1902 Encyclopedia > Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

CAIRO (in Arabic, Misr-al-Kahira, or, as the lower classes of the population call it, simply Masr), the modern capital of Egypt, occupies the natural centre of the country,

Ground-Plan of Cairo.
1. Karameydan (Place Mehemet Ali) I 4. French Theatre
2. Rosetti Gardens 5. Opera House.
3 Post-Offlce. | 6. English and German Churches.
being situated on the east bank of the Nile, 12 miles above the apex of its delta, 150 miles by rail from Alexandria, and 80 west from Suez, in 30° 2' 4" N. lat. and 31° 15' 26" E. long. It is built partly on the plain and partly on the lower slopes of the rocky range of Mokattem, on a spur of which stands the citadel, 250 feet above the level of the town. The prospect from the ramparts of this fortress is one of great magnificence and beauty. Below lies the city with its strongly-built walls and lofty towers, its gardens and squares, its palaces, and its mosques, in all the beauty of their delicately-carved domes and minarets covered with fantastic tracery, the port of Bulak, the gardens and palace of Shubra, the broad river studded with islands, the valley of the Nile dotted with groups of trees, with the pyramids on the north horizon, the fields, gardens, and villas on the west, and on the east the barren cliffs, backed by an ocean of sand.
As far as the portion within the walls is concerned, Cairo occupies a site of about seven miles in circumference; but during the reign of the khedive (properly hidiv), who was born in the city in 1830, it has extended, especially towards the river, so as to have a circuit of at least 8 or 9 miles. Its improvement has kept pace with its extension, and it can no longer be altogether described as little better than a labyrinth of tortuous lanes, narrow, unpaved, and continually swept with clouds of dust blown from huge mounds of rubbish outside the walls. New streets have been cut through the more crowded districts; and the Ezbekeeyah, the principal square of the city, which was formerly allowed to lie waste, has been transformed into public gardens with a lake in the centre, while houses and shops of considerable pretensions have sprung up in the neighbourhood. Most important of the new streets is the Boulevard Mehemet Ali, which traverses the city in an almost northerly direction from the Citadel to the Ezbe-keeyah. Between the western side of the older city and the river most of the ground has been laid out in building lots, and in various parts, as particularly in the direction of Bulak, it is already covered with regular rows of houses, and forms the district of Ismaileeyah. Bulak, in fact, is not so much a distinct town as a mere suburb of the larger city. Gas has been laid down in all the principal streets, and water is supplied by a company to the houses of all those who comply with the necessary regulations. In spite of all these innovations, however, the city largely retains its Oriental character, and in a hundred of its narrow streets it is easy to forget that any change at all has taken place.
The most of the houses of the poorer classes consist of miserable mud hovels, with filthy courts, dilapidated windows, and tattered awnings. In marked contrast to these are the houses of the wealthier citizens, built generally in a style of elaborate arabesque, the windows shaded with projecting cornices of graceful woodwork, and ornamented with stained glass. A winding passage leads through the ornamented doorway into the court, in the centre of which is a fountain shaded with palm-trees. The principal apartment is generally paved with marble; in the centre a decorated lantern is suspended over a fountain, whilst round the sides are richly inlaid cabinets and windows of stained glass; and in a recess is the divan, a low, narrow cushioned seat running round the walls. The basement story is generally built of the soft calcareous stone of the neighbouring hills, and the upper story, which contains the harem, of painted brick.
