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Being one of the oldest cities of the world, Cairo has a truly unique history that provides an insight into the roots of civilization. This ancient metropolis, formerly called Babylon is a city rich with historical, cultural and religious inspiration.


Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx

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They are big… really big. And they’re old, about 4500 years. Egypt boasts the only remaining of the ‘Seven Ancient Wonders of the World’: The Great Pyramid of pharaoh Cheops. The pyramid towers at a staggering 481 feet (146,5 meter) and consists of approximately two million blocks of stone, each weighing more than two tonnes. Two times a day, visitors can climb into this incredible pyramid. A narrow passageway leads to the King and Queen’s Chamber. Slightly smaller, but nevertheless impressive are the nearby Pyramids of Cheops’ son Chefren and grandson Mykerinos.
Along the southern face of the Great Pyramid is an exceptionally well-done museum showcasing an excavated “solar boat” which served for the pharaoh to make his daily journey with the sun across the sky.

sphinxFor thousands of years, the mysterious Sphinx, standing as if to guard the Great Pyramids, greets the morning sun. A lion’s body and the head of a pharaoh – wisdom and strength in timeless symmetry. The Sphinx, skillfully carved from solid limestone, is some 65 feet (20 meter) high and 240 feet (73 meter) long.

A nice and certainly entertaining way to explore the area is either on horseback, by camel or by a horse-drawn carriage.

Memphis, the Necropolis of Saqqara, Pyramids of Djozer and Teti
The legendary pharaoh Narmer, also known as Menes, unified Lower and Upper Egypt and founded his capital Memphis. The name derives from Men-nefer, meaning ‘Established and beautiful’ and beautiful it was, a city filled with palaces, temples and gardens. However, Memphis has almost completely vanished. All that remains today are a few clues of its grandeur at the small museum and a few statues in the garden.

sakkarah_smllFar more interesting and just a short ride from the Great Pyramids of Giza is Saqqara, the necropolis of Memphis. Here you find the world’s oldest big still standing structure, the Step Pyramid of King Djozer, which is part of a complex area of temples, chapels and courts. A stone structure north of the pyramid, the Serdab, contains a statue of king Djozer gazing outwards to the stars. This area is still under excavation and has revealed a great knowledge of the pharaohs and of the deified engineer of the pyramids: Imhotep. Part of the necropolis is the impressive underground Serapeum of the Holy Bulls. The interior of the nearby Pyramid of Teti is similar to that of the Pyramid of Unas with walls inscribed with Pyramid Texts. In the intact burial chamber you find Teti’s well-preserved basalt sarcophagus. Opposite the Pyramid of Teti is the mastaba of Mereruka, Teti’s highest official, overseer of priests. The mastaba covers an area of 1000 sq metres with 32 chambers of which 17 belong to Mereruka, while the other rooms are reserved for his wife, Princess Seshseshat, Teti’s daughter, and their eldest son Meri-titi. The exquisite reliefs show charming scenes of daily life. In the joint mastaba of Akhethotep & Ptahhotep are particularly beautiful painted reliefs portraying a wide range of animals and peculiar scenes out of the life of its owners.
The outside of the Pyramid of Unas looks like just a big mound of rubble, however the interior is beautiful decorated, its ceiling adorned with stars and its alabaster-lined walls inscribed with beautiful blue hieroglyphs. These are the funerary inscriptions known as the Pyramid Texts, which comprise 283 rituals, prayers and hymns to protect and comfort the king’s in the afterlife. Due to deterioration of the interior, the pyramid was closed for public in 1998. The Pyramid of Teti, which is open for public, has an interior and plan that looks very similar to that of the Pyramid of Unas.


The Egyptian Antiquities Museum
This museum is a must see while you're in Egypt. It houses a unique collection of over 160.000 artefacts of ancient Egyptian antiquities which is too much to be seen in one day. However, if you take the time to slowly walk through the museum, it provides you with a very good insight in what life was must have been like during the time of the Pharaos.

Among the highlights are the rooms with the treasures of the King Tutankhamun’s tomb and his famous golden mask, which became a symbol of ancient Egypt’s splendour. 

A bit eerie though fascinating is the collection of mummies, amongst which are those of some of famous pharaohs like Ramses II and Seti I. 

Old Cairo
Within a one-mile radius, this oldest place of worship is a combination of Christian, Islamic and Jewish history. Here you find some of the world’s oldest churches, such as the Church of St. Gergius, the Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary, built in the 4th century, the Synagogue Ben Ezra, dating back to the 9th century and the Amr Mosque, the first mosque to be built in Cairo. Legend has it that during the migration of the Holy Family, they found refuge in this area.
The Coptic Museum has a beautiful exhibition of artefacts from the early Christian period.

