Posts tagged heritage

The man next to the governor: how a police state ruined a city


In June of 2013 a group of heritage activists, architects, and concerned citizens organized a protest outside the Cairo governorate regarding the speedy deterioration of historic Cairo. The historic city had been suffering for years but since 2011 the process of deterioration had increased to an unprecedented pace with new constructions rising in the small plots between registered buildings and with architectural details disappearing from buildings daily. A historic gate was demolished a month earlier after gaining official demolition permits. The situation was dire, and it continues to be, but there was no response from any of the concerned ministries or the governorate. A protest was urgently needed to bring attention to this pressing issue as the UNESCO status of the historic city could potentially be jeopardized and the historic urban fabric was, and continues to be, fragmented.

To our surprise, the governor came out of the building and interacted with the public. An invitation was extended for the organizers of the protest to return and meet with the governor in a roundtable discussion to communicate our concerns.

A few days later a group of around 10 visited the governorate. The fenced building overlooking Abdeen Square is highly guarded in such a way that makes it foreboding for the general public to approach let alone enter. This is the administrative institution that that is meant to run the city and manage its affairs. Yet the public is not invited to participate in this process of governance, is not able to elect the governor, and is not to have access to town hall meetings open to the public. Our visit to the governorate building must have been an unusual event. We were ushered to a waiting room then to a grand meeting hall and awaited the governor to arrive.

The governor at the time was Osama Kamal, who teaches civil engineering at Banha University. He was a decent man who seemed interested in our concerns. This could have potentially been one of the rare opportunities when Cairo residents sit around the same table with those managing municipal affairs.

Unfortunately, that potential was interrupted because the governor did not come into the meeting alone. To his left was another man, probably in his late sixties if not older, who didn’t introduce himself fully and for the rest of this blog will be referred to as Mr. Security. He spoke with confidence and defiance as if HE was the governor. Mr. Security was in charge of policing the part of the city we are concerned with, wasat district. He interrupted our conversation with the governor by showing a lengthy powerpoint presentation with images showing his men, the police, performing their duty in the historic city, inspecting streets, removing road blocks and arresting street vendors. None of these were our concerns during this meeting. Mr. Security then proceeded to explain that in order for the building law to be enforced and for the construction mafia to be stopped from building illegal buildings amid the historic city that lethal force will be needed. He argued that the mafia is armed and that the police can not show their force now because the security situation has been fragile since the revolution.



[Another historic house was demolished recently. There was no evidence of its poor structural condition. The house is in the heart of Darb al-Ahmar and was an integral part of the urban fabric surrounding it. There is a police station near by which didn’t prevent the destruction of heritage.]

At one point he argued that if an old house is nearing collapse that it would be in his interest, as a police man, to demolish it in order to avoid its collapse over its inhabitants. Mr. Security was sugar coating the destruction of the historic city as an act of protecting lives.

The governorate as an institution has no power to implement or enforce the law, it must always seek security clearances and to request ahead of time the need for a police force. However, in Egypt the police are utilized for political purposes, i.e they are more concerned with rounding up political activists and “trouble makers” than enforcing the law. What that means is, even if we are lucky and we have a governor who cares about a seemingly trivial issue, from the security state’s point of view, such as the protection of a thousand year old city and its buildings, he has no real power without the security apparatus fully supporting him. When it comes to saving two hundred year old house gates and three hundred year old houses, it is unlikely that the security apparatus will mobilize to enforce the law. In the meantime no proper investigations are carried out into who these construction mafias are and who provides them with materials and connects their real estate investments with utilities. For all we know the construction mafia could very well be closely connected with the “security mafia.”

While this meeting was meant to be about concerned citizens speaking to the governor, it turned into Mr. Security’s theatrics of how he is doing his best to control the situation. Every time a question is raised, Mr. Security would jump in to answer, and most of the time the governor was not able to provide more than his opinion on various matters since he is part of a chain of command and he relies on that chain to get information based on which he can sign off on a decision. But what became apparent is that these decisions are already determined by the information he receives from Mr. Security and his team. Even still, a gubernatorial decision will ultimately require approval again from the security apparatus. The governor then, in this structure, seemed to me like little more than a facade for the police state that actually runs the city.

When the “conversation” seemed hopeless in regards to the issue of heritage some of us raised other practical questions about specific problems that need immediate attention. I used this opportunity to bring attention to the pedestrian bridge over Azhar street that had been removed nearly a year earlier, making crossing one of Cairo’s busiest and most historically significant intersections nearly impossible. Not only was the bridge removed, but a fence was erected in the middle of the street diving the two directions of traffic, a physical obstacle for pedestrians crossing the street. I asked a simple question that to me seemed practical, why not place a traffic light and a cross path at this key location? Mr. Security laughed! To him Egyptians are like sheep, hordes, they won’t understand the concept of a crosswalk or a traffic light and that such things only work in “developed countries.” No need for a study to prove such claims, he knows best.

Mr. Security and the apparatus he belongs to seem to have fully embraced colonial mentality with all its racism and classicist outlook. He then said that there is a plan under consideration to erect new pedestrian bridges with escalators across the city in key locations. I was baffled by how such an expensive and unnecessary “solution” was considered when more obvious solutions were being dismissed as laughable. Who decides on the budget of these escalators and what urban study determined that this was the best solution to the problem? Furthermore, what is the bidding process, if there is one, that will determine the contractor who will carryout such a project? Pedestrian bridges are no laughing matter, in fact when they are built (in a city where the majority of inhabitants are pedestrians), they are inaugurated with great fanfare, even the prime minister, the housing minister and the Cairo governor all went last fall to inaugurate a pedestrian bridge, imagine that!


[The inauguration of a pedestrian bridge in December 2013.]

The meeting, which lasted over an hour, ended with no reached conclusions. A woman who runs the new, astonishingly new!, Cairo Heritage Preservation Unit, proposed future meetings. A week later the June 30 protests began, many of us joined, I did, naively thinking that things might change for the better. They didn’t. A new governor was appointed but most likely the man next to him who really holds the keys to running Cairo is still the same. 


[Hayat al-Nofus Palace in Malawy was incrementally destroyed. Its location adjacent to the city’s police headquarters did not protect it from destruction.]

I remembered this encounter today because of news that 20, out of a total of 28, new governors who will be appointed are officers, clones of Mr. Security. Millions of dollars go into the budgets of the security apparatus, which does little regarding the security of individuals, of society, or the security of heritage sites and national patrimony. In fact there have been a series of acts of destruction over the past two years in various cities and all of them were in sites directly adjacent to police headquarters with nothing done to prevent such acts nor to conduct proper investigation. For example a historic palace (pictured above) in the southern city of Malawy, adjacent to security headquarters, was incrementally destroyed. The museum of the same city was entirely looted. Another palace in Qena belonging to Makram Ebeid, a national figure, also adjacent to the security headquarters, was incrementally destroyed. And of course there is the bombing outside the police headquarters in Cairo that destroyed the Museum of Islamic Art across the street. In addition to the continued lack of security in many urban districts, these acts of destruction are either evidence of total incompetence or willful collaboration on the part of the security apparatus to erase national heritage, and to keep Cairo and Egypt’s cities comfortably cushioned in their position as third world cities, perpetually, forever.

There continues to be zero accountability. Despite the failures of the police state to perform any of its civic duties the budget of the interior ministry has been increased multiple times under the subsequent governments since 2011.

The first steps towards better cities are obvious: Participatory planning, accountability of public officials, elections of governors and local councils, transparent budgets, and rewarding competence over political loyalty.

These are already colossally difficult tasks. But with people like Mr. Security and his security machine intervening in how cities and spaces of everyday life for millions of Egyptians are shaped and how hundreds of years of historic heritage in cities are recorded and protected, such tasks are simply impossible.


[1949 Cartoon, a police man preventing a man from casting his vote. The police have a long history of political interference rather than civic service.]