The town is walled off into quarters, deriving their names from the character or condition of their occupants, and is intersected in its whole breadth by a canal which conveys the waters of the Nile from Old Cairo to the dif-ferent parts of the city. The citadel or El-Kalah was built by Saladin about 1166, but it has since undergone frequent alteration, and now contains a palace erected by Mehemet Ali, and a mosque of Oriental alabaster founded by the same pasha on the site of " Joseph's Hall." In the centre is a well called Joseph's Well, sunk in the solid rock to the level of the Nile. Next to the citadel in importance are the mosques, 400 in number, including, however, many that are falling to ruins. The most magnificent is the Mosque of Sultan Hasan, standing in the immediate vicinity of the citadel. It dates from 1357, and is celebrated for the grandeur of its porch and cornice, and the delicate honey-comb tracery which adorns them. Besides it there is the Mosque of Tulun (founded 879 A.D.), exhibiting very ancient specimens of the pointed arch; the Mosque of Sultan el

ffakem, the fanatical patron of the Druzes, founded in 1003, the Mosque Al Azhar ("The Splendid"), which is principally famous as the seat of a Mahometan university, in which gratuitous instruction is given in the Koran ; and the Mosque of Sultan Kalaoon, attached by its founder to the great Mooristan or madhouse, which he established in 1287. The Mooristan is no longer used for its original purpose, having been superseded by an asylum at Bulak. There is also a large general hospital situated between Bulak and Old Cairo, under the charge of native doctors.
On the east of the city are the splendid structures erroneously known to Europeans as the tombs of the caliphs; they really belong to the Circassian or Borgite Mamelukes, a race extinguished by Mehemet Ali. Their lofty gilt domes and fanciful network of arabesque tracery are falling to ruins, and the mosques attached to them are the haunts of a few solitary sheikhs, and of hordes of Arab beggars.
Among the buildings which owe their existence to modern European influence, the Italian opera, the French theatre, and the hippodrome may be mentioned. In Bulak is situated the Government printing-press, established by Mehemet Ali, from which numerous Oriental works and translations of French originals are issued from time to time; and in a building by the river side is accommodated the unrivalled collection of Egyptian antiquities made by M. Mariette for the khedive. The manuscripts which were formerly scattered among the various mosques and other institutions were recently collected to form a public library in the palace of the Darb Algamamiz or Sycamore Street. The catalogue already occupies 333 pages, and the collec-tion is especially rich in copies of the Koran and works of grammatical exegesis. In 1875 a geographical society was founded by the khedive for purposes of African discovery. A few periodicals are published in the city, but in this respect Cairo is much behind Alexandria. The scheme of public instruction is mainly that which was organized by Mehemet Ali, and embraces primary, preparatory, and special schools. In 1872 there were 1025 students and 141 teachers in the Government colleges, and the national schools were attended by 4721 pupils, while in the Mosque Al Azhar 6774 were enrolled. The higher scholastic in-stitutions comprise a commercial and a juridical school at the Darb Algamamiz, a school of arts and industry at Bulak, and military schools at the Abbasseeyah. There are several Christian churches and missionary stations in the city, and most of these maintain some educational machinery, so that there are Armenian, Greek, Coptic, Roman Catholic, and Protestant schools. Of special in-terest to Englishmen is Miss Whately's institution in the Abbasseeyah road.
The commerce of Cairo is of considerable extent and variety, but consists mainly in the transit of goods. Gum, ivory, hides, and ostrich feathers from the interior, cotton and sugar from Upper Egypt, indigo and shawls from India and Persia, sheep and tobacco from Asiatic Turkey, and European manufactures, such as machinery, hardware, cutlery, glass, and woollen goods, are the more important articles. The traffic in slaves, which was at one time so striking a feature of the place, is still carried on to a certain extent. In Bulak are several factories founded by Mehemet Ali for spinning, weaving, and printing cotton, and a paper-mill established by the khedive in 1870 at a cost of about £80,000. Various kinds of paper are manufactured, and especially a fine quality for use in the Government offices. In the island of Rhoda, or Roudah, there is a sugar-refinery of considerable extent, founded in 1859, and principally managed by Englishmen. Silk goods, saltpetre, gunpowder, leather, <fcc, are also manu-factured. An iron bridge has been erected over the Nile between the Kasr ed Dnbbara on the right bank and
Gezirah on the left ; and new carriage roads, bordered by acacias and sycamore trees, have been constructed to Heliopolis and the pyramids of Gizeh respectively. The terminus of the railway lines of the delta and isthmus is situated to the north of the city, but the Upper Egypt line stops short on the left bank of the river at Embabah opposite Bulak, and the trains have to be taken across by a ferry.
