Cairo

Cairo

Splendid mosques, glorious avenues, 19th-century palaces and the pyramids of Giza, awaits you in Cairo. A city inhabited by more than 22 million people may feel overwhelming, but the residents make up for it with their charm and humour. Cairo has centuries of character and it reflects in every corner of the city. Egyptians call it ‘Umm ad-Dunya’, the Mother of the World, and this city loves exactly like a mother – unconditionally. The dusty streets and polluted air may be underwhelming but the vibe of this city makes up for almost all its drawbacks.

For Egyptians, Cairo is both the capital city of Egypt and Egypt itself as its Egyptian name ‘Masr’ translates as ‘Egypt City’. The same can be said of tourists’ experience of this place with Cairo’s insignia – pyramids, camels, sphinx and pharaohs – recognisable around the world as embodying ‘Egypt’ as a whole. In Cairo’s long and fascinating history, the Egyptians were replaced and ruled by Persians, Romans, Greeks and Iraqis before 19th century reformer Mohammed Ali put an end to feudalism and welcomed the spoils of European architecture and cultural influence. A startlingly complete history of the civilizations of the world can be experienced in Cairo, but it is of course the influence of the Ancient Egyptians, with their breath-taking monuments and intriguing belief-system, whose resonance has carried down the ages. Both the largest city in the middle-east and African regions and the most densely populated, a trip to Cairo can’t be said to be a relaxing one.

Cairo, Egypt’s pulsing capital city, houses an irresistible assortment of awe-inspiring sites telling tales of an ancient civilization. There is a liveliness and grandeur about the city that will invigorate your spirit. But don’t get lulled into its charm just yet. Cairo is one of the largest cities in Africa and the Middle East with swarms of people, a number of who may try to swindle you. Add to that the dust, desert climate, and terrifying traffic and Cairo can be tricky to navigate. Being a woman and travelling to Cairo will hold additional challenges. But with some careful planning and respect for the local customs the experience will be a lot more enjoyable. Here are 10 tips for women travelling to Cairo.

Egypt has a predominantly Muslim population with a dress code that is conservative when compared to Western standards. Loose fitting clothing in the form of trousers, skirts below the knee, and sleeved tops will not only detract from unwanted attention, but will also be cooler and offer protection from the elements. A pashmina is a useful item to carry. It can be used to cover any exposed skin such as chest, shoulders or even bare legs. When entering one of Cairo’s many mosques, such as the grand mosque of Muhammad Ali, covering up is a must. Often bathrobe type garments are handed to visitors but a pashmina will be more convenient to wear, especially in the heat. Good walking shoes are a must. Mud puddles, dust, sand and uneven surfaces will not go well with heels or other fashionable shoes. Sunglasses are also recommended.

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the northern port city of Alexandria was the capital of Hellenistic, Roman & Byzantine Egypt for nearly 1,000 years. In its prime, as a thriving center of culture and civilization, Alexandria was famed for both its Lighthouse (which, standing 450 feet tall, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and for being home to the largest library in antiquity. Still one of the world’s most important trade cities, Alexandria is truly one of Egypt’s most fascinating historical destinations.

Though its two most iconic structures have long since vanished, a number of sites and attractions standing today still bear witness to Alexandria’s grandeur. Erected in 297 AD, Pompey’s Pillar, a Roman triumphal column found in the city’s acropolis, is still one of the world’s largest ancient monoliths. Not far from the pillar is the Kom el Shoqafa, the ancient necropolis of Alexandria. Home to ancient tombs, statues and archaeological objects, this labyrinth of catacombs runs through three levels of solid rock, the lower of which is now underwater. However, visitors can still access the first level and get a glimpse of the eerie Hall of Caracalla’s mass grave. Another important ancient site of Alexandria is the 4th century Roman Amphitheater, which is still being excavated. Home to ancient mosaic tile flooring, marble seating (for up to 800 people) and well-preserved galleries, this ancient theater provides visitors with another amazing glimpse into Alexandria’s rich history.

Though exploring its ancient past is one of the most enthralling things to do in Alexandria, the city is also home to some more recent historical sites. Dating to the 15th century, the Citadel of Qaitbay was the city’s most important fortification, sitting along the Mediterranean coastline (on the spot where the ancient Alexandria Lighthouse once stood). Repeatedly renovated and restored throughout its existence, the Qaitbay Citadel is one of the city’s modern icons.

Saturated with world famous historical landmarks, Cairo has been quite the popular city on many a traveler’s bucket list. And while the pyramids and Sphinx draw sighs of awe and wonder, there is a lot more to see and experience, from shopping in burgeoning markets and getting caught up in the frenzy of whirling dervishes to sitting back and enjoying panoramic views of the city sights.

To make the most of your visit, arrive early to be able to buy the limited number of entrance tickets to go inside the Great Pyramid as well as soak in the ambience of the site in relative peace and quiet. Engage the services of a Cairo tour guide or Egyptologist in helping you enrich your experience. The famous sound and light show at dusk set at the edge of the desert further delves into the history and stories behind these intriguing structures.

These little cafés situated on the streets of Cairo are intrinsic to the way of life in the city and a fantastic way to get an authentic experience. They often have wi-fi and are hence the perfect place to sit and recharge your batteries with a shisha and a mint tea, watching the world go by.

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