Cairo (/ˈkaɪroʊ/ KYE-roh ; Arabic: القاهرة) is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Middle-East and Africa. Its metropolitan area is the 16th largest in the world. Located near the Nile Delta, it was founded in CE 969. Nicknamed "the city of a thousand minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a center of the region's political and cultural life. Cairo was founded by the Fatimid dynasty in the 10th century CE, but the land composing the present-day city was the site of national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo. Cairo is also associated with Ancient Egypt as it is close to the ancient cities of Memphis, Giza and Fustat which are near the Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza.
Egyptians today often refer to Cairo as Maṣr ([mɑsˤɾ], مصر), the Egyptian Arabic pronunciation of the name for Egypt itself, emphasizing the city's continued role in Egyptian influence. Its official name is القاهرة al-Qāhirah , means literally "the Vanquisher" or "the Conqueror". It is also called Umm al-Dunya, meaning "the mother of the world".
Cairo has the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab world, as well as the world's second-oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University. Many international media, businesses, and organizations have regional headquarters in the city; the Arab League has had its headquarters in Cairo for most of its existence.
With a population of 6.76 millionspread over 453 square kilometers (175 sq mi), Cairo is by far the largest city in Egypt. With an additional 10 million inhabitants just outside the city, Cairo resides at the center of the largest metropolitan area in Africa and the Arab World as well as the tenth-largest urban area in the world. Cairo, like many other mega-cities, suffers from high levels of pollution and traffic. Cairo's metro—one of only two metros on the African continent (the other the Algiers Metro)—ranks among the fifteen busiest in the world,with over 1 billion annual passenger rides. The economy of Cairo was ranked first in the Middle East and 43rd globally by Foreign Policy's 2010 Global Cities Index.
The area around present-day Cairo, especially Memphis, had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt due to its strategic location just upstream from the Nile Delta. However, the origins of the modern city is generally traced back to a series of settlements in the first millennium. Around the turn of the 4th century, as Memphis was continuing to decline in importance, the Romans established a fortress town along the east bank of the Nile. This fortress, known as Babylon, remains the oldest structure in the city. It is also situated at the nucleus of the Coptic Orthodox community, which separated from the Roman and Byzantine church in the late 4th century. Many of Cairo's oldest Coptic churches, including the Hanging Church, are located along the fortress walls in a section of the city known as Coptic Cairo.
In 969, the Fatimids were led by General Gawhar al-Siqilli with his Kotama army, to establish a new capital for the Fatimid dynasty. Egypt was conquered from their base in Ifriqiya and a new fortified city northeast of Fustat was established. It took four years for Gawhar to build the city, initially known as al-Manṣūriyyah, which was to serve as the new capital of the caliphate. During that time, Jawhar also commissioned the construction of al-Azhar Mosque, which developed into the third-oldest university in the world. Cairo would eventually become a centre of learning, with the library of Cairo containing hundreds of thousands of books. When Caliph al-Mu'izz li Din Allah finally arrived from the old Fatimid capital of Mahdia in Tunisia in 973, he gave the city its present name, al-Qahira ("The Victorious").
For nearly 200 years after Cairo was established, the administrative centre of Egypt remained in Fustat. However, in 1168 the Fatimids under the leadership of Vizier Shawar set fire to Fustat to prevent Cairo's capture by the Crusaders. Egypt's capital was permanently moved to Cairo, which was eventually expanded to include the ruins of Fustat and the previous capitals of al-Askar and al-Qatta'i. While the Fustat fire successfully protected the city of Cairo, a continuing power struggle between Shawar, King Amalric I of Jerusalem, and the Zengid general Shirkuh led to the downfall of the Fatimid establishment.
In 1169 Saladin was appointed as the new vizier of Egypt by the Fatimids and two years later he would seize power from the family of the last Fatimid caliph, al-'Āḍid. As the first Sultan of Egypt, Saladin established the Ayyubid dynasty, based in Cairo, and aligned Egypt with the Abbasids, who were based in Baghdad. During his reign, Saladin also constructed the Cairo Citadel, which served as the seat of the Egyptian government until the mid-19th century.
