The great pyramids at Giza, EgyptElephants crossing the Zambezi river in Mana Pools National Park world heritage site, ZimbabweThe great mosque in the Old Towns of Djenne world heritage site, MaliBlack and white ruffed lemur, Rainforests of the Atsinanana world heritage site, Madagascar

Historic Cairo - Egypt

Map showing the location of the Islamic & Coptic monuments at the heart of Historic Cairo (UNESCO world heritage site, Egypt)

Website Category: Egypt after the Pharaohs  

Area: 5.2 km2 

Inscribed: 1979

Criteria: (i)  a creative masterpiece (v)  interaction with the environment
(vi)  association with belief system

Location and Values:  The world heritage property of Historic Cairo comprises five separate areas of the old city, tucked away in the heart of the sprawling modern metropolis. Established in the 10th century, Historic Cairo is one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities and became the centre of the Islamic world. The old city is packed with classified monuments – about 800 in all - spanning a period of 1300 years from the 7th century.  These include ancient mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains, the city’s huge enclosure walls and the mighty Citadel with its collection of mosques and palaces.

The centre-piece of the world heritage property is a component (extending to 312 hectares) that covers the bustling heart of the old city from the Citadel and Mosque of Ibn Tulun in the south, through to the northern suburb of Al-Azhar, dominated by the huge Al-Azhar mosque and the conglomerate of markets, shops and alleyways that make up the Khan Al-Khalili.  To the east and south are three separate necropolis, where the sultans built some splendid mausolea – the As-Sayyidah Nafisah necropolis south of the citadel is the most extensive (84 ha), the Al-Imam ash-Shaf’I Necropolis, a little further south is the smallest (13 ha), while the Qayitbay Necropolis (60 ha) is located to the east of Al-Azhar. 

The fifth component of the world heritage property is the area of Al Fustat (54 ha) which is on the east bank of the Nile to the south of the city centre and includes the remains of the first mosque ever built in Egypt, the Mosque of Ibn Al-As, as well as the Roman Towers and Coptic Christian monuments of an area popularly known at Coptic Cairo.

Slideshow of Historic Cairo:  The slideshow provides an overall impression of historic Cairo, highlighting a selection of the key monuments, and the bustling street scenes of the crowded modern city in which they are found.  The tour begins at the Citadel, with its imposing walls, open spaces and far-reaching views.  Here the hilltop is dominated by one of the city’s more recent mosques – the lavish Mohammed Ali Mosque.  It’s a short walk down from the citadel to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan, and on to the Great Mosque of Ibn-Tulun with its huge open courtyard.  Some distance away, another discrete component of the world heritage site included in the slideshow is the Al-Imam Al-Shafi necropolis and mausoleum.  The tour returns to the religious heart of Islamic Cairo with 8 photos of the Al-Azhar mosque and its 3 minarets. Nearby the streets are so full of vendors that the Mosque-Madrassa of Al-Ghuri can hardly be seen, and the tour then follows Sharia Al Muizz through the Khan el-Khalili district past the floodlit mosque of al-Aqmar to the northern city walls and imposing gates of Bab al-Futuh and Bab al-Nasr.

The old Christian quarter, known as Coptic Cairo, is located to the south in another part of the city.  It is illustrated with some exterior and interior photos of the Hanging Church, as well as street scenes of this ancient district.  The tour returns to the thronging streets of the Khan el-Khalili district and shows more of the restored monuments along the Sharia Al Muizz. One notable building at a prominent split in the road is the Sabil-Kuttab of Abdal-Rahman Katkhuda, comprising a public water fountain, or Sabil, combined with a boys’ primary school, or Kuttab which would have been provided on a charitable basis by one of the city’s wealthy merchants.  Another notable monument in this part of the old city is the beautifully-restored courtyard mansion of Beit al-Sihaymi, which is shown in detail, providing a glimpse of what life would have been like behind the street façade for a wealthy Cairene family in times past. 

 The last part of the slideshow features the southern half of the old city, starting around the southern gate, Bab Zwayla with its two tall minarets, and showing some of the nearby monuments.  Travelling north along Sharia Al Muizz, the slideshow includes the beautifully restored Sabil-Kuttab of Tushun Pasha with its underground cistern and boys’ classroom. 


Slideshow of Historic Cairo:


Comments and Impressions:  There are a bewildering number of monuments in historic Cairo, and it would take more than a week to get a proper sense of them all.  Many are now undergoing restoration - even complete rebuilding in some cases - increasing their value and interest for visitors.  In a short visit it is worth concentrating on the Citadel, the area around the Al-Azhar Mosque and Khan Al-Khalili, with a brief visit to Coptic Cairo.

Google Earth View:  To view satellite imagery of Historic Cairo on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing.

Links to other places featuring Egypt after the Pharaohs:   Abu Mena  I  St Catherine 

Other Links:     Official UNESCO Site Details  I  WMF (Sultan Qa'itbay Complex)  I  CyArk 3D images (northern gate)

The Mohammed Ali Mosque within the Citadel is one of more than 600 Islamic & Coptic monuments at the heart of Historic Cairo (UNESCO world heritage site, Egypt) Mohammed Ali Mosque lies within the Citadel, one of the many Islamic monuments at the heart of Historic Cairo (UNESCO world heritage site, Egypt) Historic Cairo UNESCO world heritage site (Egypt) includes the ancient city walls and gates, notable mosques, mausoleums, Hammams, wikalas and sabil-kuttabs across the Islamic and Coptic areas of the ancient city The area of Khan el-Khalili is a maze of market bazaars and Islamic monuments at the heart of Historic Cairo UNESCO world heritage site (Egypt)



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