11 Recent Cultural Disasters in Egypt


In recent decades there had been a slow but persistent destruction of Egypt’s rich cultural heritage, specifically its buildings, archaeological sites, and museum collections. Heritage and the rich histories it carries were under assault with incidents such as the theft of masterpieces from museum collections, the $55 million Van Gogh that disappeared in plain day light as an example, but also lesser known pieces from the country’s vast and uncatalogued collections are constantly disappearing. In most cases these kinds of thefts or sudden disappearances go unnoticed and unreported. The assault on Egypt’s cultural heritage is more often the result of mismanagement, conflicting policies, lack of policy enforcement and the state’s hegemonic control over the arena of culture and heritage in general without proper mechanisms for civilian oversight or transparency. Tens of museums across the country close for extended periods with no planned reopening, sometimes a decade, in the name of renovation. In the meantime the whereabouts and condition of collections remain a mystery and there are no channels for the public to inquire about such information. High level officials are never held accountable. In other times the state is directly the vandal, as was the case with the botched renovation of Cairo’s heritage central station in 2011. Added to this is the insatiable appetite of the market for Egyptian cultural artifacts ranging from ancient statuettes to doors and wooden ceilings of the homes of historic Cairo. These items end up in private collections in Europe and the Gulf.

Adding to the rapid destruction of heritage is the undemocratic nature of urban management in Egypt. Take for example the disastrous case of Luxor where its former governor (an appointed military general with no experience or knowledge in heritage management or urbanism, appointed to run one of the world’s richest cities in terms of cultural capital) decided single handedly to destroy entire stretches of historic urban fabric, forcibly evict residents from historic village homes that represent some of the best examples of vernacular domestic architecture, and to create an empty badly paved plaza in front of Karnak Temple in place of the centuries old trees and palm groves that separated the temple from the Nile. These are but few examples of the havoc done onto the city by its appointed governor with all the tools of the security state at his disposal to intimidate residents and imprison those who get in the way.

One of the main culprits in the deterioration of Egyptian heritage is the state’s take over of the Waqf system, which tied the maintenance of properties to an endowment, and by doing so provided financial resources for the upkeep of endowed buildings. When the system was canceled by the state in the early 1960s, the state failed to provide sufficient funds to maintain previously endowed buildings. This also is tied to the conflict between the Waqf Ministry and the Antiquities Ministry over which institution is responsible for which monuments. Additionally, the Antiquities Ministry is the only one in the Egyptian government required to generate its own income, which it generates from ticketing at historic sites, creating an unbreakable link between national patrimony and tourism: With low tourist turnouts, financial resources to repair and maintain monuments decline and monuments carrying layers of Egypt’s history fall into disrepair. Moreover, this link between heritage and tourism has meant that only sites with touristic potential are maintained while others tucked in the urban fabric and unknown to package tourists become forgotten, locked away and neglected. The link between tourism and patrimony must be undone as Egypt’s material culture is not merely a cash cow for tourist money but it belongs to Egyptians first and foremost.

All of the above was part of the relatively slow destruction of Egyptian heritage. However, since 2011 these processes have accelerated at an unprecedented rate. In the last three years there have been three main processes for this accelerated destruction: first, in many cases the political uncertainly led the middle men in the processes described above to continue and accelerate their work, since there was no guarantee what the future would bring. Second, in other cases the flimsy control of the state over urban issues, such as the selectively applied ban on the demolition of historic or listed buildings, disappeared overnight. Because there was no real comprehensive policy that incorporated heritage into an effective economic structure the ban on demolition was imposed not because there were benefactors or because there was a widely recognized value for such structures, rather the ban on demolition was literally associated with particular persons in the ruling regime. Thus when such figures seemed to be out of the political picture, many heritage buildings were demolished in order for their owners to profit from the land or to build new profitable structures. Finally, a third wave of destruction is a direct result of the political uncertainly where heritage was used as a bargaining chip to shame the revolution or it was in the crossfires of fighting or attacks. Mosques, churches, museums, and government buildings were burned, looted, or destroyed.

It is important to read Egypt’s heritage drain within a regional context. From Syria’s enormous losses of major historical sites to the looting of Iraqi museums and collections following the American invasion. Through various processes of erasure, the “old Middle East” has been systematically losing hundreds of years of cultural heritage. If museums, folklore and cultural constructions were essential tools for the invention of nations in the 19th and 20th centuries, then their destruction could be read as the undoing of nations in the 21st century.

Here is an abbreviated list of some of the major cultural and heritage losses in Egypt since 2011. Many of these cases have been under-reported and lost amidst the news of massacres, mass arrests and political turmoil.

1. Major damage to Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art and the National Library and Archives building and collections.


Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art, known locally until recently as the Museum of Arab Art, holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Islamic art covering all periods of Egypt’s history since the coming of Islam and including items from around the Islamic world from Iran to Turkey. The museum was closed for nearly a decade to undergo a renovation that resulted in mostly cosmetic changes to the galleries with only a selection of 2500 items put on display, a small fraction of its more than 100,000 items. The building housing the museum is a heritage building completed in 1903 also houses the main headquarters of Egypt’s National Library with its special manuscript collection. Pictured above is a clipping from a magazine from the 1960s complaining about the architecture of the then new police headquarters across from the historic museum.

The Museum was severely damaged in January of this year after a bomb blast targeted the police headquarters across the street. Read more here.

2. Destruction of many of Cairo’s historic and landmark villas and palaces


Since the 1990s villas and mansions that were built by a burgeoning bourgeoisie from the end of the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century have been destroyed. Since 2011 the rate of destruction has accelerated and listed villas were targeted and even removed from the heritage list by direct order of the prime minister. Known examples include Villa Casdagli and Villa Ispenian in Cairo as well as the residence of key figures in Egyptian history such as Makram Ebeid palace in Qena (which also happens to be located across the street from the city’s main police headquarters). Many more were damaged or destroyed without ever being studied or documented, taking with them a significant slice of modern Egyptian history.

3. Destruction of Mansoura Theater

In December 2013 a car bomb targeting the police headquarters in the city of Mansoura caused major damage to the city’s historic theater located across the street. While the Culture Ministry vowed to repair the building, the municipality deemed it must be demolished. The fate of the building is still uncertain. The theater is a turn of the century building that was among a series of theaters and opera houses that were built in cities across the country (including small and medium cities) and patronized by the local elite.

4. Looting of the Malawi Museum in Minya

The Malawi National Museum in the southern city of Minya was entirely looted. In August 2013 as many as 1089 objects recorded in the museum inventory were stolen in a single heist. Around 50 items were destroyed or burned. Months later it has been reported that half of the items were later returned. In December it was reported that the museum was undergoing restoration. The museum contained a special collection of artifacts discovered locally. The world famous Nefertiti bust, now in Berlin, was discovered nearby in 1912.

5. Destruction of the Institut d’Egypte


In December 2011 amid clashes between security personnel and protesters an inconspicuous historic building at the corner of Qasr el Aini and Sheikh Rihan Streets caught fire. The building engulfed in flames was home to the Egyptian Research Council (المجمع العلمي المصري) also known as the Institut d’Egypte. The library in the building contains original publications dating back to 1798 including the famous Description de l’Egypte. Following a gift from a Gulf emir and a botched restoration of the building it was announced the following year that the building reopened although nothing is known about the fate of its collection.

6. Uncontrolled urban transformation of the historic of Darb el Ahmar district in Cairo


One of the most spectacular urban transformations since 2011 has taken place at the heart of historic Cairo in one of the most revered districts, al-Darb al-Ahmar. Numerous buildings have been destroyed dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, sometimes with official demolition permits. The problem is not only in the en-mass demolition but also the speedy constructions that have risen above 10-stories dwarfing all that remains of the city’s once intact historic neighborhood with an accumulated heritage of domestic architecture. Authorities have been fully complicit in this enormous cultural disaster often citing lack of security as an excuse for not intervening.

7. Encroachment on archaeological sites at Fustat, Dahshour and Al-Matariyyah

Archaeological sites north-west and south-east of Cairo have been vulnerable to building encroachment. At Dahshour, it has been reported, residents from a nearby village began building cemeteries over the site. While in Matariya, one of Cairo’s ancient sites where the city’s only obelisk is still standing, a neglected archaeological site had been transformed into a waste dump. In Fustat, the site of Egypt’s first Islamic capital, nearby residents began building on the site. In fact these acts of encroachment are the direct result of years of negligence and the policy that has cut monuments from their local context by building fences and treating the urban population as trespassers rather than active members of communities essential to monument preservation. In all the above cases the Antiquities Ministry has been slow to react and incapable of dealing with crises.

