Geography of Cairo

10 Facts About the Capital of Egypt

Egypt, Cairo, Old City, elevated view

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Cairo is the capital of the north African country of Egypt. It is one of the largest cities in the world and it is the largest in Africa. Cairo is known as being a very densely populated city as well as being the center of Egypt's culture and politics. It is also located near some of the most famous remnants of Ancient Egypt like the Pyramids of Giza.

Cairo, as well as other large Egyptian cities, has been in the news due to protests and civil unrest that began in late January 2011. On January 25, over 20,000 protesters entered the streets of Cairo. They were likely inspired by the recent revolts in Tunisia and were protesting Egypt's government. The protests continued for several weeks and hundreds were killed and/or wounded as both anti and pro-government demonstrators clashed. Eventually, in mid-February 2011 Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down from office as a result of the protests.

10 Facts About Cairo

1) Because present-day Cairo is located near the Nile River, it has long been settled. In the 4th century, for example, Romans built a fortress down on the banks of the river called Babylon. In 641, Muslims took control of the area and moved its capital from Alexandria to the new, growing city of Cairo. At this time it was called Fustat and the region became a center of Islam. In 750, though, the capital was moved slightly north of Fustat but by the 9th century, it was moved back.

2) In 969, the Egypt-area was taken from Tunisia and a new city was built north of Fustat to serve as its capital. The city was called Al-Qahira, which translates to Cairo. Shortly after its construction, Cairo was to become the center of education for the area. Despite Cairo's growth, however, most of Egypt's governmental functions were in Fustat. In 1168, though the Crusaders entered Egypt and Fustat was intentionally burned down to prevent the destruction of Cairo. At that time, Egypt's capital was then moved to Cairo and by 1340 its population had grown to nearly 500,000 and it was a growing trading center.

3) Cairo's growth began to slow beginning in 1348 and lasting into the early 1500s due to the outbreak of numerous plagues and the discovery of a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, which allowed European spice traders to avoid Cairo on their routes east. In addition in 1517, the Ottomans took control of Egypt and Cairo's political power diminished as government functions were mainly conducted in Istanbul. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, Cairo grew geographically as the Ottomans worked to expand the city's borders out from Citadel that was constructed near the city's center.

4) In the mid-to late 1800s, Cairo began to modernize and in 1882 the British entered the region and economic center of Cairo moved closer to the Nile. Also at that time, 5% of Cairo's population was European and from 1882 to 1937, its total population grew to over one million. In 1952 however, much of Cairo was burned in a series of riots and anti-government protests. Shortly thereafter, Cairo began to again grow rapidly and today its city population is over six million, while its metropolitan population is over 19 million. In addition, several new developments have been built nearby as satellite cities of Cairo.

5) As of 2006 Cairo's population density was 44,522 people per square mile (17,190 people per sq km). This makes it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Cairo suffers from traffic and high levels of air and water pollution. However, its metro is one of the busiest in the world and it is the only one in Africa.

6) Today Cairo is the economic center of Egypt and much of the Egypt's industrial products are either created in the city or pass through it on the Nile River. Despite its economic success, its rapid growth has meant that city services and infrastructure cannot keep up with demand. As a result, many of the buildings and roads in Cairo are very new.

7) Today, Cairo the center of the Egyptian education system and there are a large number of universities in or near the city. Some of the largest are Cairo University, the American University in Cairo and Ain Shams University.

8) Cairo is located in the northern part of Egypt about 100 miles (165 km) from the Mediterranean Sea. It is also about 75 miles (120 km) from the Suez Canal. Cairo is also located along the Nile River and the city's total area is 175 square miles (453 sq km). Its metropolitan area, which includes nearby satellite cities, extends to 33,347 square miles (86,369 sq km).

9) Because the Nile, like all rivers, has shifted its path over the years, there are parts of the city that are very close to the water, while others are farther away. Those closest to the river are Garden City, Downtown Cairo, and Zamalek. In addition, prior to the 19th century, Cairo was highly susceptible to annual flooding. At that time, dams and levees were constructed to protect the city. Today the Nile is shifting westward and portions of the city are actually getting farther from the river.

10) The climate of Cairo is desert but it can also get very humid due to the proximity of the Nile River. Wind storms are also common and dust from the Sahara Desert can pollute the air in March and April. Precipitation from rainfall is sparse but when it does occur, flash flooding is not uncommon. The average July high temperature for Cairo is 94.5˚F (35˚C) and the average January low is 48˚F (9˚C).


CNN Wire Staff. "Egypt's Tumult, Day-by-Day." Retrieved from: Cairo - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from:

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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Cairo." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Briney, Amanda. (2020, August 27). Geography of Cairo. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Cairo." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).