In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Egypt I have divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. Unless otherwise noted, charts and illustrations come from the original Gazetteer. — George P. Landow

Map from Guide to Palestine and Egypt (1901).

Click on images to enlarge them.

CAIRO, or GRAND CAIRO [Arabic, El-Masr, El-Kdhirah, the victorious capital; French, Le Caire; German, Kairo], the capitol of Egypt, is situates near right bank, Nile, 15 miles above the commencement of the delta, 120 miles Southeast of Alexandria, and 84 miles West of the Suez; latitude 30˚ 2' 1" North; longitude 31˚ 15' 5" East (R.) It is almost square, and, after Constantinople, is the largest city in the Ottoman empire, being 3 miles in length, and about 2 broad. It is built partly on the slope, partly at the foot of the last height of the hill range of Mokattam, and is enclosed with antique battlements and stone walls, having several gate ways, and lofty towers at intervals. Within the walls there are about 30,000 inhabited houses, including several palaces, 400 mosques, 240 streets, and several public squares, many fountains, and 300 cisterns, or reservoirs; and the city is intersected by a canal communicating with the Nile, and supplying water to the inhabitants.

Cairo is built in old Arabian Saracenic style, without any mixture of Western forms. The houses are lofty, flat-roofed, and have numerous projections, and windows with narrow wooden gratings. No two are alike. No attempt is made at symmetry, yet the whole is most harmonious. Most of these houses are built of air-dried bricks, few are of stone, and none of wood; and many present in their interior a true picture of Oriental luxury. The numerous beautiful minarets with which the city is adorned, contribute greatly to heighten the general impression in favour of Cairo.

The city is divided into several quarters, separated from each other by gates, which are regularly closed at night. The public streets are merely crooked lanes, few of them being 10 feet broad. The bye-streets, and those in the interior quarters, are still narrower; and, in consequence of the manner in which the houses are built, each story projecting beyond that immediately below it, two persons may shake hands across the streets from the upper windows. The streets are not paved, but they are kept extremely clean. They are constantly obstructed by caravans of camels, riders on assback and horseback, little regarding the pedestrians, who are few in number, and composed wholly of the poorer classes, The chief square of Cairo is the magnificent area El-Esbekiah, which is annually inundated by the overflowing of the Nile, and the centre of which is laid out as a garden; it is surrounded with many of the finest mansions, several of which belong to Government officials, including the palaces of Ali Pasha and Amet Pasha. In this square there is a monument to General Kleber, who was assassinated there on June 14, 1800.

Public baths are numerous, but none are remarkable. The largest is the Tumbalee, near the Bab-el-Shareeh. Many of the sibeels or public fountains are curious specimens of the peculiarities of Oriental taste, abounding in great luxuriance of ornament. The most remarkable are those of Tossoom and Ismail Pashas, the sons of Mahomet Ali; and some others, of older date, in the centre of the town. There are several hotels for strangers from the West, with a number of Frank lodging or boarding-houses, a few of which are specially for British or Americans.

Bad-el-Nasr, and Part of the Walls, Cairo. From Hay’s Sketches of Cairo.


Besides the usual Moslem festivals (see CONSTANTINOPLE) held in Cairo, it is the scene of two great events, annually the ceremonial departure and return of the Haj or Mecca pilgrims through the Bab-el-Nasr or Gate of Victory, on the East or desert side of the city; and the opening of the canal at Old Cairo, which is also an annual ceremony of great import. There are few places of amusement. Within the last few years a theatre has been set on foot in the Frank quarter, with amateur actors, who play gratis. A more useful institution, in the same locality, is the library and reading-room of the Egyptian Society. In 1842, another society for respectable Europeans, called the Egyptian Literary Association, was founded here. Ibrahim Pasha commenced a public library in 1830; and both he and his father made beginnings towards forming a museum of antiquities, in which, however, little progress has been made.


The police of Cairo is superintended by a bash-aga, with an office near the Frank quarter; this functionary decides slight cases summarily, but sends those of a graver character before the judicial diwans in the citadel, or submits them for the consideration of the viceroy or his resident deputy. Questions of property, family disputes, and all proper cases of law, come under the jurisdiction of the Mehkemeh or Cadi’s court: the operations of this tribunal are ordinarily slow, but may be quickened, it is said, by bribery. No foreigners can legally buy real property in Cairo. Europeans and Americans are judicially subject to the consuls or envoys of their several Governments, and cannot be punished by Turkish law. The Cadi’s court used to be held in the decayed buildings of the old Sultan s palace; but a new legal edifice, with courts and offices, has lately been opened.


To Mahomet Ali, Egypt owes the introduction of elementary and specific education. In Cairo there are three primary schools, with 400 pupils, where reading and writing, and the four rules of arithmetic are taught. There are, besides, several primary schools here and elsewhere, for the soldiery, besides scientific academies for cadets, &c. From 4000 to 5000 pupils are educated in the schools of the city mosques. The Church of England Missionary Society has a school connected with the British chapel in Cairo, for young male Orientals; and another for 100 native girls.


Omnibuses run to Boulac, and across the desert to Suez. In March 1851, the Pasha officially announced his intention of constructing a railway between Cairo and Alexandria an undertaking expected to be proceeded with in the same year, and which will afford a much more speedy means of transit than the water-way of the Nile and the Mahmoodiah canal connecting those two cities.


Blackie, Walker Grahamiles The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 31 July 2020.

Last modified 1 August 2020