8. Partial collapse of Muhammad Ali’s Shubra Palace

This is a truly unique building, which had been inaccessible due to a over-drawn restoration costing millions during the years of Farouk Hosni. After the revolution started, the site, like many others across the country, was closed citing lack of security. During this period of closure news emerged that an entire corner of this early 19th century pleasure pavilion collapsed due to the unprofessional restoration completed years earlier. The news emerged months after the collapse happened. Since then news of the status of the site has been suppressed. It is important to note that “renovations” and “restoration” projects have often been the result of direct order given to a contractor, often with no substantial experience in such work. These projects cost millions without independent supervision of budgets or quality of work.

9. Thefts at several sites in Islamic Cairo

For years historic Cairo has been slowly drained of its exquisite architectural elements from door knobs to entire doors and wooden mosque pulpits and even ceilings of ottoman-era houses. Stories circulate in these districts about middlemen buying and bribing their way through the heritage of the city as their wealthy clients, often women from the Gulf, seek to acquire authentic antiques to decorate their newly built homes in the booming cities of the “new Middle East.”

Since 2011 the rate of these thefts and the audacity of the thieves have increased. While police occasionally foils a theft of historic buildings, many more go under the radar. The theft of decorative element from the door of the Sultan Farag Ibn Barquq funerary complex received some attention in 2012. However, we will never know the full extent of these thefts, again because the very system of managing these sites and the relationship between these buildings and neighboring communities are deeply flawed.

10. The rapid loss of Alexandria’s architectural heritage


If a city can visually, urbanistically and experientially represent the current state of Egypt most vividly, Alexandria is probably the best candidate. While the transformations taking place in Egypt’s second city can be seen across the county, no city comes close to Alexandria’s rate of deterioration and urban densification due to corruption in municipal government and the security apparatus and the power of the construction mafia. From tens of historic buildings demolished every month to thousands of new illegal constructions rising to the lack of improvement to basic services and the near absence of any municipal policy, Alexandria’s decline is irreversible.

The city’s iconic modernist building housing its municipality was torched and destroyed during the early days of the revolution. Unique structures such as the Villa Aghion were partially demolished, sites of cultural memory such as Lawrence Durrell’s villa are on the demolition list. The “bride of the Mediterranean” as it is known locally, is sinking into the sea.

11. The disappearance of Cairo’s Railway Museum


Another major casualty of mismanagement and corruption is the Railway Museum at Cairo’s central station. In 2010 it was reported that the museum “lost its tracks” and that a renovation was in order. Then, during the midst of the revolution, a renovation was hastily carried out at the station destroying the architectural design of its interior and the Railway Museum was dismantled. The museum renovation was never completed and the location of its collections is unknown. There is no information as to the intended date of reopening, if any, or who is carrying out the renovation, nor who is designing or curating the collection and display, if any. The world’s earliest museum dedicated to the railways is, for now, gone.

The waqf system and the maintenance of Cairo’s historic buildings



دينا باخوم

تترك شوارع القاهرة التاريخية، بكل طرقها وأزقتها الخلفية، انطباعات متضاربة فى نفس من يسير بها. ومع أنه لا يمكن انكار وجود مشاكل فى إدارة وصيانة المبانى الموجودة بالمدينة، فإن هذا لا يقلل من سحر المدينة بروحها المتفجرة وثقافتها الحية وتراثها الثرى

هناك قصص تروى فى كل شارع وزقاق ومدرسة وجامع ومتجر  وبيت عن أولئك الذين كانوا يعيشون بها ويعملون بها، بما فى ذلك الباحثون والزائرون. لذا فإن الدراسة والبحث والعمل فى تلك المدينة، مثله مثل المدينة ذاتها، ليس له حدود. القاهرة هى مدينة ديناميكية لا تعرف النوم ولا تخلد إلى السكون

سوف أروى فى هذا المقالة أحدى القصص التى تخص صيانة العقارات فى المدينة، وهى قصة المحل الذى يوجد تحت الجامع أو المدرسة والذى يعد جزءا من الوقف المخصص لصيانة المكان

ما الذى تعنيه كلمة “وقف”؟

المعنى الحرفى لكلمة “وقف” واضح وهو أن توقف شيئا ما وتمنع التصرف فيه (بالبيع والعطاء والشراء والرهن والتوريث والهبة) وتقوم باستخدام دخله فى غرض خيرى أو قضية معينة. وباختصار فإنه نوع من الهبة المستمرة المخصصة أساسا للأغراض الخيرية. هناك كلمة اخرى استخدمت لوصف نفس النظام، وهى حبس

لكل “وقف” هناك ثلاثة عناصر. أولا، هناك الشخص الذى يقرر إنشاء الوقف، وهو “الواقف”. ويجب أن يكون الواقف شخصا بالغا رشيدا فى كامل قواه العقلية ويتفهم نتائج أعماله ويمتلك العقار أو الأصل الثابت المخصص للوقف. ثانيا، هناك الملكية ذاتها المخصصة للوقف والتى تسمى “الموقوف” (الجمع: “موقوفات”). و”الموقوف” يجب أن يكون له “منفعة” بمعنى أن يكون أصلا ثابتا قادرا على توليد الدخل أو مؤسسة تقدم خدمات. ثالثا، هناك “الموقوف عليه”، الجمع: “موقوف عليهم”، وتستخدم أحيانا كلمة مستحقون

يجب أن يتم كتابة عقد قانونى يسمى “الوقفية” يتضمن شروط “الواقف” ويشرح التفصيلات الإدارية والمالية ذات الصلة وأيضا الوصف المعمارى للعقار محل الوقف


تقدم تلك الوثائق مادة بحثية قيمة حول نظام “الوقف”، يمكن دراستها من أكثر من وجهة. وسوف أركز هذه المقالة على توضيح حقيقة أن نظام الوقف هو النظام التقليدى للصيانة والحفاظ على المعمار ووظائفه فى المجتمعات الإسلامية. من خلال نظام الوقف تم بناء العديد من المبانى الجميلة، منها المساجد والمدارس والسبيل-كتاب، والوكالات والبيمارستانات (مستشفيات) والمنازل والخانقات، وهي مساكن جماعية لها طابع الأديرة مخصصة للصوفيين

يتم الانفاق على تلك المؤسسات لكى يستخدمها الجمهور ويستفيد منها. وأحد شروط الوقف هو دوامه. ولكى نضمن دوام الوقف وفوائده، فإن الواقف يخصص بعض الأصول التى تولد الربح (مثل المحلات الموجودة تحت المبانى أو أصول أخرى بعيدة عن المبنى مثل الوكالات والحمامات والأراضى الزراعية، الخ) ومن أهم الشروط أن يكون دخل تلك الأصول ينفق أساس على “العمارة”، بمعنى صيانة المبنى وضمان استمراره فى أداء وظائفه

على سبيل المثال، نرى صك وقف “السلطان حسن” يشترط أن ينفق العائد فى “عمارة العقارات الموقوفة واصلاحها” بما يضمن استمرار مصدر الدخل و”دوام المنفعة”. تجد مثل هذا الشرط الخاص بإنفاق الدخل على صيانة العقار فى كل “الوقفيات”، نظرا لأن الصيانة تضمن استمرار المنفعة للمستخدمين

وبالتالى فأن الأموال المتولدة عن الوقف تخصص أولا للقائمين بالصيانة والإصلاحات وإيضا للمواد المختلفة التى تتطلبها أعمال الصيانة والترميم المستمرة. هناك مهام مختلفة تشملها تلك العملية ويتم ذكرها فى تفصيلات الصيانة الدورية. بعض تلك المهام يختص بتشغيل وصيانة جوانب معينة من العقار والبعض الآخر يتعلق بالإشراف الدورى والتحقق من حالة المبنى. وتتنوع الوظائف بين تلك الخاصة بالإدارة والصيانة (الأسطوات والبنائون والمعماريون) وتلك الخاصة بالتنفيذ (عمال التنظيف والسباكون والحجارون). كل تلك الشروط هى التى تتضمن استمرار المراقبة واتمام الصيانة بشكل منتظم

فى بعض الحالات هناك ذكر لإجراءات الصيانة الوقائية. على سبيل المثال، فى وقف السلطان الغورى (حكم 1501-1516) هناك عبارة تقول: “ويجب أن يقوم (المشرف) على الفور باستبدال أى بلاطات خزفية تسقط أو تصبح على وشط السقوط، ويجب أن يتم استبدالها فى الموقف فى نفس اليوم الذى تسقط فيه. وسوف يتم هذا فى حياة الواقف وأيضا بعد موته دائما وإلى ما شاء الله”


