Top 5 must-visit historical places in Cairo

Egypt Cairo_Mohamed Ali Pasha Mosque_8 October 2014Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 8, 2014: Mohamed Ali Pasha Mosque in the heart of Cairo Citadel. Photo by Olaf Tausch (own work), CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Cairo today is a busy, crowded place with a fast-paced rhythm that leaves little room to enjoy the city for itself. Yet its ancient history makes it a prime location for a touristy, history-infused visit. After all, it was dubbed the City of a Thousand Minarets for good reason.

If you are planning a visit to Cairo soon, make sure you stop by these five must-visit locations scattered all over the city to capture the essence of its history.


Egypt Cairo_Inner yard of El-Hakim Mosque
Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT: The inner yard of El-Hakim Mosque. Courtesy of Rana Elbowety.

El-Muizz street is a beautiful, winding street in the heart of Cairo, in the El-Hussein area. As an open-air museum, it bursts with Islamic architecture, mosques, shrines, and other venues that reveal the beauty of Cairo.

As you make your way down the street and explore its hidden gems, make sure you spend some time in the El-Hakim Mosque, built in AD 990. It has a quiet, open-air inner yard that whisks you away from the hubbub of the bustling streets outside and cocoons you in a bubble of serenity. It will surely captivate you.


Egypt Cairo_Mohamed Ali Pasha Mosque_8 October 2014Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 8, 2014: Mohamed Ali Pasha Mosque in the heart of Cairo Citadel. Photo by Olaf Tausch (own work), CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Also called the Alabaster Mosque, Mohamed Ali Pasha Mosque is one of the most well-known tourist landmarks in Cairo. Located in the northwestern corner of the Citadel of Salah al-Din in Cairo, the mosque was commissioned by Mohamed Ali Pasha in memory of Tusun Pasha, his oldest son, who passed away in 1816.

Built between 1830 and 1848, the mosque is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture, with one central dome surrounded by a number of smaller domes and the two highest minarets in Egypt. Both the citadel and the mosque are definitely worth a visit, and you can take some stunning pictures from a variety of angles there on a clear, blue-sky day.


Egypt Cairo_Khan el-Khalili marketplace_22 December 2000Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT - DECEMBER 22, 2000: Khan el-Khalili. Photo by Jeaaann, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Khan el-Khalili is a major souk (marketplace) in the center of historic Cairo that attracts locals and tourists alike. The Khan, which dates back to the 14th century, has been modernized in recent decades, yet some parts of it still capture the spirit of the Mamluk-style architecture. 

Walking down the narrow, winding alleyways, you’ll find the loud, colourful bazaar filled with a variety of merchandise and souvenirs. If you pay a visit, make sure you also pass by Wekalet el-Ghouri, right across the street from Khan el-Khalili, to watch the Tannoura show hosted twice a week. It is a captivating whirling-dervishes show that will make for a memorable experience.


Egypt Cairo_Bab Zuweila_20 September 2012
Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT - SEPTEMBER 20, 2012: Bab Zuweila with its two minarets. Photo by JMCC1 (own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Dating back to the 11th century and known as an execution site during the Mamluk era, Bab Zuweila is one of three remaining gates that acted as entrances to medieval Islamic Cairo. One of the main landmarks of the city, this gate is located next to the Mu’ayyad Mosque at the southern end of Muizz Street.

As the only remaining southern gate from the walls of Fatimid Cairo, Bab Zuweila has recently been renovated. What distinguishes it from the other two remaining gates are its beautiful twin minarets, which make for a stunning photo opportunity, especially at sunset, as you can climb to the top of them for panoramic views of the surrounding neighborhood.


Egypt Cairo_Mosque of Amr ibn El-Aas_13 September 2014Photo: CAIRO, EGYPT - SEPTEMBER 13, 2014: The Mosque of Amr ibn El-Aas. Photo by Mohammed Moussa (own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A visit to Cairo is not complete without a visit to the Religious Complex. This is an open-air area located in Old Cairo that brings together a number of mosques, churches and a Jewish temple. Its value lies in its grouping of places of worship of the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Many of the sites at the complex are available free of charge. Make sure you visit the mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas (the first mosque built in Egypt), the Hanging Church, and the synagogue (also known as the Temple of Ben Ezra). This place is a must-visit not only for its historic value but because it is a long-standing example of the religious tolerance that Cairo is historically known for.

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