Posted by: Dr. Y. | September 8, 2014

Why the Name: Cairo?

Map of Egypt

Map of Egypt

Dear all, today, I would like to talk about the city of Cairo, the capital of Egypt.  Have you ever wondered what the name of Africa‘s second most populous city, after Lagos, stood for?

Old Cairo, 1900s, Fustat

Old Cairo, ca early 1900s, Fustat

Well, Cairo’s official name is al-Qāhirah, which means literally: “Place or Camp of Mars“, in reference to the fact that the planet was rising at the time of the city’s foundation as well as, “the Vanquisher“; “the Conqueror“; “the Victorious” or, “the Strong” (al-Qahira) in reference to the much awaited Caliph Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah who arrived from the old Fatimid capital of Mahdia in 973 AD to the city.   “The Victorious” is often quoted as the most popular meaning of the name Cairo.  The Egyptian name for Cairo is said to be: Khere-Ohe, meaning: “The Place of Combat“, supposedly, in reference to a battle which took place between the Gods Seth and Horus. Sometimes the city is informally also referred to as كايرو Kayro [ˈkæjɾo]. It is also called Umm al-Dunya, meaning “the mother of the world“.

Modern-day Cairo

Modern-day Cairo

Cairo is located on the shores of the Nile river, as well as on several adjacent islands in the north of Egypt.  To the west of the city is Giza, and its ancient necropolis of Memphis on the Giza plateau, with its three great pyramids among which the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the Great Sphinx.  The area around present-day Cairo, especially  Memphis, had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt, its pharaohs, and its rich culture, due to its strategic location upstream from the Nile Delta.  However, the origins of modern-day Cairo are generally traced to a series of settlements in the first millenium, as Memphis’ importance was declining.  In the 4th century AD, the Romans established a fortress town, known as Babylon, along the east bank of the Nile. This fortress remains the oldest structure in the city to this day. Later on, the Caliph al-Mu’izz li Din Allah of the Fatimid dynasty moved his capital from Mahdia in Tunisia to Cairo in 973; and gave the city its present name, al-Qahira (“The Victorious“).  Cairo remained the capital through the end of the Fatimid dynasty 200 years later, and has remained the capital of Egypt through the Ottoman rule, and into the modern era.

The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza

Indeed, Cairo’s life has been quite victorious.  Egypt is the land of so many rich civilizations: the great Pharaohs of Egypt, the Greeks, Babylonians, RomansMuslims with the introduction of Islam; thus Cairo inherited from this wealth and has been a great melting pot.  Egypt as a whole, and Cairo in particular, is like an open museum with monuments reflecting different periods of the world’s history.  As Africa’s second largest city, Cairo is a vibrant city, with the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab world, and the world’s second oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University founded in 969 AD.

Please enjoy this great city, Cairo, the Victorious, and hopefully think of visiting it.


Responses

  1. […] along his route. Musa not only gave gold to the cities he passed on his way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but he also traded gold for souvenirs. Moreover, he would also build a new mosque […]

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  2. […] Cairo: the Nile flows by the pyramids and Sphinx. (Cairo means “Mars”) […]

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