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 million spread over 453 square kilometers (175 sq mi), Cairo is by far the largest city in Egypt. An additional 9.5 million inhabitants live in close proximity to the city. Cairo, like many other mega-cities, suffers from high levels of pollution and traffic. Cairo's metro, one of two in Africa (the other being in Algiers, Algeria), 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 in 2005, and 43rd globally on Foreign Policy's 2010 Global Cities Index.
Egyptians often refer to Cairo as Maṣr (IPA: [mɑsˤɾ]; Egyptian Arabic: مَصر), the Egyptian Arabic name for Egypt itself, emphasizing the city's importance for the country. Its official name al-Qāhirah (Arabic: القاهرة) means "the Vanquisher" or "the Conqueror", supposedly due to the fact that the planet Mars, an-Najm al-Qāhir (Arabic: النجم القاهر, "the Conquering Star"), was rising at the time when the city was founded, possibly also in reference to the much awaited arrival of the FatimidCaliph Al-Mu'izz who reached Cairo in 973 from Mahdia, the old Fatimid capital. In Coptic the city is known as Kahire (Coptic: ⲕⲁϩⲓⲣⲏ), meaning "Place of the Sun", possibly referring to the ancient city of Heliopolis, the main seat of worship of the solar deity Ra—(or Re). The location of the ancient city is the suburb of Ain Shams (Arabic: عين شمس, "Sun-Eye" or "Eye of the Sun"). The ancient Egyptian name for the area is thought to be Khere-Ohe, "The Place of Combat", supposedly in reference to a mythical battle that took place between Seth and Horus. Sometimes the city is informally referred to as Kayro (IPA: [ˈkæjɾo]; Egyptian Arabic: كايرو).
A rendition of Fustat from A. S. Rappoport's History of Egypt
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 are 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, remained the nucleus of the Roman, and, later, the Byzantine, city and is the oldest structure in the city today. It is also situated at the nucleus of the Coptic Orthodox community, which separated from the Roman and Byzantine churches 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.
Following the Muslim conquest in 640 AD the conqueror Amr ibn As settled to the north of the Babylon in an area that became known as al-Fustat. Originally a tented camp (Fustat signifies "City of Tents") Fustat became a permanent settlement and the first capital of Islamic Egypt.
In 750, following the overthrow of the Ummayad caliphate by the Abbasids, the new rulers created their own settlement to the northeast of Fustat which became their capital. This was known as al-Askar (the city of sections, or cantonments) as it was laid out like a military camp.
A rebellion in 869 by Ahmad ibn Tulun led to the abandonment of Al Askar and the building of another settlement, which became the seat of government. This was al-Qatta'i ("the Quarters"), to the north of Fustat and closer to the river. Al Qatta'i was centred around a palace and ceremonial mosque, now known as the Mosque of ibn Tulun.
In 905 the Abbasids re-asserted control of the country and their governor returned to Fustat, razing al-Qatta'i to the ground.
Foundation and expansion
In 968, the Fatimids were led by General Jawhar al-Siqilli with his Kutama 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 Jawhar 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 the 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 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. As al Qahira expanded these earlier settlements were encompassed, and have since become part of the city of Cairo as it expanded and spread; they are now collectively known as "Old Cairo".
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 seized 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 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 scholarshipand 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 between 1497 and 1499, 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 E