والملاحظ أن شروط الواقفين لم يتم احترامها على الدوام على النحو الذى أرادوه، وكانت هناك الكثير من المخالفات والأخطاء حتى فى تلك الأزمنة القديمة، ولم يتم الالتزام دائما بالقواعد الموضوعة. ولكن الوقف بوصفه نظاما يستهدف صيانة المبانى نجح بشكل واضح فى الحفاظ عليها على مر العصور. وهذا أمر يتضح من حقيقة أن “لجنة صيانة آثار الفن العربى” التى تكونت عام 1881 بهدف بصيانة وتحديد الآثار الإسلامية ولاحقا الآثار القبطية قد تم انشاؤها تحت اشراف وزارة الأوقاف. وقد تم حل اللجنة فى 1961 وحلّت محلها مصلحة الآثار ثم المجلس الأعلى للآثار ثم وزارة الدولة للآثار

والسؤال الآن هو من المسؤول عن المبانى التى تم وقفها؟ من الذى يقوم (أو يجب أن يقوم) بصيانة تلك المبانى؟ هى هى وزارة الدولة للآثار أو وزارة الأوقاف؟

يتوقف الأمر على نوع المبنى. لو كان المبنى قد تم تسجيله كأثر، وهو ما ينطبق على الكثير من المدارس والجوامع التاريخية فإن الفقرة السادسة من قانون “حماية الآثار” الصادر عام 1983 والمعدل فى 2010، تقرر إنه مملوك لوزارة الأوقاف، بينما تقرر الفقرة 30 أن المجلس الاعلى للآثار مسؤول عن الحفاظ والصيانة والتجديد

ومعنى هذا فإن وزارة الأوقاف يجب أن تدفع تكلفة الإصلاح والترميم. ولكن ليست هناك أى بنود مكتوبة تحدد كيفية القيام بذلك. فى 2008، تعرضت حشوات منبر المريدانى (1340) إلى السرقة. والسؤال هو من المسؤول عن أمن المبنى؟

لا داعى للدخول هنا فى تفاصيل المناقشة بين المؤسستين، ولكن من الواضح أن هناك نقص فى التنسيق بينهما، وهو ما أدى إلى تلك النتيجة. وهناك حاجة ملحة إلى ترتيبات إدارية وقانوية ملزمة تنظم تلك المسائل حماية لتلك الآثار التى لا تقدر بثمن

والخلاصة هى أن الكثير من مبادىء الصيانة التى كانت موجودة بالفعل فى ظل نظام الوقف لا تختلف كثيرا عن قواعد الصيانة المعاصرة. لذا فإنه من الواجب إحياء مبادىء “الوقف” الخاصة بعمليات الصيانة والإصلاح مع ارساء قواعد عامة للحفاظ على التراث الحى بشكل يحترم التوجهات المختلفة، وغير المتضاربة فى أغلب الأحيان، لكل المنتفعين والمهتمين بهذا التراث الحى


By Dina Bakhoum

A walk through Historic Cairo’s streets and alleys leaves one with conflicting impressions. Although one is struck by several conservation and management problems the overall spirit of the city’s vibrant living cultural heritage and traditions is overwhelming. Each and every street, alley, mosque, madrasa, shop and house carries stories about its patrons, users, inhabitants and also travelers and researchers. Therefore, the study, research and work on this city never ends, exactly like the city itself; it is indeed a dynamic city that never sleeps and continues to live.

This article will tell one of the stories namely that of living through maintenance, the story of the shop underneath the mosque or the madrasa, which was part of the waqf used for the upkeep of the endowment. So, what does “waqf” mean? The literal meaning of the word waqf is “to stop” or “the act of stopping”. One definition of waqf is that it is the prohibition (or the stopping) of al-tasarruf (selling, giving away, buying, mortgaging, making it inheritable, bequeathing and donating) of a person’s property that generates revenue, and the income is to be used solely for a charitable venue or cause. In brief it is a type of endowment for charitable purposes. [Another word that is also used describing the same system is habs.]

There are three important entities involved in the act of endowment (the waqf) that explain how it operated as a system. The first is the person who endows: the waqif, who had to be a free adult, in good heath and mental condition, cognizant of his/her actions and owning the endowed property. The second is the endowed property indicated as the mawquf (plural mawqufat). The mawquf had to have a benefit (manfa‘a); it could be a property generating revenue or an institution providing services. The third is represented by the beneficiaries (the mawquf ‘alayhi; plural mawquf ‘alayhum or mustahiqin).

A legal document was then drafted, the waqfiyya, which included the stipulations of the endower, administrative and financial matters as well as an architectural description of the endowed property.

These documents form valuable research material on the waqf system, which can be studied and researched from different perspectives. The angle of interest in this article is to show how the waqf system was the traditional maintenance and upkeep system in the Islamic societies. Through the waqf endowment system a number of magnificent buildings were constructed such as mosques and madrasas, sabils, sabil-kuttabs, wikalas, bimaristans (hospitals), houses, and khanqas (monastic residence for Sufis).

These institutions were endowed for the public to use and benefit from. One of the main stipulations of the waqf was that the endowment would be beneficial in perpetuity. To ensure the continuity of the waqf and its benefits, the waqif endowed other revenue generating properties (the shops under the buildings or other properties far from the building such as caravansaries, baths, agricultural lands, etc.) and stated as one of the most important stipulations that the income of this revenue generating properties was to be spent primarily on the ‘imara (actions that keep the building operational), upkeep and maintenance of endowed buildings or institutions.

To give an example, the waqf deed of Sultan Hassan stipulates that the spending of the revenue has to be used on “the ‘imara of the endowed properties and their repair and on that which ensures the preservation of the source of revenue and the perpetuity of the benefit of the endowed property”. This stipulation of spending the revenue primarily on the maintenance of the endowed property is found in all of the waqfiyyas because the maintenance ensured that the endowment remained beneficial to the users.

Accordingly money was allocated for 1- the people who will carry out the maintenance and repair and 2- also for the materials needed for the regular maintenance and upkeep activities. Different roles were clearly assigned for the regular maintenance operations; some had the responsibility to daily run and maintain certain aspects of the property and others had the role of periodic supervision and checking of the condition of the property. The jobs varied from managerial and supervision ones (such as supervisors, engineers, architects) to implementation ones (such as cleaning people, plumbers, marble masons, etc). All stipulations included regular monitoring and regular maintenance.

In some cases even preventive measures were mentioned. To give an example, from the waqf of Sultan al-Ghuri (r.1501-1516), where it is stipulated that:

“He [The supervisor] must immediately replace any blue ceramic tiles that have fallen or are about to fall; these are to be replaced in situ on the same day they fall. This should be done when the waqif is alive and also after his death, always and forever.”

Nevertheless, it is clear that the waqifs’ stipulations were not respected in perpetuity as they wished it would be. Of course, pressures and faults existed in historic times, and not all the stipulations were always followed.

Yet, as a system, the waqf remained to be considered as the body responsible for maintenance and repair of these medieval structures. This is clearly indicated by the fact that the Comité de Conservations des Monuments de l’Art Arabe (Comité) formed in 1881 to work on the conservation and restoration of Islamic and later Coptic Monuments was established under the Ministry of Endowment (Wizarat al-Awqaf). The Comité was dissolved in 1961 and the Egyptian Antiquities Organizations (later the Supreme Council of Antiquities, then Ministry of State for Antiquities) was formed.

The question is, who is responsible now for the buildings the endowed buildings or the awqaf? Who carries out (or should carry out) and funds now the maintenance of these endowments? Is it the Ministry of State for Antiquities or is it the Ministry of Endowments? This actually depends on the structure. If the building is a “registered monument” such as many of the medieval madrasas and mosques then according to the Egyptian Law on the Protection of Antiquities (of 1983 and 2010 modification) clause # 6, the Ministry of Awqaf owns the buildings, but according to clause # 30, the then Supreme Council of Antiquities is responsible for the conservation, maintenance and restoration interventions. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Endowments should pay for that. No further clear written guidelines regulates the exact responsibilities. In 2008, the inlay work of the minbar of the Mamluk Mosque of al-Maridani (1340 AD) was stolen and the big question was, who is responsible for also the security of the building? The details of the discussion between both entities will not be listed here, but what is clear is that it is the lack of coordination between both bodies that lead to this situation and there is an urgent need for a clear management and legally binding system that regulates these issues to ensure the protection of these gemstones.

