Cairobserver — Resurrecting Boulac Bridge

Resurrecting Boulac Bridge

One of Cairo’s iconic bridges, Boulac Bridge, is pictured here in 1961 during the 9th anniversary of the 1952 Coup/”revolution.” The bridge was located at the extension of Boulac Street, later renamed Foad Street and currently holding the name 26th of July Street (which begins at Azbakiyya Garden bending at the High Court and on to the bridge which crossed the Nile from Boulac to Zamalek on Gezira Island). It’s name later changed to Abu el Ela (after a mosque by the same name that was located near the bridge’s entrance from the Boulac side). Throughout its history, the bridge carried a tram line, cars and pedestrians. In 1996 the bridge was dismantled, deemed as insufficient for Cairo’s growing traffic. It has since been replaced with the current 15th May Bridge. It is rumored that the iron Boulac bridge, which was built in 1910, was moved to a Nile side location further north near the district of Sahel. There are also rumors that it was sold for scrap, as it was the fate of other iron bridges.

It seems obvious if the bridge, or part of it, still exists somewhere in Cairo, it should be reused in some capacity. In 2009 there was a proposal to use the bridge parts to create an art space or give it a commercial use (Much like what was done to the old Imbaba Bridge which was moved to Damaietta). That proposal was never carried through. However, last November amidst all the upheaval Egypt is experiencing, officials found the time to reopen the case of the 700 Million Egyptian Pound investment plan for the bridge and renewed the initial idea of turning it into a private “touristic space.” Al Wafd paper presented the project in nationalist guise, as was usually done by the regime in such private projects that typically involved massive corruption, deals with contractors, money laundering, etc.

Here is an obvious use for the bridge that doesn’t involve turning public property into private investment with no return to the public. Re-use the bridge as a pedestrian bridge.

Crossing the Qasr el Nil Bridge is one of Cairo’s most accessible and popular activities and it is free. With public space so limited, particularly space overlooking the Nile, a pedestrian bridge crossing the Nile in central Cairo would be a transformative project and a great addition to the city’s “public good.”

There is an obvious location as well: between the 6th October Bridge and Qasr el Nil Bridge. The bridge could link the Cairo Tower with the Egyptian Museum.

The increasing privatizations of public amenities have reduced the standard of the city over the past several decades significantly. Instead of creating another privately owned space using this historic structure, it can be used the way it was always intended to be used, as a bridge. At the same time it can provide pedestrians, who are the majority of this city’s population, where only %15 own private cars, with an additional promenading space where they can experience the Nile and views of the city. The bridge appears to be in near perfect condition in an early 1990s Amr Diab video.

GOPP and other organizations should promote public projects that will raise the standard of living in Cairo. There is no use of having pockets of luxury and private enterprise if they sit within the context of a deteriorating city. Raising public standards, public projects, public space all contribute positively towards any future private investment. This is a call for those who are concerned to save the Boulac (Abu el Ela) Bridge and resurrect it as a pedestrian bridge in a popular location. It would be a good step for greater public good.

More information: Al-Ahram Weekly, here.

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