Mohammed Ali moskeeThe Citadel
This medieval fortress sits majestically on a mountaintop, overlooking the city. Interesting sights within the Citadel comprise the Alabaster Mohamed Ali Mosque, Carriage and Military Museum and a Jewellery Museum. On Wednesday and Saturday evening you can enjoy a fabulous show of Mystic Sufi Music & Dancing inside of the Citadel.

Medieval Islamic Cairo
This area displays several mosques and monuments from the Islamic period. Located here is one of the world’s first markets – the Khan el Khalili Bazaar – established in the 14th century. The old bazaar is a maze of narrow and winding alleys, presenting an enchanting shopping experience.


Sights outside of Cairo...

Wadi Natrun
About 100 km north of Cairo is Wadi Natrun where the ancient Egyptians found natron, used in the mummification process. The valley is now famous for the Coptic Monasteries. It was here that thousands of Christians retreated to escape Roman persecution in the 4th century AD. They lived in caves or built monasteries, and developed the monastic tradition that was later adopted by European Christians. Of the 60 monasteries once scattered over the valley, only four remain. The Coptic pope is chosen from among the Wadi Natrun monks. In Egypt monasticism is experiencing a revival. Beside their solitude and serenity, the monasteries are worth visiting for the superb Coptic art.

Al-Fayoum Oasis
At a distance of approximately 100 km southwest of Cairo is Al-Fayoum, an extremely fertile large semi-oasis, watered by the Nile via capillary canals and a small river, the Bahr Yusif. The oasis is a haven for wild animals, including during winter lots of migrating birds. Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom built their mud-brick pyramids at Lahun and Hawara, and the Greeks and Romans established extensive towns. However the most appealing aspect of the Fayoum is its rustic tranquillity, the unique waterwheels and the saline lake of Birket Qarun, which lies about 45 meters below sea level. Just before the Cairo-Fayoum road drops down into the depression, are the remains of Karanis, a city founded by Ptolemaic Greeks and later inhabited by Romans. Karanis was abandoned in the 5th century AD and much is still to be seen of this ancient city.

Pyramid of Meidum
Visiting the Old Kingdom Pyramid at Meidum, 35 km northeast of the village of Al-Fayoum and about 100 km south of Cairo, is a nice day-trip through the fertile green valley of the Nile, offering you a chance to see farmers working in the fields, children happily riding their donkeys and strong women carrying water jars on their head.
Isolated on a rising plain the steeply terraced 3rd Dynasty pyramid marks the transition between the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the true pyramids at Giza. To enter the pyramid, through the 75 meter small corridor and going down a set of vertical steps in order to reach the small burial chamber is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s worth the effort. Around the pyramid, royal nobility built their mastabas. Some can be entered from inside, however be prepared to crawl on your tummy through the narrow corridor

Opera House, Art Galleries
For theatre and art lovers the district of Zamalek – an island in the heart of Cairo – offers numerous art galleries and museums including the Gezirah Art Centre for contemporary art and the renowned Cairo Opera House for various opera, ballet and classical- and contemporary music performances. You can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the city and the surrounding desert from the restaurant and cafeteria in the 187-meter high Cairo Tower.

The most atmosheric shopping is found in the souks (markets). Cairo’s historic Oriental Khan el Khalili Bazaar originally was a caravanserai and dates back to the 14th century. It is an immense conglomeration of markets and shops offering gold, silver, brass work, leatherwork, belly-dance costumes etc. etc. Here you have a chance to use your bargain skills. Have a coffee or tea with the Egyptians at Fishawi, a 200-year old coffeehouse, decorated with huge antique mirrors.

Cairo has fantastic shopping malls where you can find Egyptian and international merchandise at a low price. For exclusive and refined evening dresses we recommend the Arcania Mall, City Centre in the Nasr City district and nearby Citystars. Take your time to browse because most shops are open till late in the evening.

Popular items to take home as a souvenir are papyrus paintings, perfume oils and natural therapeutic oils, herbs and spices, incense such as myrrh, frankincense and amber, beautiful hand-woven carpets, hand-carved Oriental wooden ornaments, ancient Egyptian replicas. You will find an overwhelming amount of stunning gold jewellery sold according to weight. If the vendor is close to the goldsmith, you might be invited to watch while your jewellery is custom made.

An inherent part of the purchasing experience at the market is some friendly haggling, which should be taken in good spirit.

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