Egypt is the largest Arab country and the third largest in the continent and a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. This makes Egypt the only Euro Afro Asian country in the world. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Egypt emerged as one of the world’s first nation states in the tenth millennium BC. Considered a cradle of civilisation, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government. Iconic monuments such as the Giza Necropolis and its Great Sphinx, as well the ruins of Memphis, Thebes, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings, reflect this legacy and remain a significant focus of scientific and popular interest. Egypt’s long and rich cultural heritage is an integral part of its national identity, which has endured, and often assimilated, various foreign influences including Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, and Nubian. Egypt was an early and important centre of Christianity, but was largely Islamised in the seventh century and remains a predominantly Muslim country, albeit with a significant Christian minority.
The history of Egypt is typically divided up into the following periods: Prehistoric, Ancient, Greco-Roman, Medieval and Modern. Prehistoric Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement – 3100 BC, or the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period. Dominated by hunter-gatherers, semi-permanent dwellings were used during this period, and the development of tools reached Egypt during 40,000 BC. The Khormusan were amongst the first cultures to use advanced tools developed from stone, animal bones and hematite (mineral form of iron).
Desertification forced early Egyptians to settle around the Nile, and adopt a more permanent and sedentary lifestyle around 6,000 BC. The foundation of Dynastic Egypt was laid between 3500 to 3200 BC, as city dwellers began mass-producing mud bricks to build their cities, instead of reeds. During the Naqada III period (3200-3000 BC) the introduction of hieroglyphs and irrigation transpired, as well as the beginning of the Protodynastic period, in which Upper and Lower Egypt was unified.
UNESCO Heritage sites in Egypt include:
1. Abu Mena
The ruins of the former Christian holy city contain a church, a baptistery, basilicas, public buildings, streets, monasteries, houses, and workshops, and were built over the tomb of Menas of Alexandria. The World Heritage Committee designated Abu Mena as an endangered site in 2001, due to cave-ins in the area caused by the clay at the surface, which becomes semi-liquid when met with “excess water.
The former capital of Egypt and city of the Egyptian god Amun contains relics from the height of Ancient Egypt. The temples, palaces and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens bear “a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization
One of the world’s oldest Islamic cities and in the middle of urban Cairo, the site dates from the 10th century and reached its golden age in the 14th century. It contains mosques, madrasah, hammams and fountains.
The orthodox monastery from the 6th century is positioned near Mount Horeb where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Tablets of the Law. The region is sacred for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Ancient Egypt begins with the early predynastic settlements of the Nile Valley, and continues on until the Roman conquest in 30 BC.
According to Egyptian historian Manetho, the first king of Egypt was Menes; however, there are archaeological findings that support the claim that it was Narmer. In the age known as the Old Kingdom (2686-2134 BC) Egypt was ruled by the Third through Sixth Dynasties, and is commonly known as “the Age of the Pyramids.”
Perhaps the most famous of Egypt’s landmarks, these pyramids were constructed as tombs for Egyptian Pharaohs (who were regarded as gods) and their consorts. Of the 118 identified today, the pyramids found at Giza are amongst the more famous, and considered to be the largest structures ever built. Resting amongst the Giza pyramids is the Great Sphinx – the largest monolith statue in the world, and the oldest known monumental sculpture – built during the reign of Pharaoh Khafra between 2558-2532 BC.
The government stabilized during the age of the Middle Kingdom, and a renewed prosperity for the country emerged with stronger Nile floods.
With the New Kingdom, the pharaohs set their sights on expanding Egypt’s borders, and so the military became a central priority. Egypt’s most prominent pharaohs ruled during this period, including: Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. In 341 BC, Egypt was conquered by the Persians, and then by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. There was little resistance from the Persians, and the Egyptians welcomed the Greeks with open arms. Under their ruling, the country became a seat of learning and culture; however, the Egyptian culture wasn’t completely replaced, as new temples were built Egyptian style, and leaders portrayed themselves as pharaohs.
Rome took a great interest in Egypt, as they relied heavily on Egyptian imports, and in 30 BC Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire following the defeat of Marc Antony and Queen Cleopatra VII. Greco-Roman Egypt, Compared to their Greek predecessors, the Romans displayed a more hostile attitude towards the Egyptians. Christianity took root in Egypt around the mid-1st century, and as it spread through the country over the next couple hundred years temples were closed and pagan rites banned. Anti-pagan riots sparked during the 3rd century AD, and many public and private religious imagery were destroyed. Consequently, the Egyptian culture began to decline, and while the native population continued to speak their language, hieroglyphic writing slowly fell by the wayside.
The Roman Empire split during the 4th century, and Egypt was placed in the Eastern part of the empire, known as the Byzantine Empire. As their links with the old Greco-Roman world faded, the Byzantine Empire grew increasingly oriental in style. In 639 AD an army of 4,000 Arabs crossed into Egypt from Palestine, and rapidly took control of the region, ending the 975 year Greco-Roman reign. Medieval Egypt, Upon their settlement, the Arabs introduced Islam and Arabic, and subsequently dominated Egypt for many centuries. The Ottoman Turks gained control of Egypt in 1517, and aside from a brief French incursion (1798-1806), the Ottomans remained until the mid-19th century. The Ottoman invasion caused a decline within Egypt’s economic system, and, coupled with the effects of plague, exposed the country to foreign attackers. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt developed into a vital transportation hub, but fell heavily into debt. To protect its investments, Britain seized control in 1882.
