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Egypt Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Egypt
Egypt's culture is a unique blend of antiquity and modernity. Egyptians are very proud of their ancient heritage, and with such iconic monuments, impressive art and unique architecture, it's no wonder Egyptians are as mesmerised as foreigners are.
Just as in ancient times, religion plays a large part in daily life with most Egyptians being either Sunni Muslim or Coptic Christian. Much of life revolves around daily prayer and religious holidays, with Ramadan and Eid being the most important events in the calendar for Muslims. Ornate mosques and historic churches can be found almost everywhere in Egypt, and serve as important places of worship as well as social meeting points.
The influence of modern Western culture is particularly evident in large cities likes Cairo and Alexandria, with television, radio and internet all bringing pop culture, fashion and literature to Egypt. Despite this, Egypt clings strongly to tradition with family still being at the top of most Egyptians' priorities. Loyalty to ones family, respect for elders and honouring ancestors are hallmarks of Egyptian life.
Food is another important part of Egyptian culture with traditional Middle Eastern fare being prepared and served in most family homes, restaurants and markets. Food is also the focal point of most celebrations, as is music - with modern Egyptians keeping folk music traditions alive by playing Arabic instruments like the oud at weddings and other celebrations.
To get the true picture of Egyptian culture and customs, be sure to sample local delicacies, listen to traditional music often played in cafes and restaurants, and chat with locals who wish to share their stories and lives with you. Some Intrepid trips offer the rare chance to stay with a local family - what better way to experience local life?
Geography and Environment of Egypt
Sitting in the north-eastern corner of Africa and sharing borders with Sudan, Libya and Israel and the Palestinian Territories, much of Egypt's vast land mass is covered by desert sands. Despite this, most of the population lives near the arable land of the mighty Nile River, which offers a thoroughfare for trade, fertile soil for agriculture and water for irrigation.
The Nile is not the only source of water in Egypt - with coastlines on the Mediterranean and Red Seas, Egypt has enough beaches and ports to provide trade routes, support commercial fishing and satisfy locals and tourists with diving, snorkelling and swimming.
Despite the oppressive heat and lack of farmable land, the deserts of Egypt are home to relatively small numbers of traditional Bedouin people, who typically live a nomadic lifestyle and earn an income through the sale of animals such as camels and goats.
The urban areas of Egypt are typically built-up, crowded and smoggy. Cairo, being the most populated city in Africa, is hot, crowded and often clogged with traffic. Yet the unmistakable buzz and vibrant vibe of this city makes it such an enthralling place to visit.
As Egypt becomes more modernised, a collision of the old and the new becomes more apparent. Ancient souqs, historic mosques and heritage buildings share the city with internet cafes, modern skyscrapers and 5 star hotels. In comparison, smaller towns and rural villages in agricultural areas tend to be slower paced, featuring modest, rustic housing, with locals living a more traditional lifestyle.
History and Government of Egypt
This timeline of major events in Ancient Egypt should help:
- 3500 BC - Evidence of first settlers
- 3100 BC - Hieroglyphics first developed
- 2700 BC - First stone pyramid built
- 2600 BC - Pyramids of Giza built
- 1900 BC - Temples of Karnak built
- 1473 BC - Hatshepsut rules Egypt
- 1352 BC - Akhenaten becomes pharaoh and creates a new religion
- 1336 BC - Tutankhamun becomes pharaoh
- 1276 BC - Ramses II becomes pharaoh and continues to rule for 66 years
- 525 BC - Persians invade and conquer Egypt
- 332 BC - Alexander the Great conquers Egypt and founds the city of Alexandria
- 196 BC - The Rosetta Stone is carved
- 30 BC - The Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, dies
- 969 AD - Cairo established as capital of Egypt
Ancient Egypt has been the focus of much fascination, investigation, speculation and intrigue. It's hard to escape the education system without having studied Ancient Egypt in some way. Drawn in by the mighty pyramids, mysterious hieroglyphics, distinct burial rituals and animal-headed gods - scholars, students, historians and travellers are all amazed by this civilisation which has endured cycles of dynastic rule, invasion and natural disasters.
Through key archaeological finds, historians have been able to unravel some of the mysteries of this great land. What is known is that the daily life of the average Egyptian usually involved working in agriculture with the waters of the Nile providing fertile ground for planting of crops. Egyptians usually lived in modest homes with children and domestic pets. Professions were usually inherited - so if your father was a farmer, then so were you.
While most Egyptians led simple lives, dynasties of Pharaohs led lavish lifestyles, with the most well-known being Ramses II, Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Cleopatra. Huge monuments, imposing pyramids, golden artefacts and detailed paintings all hold details about pharaonic rule and succession, as well as commonly held beliefs about religion and the afterlife.
Spanning centuries and full of drama worthy of a soap opera, the epic history of Ancient Egypt is complex and we suggest you read about it before visiting.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the infamous pint-sized French leader, invaded Egypt in 1798, seeking to set up a French colony. However, not long after, the French were repelled, and Egypt became a part of the Ottoman Empire once again.
From 1882, the British Army occupied Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. Muhammad Ali officially ruled from the early 1800s, and his family and successors continued to rule for decades (alongside and during British occupation) until overthrown by a military coup in 1952.
During World War II, Egypt became a crucial element in Britain's defence. The Italian Army tried to advance into Egypt in 1940 but was stopped by the British Army at Mersa Matruh. Egypt continued to serve as a vital base for British troops during World War II and despite the disruption, Egypt's shopkeepers and retail trade benefitted from the thousands of Allied troops staying in Egypt.
In 1953, Egypt was officially declared a republic and a year later, Colonel Nasser was declared Prime Minister, then President. In 1979, after decades of confrontation with neighbouring Israel, the historic Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed. This agreement made Egypt the first Arab country to officially recognise Israel as a country - a significant step in the peace process. More recently, in February 2011, large scale protests and mass demonstrations resulted in the removal of President Mubarak after decades of autocratic rule.
Egypt at a glance
- Cairo (population 7 million)
- 82 million
- (GMT+02:00) Cairo
- Type C (European 2-pin)
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