The moment I arrived in Cairo, often referred to as the “Mother Of Cities,” I kept wondering why it took me so long to visit? I had missed two opportunities years ago, for good reasons I suppose-although I can’t recall them now. Still, they had always felt like moments lost, more so, because once the Egyptian revolution started in 2011, it meant that it would be years before things stabilized and Egypt could go on my destination map. Things finally changed this year when the UN reported on the country’s tourism growth and I could finally set foot on an ancient land that felt so new to me.
It is hard not to get caught up in Egyptomania. As a traveller, this is one of the most exciting places in the world to visit and I imagined myself following in the footsteps of almost every famous explorer and conqueror that traversed the same path. The thought that I could uncover new discoveries that might be a stumble away added to my thrill.
Being the largest metropolis in the Arab world; Cairo heaves and rattles ceaselessly. Bursting at the seams with its 22 million inhabitants or so. Here, rough and unfinished red-bricked highrises cast long shadows on the dusty streets below, which are overrun by cars, buses, tuk tuks, trucks, even donkey carts, all flowing to the soundtrack of a constant penetrating honking. It all becomes overwhelming in the heat but as your sensors are heavily assaulted somehow the chaos soon fades. Because love or hate it, you are in Cairo.
Chances are if you are travelling for pleasure when you visit Egypt, Cairo is either your first or last stop. Either way, time is of the essence and as you can imagine in a city this busy and crowded having a travelling road map of where you would like to go and the things you wish to see is key to ensuring you don’t miss anything, especially your sanity. So here are my picks of places that you absolutely must visit when in Cairo.
Memphis was one of the oldest and most important cities in ancient Egypt, located at the entrance to the Nile River Valley near the Giza plateau. It served as the capital of ancient Egypt and thrived as a regional centre for commerce, trade, and religion. The ruins of this ancient capital are located 25 km south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile. The site is over 5,000 years old though today little of the actual city remains standing.
Here you’ll find several impressive artefacts alongside an array of statues. One of the most significant finds is a colossus statue of Rameses II and an alabaster sphinx. It is only a matter of time as more of Memphis is unearthed, since this area remains an active archaeological site.
Saqqara is an ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser. They may not be as famous as the Pyramids of Giza, but Saqqara’s necropolis is where pyramid building in Egypt first began. Saqqara was important to me because the thought of placing my hands and walking along structures built almost 5000 years old was mind blowing.
An easy day trip fromCairo(30 kilometers north), Saqqara and the surrounding pyramids of Dahshur and Abu Sir are a showcase of the early architecture of the pharaohs. The Step Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid are some of the Old Kingdom’s most dazzling treasures, and for history lovers, a journey here is a must-do on any Cairo tourist itinerary.
The Citadel Mohamed Ali
I don’t know about you, but I love to be above it all, when I visit a big city. It is a great way to orient yourself and what sometimes looks chaotic from the street level, all makes sense when you change perspective. One of the best views of the Cairo can be seen from the Citadel Mohammed Ali. This citadel and Mosque stand proudly and protectively over Cairo and its imposing presence is impossible to miss. Don’t leave without investigating its intriguing history.
The Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, with over 120,000 artefacts capturing ancient Egypt’s glorious reign is breathtaking. For most visitors, this is the highlight of their trip. There are mummies, sarcophagi, pottery, jewellery and of course King Tutankhamen’s treasures, it’s all there. Since the museum contains more than a quarter of a million objects spanning over three millennia from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period, it would take at least nine months to see everything, and only if allowing a minute or less at each exhibit. My recommendation, unless you are a master of Egyptology, would be to book a guided tour. In that way in just over two hours you can cover the really significant displays and exhibits, while gaining in-depth knowledge.
What is very exciting is that soon all these 5,000-year -old items will be getting a new home. The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), also known as the Giza Museum carded to be the largest archaeological museum in the world is scheduled to be partially opened toward the end of 2018.
Pyramids of Giza
Of the over 130 pyramids uncovered in Egypt, the pyramids of Giza has become the emblem of ancient Egypt. In fact, visiting this complex was the main reason I was in Cairo. These astonishing Egyptian structures are more than 4,500 years ago. The great pyramid is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. The Giza Pyramids were tombs built with precision to endure an eternity, and have done just that. The Giza pyramid complex includes three pyramids and the enigmatic Sphinx sculpture. The best time to visit the complex is either early morning-although it could be a bit hazy for pictures, or afternoon when a lot of the tours have cleared out. If you plan to visit the inner King’s chamber of the pyramid a limited number of tickets are sold between 8am to 1 pm. If you are claustrophobic or have mobility challenges visiting this chamber is not recommended. Perhaps a caramel ride is a better option. Whichever you choose, you will be left with an unforgettable experience. At night, the pyramid complex comes alive with a fascinating laser light and sound show as ancient Egypt’s history is retold.
This is said to be the oldest open air market in the Middle East. With armies of peddlers and vendors jammed into narrow streets. Once you enter you are pulled through the market by a strong current of busy shoppers. Even a glancing interest at any of the items draped along the course constitutes as an offer. Here you only leave with what you negotiate. A visit to this market is more about the experience rather than what you actually purchase.
There is really no middle ground when it comes to Cairo. As a travel destination, there is no other place in the world that can stand in as a substitute for what this city has to offer. Its significance as the bedrock of civilization, history and culture in incomparable. Now you know why they call it the Mother Of Cities.
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