Photograph by Adam Jones, Getty Images
Read Caption

The Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo, Egypt sits at the top of the city's Citadel.

Photograph by Adam Jones, Getty Images

A Guide to the Holy City of Cairo, Egypt

The rich spiritual and religious history of Cairo adds an extra dimension to a visit to Egypt, where ancient sites and thriving communities continue to draw modern-day visitors.

Located on the banks of the Nile River, Cairo, Egypt’s capital, holds the special distinction of being home to the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing: the Great Pyramid, completed around 2540 B.C. It’s part of a six-pyramid complex just outside the city on the Giza Plateau.

Not quite as old, the nearby Citadel was built on a hill by the caliph who defeated the invading Crusaders in the 12th century. The Citadel is famous for its views over Cairo, as well as for being the site of the grand Mohammed Ali Mosque. Built in the 1800s, the mosque is one of the first buildings visible when approaching the city. With its Ottoman-influenced architecture, the mosque resembles the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, another monument of Islam.

The history of Christianity in Egypt dates to just a few decades after Jesus died. During the Roman era, St. Mark is believed by scholars to have come to Alexandria to spread the gospel through Egypt. Cairo’s oldest area is the Coptic Christian area, which has five churches, the first mosque built in Egypt, the oldest synagogue in the country, and the ruins of Roman fortifications. Built on an old Roman fortress, the Hanging Church (so named because the nave was built between the ruins of two towers) has 110 religious icons; the oldest dating back to the eighth century.

When to Go: Due to the pleasant weather, March to April and October to November are the best times to go to Cairo, with March and April bringing sandstorms that are both a hindrance and a special sight to see.

Where to Stay: As the name suggests, Pyramids View Inn has quite the view. From either a room or the roof, guests can see the pyramids, including the sound and light show each evening. If swimming in a pool overlooking the Nile is more tempting, Kempinski Nile Hotel Garden City Cairo has visitors covered.

Cultural Tip: Only a limited number of tickets are sold in the morning and again in the early afternoon to enter the pyramids. No cameras are allowed inside the pyramids, and climbing, although once a popular tourist activity, is now off-limits.

What to Read Before You Go: World-renowned Egyptologist Barbara Mertz wrote a fictional series set in Egypt before writing Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt, a book of nonfiction that illuminates some of the history behind her fiction. It covers the first Stone Age settlements through the reign of Cleopatra and the Roman invasions, including pictures, maps, photographs, and charts to showcase the fascinating history and stories. The Cairo Trilogy by the late Cairo native Naguib Mahfouz helped earn him the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature; he was the first Arab to win the award. The trilogy covers three generations of Cairo residents, giving a look back into early 20th-century Egyptian life.