In fact, many of the principles of maintenance that existed already within the waqf system are in line with many of the current conservation principles. It is essential to revive the waqf principles related to maintenance and repair operations and to establish common grounds for conserving and managing living heritage sites that would respect the different, yet not necessarily conflicting, values of the different stakeholders and beneficiaries, in order to preserve this vibrant living heritage.

Whose Heritage? Reflections from a disappearing Alexandria

محمد عادل دسوقي

في الصفحات الأولى من الجزء الأول من ثلاثية «القارة المائية» والذي يصف فيه الكاتب نيكولاس وودز ورث رحلته للإسكندرية كواحدة من ثلاثة مدن بحرمتوسطية كبرى، يستقل المؤلف القطار المتجه للمدينة، وتأتي جلسته إلى جوار طالب جامعي سكندري كان منشغلا بهاتفه المحمول. يتبادل الاثنان كلمات قليلة عن الإسكندرية. غير أن الشاب يخرج عن صمته فجأة عندما بدى على الكاتب الاهتمام الشديد بإحدى الفيلات القديمة المهمَلة تصادف أن يمر القطار إلى جوارها في نهاية رحلته

إنها لا شيء، قالها وهو يشيح بيده في رفض. “هناك مئات من هذه المباني في الإسكندرية. كان الأجانب الأغنياء يعيشون فيها. إيطاليون، يهود، يونانيون، شوام، فرنسيون.. لقد رحلوا جميعا. والآن تختفي هذه البيوت أيضا. سرعان ما سيهدم هذا البيت أيضا. ما أهميته؟ انه قديم”ـ

تعليق الشاب، مثل الفيلا نفسها، أثار الدهشة والتساؤل لدى الكاتب، فكتب يقول أن مثل هذا البناء التاريخي لو وجد في روما أو نابولي لكان له شأن آخر، لكنه في الإسكندرية أصبح مثالا على الإهمال. تعليق الشاب قصير ومقتضب، لكنه بلا شك لسان حال الكثير من سكان الإسكندرية على اختلاف أعمارهم وتخصصاتهم. بسبب عملي في تدريس العمارة واهتمامي بتاريخ المدينة العمراني سمعت مثل هذه الآراء كثيرا، ليس فقط من الطلبة بل من زملاء ومن مهندسين يمارسون المهنة منذ فترات طويلة، منهم من قام ببناء عمارات سكنية فوق حطام مثل هذه الفيلا منذ بداية السبعينيات. واليوم، وبعد عقود من هذا “الاستبدال العمراني” سيطرت الأبراج الخرسانية تماما على خط سماء المدينة. أحياء كاملة اختفت ملامحها العمرانية بشكل كامل عبر العقود الأربعة أو الخمسة الأخيرة. تغير عمراني سريع وكاسح لن يدرك فداحته إلا من يقوم بمقارنة الصور الفوتوغرافية القديمة لشوارع المدينة وميادينها بحالتها اليوم. تضاعفت قيمة هذه اللقطات كثيرا مع تغير المدينة. بعض الصور تفشل كل الجهود المبذولة الاستنتاج مكانها الحالي، رغم أنها تحمل تاريخ يعود الثلاثينيات مثلا

الإنسان بطبعه يرتبط بالأمكنة التي نشأ فيها أو تلك التي ارتبط بها تاريخ أسرته أو احدى الجماعات التي ينتمي إليها اجتماعيا أو ثقافيا أو دينيا. والمجتمعات المختلفة دائما ما تتخيل أن هُويتها مرتبطة بأماكن بعينها تصبح “أمكنة للذاكرة” وتحمل بالتالي قيما ومعانٍ أعمق وأهم من غيرها. ولايخلو سياق خاص بالهوية الوطنية من حديث عن أماكن تحمل رمزية ينبغي على الجميع أن يحافظ عليها. فالسؤال هنا إذن لماذا ترك سكان الاسكندرية مدينتهم تتحول بهذا الشكل؟ ولماذا أصبحت المباني التاريخية إرثا يخص غيرهم من جنسيات أصبحت في نظرهم غريبة على المدينة؟ ومتى أصبح “القديم” غير ذي أهمية؟ لا شك أن مأزق التراث في الإسكندرية مرتبط بظروف المدينة الجغرافية والتخطيطية والاقتصادية، لكنني هنا سأقوم بالتركيز على التغيرات السياسية والديموغرافية الجسيمة التي طرأت على الإسكندرية (وعلى مصر بشكل عام) في أعقاب يوليو 1952 باعتبارها أحد الأسباب المباشرة وراء هذه التحولات

لقد كان العمران ولا يزال وسيلة هامة تم استخدامها في دعم الأنظمة السياسية بأساليب مختلفة عبر التاريخ. فمن يتحكم في شوارع المدينة وميادينها يستطيع أن يؤثر بالتالي بقوة في وجدان أهلها وذاكرتهم الجمعية بالشكل الذي يتوافق مع مصلحته. من يتحكم في عمران المدينة يتحكم بالتالي في قرار إقامة (أو إزالة) النصب التذكارية بما يتفق مع روايته المفضلة للتاريخ، ويملك آلية تغيير أسماء الشوارع والحارات والمحطات ومباني الخدمات العامة بأسماء الأشخاص والأحداث التي يريدها أن تبقى في الأذهان لكي يبني عليها شرعيته، ويملك القرار في اختيار ما هو جدير بالترميم والحفاظ من عمارة المدينة وما لا يستحق سوى الإهمال والتخريب، ويتحكم أيضا فيما يصح أولا يصح إقامته من طقوس أو احتفالات جمعية يمارسها سكان المدينة في حيزاتها العمرانية العامة. هذه السياسات التي تجمع ما بين التحكم فيما هو مادي ملموس وما هو معنوي غير ملموس تعمل في مجملها على تشكيل جوانب لا يمكن الاستهانة بها من المجال العام الذي يتفاعل من خلاله سكان المدينة، وبالتالي على تشكيل وجدانهم وهويتهم

وإذا تتبعنا التاريخ العمراني لمدينة الإسكندرية الحديثة منذ أن ازدهرت على يد الوالي محمد علي باشا وحتى اليوم، نستطيع أن نقسم هذا النوع من سياسات التعامل مع العمران الواعية لتفاعل “العمران-الذاكرة” إلى ثلاثة فترات تتزامن في الحقيقة مع التغيرات في الساحة السياسية المصرية. الحقبة الأولى هي حقبة الأسرة العلوية خاصة منذ عهد الخديو اسماعيل الذي كان أول من أقام تماثيل في الميادين العامة بالقاهرة والإسكندرية لترسخ تاريخ الأسرة في الحيزات العامة، فكان تمثال جده محمد علي باشا بميدان المنشية هو الأول من نوعه الذي يقام في مدينة تنتمي إلى العالم الإسلامي. ونستطيع أن نحلل طبيعة الصراعات السياسية المعقدة بين سلطة القصر وسلطة الاستعمار ونفوذ الجاليات الأجنبية وأيضا التيارات والأحزاب السياسية الفاعلة في ذلك الوقت (الذي ترسخت فيه الأفكار النهضوية والقومية المصرية) من خلال رصد وتحليل التماثيل والأضرحة وأسماء الشوارع والميادين في الإسكندرية

 أما الحقبة الثانية، وهي الحقبة الناصرية، فقد أولت اهتماما بالغا بهذا النوع من إدارة العمران، فحرصت على استبدال كل ما يمكن أن يذكّر أو يرمز إلى فترة حكم الأسرة العلوية بالمدينة برموز “ثورة يوليو” وما يدعم شرعيتها من أسماء وأحداث تاريخية. فأصبح النصب التذكاري «للخديو اسماعيل» هو نصب «الجندي المجهول» و«فكتوريا كوليدج» أصبحت «كلية النصر»، وميدان «محمد علي» أصبح ميدان «التحرير»، وشارع «توفيق» صار شارع «عرابي»، وهكذا. وصاغ نظام ناصر نسخة معدلة من التاريخ كانت المدينة نفسها وسيطا في ترسيخها لدى العامة ضمن مشروع محكم استهدف ذاكرة المصريين بذاكرة جديدة (أو “ذاكرة مضادة” كما يطلق عليها ميشيل فوكو). كما تسببت سياسات عبد الناصر الاشتراكية ذات المفهوم الضيق لفكرة الوطنية بشكل مباشر وغير مباشر في رحيل جماعي للجاليات ذات الأصول غير المصرية عن الإسكندرية، وفي المقابل توافدت على المدينة أعداد هائلة من سكان أقاليم مصر الأخرى، ومن ثم، ومع هذه التغيرات الديموغرافية المفاجئة، لم تتوفر الظروف المناسبة لنشأة تلك الأواصر التي تربط بين قطاعات كبيرة من سكان المدينة وبين حيزاتها العمرانية والتي لا تتحقق إلا عبر فترات زمنية طويلة من التفاعل المتبادل

