Cairo (Arabic Misr-al-Kahira, or simply Misr), the capital of modern Egypt and the most populous city in Africa, on the Nile, 12 m. S. of the apex of the Delta, in 30° 3′ N. and 31° 21′ E. It is 130 m. S.E. of Alexandria, and 148 E. of Suez by rail, though only 84 m. from the last-named port by the overland route across the desert, in use before the opening of the Suez Canal. Cairo occupies a length of 5 m. on the east bank of the Nile, stretching north from the old Roman fortress of Babylon, and covers an area of about 8 sq. m. It is built partly on the alluvial plain of the Nile valley and partly on the rocky slopes of the Mokattam hills, which rise 550 ft. above the town.
The citadel, which is built on a spur of the Mokattam hills, occupies the S.E. angle of the city. The prospect from the ramparts of this fortress is one of striking picturesqueness and beauty. Below lies the city with its ancient walls and lofty towers, its gardens and squares, its palaces and its mosques, with their delicately-carved domes and minarets covered with fantastic tracery, the port of Bulak, the gardens and palace of Shubra, the broad river studded with islands, the valley of the Nile dotted with groups of trees, with the pyramids on the north horizon, and on the east the barren cliffs, backed by a waste of sand. Since the middle of the 19th century the city has more than doubled in size and population. The newer quarters, situated near the river, are laid out in the fashion of French cities, but the eastern parts of the town retain, almost unimpaired, their Oriental aspect, and in scores of narrow, tortuous streets, and busy bazaars it is easy to forget that there has been any change from the Cairo of medieval times. Here the line of fortifications still marks the eastern limits of the city, though on the north large districts have grown up beyond the walls.
Neither on the south nor towards the river are there any fortifications left.
From the citadel a straight road, the Sharia Mehemet Ali, runs N. to the Ezbekia (Ezbekiyeh) Gardens, which cover over 20 acres, and form the central point of the foreign colony. North and west of the Ezbekia runs the Ismailia canal, and on the W. side of the canal, about half a mile N. of the Gardens, is the Central railway station, approached by a broad road, the Sharia Clot Bey. The Arab city and the quarters of the Copts and Jews lie E. of the two streets named. West of the Ismailia canal lies the Bulak quarter, the port or riverside district. At Bulak are the arsenal, foundry and railway works, a paper manufactory and the government printing press, founded by Mehemet Ali. A little distance S.E. of the Ezbekia is the Place Atabeh, the chief point of intersection of the electric tramways which serve the newer parts of the town. From the Place Atabeh a narrow street, the Muski, leads E. into the heart of the Arab city. Another street leads S.W. to the Nile, at the point where the Kasr en Nil or Great Nile bridge spans the river, leading to Gezira Bulak, an island whereon is a palace, now turned into a hotel, polo, cricket and tennis grounds, and a racecourse.
The districts between the bridge, the Ezbekia and the Ismailia canal, are known as the Ismailia and Tewfikia quarters, after the khedives in whose reigns they were laid out. The district immediately south of the bridge is called the Kasr el-Dubara quarter. Abdin Square, which occupies a central position, is connected with Ezbekia Gardens by a straight road. The narrow canal, El Khalig, which branched from the Nile at Old Cairo and traversed the city from S.W. to N.E., was filled up in 1897, and an electric tramway runs along the road thus made. With the filling up of the channel the ancient festival of the cutting of the canal came to an end.
The government offices and other modern public buildings are nearly all in the western half of the city. On the south side of the Ezbekia are the post office, the courts of the International Tribunals, and the opera house. On the east side are the bourse and the Crédit Lyonnais, on the north the buildings of the American mission. On or near the west side of the gardens are most of the large and luxurious hotels which the city contains for the accommodation of Europeans. Facing the river immediately north of the Great Nile bridge are the large barracks, called Kasr-en-Nil, and the new museum of Egyptian antiquities (opened in 1902). South of the bridge are the Ismailia palace (a khedivial residence), the British consulate general, the palace of the khedive's mother, the medical school and the government hospital. Farther removed from the river are the offices of the ministries of public works and of war - a large building surrounded by gardens - and of justice and finance. On the east side of Abdin Square is Abdin palace, an unpretentious building used for official receptions. Adjoining the palace are barracks. N.E. of Abdin Square, in the Sharia Mehemet Ali, is the Arab museum and khedivial library. Near this building are the new courts of the native tribunals.
Private houses in these western districts consist chiefly of residential flats, though in the Kasr el-Dubara quarter are many detached residences.