It has to be said that on a hot summer’s day, surrounded by irritable drivers incessantly blowing their horns, it takes a special patience to enjoy Cairo. At times like these, buried under exhaust fumes, elbowed by the crowd, and tricked into being guided where you didn’t want to go, the Mother of All Cities (as the Egyptians call their capital) can easily become the mother of something far less flattering.

But there are other sides to Cairo. There are the pyramids of Giza, so iconic as to be beyond description. There is the astonishing gold of Tutankhamen, buried in the dusty upper corridors of the Cairo Museum. And there are the Islamic treasures of bejewelled mosques and sacred places of learning. For many people, however, the best of the city is experienced not through the iconic spectacle of ancient monuments, great though they are. Even more memorable perhaps is the morning coffee with traders in Khan al-Khalili bazaar, the glance of the midday sun off a piece of polished brass, or the call of a nation to prayer at sunset.

It’s no coincidence that Misr in Arabic means both Cairo and Egypt. The capital is a magnet that draws people from the Nile Valley towards the promise of a better life. The city dominates Egypt as it dominates Arabic culture. And what gives it this life blood? It’s undoubtedly something to do with the Nile, as it quietly threads through fashionable suburb and island allotment, past the mausoleums of the dead now occupied by the living and alongside luxury hotels and floating palaces of pleasure.

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