أما الحقبة الثالثة التي امتدت منذ بداية السبعينيات وحتى بداية العقد الثاني من القرن الحادي والعشرين، فهي حقبة “الانفتاح” وشرعية “أكتوبر”، والتي اهتمت فيها السلطة لفترة وجيزة في السنوات الأولى لحكم السادات بفكرة الذاكرة والعمران أقامت أثنائها نصبا تذكاريا لحرب أكتوبر بميدان «الجمهورية» (محطة مصر سابقا)، وأزالت أو تعمدت اهمال بعض رموز الناصرية (مثل مبنى الاتحاد الاشتراكي الشهير) في سبيل تحقيق “ذاكرة مضادة” جديدة، قبل أن تفقد اهتمامها تماما بالفكرة، تاركة المدينة تتشكل بواسطة رؤوس الأموال الجديدة الوافدة على المدينة دون تدخل يذكر من الدولة التي زهدت أيضا في أفكار الحفاظ العمراني والتراث. ليبدأ وجه المدينة في التحول السريع الذي لم يتوقف لحظة حتى الآن

لقد تركت هذه السياسات المتناقضة أثرها البالغ على علاقة سكان الإسكندرية بمدينهم وشوارعها وعمارتها الفريدة. وزادت حدة المشكلات الاقتصادية وتعقيدات البحث عن الرزق من انصرافهم عن الاهتمام بشأن المدينة وتراثها. والسؤال الآن إذن كيف يمكن من الأصل أن يتم الحفاظ على أبنية تاريخية في مجتمع أغلبه قد لا يعتبرها تراثا يستحق الحفاظ بعد كل هذه التحولات السياسية والاجتماعية؟

لقد حققت بعض الجهود الداعية للحفاظ على تراث المدينة بعض المكاسب في العقد الأخير من القرن العشرين عندما حاول عدد قليل للغاية من المتخصصين أن يقفوا في وجه التحول العمراني، وعلى رأسهم جاء د. محمد عوض ليضع لأول مرة قائمة للتراث العمراني بالإسكندرية أتمها عام 1999، ونجح بعدها في اقناع محافظ المدينة بتطبيقها كقائمة للمباني المحظور هدمها في المدينة مستفيدا من قانون الحاكم العسكري في ذلك الوقت الذي حظر هدم “الفيلات التاريخية”. ثم أقرت الحكومة قانونا “للحفاظ على التراث المعماري” عام 2006 به ما يكفي من عقوبات (وثغرات) وتحددت بعده قائمة جديدة لتراث يحظر هدمها. فهل نجح كل ذلك في الحفاظ على “تراث” المدينة؟ لا شك أن هذه الإجراءات قد أبطأت بعض الشيء من وتيرة الهدم والتحول، لكنها لم توقفه بأي حال من الأحوال. لقد أثبتت التجربة أن القوانين مهما بلغت صرامتها لن تقنع أحدا بأن ما يمتلكه من مبان تاريخية هو تراث قيّم عليه أن يحافظ عليه ليبقى لأولاده وأحفاده. لقد هدمت مبان رائعة وهامة كانت مدرجة في القائمة الأولى وفي الثانية ولم يترك المُلاك والمستثمرون وسيلة أو حيلة أو ثغرة قانونية أو حجة دستورية أو ظرفا سياسيا استثنائيا إلا واستغلوه في هدم المزيد والمزيد من هذه المباني

الأمر إذن مرهون بأن يشعر سكان المدينة نفسهم مرة أخرى بقيمة هذا التراث الاجتماعية والثقافية والاقتصادية وبالتالي بتبعات خسارته. ومطلوب منا جميعا كمهتمين أو متخصصين أن نعمل على سد الفجوة بين سكان المدينة وتراثهم المفترض بكل السبل الممكنة. وعلينا أن نذكر أجهزة الدولة  بفداحة ماتسببت فيه سياسات الحقب الماضية وأنها الآن معنية - رغم ترهلها ومشكلاتها العاجلة والمزمنة - ببناء ودعم هذا الوعي إذا أرادت أن تحافظ على ما تبقى من المدن المصرية

Event: Protest at the Cairo Governorate 19 June 5pm


(scroll down for English)

القاهرة بتتهد…. القاهرة بتضيع

وقفة 19 يونيو 2013 بميدان عابدين

بيان صحفى

تدعوكم مجموعة إنقاذ القاهرة للمشاركة فى وقفة يوم الأربعاء 19 يونيو فى تمام الساعة الخامسة، أمام محافظة القاهرة، فى ميدان عابدين، إحتجاجا على التدمير الممنهج للتراث المعمارى للمدينة، وانتشار البناء بطريقة عشوائية فى جميع أحياء المدينة.

وتتسبب هذه الظاهرة في تبديد النسيج العمراني وفقدان مباني المدينة التاريخية. عانت القاهرة من سوء التخطيط على مدى عقود ووصلت لحالة من الفوضى التامة خلال العامين الماضيين، فنجد الأبراج الشاهقة غير الآمنة تنتشر بسرعة البرق فى الحارات الضيقة على حساب مستقبل مدينتنا وتاريخها.

تأتي هذه الوقفة كخطوة أولى للتعبير عن غضبنا نحن محبى القاهرة من ما يحدث في جميع احيائها، نحن مهتمون بالقاهرة ككل، ولكن وقفتنا اليوم تركز على ما وصلت إليه الأوضاع في القاهرة التاريخية.

تعد القاهرة التاريخية مثالاً حياً لتاريخ إنسانى متواصل، فقيمتها لاتكمن فقط فى عدد أثار هائل يتخلل نسيجها العمرانى المتماسك بل في إحتفاظها بروحها وحرفها وشوارعها وعاداتها وتقاليدها التي تحدث عنها المؤرخون. ولذا أدرجت منظمة اليونسكو القاهرة التاريخية كمدينة - وليس كمجموعة آثار متفرقة - ضمن قائمة التراث العالمي في عام 1979. ولكن للأسف يتم الآن تدمير النسيج العمراني لهذه المدينة القديمة التى سحرت كل زائريها على مدار العصور وأصبح وضعها على القائمة مهدد ومتوقع نقلها إلى قائمة المدن المهددة اذا استمر معدل الهدم والبناء العشوائي الحالي.

تتعرض القاهرة التاريخية اليوم لأضعاف ما تتعرض له باقي المدينة من تشويه. فعمليات الهدم الواسعة تصل أحيانا لهدم المباني المسجلة كآثار وكثيرا من المباني ذات الطراز المعماري المتميز. أما المباني حديثة الإنشاء فهى عبارة عن أبراج" يتخطى إرتفاعها إرتفاع مآذن مدينة الألف مأذنة" و يطغى عليها القبح. والأخطر من ذاك هو أن تلك الأبراج غير آمنة إنشائياً فهى كالقنابل الموقوتة تنتظر إنفجارها في أى وقت على رؤوس قاطنيها لتقتل البشر وتدمر الآثار التي حولها - مشاكل متوارثة ولكنها تفاقمت تحت الظروف التي نعيشها الآن بين الإنفلات الأمني والغياب التام لكل الجهات المنوط بها تنفيذ القوانين والتصدي للمخالفين، وكذلك جشع قلة من المواطنين وكثرة من المقاولين و تواطؤ أو اهمال مسؤولي الأحياء.ويضاف اليها ظاهرة سرقة الآثار التي استفحلت في الآونة الأخيرة.

وعلى ما تقدم فاننا نطالب محافظ القاهرة بالاتي:

أولا: تجميد تراخيص الهدم والبناء فى القاهرة التاريخية لمدة عام.

ثانيا: إزالة الادوار المخالفة ومنع منعا باتا من توصيل المرافق من ماء وكهرباء للعقارات المخالفة

ثالثا: تكوين غرفة عمليات يكون من اختصاصها:

  1. تقييم ودراسة الوضع الحالى.

  2. حصر المخالفات.

