Beyond Cairo: 8 Other Cities That Showcase Egypt’s Charm
Greater Cairo, the largest metropolitan area in Egypt, which includes Cairo, Giza and Qalubiya, covers almost 20% of the total population of Egypt with 21 million inhabitants. It is therefore not surprising that those who imagine Egypt often immediately imagine its urban jungle as a capital.
Cairo-centric Egyptian identity even extends to most Egyptians, who often call the capital masr (Egypt) – as if there was the Egypt of Cairo, and an entirely different Egypt outside of Cairo.
Many first-time visitors to Egypt usually arrive through the gates of Cairo International Airport. A more experienced adventurer can also travel the cities of Alexandria, Luxor or Aswan; others may favor the turquoise waters of South Sinai or Hurghada.
Yet Egypt’s charm extends beyond the country’s metropolis. There are 24 governorates beyond Greater Cairo, with a plethora of them offering different color and taste traits to Egypt.
European grid streets, classic French-designed houses intertwined with traditional Egyptian architecture and irresistible sea views: Port Said, crowning the delta 167 kilometers north of Cairo, is one of the most unique to Egypt.
Considered the jewel of the reign of Khedive Muhammed Said – after whom the city is named – Port Said has been a cosmopolitan city since its inception in 1859, welcoming a wide range of nationalities and cultures, often merchants and men business due to the city’s prosperity. port trade. Over time, however, many fell in love with the town’s simple coastal lifestyle, creating a melting pot of people in the late 19th century.
Today, Port Said is no longer the cosmopolitan society it once was. Yet a stroll down one of its many tree-lined promenades places passers-by in a mental time machine, visualizing what once was.
Slightly north of the popular cities of Luxor and Aswan, Qena is a modest city in Upper Egypt, rich in an unnoticed pharaonic heritage, chief among which is the well-preserved Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Built in a Greco-Roman style, with towering stone columns and adorned with detailed carvings and hieroglyphics, the temple bears witness to Qena’s preserved history.
Followers of Sufism, a mystical practice of Islam characterized by spirituality, asceticism, and avoidance of material desires (most often known for the traditional Sufi whirling dance), can also admire the Sheikh El-Qenawi Mosque in the city, built in the 12th century to commemorate Egypt. religious leader Abdel-Rahim El-Qenawi, famous in Qena for having introduced Sufism to the city.
The classic film of a desert wanderer imagining a pool in the middle of the dunes becomes a reality through the wonders of Siwa Oasis. Closer to Libya than to the Egyptian capital, Siwa is one of Egypt’s most isolated wonders.
The urban oasis has witnessed a wide range of Egyptian history, from the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Amun to the Siwa Berber tribes’ Shali Fortress, which dates back to the 12th century. Today, tourists to the desert paradise often go to enjoy desert safaris, natural hot springs, salt lakes and the distinctive delicacies of Siwi cuisine.
Damietta is a city proud of its Coptic history and its timber industry. Formerly known as Tamiati, the Coptic word meaning “land that grows flax”, the city of Damietta is divided by the Nile Delta which crosses it. One side is mostly farmland, while the other is plains.
Historically, Damietta has always been the subject of interest of Egyptian rulers for its strategic position as a trading hub close to the Levant and Ottoman regions. The city has been under the rule of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Islamic caliphates. The city was once considered the stronghold of Egypt’s Nile region during the Crusades.
Damietta’s growing population, alongside the expansion of other towns, led to a government decision to build New Damietta in hopes of an urban renaissance for the historic town.
In the Western Desert region of Egypt, a vast expanse of sand and dry land, there is a green area, with towering date palms and rows of olive trees. The town of Bahariya, an urban oasis similar to Siwa, shows signs of life even in the desert expanses.
Geographically, the city sits in one of the largest depressions in the country – falling below sea level, hence the signs of life and water in its area. Historically it was a rich trading point for the agricultural export of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans – evidenced by the discovery of the Valley of the Golden Mummies, a burial place of aristocrats and administrators of that time.
Bahariya remains to this day a relatively simple and modest city, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Visitors to the urban oasis often come for its delicious date and olive market, for its pharaonic history, or to wander the mystical black and white desert, 20 minutes from Bahariya.
Synonymous with its world-famous shipping canal, the city of Al-Suez is also much more than ships and straits, dating back millennia before the canal was nationalized in 1956. Al-Suez was once the ancient Greek city of Clysma, later becoming Qulzum with the spread of Islam to Egypt in the 7th century.
Following its nationalization, Al-Suez became a valiant stronghold for Egypt’s wars against Israel, England and France – with many of its inhabitants defending their city with the army. To this day, the city celebrates October 24 as its national holiday, in memory of the Battle of Suez which took place during the October War with Israel.
Years of administrative disregard and corruption during the Mubarak era led to a decline in the city’s economy, spawning slums and traffic congestion. Today, the government aims to revive the city’s economy and infrastructure in a bid to restore its status as one of the most important commercial centers in the world. Plans for a “New City of Suez” were announced last year to better accommodate the city’s growing population.
Famous for its well-preserved necropolises and breathtaking views of the Nile, Minya is one of Egypt’s most fascinating cities, where past meets present. Historically, Minya is famous for its Beni Hasan and Al-Ashmunein tombs; it was strongly linked to the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamun’s father, who gave birth to an ancient capital nearby. The city was also the heart of the country’s once-thriving cotton industry, from Roman times through the 20th century.
More recently, Minya has been mired in controversy and instability after a series of Islamist terrorist attacks on Copic Christians struck terror across the city. In response, security measures were severe, keeping tourists further away.
In recent years, however, stability has slowly returned to the Minya countryside, as its residents recover from past tragedies and hope for a tourism revival. Citizens and visitors to Minya can once again enjoy the city’s felucca (small sailing ship) cruises on the Nile, or revel in the pleasure of its famous ripe, sweet fruit.
Most of the world is familiar with the Rosetta Stone – the ancient slab that helped Egyptologists decipher hieroglyphs and decipher ancient Egyptian culture through writing. Very few know the homeland of the Rosetta Stone: the city of Rasheed (Rosetta).
Founded in the 9th century by Islamic Caliph Harun Al-Rasheed, the city was once an important port for trade and commerce across the Nile Delta, losing influence with the growth of its neighboring city, Alexandria.
Today, Rasheed acts as a road and rail link between Alexandria and Damanhur, still retaining its historical function of coastal trade, in addition to its rice and fishing industries. The Egyptian government announced expansion plans for the city, dubbed New Rasheed, in 2018, hoping to revive the city’s influence and strengthen its economy.
Subscribe to our newsletter