Islamic architecture abounds in Cairo—after all, it is one of the world’s oldest Muslim cities and also known as the City of a Thousand Minarets. The densest and oldest concentration of historic hammams, mosques, education centers or madrasas, mausoleums and fountains—some dating to the 10th century—comprise Islamic Cairo, a loosely defined bastion of old Cairo. Here, visitors can spend days winding through narrow streets, exploring mosques and markets, and feeling transported to a Cairo sans‐McDonalds and shopping malls. Popular points of reference include the old citadel built in the 12th century atop the tallest point in the city to defend from marauding crusaders and the Al‐Azhar Mosque with its marble‐paved interior courtyard, affiliated University—perhaps the oldest such institution in the world—and stalactite cornicing representing dripping water. Other popular stops include the Mosque‐Madrass of Sultan Hassan with its 220‐foot minaret and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun located on a small hill that local legend says is where Noah’s Ark rested following the floods instead of at Mount Ararat.
Walking tours are the best way to explore the narrow streets of Islamic Cairo and its dense concentration of medieval buildings. Many start at the citadel and also include al‐Muizz Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare during the day that provides access to many more ancient mosques; if you’re headed that way, watch out for pickpockets in the markets along Khan el‐Khalili. Note that some sites, including the citadel will charge admission, and many mosques will be closed to visitors during Friday prayers.