The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Cairo

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1623666The American Cyclopædia — Cairo

CAIRO (Arab. Kahireh, the victorious, or Musr el-Kahireh; called by the natives Musr), the capital of Egypt, the most populous city of Africa, and after Constantinople of the Turkish empire, situated about a mile from the right bank of the Nile, about 10 m. above the apex of the delta of that river, and 120 m. S. E. of Alexandria; lat. 30° 2' N., lon. 31° 16' E.; pop. in 1871, 353,851, of whom about three fourths were Mohammedans, 60,000 Copts, and the rest chiefly native Jews and Greeks, Armenians, and Europeans. It lies mostly on the level plain of the Nile valley, hut the S. E. part, including the citadel, is built upon a spur of the Mokkatam mountains. Cairo occupies a site of about seven miles in circumference, and presents from without an enchanting spectacle, but within the appearance is far from being attractive. The houses of the poor are built of mud or of sun-baked bricks, and are only one story in height. Those of the richer class are built of brick, wood, and a soft stone quarried in the neighboring Mokkatam mountains, and are two and frequently three stories high. The streets are generally in a neglected condition, unpaved and dusty, but in some of the principal parts of the city and suburbs they have been widened for carriages.

A Modern Street in Cairo.

Very little rain falls at Cairo, and a heavy shower is considered a calamity; for then the moistened garbage in the streets undergoes a rapid decomposition, producing pestiferous exhalations. The water which during the overflow of the Nile is conveyed into the city by a canal becomes stagnant in May and June, and is another cause of disease. The usual mode of conveyance is by donkeys, horses being rarely employed, and the use of carriages not being practicable except in a few streets. The principal public place, called the Esbekiyah, is planted with shrubs and trees, and crossed by walks. There are many baths, which are more cleanly than in other eastern cities. There are also many caravansaries or inns, and large storehouses; the extensive bazaars present a goodly array of the merchandise of the East. There are many public fountains, often elaborately ornamented with arabesque work, and a great number of coffee houses, some of which are highly interesting during the fast of Ramadan, when the performances of the Karagius, or Turkish Punch, take place. But the boast of Cairo is its mosques, of which there are said to be as many as 400, some of them elegant specimens of Arabian architecture. The most celebrated mosque is that of Sultan Hassan, situated near the citadel. It has a magnificent entrance beautifully embellished with honeycombed tracery. The interior is an unroofed court, having on each side a square recess covered with a noble arch. At the E. end is a niche for prayer and a pulpit with some colored glass vases of Syrian manufacture, bearing the name of the sultan, suspended on either side. Behind, and forming a portion of the edifice, built of stone and surmounted with a dome, is the tomb. Attached to another mosque is a hospital for insane and other helpless persons, who are gratuitously supported in great numbers. The mosque El-Azhar is celebrated for the beauty of its architecture, and for a college to which hundreds of students resort from all parts of the Mohammedan world, and which is the great centre of the study of Arabian literature.

Ruined Mosque of Tulun.

The mosque of Tulun, founded A. D. 879, contains specimens of the pointed arch, which was afterward introduced into Europe, and is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Gothic style of architecture. N. E. of the city, just outside of the walls, are a number of beautiful mosques, built over the tombs of the Circassian and Borgite Mamelukes. In the S. E. part of the town is the citadel, on a hill, 250 feet above the rest of the city, containing the palace of the khedive, the mint, a manufactory of arms, various government offices, barracks, and other buildings, and a splendid mosque, begun by Mehemet Ali.

Mosque of Mehemet Ali.

