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At the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe stands the metropolis of Cairo, the largest city in the Middle East and Africa and one of the most populous in the world. With more than 25,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, Cairo has an estimated 16 million souls living in a place designed for two million. The Nile runs like a vein through the centre, sustaining hearts and bellies as it has for millennia. On either bank extraordinary remains of civilizations past – thousands of years of Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic history – commingle with the dwellings and lives of modern Egyptians.
Cairo has more than one face. Part of the city wants to hold hands with the most cosmopolitan world cities and boast the splendours of its past; the other just wants to get by. Mega-malls and manicured shops sprout up with an air of contrived sophistication, but the rubble of failed building projects and the bulk of the population that concerns itself more with finding food and housing simply doesn’t care about the absence of rubbish bins.Read more
Testimony to Cairo’s multiple faces is everywhere. A walk around the city is a walk through thousands of years: from the colossal Pyramids of Giza at the edge of the Western Desert to the Old Coptic Quarter on the east bank; through the alleys of Islamic Cairo, gushing with life and hundreds of ancient monuments to the downtown quarter where the stunning façades of 19th-century buildings remind onlookers of the profound influence of European occupiers. And in between the ancient monuments and modern buildings, souks and ahwas (coffee houses), bazaars and falafel stalls fill every crevice where the contagious energy of Cairo, perhaps the city’s greatest attraction of all, looms on as it always has.
There is never enough time to see all the sights that Cairo has to offer, but the extraordinary Egyptian Museum (sometimes, mistakenly, referred to as the Cairo Museum), is one of the wonders of the country. Its most famous exhibits are the spectacular Tutankhamen displays and the world-renowned Mummy Room, but the enormous wealth of other Pharaonic materials numbers a staggering 136,000. Unrivalled even by the grand museums of Berlin, London, New York and Paris, for tourists and scholars alike the museum is a must if only for a few hours.