The Hidden Gems of Cairo

At the mention of Cairo, the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza easily come to mind. And though these two tourist spots are considered the most famous sights in Egypt, Cairo (the capital) is also proving to be a must-visit destination in Africa.

Famously known as the City of a Thousand Minarets for its exceptional Islamic architecture, Cairo boasts of iconic sights in the form of ancient Coptic churches, lavish mosques, and contemporary skyscrapers.

Cairo is bustling with life. The sight of donkeys and camels wandering around cobble-stone streets, the scent of perfume incenses and spices, and the sound of the snarling traffic all come together to make a visit to this hypnotizing metropolis truly one to write home about.

Where to go:

1. The Religious Complex:

The Religious Complex is a multi-religious compound where Islamic mosques, Christian churches, and a Jewish temple all wait to be discovered. The Quran, Bible, and Torah are read here every day. It is believed that this site served as a hideout for the Holy Family some 2000 years ago.

Its complex is also near the Mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas, one of the oldest religious buildings in Egypt and the whole of Africa. It was constructed in 642 AD by Amr Ibn Al-As, an Arab general that the Copts (or Coptic Christians, an ethnoreligious group) hail as a rescuer.

Some interesting antique and souvenir shops, a bookshop, and a museum containing artifacts from the Christian history of Egypt can also be found in the Religious Complex. The museum opens daily from 9am-5pm.

2. Manial Palace

Often overlooked by tourists, this historic house museum located in Southern Cairo showcases the life of royalties in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was built in 1899 and was once the residence of Prince Mohammed Ali. It now houses the vast art collection, clothing and silverware of King Farouk of the Muhammad Ali dynasty.

The Palace has five unique buildings adorned with scenic stained glasses. It has sprawling Persian and English-style gardens, a nature park and a hunting museum. It’s a remarkable place to visit for free for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

3. Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar

Khan Al-Khalili is a big and bustling open-air market located in the heart of Cairo. It’s a shopper’s haven that dates back to the Middle Ages. Tourists from all over the world can be seen wandering about in the narrow cobblestone streets and interconnected alleys of the bazaar, haggling with vendors over silverware, jewelry, fabrics, and exotic spices.

4. El Fishawi

In one of the alleys of Khan Al-Khalili, the renowned Arab café called El Fishawi can be found. It has been serving coffee, tea, and shisha to its customers from all over the world for more than two decades. It is famous for its sweet mint tea and karkade, a magenta-colored herbal tea served hot or ice cold. It’s a refreshing sweet drink with health benefits.

The café is a favorite hangout place for politicians and authors and frequented by women who like to socialize over shisha.

5. Al Azhar Park

What used to be an open rubbish pit for so long, now provides green space in the heart of Islamic Cairo, where many hidden treasures have been uncovered. This 30-hectare park located on a hill provides a spectacular view of Cairo townscape.

The park was opened in 2005 after years of development. During the improvement of the site, archaeological discoveries were made. A 12th-century Ayyubid wall, part of the Ayyubid fortification built in 1176 to enclose the palace-city of Fatimid and its suburbs, was uncovered along with some valuable stones with hieroglyphics text.

6. Cave Church

The Mokattam Mountain located in South Eastern Cairo is home to the Monastery of Saint Simon, also called the Cave Church, which is the largest church in the Middle East. It has a seating capacity of 20,000. The church was built by the Zabaleen people, with a large population of Egyptian garbage collectors! The Zabaleens are Coptic Christians. Egypt is a widely Islamic country, so the Zabaleens prefer to stay within their religious community. In fact, a number of churches have also been carved into the caves of Mokattam.

Cairo is one of the densest cities in the world but also one of the most exciting. It has seen destruction through the centuries but it was able to rebuild itself into a beautiful home to the warm, welcoming, and wonderful Cairenes and a respite for the travelers looking for a memorable and meaningful vacation.

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