The museum of Egyptian antiquities was founded at Bulak in 1863, being then housed in a mosque, by the French savant Auguste Mariette. In 1889 the collection was transferred to the Giza (Ghezireh) palace, and in 1902 was removed to its present quarters, erected at a cost of over £250,000. A statue of Mariette was unveiled in 1904. The museum is entirely devoted to antiquities of Pharaonic times, and, except in historical papyri, in which it is excelled by the British Museum, is the most valuable collection of such antiquities in existence.
The Arab museum and khedivial library are housed in a building erected for the purpose, at a cost of £66,000, and opened in 1903. In the museum are preserved treasures of Saracenic art, including many objects removed from the mosques for their better security. The khedivial library contains some 64,000 volumes, over two-thirds being books and MSS. in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Amharic and Syriac. The Arabic section includes a unique collection of 2677 korans. The Persian section is rich in illuminated MSS. The numismatic collection, as regards the period of the caliphs and later dynasties, is one of the richest in the world.
Before the Arab conquest of Egypt the site of Cairo appears to have been open country. Memphis was some 12 m. higher up on the opposite side of the Nile, and Heliopolis was 5 or 6 m. distant on the N.E. The most ancient known settlement in the immediate neighbourhood of the present city was the town called Babylon. From its situation it may have been a north suburb of Memphis, which was still inhabited in the 7th century A.D. Babylon is said by Strabo to have been founded by emigrants from the ancient city of the same name in 525 B.C., i.e. at the time of the Persian conquest of Egypt. Here the Romans built a fortress and made it the headquarters of one of the three legions which garrisoned the country. The church of Babylon mentioned in 1 Peter v. 13 has been thought by some writers to refer to this town - an improbable supposition. Amr, the conqueror of Egypt for the caliph Omar, after taking the town besieged the fortress for the greater part of a year, the garrison surrendering in April A.D. 641. The town of Babylon disappeared, but the strong walls of the fortress in part remain, and the name survived, "Babylon of Egypt," or "Babylon" simply, being frequently used in medieval writings as synonymous with Cairo or as denoting the successive Mahommedan dynasties of Egypt.
Cairo itself is the fourth Moslem capital of Egypt; the site of one of those that had preceded it is, for the most part, included within its walls, while the other two were a little to the south. Amr founded El-Fostat, the oldest of these, close to the fortress which he had besieged. Fostat signifies "the tent," the town being built where Amr had pitched his tent. The new town speedily became a place of importance, and was the residence of the náibs, or lieutenants, appointed by the orthodox and Omayyad caliphs. It received the name of Masr, properly Misr, which was also applied by the Arabs to Memphis and to Cairo, and is to-day, with the Roman town which preceded it, represented by Masr el-Atika, or "Old Cairo." Shortly after the overthrow of the Omayyad dynasty, and the establishment of the Abbasids, the city of El-'Askar was founded (A.D. 750) by Suleiman, the general who subjugated the country, and became the capital and the residence of the successive lieutenants of the Abbasid caliphs. El-'Askar was a small town N.E. of and adjacent to El-Fostat, of which it was a kind of suburb. Its site is now entirely desolate. The third capital, El-Katai, was founded about A.D. 873 by Ahmed Ibn Tulun, as his capital.
It continued the royal residence of his successors; but was sacked not long after the fall of the dynasty and rapidly decayed. A part of the present Cairo occupies its site and contains its great mosque, that of Ahmed Ibn Tulun.
Jauhar (Gohar) el-Kaid, the conqueror of Egypt for the Fatimite caliph El-Moizz, founded a new capital, A.D. 968, which was named El-Kāhira, that is, "the Victorious," a name corrupted into Cairo. The new city, like that founded by Amr, was originally the camp of the conqueror. This town occupied about a fourth part, the north-eastern, of the present metropolis. By degrees it became greater than El-Fostāt, and took from it the name of Misr, or Masr, which is applied to it by the modern Egyptians. With its rise Fostāt, which had been little affected by the establishment of Askar and Katai, declined. It continually increased so as to include the site of El-Katai to the south. In A.D. 1176 Cairo was unsuccessfully attacked by the Crusaders; shortly afterwards Saladin built the citadel on the lowest point of the mountains to the east, which immediately overlooked El-Katai, and he partly walled round the towns and large gardens within the space now called Cairo. Under the prosperous rule of the Mameluke sultans this great tract was filled with habitations; a large suburb to the north, the Hoseynia, was added; and the town of Bulak was founded. After the Turkish conquest (A.D. 1517) the metropolis decayed, but its limits were the same.
In 1798 the city was captured by the French, who were driven out in 1801 by the Turkish and English forces, the city being handed over to the Turks. Mehemet Ali, originally the Turkish viceroy, by his massacre of the Mamelukes in 1811, in a narrow street leading to the citadel, made himself master of the country, and Cairo again became the capital of a virtually independent kingdom. Under Mehemet and his successors all the western part of the city has grown up. The khedive Ismail, in making the straight road from the citadel to the Ezbekia gardens, destroyed many of the finest houses of the old town. In 1882 Cairo was occupied by the British, and British troops continue to garrison the citadel.
S.L. Poole, The Story of Cairo (London, 1902), a historical and architectural survey of the Moslem city; E. Reynolds-Ball, Cairo: the City of the Caliphs (Boston, U.S.A., 1897); Prisse d'Avennes, L'Art arabe d'après les monuments du Caire (Paris, 1847); P. Ravaisse, L'Histoire et la topographie du Caire d'après Makrizi (Paris, 1887); E.W. Lane, Cairo Fifty Years Ago (London, 1896), presents a picture of the city as it was before the era of European "improvements," and gives extracts from the Khitat of Maqrizi, written in 1417, the chief original authority on the antiquities of Cairo; Murray's and Baedeker's Guides, and A. and C. Black's Cairo of To-day (1905), contain much useful and accurate information about Cairo. For the fortress of Babylon and its churches consult A.J. Butler, Ancient Coptic Churches in Egypt (Oxford, 1884).