By Michael Wood
Last updated 2011-02-17
The glories of Egypt are by no means limited to the age of the pharaohs. Medieval Cairo is a well preserved medieval city, even better than Istanbul or old Delhi. It is a bustling warren of crumbling bazaars, caravanserais, hammams, and tea shops. It has giant medieval gateways, a Byzantine fortress packed with Coptic Christian churches, and several gorgeous medieval mosques.
The Al Ahzar is a tenth-century university, an oasis of calm - in contrast to most of the rest of Cairo. The great historian Ibn Khaldun taught here - one of his theories was that under certain conditions a culture can acquire a kind of permanency, something he calls the 'habit of civilisation'. And he said that Egypt, above all, had that habit. The Pharaohs had political power here for 3,000 years, then the Greeks and the Romans, and Islam carried on the legacy. Nowhere else in the world, he says, has such a habit of civilisation.
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