In 1250 slave soldiers, known as the Mamluks, seized control of Egypt and like many of their predecessors established Cairo as the capital of their new dynasty. Continuing a practice started by the Ayyubids, much of the land occupied by former Fatimid palaces was sold and replaced by newer buildings. Construction projects initiated by the Mamluks pushed the city outward while also bringing new infrastructure to the centre of the city. Meanwhile, Cairo flourished as a centre of Islamic scholarship and a crossroads on the spice trade route among the civilisations in Afro-Eurasia. By 1340, Cairo had a population of close to half a million, making it the largest city west of China.
Although Cairo avoided Europe's stagnation during the Late Middle Ages, it could not escape the Black Death, which struck the city more than fifty times between 1348 and 1517. During its initial, and most deadly waves, approximately 200,000 people were killed by the plague, and, by the 15th century, Cairo's population had been reduced to between 150,000 and 300,000. The city's status was further diminished after Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, thereby allowing spice traders to avoid Cairo. Cairo's political influence diminished significantly after the Ottomans supplanted Mamluk power over Egypt in 1517. Ruling from Constantinople, Sultan Selim I relegated Egypt to a mere province, with Cairo as its capital. For this reason, the history of Cairo during Ottoman times is often described as inconsequential, especially in comparison to other time periods. However, during the 16th and 17th centuries, Cairo remained an important economic and cultural centre. Although no longer on the spice route, the city facilitated the transportation of Yemeni coffee and Indian textiles, primarily to Anatolia, North Africa, and the Balkans. Cairene merchants were instrumental in bringing goods to the barren Hejaz, especially during the annual hajj to Mecca. It was during this same period that al-Azhar University reached the predominance among Islamic schools that it continues to hold today; pilgrims on their way to hajj often attested to the superiority of the institution, which had become associated with Egypt's body of Islamic scholars. By the 16th century, Cairo also had high-rise apartment buildings where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants.
Under the Ottomans, Cairo expanded south and west from its nucleus around the Citadel. The city was the second-largest in the empire, behind only Constantinople, and, although migration was not the primary source of Cairo's growth, twenty percent of its population at the end of the 18th century consisted of religious minorities and foreigners from around the Mediterranean. Still, when Napoleon arrived in Cairo in 1798, the city's population was less than 300,000, forty percent lower than it was at the height of Mamluk—and Cairene—influence in the mid-14th century.
The French occupation was short-lived as British and Ottoman forces, including a sizable Albanian contingent, recaptured the country in 1801. The British vacated Egypt two years later, leaving the Ottomans, the Albanians, and the long-weakened Mamluks jostling for control of the country. Continued civil war allowed an Albanian named Muhammad Ali Pasha to ascend to the role of commander and eventually, with the approval of the religious establishment, viceroy of Egypt in 1805.
Until his death in 1848, Muhammad Ali Pasha instituted a number of social and economic reforms that earned him the title of founder of modern Egypt. However, while Muhammad Ali initiated the construction of public buildings in the city,those reforms had minimal effect on Cairo's landscape. Bigger changes came to Cairo under Isma'il Pasha (r. 1863–1879), who continued the modernisation processes started by his grandfather. Drawing inspiration from Paris, Isma'il environs a city of maidans and wide avenues; due to financial constraints, only some of them, in the area now composing Downtown Cairo, came to fruition. Isma'il also sought to modernize the city, which was merging with neighboring settlements, by establishing a public works ministry, bringing gas and lighting to the city, and opening a theater and opera house.
The immense debt resulting from Isma'il's projects provided a pretext for increasing European control, which culminated with the British invasion in 1882. The city's economic centre quickly moved west toward the Nile, away from the historic Islamic Cairo section and toward the contemporary, European-style areas built by Isma'il. Europeans accounted for five percent of Cairo's population at the end of the 19th century, by which point they held most top governmental positions.
The British occupation was intended to be temporary, but it lasted well into the 20th century. Nationalists staged large-scale demonstrations in Cairo in 1919, five years after Egypt had been declared a British protectorate. Nevertheless, while this led to Egypt's independence in 1922, British troops remained in the country until 1956. During this time, urban Cairo, spurred by new bridges and transport links, continued to expand to include the upscale neighbourhoods of Garden City, Zamalek, and Heliopolis. Between 1882 and 1937, the population of Cairo more than tripled—from 347,000 to 1.3 million—and its area increased from 10 square kilometres (4 sq mi) to 163 square kilometres (63 sq mi).