  3. تفعيل قوانين البناء والحفاظ واقتراح التعديلات إن لزم الأمر.

  4. إيجاد حلول عن طريق عملية تشاركية تشمل المجتمع المحلي والمجتمع المدنى وجميع الجهات المعنية.

رابعا: تطوير خطط طويلة المدى تهدف إلى تحسين الأوضاع المعيشية والاقتصادية بالأحياء التاريخية.


“Cairo is being demolished….Cairo is vanishing”

June 19th, 2013 Vigil in Abdin Square

Save Cairo Group calls upon you to participate in a stand next Wednesday, June 19h, 2013 at 5:00 pm in front of Cairo Governorate in Abdin Square to protest against the organized destruction of the citys’ architectural heritage and the ongoing random and often illegal construction plaguing all its neighborhoods. This phenomenon is a basis for eliminating Cairos’ urban fabric and losing its historic buildings for ever. Cairo has been suffering from bad planning for quite some time, but during these last two years, it has reached a state of complete chaos. We witness unsafe tall building towers mushrooming rapidly in its narrow alleyways at the expense of our city and its history. This stand is a necessary first step to express our anger and anguish, we Cairenes, feel towards what’s happening throughout the whole of Historic Cairo. We care about the entire city but our stand today is focused on the miserable state of affairs in Historic Cairo.


Historic Cairo is a living organism providing a continuum of human history, civilization and habitat. Its value does not only lie in the wealth and sheer number of monuments within a sophisticated urban fabric, but also its common ethos, its traditional arts and crafts, its streets and alleyways and its norms and traditions that have amazed travellers and historians alike. Hence Historic Cairo was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1979 due to its irreplaceable urban fabric and not only its monuments. Sadly, this unique urban fabric is currently being destroyed by the minute to the point where UNESCO has threatened to move it to the list of cities under threat if the rate demolishing its old buildings and construction of new “ugly” replacements doesn’t halt immediately.


Historic Cairo is under severe attack compared to the rest of the city as large scale demolition often reaches registered monuments and many older buildings with exquisite architectural styles. They are replaced by newly erected menacing towers that belittle the elegant minarets of “the city of 1000 minarets”. More importantly, these towers are often structurally unsafe which transforms them into dangerous timed bombs ready to explode and kill inhabitants as well as destroy priceless buildings in their vicinity.  These are some of the inherent problems of Historic Cairo which are accentuated now by the appalling lack of security and the total dysfunction of pertinent government bodies mandated with the responsibility of implementing the laws and dealing with its offenders. Also, greed of a minority of citizens and a majority of contractors coupled with neglect or connivance of government officials as well as the increasingly systematic looting of Cairos’ monuments have become malignant problems.


Therefore we, Save Cairo Group, demand the following from the Egyptian Government represented by the Cairo Governor:

I. Freeze the issuing of all building and demolition permits in Historic Cairo for one year.

II. Immediate demolition of extra stories and abstention from supplying new buildings with their utilities.

III. Create an Operation Room to mandate the following:

1. Evaluate and study the current situation. 2. Survey building violations.

3. Implement construction and preservation laws and make amendments if necessary.

4. Finding plausible solutions through a participatory process that involves local communities, civil society and any other relevant party.

IV. Develop a long term plan to enhance the living conditions of historic Cairo through reviving its economy.

Destruction Alert: historic gate demolished with official approval


This week a gate that belonged to a large residential complex, which was already demolished, was bulldozed with the permission of authorities. The demolition has caused outrage and protest by concerned citizens. The gate appears to date from sometime between the mid-18th century to the early 19th century and was located on Bab al Wazir Street in the heart of historic Cairo’s Darb el Ahmar district. The building was once the home of Egypt’s grand Mufti (1921-1928). The demolition comes at a time when the heart of historic Cairo has been continuously under assault losing entire historic houses (typically three stories) which have been replaced by taller, higher density modern apartment blocks as tall as 8-10 stories. Domestic architecture, no matter how old, is rarely registered as monument, which means that the primary elements of historic districts such as Darb el Ahmar are extremely vulnerable in the face of real estate speculation, typically within the informal economy sector which involves paying large sums by the developers to the authorities in order to turn a blind eye to their building frenzy.

Mohamed Abdelaziz, the official responsible for the development of historic Cairo project at the antiquities ministry, deflected the news by arguing that the gate was of no historic significance and that the demolition was completely legal. This incident raises several persistent questions which have not been confronted regarding Cairo’s urban development particularly in historic areas.


[The destroyed gate which was already vandalized by election posters for Islamist candidates including the current president. Photo by Ahmed Hamed via]

The most pressing question is WHO in Egypt today determines what counts as heritage/patrimony and who decides on the categories? There are multiple governmental bodies responsible for different and often overlapping kinds of heritage often governed by outdated rigid categories which often have orientalist or colonial origin. For example, the vast and vague category of “Islamic Architecture”: What is and what is not “Islamic” architecture? This gate was determined undeserving of protection because it was not “registered as an Islamic monument.” In fact the decorative motifs seen in this gate can be found in many residential structures from that period and they often go undocumented and dismissed because they do not easily fit into 19th century categories of Mamluk, Ottoman, Fatimid, etc. There are house gates with floral motifs, others with faces carved above the portal and others with letters or family symbols. Such diversity and architectural individuality do not interest the official institution of antiquities (governed by dated art historical categories imposed from elsewhere), because these houses are/were part of the everyday and often belonged to families with no notable members. Spaces of the everyday, even if centuries old and well-built and expressing innovative building craft, are not part of the record.

But even buildings which were listed have not benefited from their listing and are often neglected, undeveloped, and un-restored. With few exceptions such as the Aga Khan project for Darb el Ahmar, there has been no comprehensive urban development plan for historic areas that take economy into account. Listed buildings, under current laws, are economic burdens on their owners who are highly restricted from benefiting financially from their valuable property by perhaps acquiring permits for renovations or adapting them to new uses. Thus, even listed buildings are often intentionally damaged by their owners in order to qualify for a demolition permit and often architects and engineers working for the state bureaucracy assist owners in destroying their own properties for a fee, knowing that once the property is freed of its heritage building it can be developed with profitable real estate. It is shameful that over a decade into the twenty-first century a country like Egypt and a city like Cairo, which had and continues to have a high density of historic structures waiting to be adapted and incorporated into an urban economy, there is yet to emerge a sufficient system to deal with this heritage properly. Lack of imagination and corruption in peacetime are causing damage to Cairo’s urban heritage at a rate that could only be matched by a natural disaster or war. Indeed images of damaged listed buildings such as Villa Casdagli (oddly registered as an Islamic Monument), resemble war damage. State institutions responsible for that listed building have not moved to respond to that damage not least to erect a fence around the property five months after its destruction.

It is important to note that major buildings which were listed were demolished with official permission in recent months. Last month Cinema Rialto, one of Alexandria’s landmark cinemas disappeared over night.

Thus, listing is not the primary issue regarding the demolition of the Darb el Ahmar gate, since listed buildings face a similarly uncertain fate.


[The emerging skyline of the once historic Darb el Ahmar district as seen from Azhar Park]

The other issue presented by this latest catastrophe is the persistent question of adaptive reuse: Why were the wall and gate not incorporated into a new structure? such practices have a long history in Cairo as ancient as the city itself. Buildings and parts of buildings have been continuously incorporated into new structures for centuries. Across historic Cairo an observant eye will pick out fragments of ancient buildings incorporated into subsequent structures creating a sense of layering and richness which makes the historic city so exciting. However, for such practices to take place today two elements are fundamental: (1) an overall vision and policy that encourages the adaptive reuse of buildings or architectural fragments, and (2) the necessary technique and design practice needed to consult the construction of new buildings containing existing fragments. What is needed is a serious exploration of the possibilities that lie between total annihilation approach and the “open air museum” approach to historic urban areas.

The demolitions of this gate and of many other historic structures across the country are often “legal.” Legality here merely connotes that developers acquired the needed permissions in exchange for a hefty “gift” to local officials, municipal engineers and police officers.

Finally, to conclude, the unnecessary demolition of this gate is an occasion to shame some of the incompetent institutions responsible for Cairo’s urban environment: Shame on the so-called National Organization for Urban Harmony. Shame on the Governorate of Cairo. Shame on the Ministry of Antiquities. Shame on the Ministry of Culture. Shame on the Awqaf Ministry. Shame on the Ministry of Housing. All the above institutions have a track record of failure and mediocrity dominated by corruption and cronyism. All these bureaucracies have together failed to emerge with a vision for the protection and development of Egypt’s historic urban centers in ways that save heritage, allow for social continuity (no evictions) and economic prosperity.

