Islamic Cairo is the name commonly given to the core of medieval Cairo, a part of the city remarkably different from the modern Downtown district and the suburbs to the west.
Islamic Cairo is not more or less Islamic than the rest of the city, but it's the area of the city which holds the most, the greates and the most famous Islamic monuments. Many of these raised by the fatimid caliphs who founded the city Cairo (preceded by Fusfat or Old Cairo). Unlike Islamic quarters in other cities, people, often quite poor, continue to live next by historic monuments and mosques. A huge, bustling center of worship, trade, shopping and commuting - it's a must-see for any visitors and deserves at least a couple of days exploring.
- al-Azhar Mosque, open daily all day, admission free - founded in 970, al-Azhar is one of Cairo's oldest mosques and the world's oldest operating university.
- Midan Hussein and the Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque, not accessible to non-Muslims - one of the most sacred Islamic sites in the country and the Middle East, the mosque hosts the shrine in which the head of Ibn al-Hussein, the grandson of Muhammed the Prophet, is alleged to be have been buried. The present building dates to 1870 and replaces a much earlier 12th century mosque. The Midan (square) before the mosque forms one of the most convenient access points to the Khan el-Khalili
- Bayt al Suhaymi, " 19 Haret el-Darb el Asfar: somewhere behind the Khan el Khalili. An Ottoman merchant's house (16-17th C). Little visited and a place of quiet beauty"
Bayt Al Suhaymi: An Ottoman merchant's house
- Al-Azhar park The Al-Azhar park is overlooking Darb al-ahmar and the citadel. Built on a dumpster it's today a green lung of Cairo and a pleasant area to stroll around and enjoy magnificent views of the city. It hosts a restaurant in a modern castle-style building and several good cafes. The theater has musical events almost every evening.
- The Citadel This Cairo landmark was built by the muslim caliph who defeated the crusaders, between 1176 and 1183. Since, it was the center of Egyptian government until Khedive Ismail moved his palace to the new Abdeen palace in 1860. Famous for it's great Cairo views and it's mosque, the citadel also contains a good military museum. Music events are sometimes performed in evenings, check out local entertainment guides.
- Mohammed Ali mosque
Built inside the Citadel by the famous Egyptian regent Mohammed Ali between 1830 and 1848.
Mohammed Ali mosque, seen from the City of the Dead
- Sultan Hassan MosqueFinished in 1363, this mosque was raised by the Mamluk Sultan Hassan and lying below the citadel and next to the much more recent rifaii mosque, it's maybe the primary example of the Islamic mamluk dynasty. One of the largest mosques in Egypt and the Arab world, it was used as a school for different Islamic (sunni) schools of thought and also contains a mausoleum.
- Rifaii mosque Built in 1911, this mosque holds the tombs of a great number of Egyptian aristocrat families and also the last Shah of Iran, who retreated to Cairo after being ousted from power in his country.
- Ibn Tulun Mosque Raised in 877, this mosque has a style reminding of the Samarra mosque in Iraq, quite different from other Egyptian mosques. The mosque has an open interior, and the minaret, the oldest in Egypt, is accessible for a little baksheesh.
- The Garry Anderson Museum The mansion of the British Egyptologist Garry Anderson has a large and fascinating number of rooms displaying artifacts from the traditional life of the Egyptian elites.
Apart from shopping and spotting Islamic architecture, popping through the fascinating streets of medieval Cairo is probably the most popular alternative left to do in this part of the city.
'A recommended walk' is to start up by the al-azhar mosque. Take in the mosque, visit Bayt al Suhaymi before making your way to bab al-zuwayla. From there, head down darb al-ahmar and stop at the blue mosque before the citadel. Leave the castle for another day and head to sultan hassan and the rifaii mosque. If you have more energy left, make Ibn Toloun mosque your last stop before heading to sayyidna zeinab.
- Khan el-Khalili. Cairo's giant souq (market). The khan, built in 1382, was originally a hub for traveling traders in the Fatimid era. Today, it's the most visited tourist market in Egypt. Almost any kind of souvenir can be bought here, but also quality produce is still to be found. Venture out of the tourist market and you'll find bustling local trade. Among other things you'll find islamic clothes, scarves, belly-dancing equipment, furniture, water-pipes and of course gold, silver and jewels. Haggling is the rule of the day, and merchants used to tourists may often state extremely over-priced first biddings.
- Tent carpenter's market (سوق الخيمة). If you're dream was to bring a bedouin tent back from the country, this is you're place. But the inlaid tent carpenters' road close to bab al-zuwaiyla (bab al-mutawalli) is also a nice place to stroll.
Islamic Cairo is not the best place for quality eating, although some restaurants can be found in the khan al-khalili area.
'Egyptian pancake house', Khan al-khalili. This place serves sweet Egyptian pancakes (fateer) and western-style pizzas for between 10-20 EP.
'Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant'. This upscale restaurant caters to tourists, but offers decent food in an air-conditioned setting.
'al-Gahsh' (الجحش), close to Seyyidna Zeinab. This budget restaurant, it's name meaning "the mule," is purported to serve the best foul in Cairo.
Islamic Cairo is definitively not the place for alcohol. Rather, settle down for some tea and shisha.
'Fishawi, in the street just behind Midan Hussein, Khan al-khalili. For many years this was the preferred place of Nobel winner Naguib Mafhouz to meet with his friends. It's a great place to stop for tea and shisha and watch the world bustling by.
'Hotel Hussein Restaurant', Hotel Hussein (see above). Stay away from the food at this top-floor restaurant, but sipping a cup of tea above great views of the Midan Hussein by night is an enjoyable way to past time.
- Hotel El Hussein, Hussein Square, (at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar), 5918089. A clean basic hotel in an interesting area. Prices from EL 45 for single rooms with shared baths on each floor to LE 75 for doubles with en suite bathroom. AC is extra, but the ceiling fans works well. Ask for a room with a balcony.
Modest clothing is definitely the order of the day in this part of town.
Bare legs and shoulders will see you excluded from visiting mosques by their custodians, and will attract many unwelcome stares.
Shoes should be removed before entering mosques.