Within the citadel is a deep well cut through the rock to the depth of 280 ft., intended to supply the citadel in case of siege. It consists of two portions, the upper part being an oblong square, 24 ft. by 18, and 155 ft. deep, and the lower having a similar shape, 51 ft. by 9, and 125 ft. deep. The water, which is brackish and not used for drinking, is raised from the lower well into a basin at the bottom of the upper, whence it is conveyed to the citadel above. It is commonly designated Joseph's well, after Saladin, who is said to have constructed it, and who was also called Joseph. It is vulgarly ascribed to the son of Jacob. The citadel, which affords a splendid view of the city, of the Nile, and of the pyramids, commands the city, but is itself commanded by a neighboring ridge of the Mokkatam mountains, and is therefore of no utility against an attack from without.—The different races who inhabit Cairo live in distinct quarters, of which there are many, as the Jews' quarter, the Frank quarter, the Coptic quarter, &c. The streets leading to each quarter are closed at night by gates. The city is divided for purposes of police regulation into eight wards, each of which has a separate presiding officer, while the whole are under the superintendence of one common chief. Each trade or calling has also its sheikh or head, who is in some measure responsible for the conduct of the members of his guild. Justice is administered in a summary manner; and breaches of the public peace are said to be less common than in some European cities. The khedive maintains a theatre for French comedy, and an opera house, with a good ballet. In the Frank quarter are the library of the Egyptian society, and the Egyptian library association. Ibrahim Pasha's library comprised the works of the most noted Arabic and Turkish authors. The same prince began the collection of Egyptian antiquities, and there is also a similar collection which belonged to Mehemet Ali. The medical academy, established in 1827 by Mehemet Ali in the hospital of Abuzabel, was afterward transferred to Cairo, but, being unfavorably affected by the reverses of 1840, did not give many signs of vitality till 1856, when it was reëstablished on a larger and improved scale in a charming locality on the shores of the Nile, within a short distance of Cairo. An academy, chiefly designed for the military profession, but embracing the general branches of European education, was opened in 1855 by Solyman Pasha, and received the sanction of the government in 1856. There are also Protestant and Catholic charitable institutions, where persons of all creeds are treated alike. The Americans have a religious mission in the city. Cairo has two suburbs. Boolak and Musr el-Aatik (old Musr, or capital, to distinguish it from Cairo, which is now the musr). This latter suburb is also called Fostat, and by Europeans, improperly, Old Cairo. Both these suburbs are on the bank of the Nile, and serve as ports to the city. Fostat contains some ancient buildings, called the “granary of Joseph,” still used for the storage of grain. On the island of Rodah, near the town, is the celebrated Nilometer, a rude, graduated column, many centuries old, for indicating the height of the Nile during the annual inundation. From Fostat a canal of irrigation runs through Cairo, and is continued some miles beyond. It is supposed by some to form part of an ancient canal connecting the Nile with the Red sea. From this place also an aqueduct, nearly two miles long and supported by about 300 arches, built by the Arabs, conveys water to the citadel. Cairo is surrounded by walls, though in several parts the houses have extended considerably beyond them. Several of the city gates are elaborately executed. Ophthalmia is very prevalent, and the plague occasionally makes terrible ravages among the population. The manufactures embrace silk and cotton fabrics, gunpowder, glass lamps, sugar, sal ammoniac, leather, weapons, and iron ware. Cairo is a central station of the overland route to India, and its commerce is considerable. The slave traffic has been prohibited throughout the Ottoman empire, in consequence of which the slave markets are closed; but as the slaves themselves have not been emancipated, the trade is still carried on clandestinely. One of the most lucrative trades is that in precious stones and jewelry. The remarkable resources of Cairo make it a favorite resort of Italian, Greek, French, Armenian, and other commercial adventurers, and of intriguers of all nations. It is connected by rail with Alexandria and Suez, and caravans annually arrive from Darfoor, Sennaar, and Moorzook. Every year an immense caravan assembles in the neighborhood of Cairo to make the pilgrimage to Mecca; and as the pilgrims generally carry some goods with them for traffic, their departure and return are to Cairo a considerable source of wealth. Mehemet Ali established a number of schools after the European fashion, but his plan met with much opposition, and had but indifferent success.—Cairo was founded about A. D. 970 by Johar, a general of El-Moez or Abu Tummim, the chief imam of the N. W. coast of Africa, and representative of the Fatimites. He named it El-Kahireh (the victorious) in commemoration of his conquest of Egypt. This prince made Fostat his capital, but in the 12th century the capital was removed to Cairo. In 1171 the crusaders laid siege to Cairo, but accepted a sum of money and withdrew on the approach of a Syrian army. Saladin improved and enlarged the city, and fortified it with a stone wall in place of the former one of brick. In 1786 the Turks defeated the insurgent Mameluke beys in a battle before Cairo, and took possession of the city, but lost it again in 1790. In that year the plague committed fearful ravages, especially among the lower classes. It was taken by Bonaparte in 1798.