Historical Cairo

Historical Cairo


City of the Thousand Minarets

General Gawhar al-Siqilli successfully invaded Egypt by order of Fatimid caliph al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah in (358 AH / 969 AD), thus starting the Fatimid Period in Egypt (358 - 567 AH/ 969 - 1171 AD). Here, he founded a new capital for the Fatimid Caliphate: Cairo (al-Qahira “the Victorious”), which thus became the fourth capital in Egypt’s Islamic Period, after al-Fustat, al-‘Askar, and al-Qatai‘. He established this new capital to the northeast of its predecessor, al-Qatai‘. Gawhar commissioned al-Azhar mosque in (359 AH/ 970 AD). This was Cairo’s first congregational mosque, and the fourth in Islamic Egypt. The urban plan of Cairo was rectangular in shape, with al-Mu‘izz Street running north-south through its center. The city’s ramparts had eight gates, with two on each side. These were al-Nasr and al-Futuh on the north, al-Barqiyya and al-Qarratin on the east, Zuwaila and al-Farag on the south, and al-Qantara and Sa‘ada on the west. During the Ayyubid Period (567- 648 AH/1171 - 1250 AD), Saladin ordered the construction of the Citadel in (572 AH / 1176 AD) so it could act as both a fortress and as headquarters.

 Cairo entered an unprecedented age of growth and prosperity during the Mamluk Period (648 - 923 AH/ 1250 - 1517 AD). New neighborhoods, such as Bab al-Luq, were built, as were a number of mosques, madrasas (schools), khanqas (hostels for Sufis), wikalas (caravanserais), forts, and sabils (public drinking fountains).

 Al-Fustat – Al-‘Askar – Al-Qata’i

Islam came to Egypt with the conquest of Amr ibn al-‘Aas in (19 AH/ 640 AD). He established a new capital, al-Fustat, with its mosque in (21 AH/ 642 AD). Al-Fustat continued to serve as Egypt’s capital throughout the Umayyad period (38 - 132 AH/ 658 - 750 AD). Then Egypt succumbed to Abbasid rule (132 - 254 AH/750 - 868 AD), centred in Baghdad. The second capital of Islamic Egypt was moved to al-‘Askar. The Abbasids suffered a process of decentralization. Consequently, Egypt was able to gain its independence for the first time during the Islamic period. Its now autonomous ruler, Ahmad Ibn Tulun, founded the Tulunid Dynasty (254 - 292 AH/868 - 905 AD) and established Egypt’s third capital, al-Qata’i. Ibn Tulun’s successors, however, were unable to preserve this independence state for long, which had in its apex extended its rule over the Levant and parts of the northern Arabian Peninsula. The Abbasids once more gained control over Egypt, reverting the capital from al-Qata’i to al-Fustat. Egypt became a subordinate province to the Abbasid Caliphate, which ruled from its headquarters in Baghdad. By then, a new ruling dynasty had emerged in Egypt: the Ikhshids (322 - 358 AH/ 835 - 969 AD).