Around Cairo and the Nile Delta

The region surrounding Cairo is full of both ancient sites and communities typical of contemporary rural life. Pyramids in romantically ruinous states are scattered around the south, the north is dotted with the desolate remains of pharaonic cities, while in between spread the fertile flatlands of the Delta, Egypt's most heavily populated region. The famous Step Pyramid of Saqqara in the vast necropolis of the early pharaohs is worth visiting before going on to Giza, to see the development from the simple underground tomb to the audacious concept of the Pyramid of Cheops. Further south, the harsh desert gives way to the beautiful pseudo-oasis of El-Fayoum, a lush expanse of fields and palms offering sanctuary to some of the richest birdlife in Egypt as well as respite from the pollution and heat of Cairo. Ptolemaic temples, the artists' enclave of Tunis, and the ultramarine waters of Lake Qaroun all nestle on the edge of the arid western desert only an hour and half away from the city.

Beyond Cairo, the two main tributaries of the Nile continue northwards to meet the Mediterranean near Damietta and Rosetta, where Ottoman houses, winding medieval lanes full of
, and the picturesque expanses of the Nile are a pleasant surprise. On either side, and between the two branches, the green and fertile plains fan out to create - with the help of some of the world's oldest and most efficient irrigation systems - the agricultural heartland of Egypt. The fertility of this area has enabled this scorched desert country, of which less than 4% of the land is cultivatable, to support a huge population and to export large quantities of fruits and vegetables. Because of the lack of hard stone in the Delta, successive generations plundered the remains of pharaonic cities' ancient sites, leaving atmospheric and isolated remnants for the adventurous few to rediscover. Beyond agriculture, the Delta is known for its many
- popular religious festivals and the best night out you can have in Egypt.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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