Overview: Cairo, Egypt
Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.
It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah.
Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets. I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.
The Fatamids had big plans for al-Qahirah, the Victorious City, which was built as a showcase of its authority across the Islamic world. Instead of tacking their seat of power onto the existing metropolis, the idealists built their own great walled city, slicing it in half with the palatial thoroughfare, Al-Muizz.
The main section of the street runs about 1.2km, bookended between two of medieval Cairo’s city gates, the dominating Bab al-Futah (the Gate of Conquest) in the east and Bab Zuweila in the west. Like many great buildings in Cairo, Bab Zuweila’s foundations are massive, inscribed stones dating from Egypt’s pharonic era, and named for the ferocious Berbers who guarded the walled city’s southern door, stringing their enemies’ heads from the gate.
Cairo has long burst its vast city walls and until recently, Al-Muizz languished as a dirt road, potholed and filled with the soup of a millennium. However, the northern section of the street, from Bab al-Futah to the bewilderingly busy Al-Azhar street, is beautifully paved. This is Bein Al Qasreen, or Palace Walk.