The city of Cairo was first inhabited by the Romans, not by the Pharaohs as many people believe. The earliest remains in the city date back to 150 AD and can be found at Babylon Fort, the site of the city’s first settlement. It is only in recent years that Cairo has grown so that it now encompasses the Pyramids at Giza.
Babylon Fort was symbolic of the power of the Romans for many years, but later it became a safe haven for Egyptian Copts who were persecuted by the Roman emperor. Many of the churches built in and around the fort by the Copts still remain intact today.
In 642 AD, Muslims from Saudi Arabia, which was then known as the Arab peninsula, conquered Egypt and immediately gained the support of townspeople and peasants. It was these Arab invaders who are believed to have laid the foundations of the modern day Cairo. They built their settlement at Babylon Fort and the area slowly developed into a prospering city, with the fort becoming the headquarters for the Arab forces.
The Al-Azhar Mosque was founded during this period and along with the university, it helped to put Cairo at the forefront of learning and philosophy. The school can still be found today and it remains a prominent center for Islamic studies.
During the years 1315 to 1348, Cairo was the largest city in the world. Towards the end of this period, the Arabs started to lose their power to the Europeans and the Turks. The Ottoman Empire took Cairo by force in 1517 and had control over the city for almost 300 years. Napoleon conquered Cairo in 1798, but the French only managed to hold onto the city for three years and had little impact on the people or their culture.
British and Turkish forces drove out the French in 1801 and Cairo was returned to the Ottoman Empire. Under the new ruler, Muhammad Ali, Cairo became the new capital of Egypt, constantly growing in importance and size.