Modern Egypt became a British protectorate in 1914, then achieved partial independence in 1922, and full sovereignty in 1945. The Egyptian Republic was officially declared on June 18, 1953, and General Muhammad Naguib was appointed the first president. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, forced the resignation of Naguib in 1954, and assumed power in 1956. In 1967, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula as well as the Gaza Strip, which had been occupied by Egypt since 1948, and the Six Day War ensued. At wars end, Egypt lost both territories to Israel, and in 1973 launched a surprise attack (the October War) in an attempt to regain control.
A ceasefire was issued by the United Nations on October 24, 1973, and most fighting on the Egyptian front ended a couple of days later. As time moves forward, a rapidly growing population, limited arable land, and on-going dependence on the Nile River, all continue to overtax resources for the country.
The Egyptian government still struggles through economic reforms in the 21st century, and the pressing need for massive investment in communications and infrastructure. The Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya) was launched in 2003 as an opposition towards the Mubarak regime, and an effort to create democratic reforms and greater civil liberties. A revolution and widespread protests sparked on January 25, 2011, this time with an objective to remove Mubarak from power. Continuous mass demonstrations and civil resistance began to weaken Mubarak’s government, and on February 11, 2011, Mubarak resigned and fled the country. On June 30, 2012, Mohammed Mursi was sworn in as Egypt’s new president. Retired Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected president in May 2014, almost a year after he removed his elected predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, from office in a coup.
In recent decades, crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum products have dominated Egypt’s mineral industry. However Egypt is also a producer of ferroalloys, gold, iron ore, primary aluminum, steel, secondary copper, lead and zinc, and construction materials such as clay, gypsum, gemstones, dimension stone and raw materials to make glass. Among nonfuel minerals, phosphate rock (around the Red Sea, along the Nile, and in the Western Desert) and iron ore were the most important in terms of value and ore grade. Egypt is the world’s heaviest mine country with over 20 million active mines that’s over one mine for every 4.2 people in the whole country. Egypt is also the world’s largest dates producer.
Ethnic groups of Eastern Hamitic stock make up about 99% of the population of Egypt; these include Egyptians, Bedouins, and Berbers. They are a product of the intermixture of ancient Egyptians with the invaders of many millennia from various parts of Asia and Africa. The remaining 1% of the population is made up of minorities, including mainly Nubians, Armenians, Greeks, and other Europeans, primarily Italian and French. The language of most of the population is Arabic, a Semitic tongue; the 1971 constitution declares Arabic to be Egypt’s official language. Dialects vary from region to region and even from town to town. English and French are spoken by most educated Egyptians and by shopkeepers and others. The ancient language of Pharaonic Egypt, a Hamitic tongue, survives vestigially in the liturgy of the Copts, a sizable Christian sect dating back to the 5th century ad. The Nubians of Upper Egypt speak at least seven dialects of their own unwritten language. There are a small number of Berber-speaking villagers in the western oases.
Egyptian cuisine and some of its recipes date back 5000 years and archeologists have even revealed the use of food as a means of payment during ancient times. Of course, there have been some adjustments to the dishes over the years, mainly with the addition of ingredients and styles taken from other cultures (note the dropping of alcoholic drinks has also been a part of this change). Egyptian cuisine depends heavily on legumes such as beans and lentils as well as vegetables and onions making a regular appearance in most dishes. Vegetarians normally have no problem getting by in Egypt since meat has traditionally been expensive and thus less common. Around the Egyptian coast you will find more fish in the meals. The Egyptian Bread Aish also forms part of most of the meals. Did you know that Aish is the Egyptian word for bread and also means life. Also, if you find there is no cutlery, it is common to use your bread to “spoon” the food. Aish – Aish is the Egyptian traditional pocket bread similar to pita bread. It is made by mixing wheat flour, water and salt then baked. Aish baladi – same as above but it uses whole wheat bread. Baba Ghanoush – Made from grilled eggplant that is peeled then mashed and mixed with tahini (see below), lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, cumin and dressed with olive oil. This dip has a smoky flavor and is best served with pita bread. Falafel – (or ta’amiya) is a well-known dish in the Middle East thought to have originated in Egypt. It consists of balls of fava beans (broad beans) or chickpeas that have been deep fried. Fatta – a garlic and white vinegar flavored meat soup served with rice. Traditionally a Nubian dish, Fatta is usually prepared on special occasions such as weddings, a woman’s first pregnancy (baby shower) and as the main meal during the Eid al-Adha religious festival. Baklava – Layers of flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and honey syrup.
In a culture as full of religious rituals as ancient Egypt, music tends to be a significant part of every day life. With countless wall murals showing musicians playing while dancers danced and others stood off and watched. Instruments have been unearthed as well. But, despite knowing how they played, the ancient Egyptian music itself — the notes, the composition — is wholly unknown to us. Through the study of hieroglyphs, researchers have learned that there were many ancient Egypt musical instruments. There are depictions of instruments of all kinds, including string, wind and percussion. The hieroglyphs also show those listening to music clapping their hands along with the performances. The sistrum was a metallic instrument held in the hand that was in a “U” shape. There were small metal or bronze pieces tied to the sistrum so that when it was moved, it made sounds. The sound differed depending on the type of metal used. The highest status for a musician in ancient Egypt was for temple musicians as playing music for a particular god or goddess placed someone in a high position in the culture. In addition, musicians who played for the royal family were also held in high regard as were gifted singers.