Cairo, Egypt Introduction and History
Cairo’s architectural monuments rank among humanity’s great achievements. Recognizing that their preservation is a matter of importance to the whole world, UNESCO has listed the Egyptian capital as one of the “Cities of human heritage” such recognition is well justified for few cities on earth display such a dense concentration of historic architectural treasures as dose Cairo.
The concentration reflects the political situation of Islamic Egypt, which never had another capital outside the space occupied by the city we now call Cairo.
Historians describe a series of capital cities Al Fustat , Al Askar, AlQatai and Al Qahira. but all of these were within sight of one another and eventually became a single city .
Cairo has been the uninterrupted center of power in Egypt since the year 641.AD.
Muslim Egypt was ruled from a single site, the area between Mosque of Amr in the south and Bab al Nasr and Bab al Futuh to the north. Outside this area very few medieval buildings of interest have survived, while within it , a large number of Egypt’s medieval and post- Medieval Monuments still stand , witnesses to more than eleven centuries of history .
Al Fustat , Al Askar , Al Qatai
What we today call Cairo, or AlQahira , is an agglomeration of four cities founded within the area .
The name al- qahira didn’t exist until the last of these was created in 969 AD as Capital of Egypt under the Fatimids , before this city came a succession of capitals beginning with al fustat 641 AD, the Abbisid foundation of Al Askar 750 AD and the Tulunid establishment of Al Qatai 870AD .
Al-fustat was founded as the capital of Egypt just after the Arab conquest of Egypt. Its location was a strategic decision by the Caliph Umar IbnAl Khattab in Medina ,for although Alexandria was capital of Egypt at the time of the conquest , the caliph preferred to settle his troops in an area less remote from the Arabian peninsula .” Amr Ibn AlAs” commander of the caliph’s troops in Egypt thus abandoned his plans to settle in the former capital on the Mediterranean. The new capital at the apex of the Nile Delta was strategically situated near the Roman fortrees town of Babylon. This site, at the junction of Upper and Lower Egypt, allowed easy communication with the Arabian Peninsula without crossing the Nile and its delta branches.
Amr Ibn AlAs, redug the ancient canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea, further facilitating communication with the caliphate in the Hejaz.
Al-Fustat soon eclipsed Alexandria as a commercial and industrial center of Egypt.
Receiving goods from Upper and Lower Egypt and from he Mediterranean and its Nile port in the 9th century, however, the khalij or canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea was partially filled in, and all that was left was a pond south east of the Delta called Birkatal Hajj, the first station on the caravan road to Mecca.
Al fustat was typical of the garrison cities established in the early days of the Arab conquests like Kufa and Basra in Iraq, it was an unplanned agglomeration that later crystallized into true urban form.
At the center of Al fustat was the Mosque of Amr , a simple construction for the religious need of the troops and , adjacent to it the commander’s house. Themosque over looked the Nile, whose channel was much closer to it than it is now. AL fustat was originally divided into distinct quarters occupied by the various tribes of the conquering army. This garrison gradually developed into a large town engulfing the town of Babylon around the roman fortress.
Al fustat acquired its first satellite city after the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyad caliphate of Damascus in 750 and established their new capital at Baghdad. in order to reinforce their gripon the Egyptian province , the new rulers immediately sent troops and founded a new capital , al askar (the soldiers) with a new mosque and governor’s palace , to the north east of al fustat despite the foundation of this satellite city .al fustat continued for some time to be the administrative and commercial center. In the following period, the two communities of al fustat and al askar, fused into alarge city designated simply as al fustat, stretching to the Nile in the west and to the foot of the muqattam hill to the east and north , the great mosque of al askar had already disappeared in the Middle ages .
Following the precedent set by the Abbasids in founding al askar , later dynasties created for them selves new seats of power , each farther to the north east , farther island , and each more grandiose than the last .
Ahmed IbnTulun , sent to Egypt in 868 AD as the Abbasid caliph’s governor , soon asserted his independence , founding a new ruling dynasty (868-905) and a new capital , Al Qatai (the wards) , north east of the Fustat al Askar complex .
The new city standing on higher ground than al askar , on the hill called JabalYashkur , the area today including the mosque of IbnTulun and foot of the citadel was remote from the commercial and industrial center of al fustat and its busy port .
It was celebrated as a magnificent pleasure city, especially under the reign of IbnTulun’s son, khumarawayh .
Ibn Tulun constructed a grand palace with vast gardens a menagerie, The Tulunid age with its luxurious trappings came to an end in 905 AD when the Abbasid troops once again marched on Egypt, this time to reestablish order and replace the dynasty whose sovereigns had lived so sumptuously, during this campaign the entire city of al qatai was razed to the ground except for IbnTulun’s aqueduct and his mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt surviving in its original form.
The fourth palatial satellite city was born with the conquest of Egypt by the Fatimid’s, an lsmailiShia dynasty originating in north Africa, the fourth Fatima caliph , al Muizz Li din Allah , with his general Jawhar al Siqilli , overthrew the Ikhshidids who had ruled Egypt between 934 and 969 AD. Egypt’s status rose with that of its conquerors, it became the seat of a caliphate.
Jawhar accordingly began construction on the walls which were to enclose the new caliph residence Al Muizz first named the site al Mansuriyya after his father, the caliph al Mansur, but 4 years later renamed it AL QAHIRA (the victorious) after AL QAHIRA, the planet Mars, in ascendance when the signal was given to break ground for the new capital, the new construction was completed in 971 AD.
The two cities
Under the Fatimias al QAHIRA (Cairo) became the seat of power, a ceremonial, residential center where the caliph dwelt with his court and army but al Fustat remained the productive and economic center of Egypt.
The older city, by that time called simply Misr had grown into a flourishing metropolis.