From the central situation of Cairo, and ibo proximity to the hot sandy deserts, the temperature is much higher there than near the coast ; but the diseases which infest it, such as the plague, ophthalmia, and malignant fevers, seem to originate in its " stifled filth," and other local causes, which advancing civilization will greatly remove, rather than in the unhealthiness of its situation. Its death-rate is greater than that of any European capital, but this is partly to be accounted for by the fact that numbers of natives come to the city in order that their last hours may be spent within its walls. The greatest mortality is during winter, and a larger proportion of deaths is caused by consumption than by any other disease. The average temperature throughout the year is 71°'16 Fahr.; but the mean of the separate months varies from 54° in January to 86° in August. The temperature by night is sometimes 40° below the highest point reached during the day, more especially in March and April, when the south and south-west winds prevail, and the thermometer frequently rises to upwards of 100° in the shade. In 1871 the number of rainy days was only 9, and the total duration of the fall was 9 hours 8 minutes.
The population of Cairo is of a very mingled description, and presents a very picturesque and interesting appearance. About the beginning of this century it was estimated to amount to about 200,000, which was supposed to comprise 121,000 Mahometans, 60,000 Copts, 4000 Jews, and a number of Franks, Greeks, and Armenians. It now num-bers about 350,000, which may be distributed in the fol-lowing proportions :—285,000 natives, 25,000 Nubians and natives of the Soudan, 10,000 Turks, 30,000 Jews and Levantines, and upwards of 19,000 Europeans. The Ger-man and English colonies are both pretty numerous, and possess each its own church.
About 2J miles S.V. of the citadel, and If from the S. Vf. angle of the city, lies the town of Misr-al-'Atikah, or Old Cairo, situated on the Nile near the mouth of the canal which now flows through Cairo, and opposite to the famous Nilometer at the south end of the island of Raudah. It occupies the site of the ancient Roman city or fortress of Babylon, of whose origin various stories of ap-parently little value are told by Diodorus and others. The place appears in Ptolemy's Tables, and Strabo mentions that it was tho headquarters of one of the three Roman legions that garrisoned Egypt. Roman masonry survives as part of a convent enclosure, which is known by the names Kasr-es-Shama (" Palace of the Candle") and Dair-en-Nasarah ("Convent of Christians").
The name Babylon of Egypt, or Babylon simply, is frequently employed in mediaeval writings as synonymous with Cairo, or as denoting the successive Mahometan dynasties of Egypt. This use may have been influenced by the association of the other Babylon, as represented by Baghdad, with the power of Islam ; but at the same time it was a real survival from the ancient name ; for Babylon on the Nile is mentioned by Gregory of Tours (circa 580 A.D.), in connection with the Granaries of Joseph—i.e., the Pyramids. Here Antra the famous conquerer of Egypt for the Caliph Omar (688) founded a city to which was given the name of Fostât, it is said from Amru's skin tent (so called in Arabic). This continued to be the capital of Egypt for upwards of 330 years. In 973 it was superseded by a new city founded shortly before by Jauher (Gowlier), captain of the first Fatimite caliph, Al Moez, whose army had conquered Egypt in 969. It is said that the new city was originally the camp of Jauhar whilst besieging Fostât, which gradually grew into a town, and got the name of Al Kâhirah ("Viotrix"), whence our Cairo. In 1176 the city was attacked by the Franks ; and shortly afterwards it was fortified by Saladin. It was the capital of the Turkish province of Egypt from 1507 till 1798, when it was captured by the French, who were driven out in 1801 by the Turkish and English forces. Mehemet Ali secured his position by the massacre of the Mamelukes in the citadel in 1811, and laid the basis of the independence of Egypt.

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