All the senses are captivated in Medieval Cairo. Fragrant smoke drifts from traditional water pipes, traders shout for attention in historic markets, exquisite calligraphy marks the entrance to ancient mosques, while famous Islamic monuments continue to be the hub of local life. Also known as Islamic Cairo, this is Cairo’s most captivating suburb, a journey through the sights and sounds of the past. While some of the architecture dates back to the 9th century, Medieval Cairo continues to a bustling place of shops and mosques, restaurants and meeting places. It’s situated in the east of Cairo beneath the shadow of Cairo Citadel.
Medieval Cairo is a suburb for pedestrians, and the central al-Mu’izz Street is closed to vehicles during the day. Exploring on foot is the best means of uncovering the suburb’s atmosphere, as Medieval Cairo is as much about the sounds and smells as it is the famous sights. From Bab al-Futuh, the northern city gate, a walking route passes Al-Hakim Mosque and the Qalawun Complex to Khan el-Khalili market, where the senses are entranced by the colours and charm of the stalls. Continue up al-Azhar Street to Al-Azhar Mosque and the green space of Al-Azhar Park, where there are numerous outdoor cafes for a cup of sweet tea or coffee.
A little further south, Sultan Hassan Mosque is one of the largest in the world and a perfect place to explore the architectural details of Medieval Cairo. Many Egyptian kings are buried in Rifai Mosque while Ibn Tulun Mosque still stands proud after more than 11 centuries. Many visitors then continue the walk south towards the citadel, where a steep ascent leads to the ancient fortress and Mohamed Ali Mosque. Medieval Cairo doesn’t have a metro station, and most people arrive by taking a taxi to the northern or southern gates.
This whole suburb is protected as a World Heritage Site, and UNESCO declared that al-Mu’izz Street contained more historic Islamic architecture than anywhere else in the world. Away from the main thoroughfares, most of Medieval Cairo remains a residential area. It’s a great destination for exploring the local side to the city.