portion of Cairo was burned down in a series of riots and anti-government protests in 1952.
Cairo’s rapid growth
Shortly after this, the city once again began to grow, with several new developments now built nearby as satellite cities of Cairo.
One dominant religion
The city is also known as “The City of a Thousand Minarets” due to the fact that Islam is the dominant religion in Cairo.
The grand Mohammed Ali Mosque
Built in the 1800s the nearby Citadel is the site of the grand Mohammed Ali Mosque and has amazing views over Cairo. With its Ottoman-affected architecture, the mosque looks like the Blue Mosque of Istanbul – another shrine of Islam.
The White House of Egypt
The Citadel of Cairo was the White House of Egypt for nearly 700 years from the 13th to the 19th century.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
The Museum of Cairo was built in 1901 by the Italian construction company Garozzo-Zaffarani and is absolutely colossal – and it’s actually one of the biggest collections of artefacts you’ll find on the continent. It’s sometimes called the Egyptian Museum, and it’s the best place for you to check out genuine relics from Egypt’s ancient and fascinating past. There are thought to be more than 120,000 different pieces for you to look at and learn about here – probably the most famous is Tutankhamun’s golden mask.
The history of Christianity in Egypt
Christianity in Egypt dates back to just a few decades after Jesus was crucified.
The Roman era
St. Mark arrived in Alexandria during the Roman era to spread the gospel of Christianity through Egypt.
Cairo’s oldest area
The Coptic Christian area is Cairo’s oldest area. It has five churches, the first mosque ever built in Egypt, the oldest synagogue in the country, and the ruins of Roman fortifications.
The Hanging Church
Built on an old Roman fortress, the Hanging Church has 110 religious icons, the oldest dating back to the 8th century.
The Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids represent an archaeological site on the Giza Plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo. This complex of ancient structures contains the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the huge sculpture also known as the Great Sphinx, numerous cemeteries, a workers’ village, and an industrial facility.
The Great Pyramid
When visiting Cairo, you will likely want to make a point of checking out the Great Pyramid of Giza. This colossal landmark dates back 2,540 years before the modern calendar begins and is a staggering 140m in height. It’s not easy to avoid, on the whole!
It took about 20 years and over two million blocks of stone to construct the pyramids.
A Wonder of the Ancient World
Cairo holds the special merit of being home to the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing: the Great Pyramid, completed around 2540 B.C.
If you wanted to study and get a degree in Islamic law, logic, grammar, and rhetoric in 975 CE, you would have had to enrol at the al-Azhar University, which was the only one that offered degrees.
The Al- Azhar University in Cairo is the world’s 2nd largest institution of higher education, and the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt.
The centre for Egyptian education
Cairo is the centre of the Egyptian education system today, with many universities in or near the city, like the Cairo University, the American University in Cairo, and Ain Shams University.
A Nobel prize winner!
Born in Cairo in 1911, Naguib Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. He published over 350 short stories, many movie scripts, plays and novels over a 70-year career.
Interesting facts about Cairo
The city suffers from huge amounts of traffic and high levels of air and water pollution.
Despite its focus on the colossal history Egypt is known for, Cairo is one of the most modern cities on the continent. So much so, that it’s thought the city’s metro system is actually amongst the 15 busiest on the planet. There are 65 different stations in the network, and it’s only been a part of the landscape since 1987.
Believe it or not, there is also a women’s-only service on the network, with exclusive female carriages available for you to travel on.
The residents of Cairo support either al-Ahly or Zamalek football club. Their rivalry is quite strong, yet they share the same stadium, Cairo International Stadium!
If you’ve been to a few big food courts in your time, then you’re going to want to save some room to explore Cairo’s world-beating foodie establishment. The Oasis is a fittingly named Egyptian smorgasbord, offering visitors a pick from more than 25 different eateries. It caters to families with plenty of laid-back seating and play areas, as well as its own built-in cinema.
Before the 19th century, Cairo was highly susceptible to annual flooding.
The Nile is shifting
Interestingly, portions of the city are getting farther from the river because the Nile is actually shifting westward.
The average temperature
Cairo’s average high temperature in July is 94.5˚F (35˚C) and the average low temperature in January is 48˚F (9˚C).
The Hollywood of the Middle East
Yes, another interesting fact is that Cairo is well-known as the Hollywood of the Middle East. The film industry in Egypt was founded by the government in the 1950s and ’60s. Cairo is the city where the most Middle Eastern and North African films are filmed.
Cairo was in the news due to protests and civil unrest that began in late January 2011.
On the 25th of January, over 20,000 protesters entered the streets of Cairo. For many weeks the protests went on and hundreds were killed or wounded as both anti and pro-government demonstrators fought.
The president steps down
Finally, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down from office as a result of the protests, in mid-February 2011.
Useful facts about Cairo
The official currency of Egypt in is the Egyptian Pound.
With standard two-pin plugs the electricity runs at 220 volts, 50 Hz.
The time zone in Cairo is GMT+2.
Want to call your friends or family here? You’ll need to use the country dialling code +20, plus the area code for Cairo: 02. Another useful fact, don’t dial the 0 if calling from abroad!
Do you know any interesting or fun facts about Cairo? Share them in the comments below!
We hope you’ve enjoyed these facts – are you hungry for more? Check out these interesting facts about Ancient Egypt!