The organization of the metropolitan complex is understandable only in the context of the city’s history. The three oldest areas constitute densely populated poorer neighbourhoods that virtually surround a relatively Westernized downtown core. The largest of these is the medieval city built under the Fāimid dynasty (909–1171), with its pre-19th century extensions (Al-Jamāliyyah, Al-Darb al-Amar, Bāb al-Shariyyah, and Al-Sayyidah Zaynab toward the east and Al-Khalīfah toward the north). Situated within this densely settled zone are most of Cairo’s historic monuments, including the Mosque of Baybars I at its northernmost edge and Saladin’s Citadel in the south. Among the major bazaars within the central walled city is the Khān al-Khalīli, an expansive assortment of shops near al-Azhar Mosque, as well as various markets offering gold, copper ware, textiles, rugs, amber, spices, and leather goods. The major north-south thoroughfare is Shāri al-Muizz li-Dīn Allāh, which bisects the old city and along which stand the major mosques and markets. Running perpendicular to this street is Shāri al-Azhar; created in the 1920s to link the mosque of that name with Al-Atabah al-Kharā Square streetcar terminal, Shāri al-Azhar now connects the old city with the central business district. Most other streets are narrow, twisting, and often dead-ended. The city’s historic core was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Two other old quarters, Būlāq (northwest of the medieval city) and Mir al-Qadīmah (“Old Cairo”; to the south), served as port suburbs of Cairo before the city expanded to encompass them. Būlāq, an island until 1340 and the city’s main port by 1560, eventually became an industrial district in the early 19th century.
In addition to its poorer neighbourhoods, the district is a centre for workshops, light industry, and trade schools. The mosques of Abū al-Alā and Sīnān Pasha are among the few historic buildings in Būlāq to survive a rapid gentrification process accompanied by the demolition of many of the older structures in order to make room for high-rise residential and commercial buildings.
The origins of Mir al-Qadīmah lie with Al-Fusā, originally founded as a military encampment in 641 by Amr ibn al-Ā. At the heart of Mir al-Qadīmah stands the reconstructed Mosque of Amr ibn al-Ā, as well as the many Coptic churches.
The central business district, referred to as the Was al-Balad (“city centre,” or downtown), is flanked by these older quarters. The Was al-Balad includes the older Al-Azbakiyyah district, Garden City, and, more recently, Jazīrah, the island offshore. The major thoroughfare connecting the city along its north-south axis is the Kūrnīsh al-Nīl (the Corniche), a highway paralleling the Nile River, built in the 1950s. Along the Corniche lie the Television Building, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a number of hotels; in addition, the Egyptian Museum is nearby. Jazīrah, across the Nile from the Corniche, is the site of the Cairo Tower, public gardens, a racetrack, two major sporting clubs, several major hotels, and some of the city’s most valuable real estate. Between the imposing Nile riverfront and the ancient inland quarters is a transitional working-class zone, chiefly developed in the 19th century; the National Library, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the presidential palace and archives later came to populate this region.
Along the eastern edge of the metropolis stands the district of Al-Qarāfah (City of the Dead), a unique zone made up of an extensive series of cemeteries. In this vast, dusty, ochre-coloured district stand the exquisite shrine-mosques and mausoleums of early religious leaders such as Imam al-Shāfiī, the founder of Egypt’s major legal tradition. The major monuments of these eastern cemeteries are Mamlūk in design, each topped by a plain or fluted dome; lesser tombs are simpler, rectangular constructions. Owing to the rapid population growth that occurred following Egypt’s independence in 1922, however, housing and shops have sprung up in the City of the Dead, where it is estimated that more than one million Cairenes live, many without municipal utilities or an official address.
The northern and western peripheries of the city grew dramatically in the last two decades of the 20th century. In Al-Jīzah (Giza) and on the island of Al-Rawah, on the Nile’s western bank, are located residential quarters, the zoological and botanical gardens, an agricultural museum, and the campus of Cairo University. Workers’ City (Madīnat al-Ummāl) is a large-scale housing project in Imbābah, opposite Būlāq across the Nile, while Engineers’ City (Madīnat al-Muhandisīn) has largely become the domain of Cairo’s middle classes. Beginning in the mid-19th century, expansion toward the north led to development of the districts of Raw al-Faraj, Shubrā, Sharābiyyah, Al-Qubbah, Al-Abbāsiyyah, Al-Maariyyah, and Al-Zaytūn. Heliopolis, or Mir al-Jadīdah (“New Cairo”), became a major site of development in the 1970s and ’80s, witnessing significant population growth and commercial expansion. Since that time, urban developments have increasingly encroached upon agricultural land, extending into the desert periphery; Heliopolis and Nar City (a suburb begun in 1958) are examples of such desert-based developments. A rural population still inhabits the northernmost fringe. Informal housing generally constitutes a considerable part of Cairo’s residential districts. "Egypt" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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