The capital of Egypt and the largest city in Africa, the name means “the victorious city”. It is located on both banks of the River Nile near the head of the river’s delta in northern Egypt and has been settled for more than 6000 years, serving as the capital of numerous Egyptian civilizations. Cairo is known locally as “Misr”, the Arabic name for Egypt, because of its centrality in Egyptian life.
Greater Cairo is spread across three of Egypt’s administrative governorates. The north eastern part is known as Kaliobia Governorate, while the west bank is part of the governorate of Giza, and the eastern parts and south eastern parts are another governorate known as Cairo, the three parts are known together as greater Cairo. The city is marked by the traditions and influences of the East and the West, the ancient and the modern. However, the city also reflects Egypt’s growing poverty, and it struggles to cope with problems caused by massive population growth, urban sprawl, and a deteriorating infrastructure.
The city of Cairo covers an area of more than 453 sq km (more than 175 sq m), though it is difficult to separate the city from some of its immediate suburbs. Bracketed by the desert to the east, south, and west and bounded by the fertile Nile delta to the north, Cairo sits astride the river, though it spreads farther on the east bank than the west. Cairo also includes several river islands, which play an important role in the life of the city. As the region’s principal commercial, administrative, and tourist centre, Cairo contains many cultural institutions, business establishments, governmental offices, universities, and hotels, which together create a dense pattern of constant activity.
The centre of downtown Cairo is Tahrir Square, located on the east bank. A hub of tourist activity, the vast and open square contains numerous attractions, including the Egyptian Museum, the Arab League headquarters, and the modern Umar Makram Mosque. Extending from north to south along the east bank of the Nile is the Corniche, Cairo’s main thoroughfare. Located nearby is the narrow strip of land known as Garden City, one of the city’s newer residential areas. In the centre of the city is the river island of Zamalek (also called Jezerah, meaning “the Island”), which contains the upscale residential and commercial neighborhood also known as Zamalek, the Cairo Opera House (founded in 1869), and the Cairo Tower (1961). Three bridges link the island with both banks of the river. The island of Al-Rodah, located to the south, is linked to the mainland by two additional bridges, while another bridge to the north carries road and rail traffic across the Nile.