SUMMER SCHOOL in CAIRO 15-26 June 2013: The tangible and intangible Heritage of Downtown Cairo


A visible City: The tangible and intangible Heritage of Downtown Cairo

SUMMER SCHOOL in CAIRO 15-26 June 2013

APPLY NOW! until the 10th of May

Get in touch with the real DOWNTOWN
Discover (your) CAIRO
Learn how to recognize a plan typology
Learn about oral history methods
Learn how to deal with interviews
Eat the best chocolate dates in town
Produce the first architectural guide of Downtown
Work in an intercultural/intergender group
Get in touch with other students
Listen to the most updated researchers

> 10 students from Germany from the faculties of Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning, Landscape architecture.
> 10 students from the Architecture and Urban Design Program of the German University in Cairo (GUC).
> 8 students from Cairo from the faculties of Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning, Landscape architecture. Particular attention will be given to choose students from different Universities.

Students who already completed the fourth semester of Architecture, Urban Planning or Landscape Architecture studies.
With a short cv, a letter of motivation and a selection of three previous projects (6 pages A4, pdf-file, max.10 MB). It is not mandatory that the projects are related to architecture. Language of the application is English.
Please send your application via email to:
Deadline is the 10th of May 2013.
The selected participants will be informed at beginning of May.
Join us on facebook: summer school_DOWNTOWN
The grants will cover flight costs and accommodation for the 10 students coming from Germany. Infrastructure and food for all students will be assured. All students will work both at the GUC Campus and on field.

The summer school aims at raising awareness for the tangible and intangible heritage of Downtown Cairo, initiating and reinforcing the link between students, academics and inhabitants towards the histories and the built heritage of the old quarter of Ismaelia. This link will reinforce the feeling of proud towards the city, which is the necessary basis for any action of maintenance and restoration.
In mixed groups, students will implement schematic plans of the standard floor of different buildings; analysing it and classifying them in typologies. At the same time, they will interview the inhabitants, to collect their histories related to the buildings. A guide on the tangible and intangible heritage of Downtown will be published.

> German University Cairo – GUC
Prof. Barbara Pampe, architect
Prof. Vittoria Capresi, architect

> University of Stuttgart, D
Prof. Arno Lederer, architect
Carla Schwarz, architect
Leonie Weber, architect

> DAAD (Cairo University) / German Archaeological Institute DAI, Cairo
Ralph Bodenstein

> Alia Mossallam, historian

> Studio Matthias Görlich
Matthias Görlich, graphic designer

and the participation of :
> Ahmed el Bindari, CULTNAT, Cairo
> Omar Nagati, CLUSTER, Cairo
> Xenia Nikolskaya, Freelance Photograph, Cairo
> Yasmine El Dorghamy, Al Rawi, Egypt Heritage Review, Cairo
> Karim Ibrahim, Takween Integrated Community Development, Cairo
> May al-Ibrashy, Megawra, Cairo
> Mohamed Elshahed, Cairobserver, Cairo

Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments
German Archaeological Institute – DAI, Cairo
DAAD Cairo
Takween Integrated Community Development, Cairo

The Summer School is initialised and organised by the Architecture and Urban Design Program of the German University Cairo GUC in cooperation with the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University Stuttgart and fully financed by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.


Destruction Alert: Villa Casdagli


On the first of February the long-abandoned and unused Villa Casdagli on Simon Bolivar Sq. was looted and its staircase was set on fire. The following day I visited the building after reading news that it was “burned to the ground” and found the fire department finishing its job in controlling the isolated fire. The building was standing strong but it had been stripped of any removable valuable ornamentation, or as the fire department officer called it, the building was “peeled.”  What happened at Villa Casdagli is hardly something new nor does it have anything to do with revolution or the “security vacuum.” Historic buildings, particularly those from the 19th and 20th centuries have fallen victim to organized looting, vandalism and even official cover for their subsequent demolition by people as high up in the state as previous prime ministers (directly requesting the removal of buildings from heritage lists). Following this particular incident there has been no official response from the state and its institutions responsible while the most visible response from the cultured elite has been one of despair.

The latest incident at Villa Casdagli reveals the failures of the state in safeguarding and capitalizing on heritage as well as the failures of Egypt’s heritage society to take a leading role in creating awareness, creating proposals and offering alternatives to the fate of Egypt’s modern heritage and most importantly in making the heritage issue relevant to a wider audience outside the privileged few. Also, the incident makes certain the failure of Egypt’s professional cadre of engineers and architects who have not developed the professional environment and practices that prepare them to handle such heritage buildings regardless of their state in order to bring them back to life.


[As the burned and discolored plaster surface peels away it reveals a new modern, clean stone wall. This building is ready for a new life.]

The villa, which was built in 1910, under all the ornamentation, plaster, gilded frames, and wood floors is a masonry structure built with brick, stone and the floors and ceilings are of iron and concrete, hence it was little damaged structurally in the latest snafu.

The building had recently received some journalistic attention for its apparent neglect and need for restoration. Hidden behind trees, the villa had gone unnoticed to unknowing pedestrians until clashes in Tahrir Square spread to the nearby Simon Bolivar Sq. and led to the subsequent erection of a second wall on that square blocking off the street leading to parliament (the first wall was already erected blocking the street leading to the US embassy). The erection of the second wall had turned this important junction into a dead end and pedestrians had to get around the wall to go to their work in the area which led pedestrians to cut through the garden of the villa to jump its wall to make their way around the obtrusive obstacle course of walls. This was an unintended consequence of the road block wall, but it made the villa accessible and visible.

Of course not everyone was unaware of the building, it had been eyed for renovation, potentially paid for with a $5 million USAID grant to transform it into Cairo’s first Institute for Museology.

Government bureaucracy and conflict between the ministries of antiquities and education (the former tenant of the building until around 1999) delayed any possible progress in the status of the building which continued to be vacant and unused.

Then suddenly there was a night of renewed clashes on the last day of January during which a truck was loaded with large gilded frames, marble fireplace mantles, and extremely heavy ironwork that once lined windows and balconies. By morning the clashes had magically ended and the villa was “peeled.” This isn’t the first of its kind, the Villa Ispenian in Haram was given the same treatment recently. Looted items end up on the market for antique dealers and much of it ends up outside the country where it can be sold for a higher price. Whatever wasn’t removable was vandalized but with the exception of the staircase the building survived intact. Apparently the Education Ministry already has some kind of report of the incident.

Now what?

This isn’t about this particular building, rather this recent incident could have been an opportunity for all those involved and those interested in heritage to raise pertinent issues that have been needing resolution for years: Why are such buildings, particularly those in state ownership and use, allowed to sit unused and allowed to deteriorate? How can the state capitalize on the historical and heritage value of this real estate? What is wrong with the current laws and regulations regarding heritage/historic buildings particularly those from the 19th century to the present? What are some proposals for legislation that could remedy the situation and save what is left and what are the benefits and who benefits? Villa Casdagli could be a visible and easy to understand illustration of why these are important questions to raise as part of a wider conversation that brings in a wider audience beyond the small group of heritage enthusiasts.

Additionally, once the fate of the building is saved from a potential demolition permit, the work should be carried out by a local firm, one that demonstrates that Egyptian practices are ready and capable of carrying out such work. Often such projects go to international architecture firms, denying Egyptian firms from building a portfolio of successful experiences of renovations/conservations of modern heritage buildings. One such local company more than ready to do this work is Takween, a group of talented young architects and planners who have experience working in Egypt in various contexts and with heritage sites.

This building was a victim not of the latest clashes, but of thirteen years of neglect following forty years of misuse. There is a cause here that needs to be perused regarding Egypt’s modern heritage buildings, but this cause will only be advanced if activists and heritage enthusiasts jump on an opportunity such as this to highlight the problem to a wider audience and to offer alternatives and make more people dream about the potential of these properties and their significance to the economy, to history, etc.

The building lost some of its decorative elements, but that hardly means it is “destroyed.” Think of post-WWII European cities, they were destroyed, and they have been rebuilt like new, some tourists never realize that many of the seemingly medieval city squares and surrounding buildings are in fact fifty year-old reconstructions. So, no one should put their hands up in despair because we lost a wooden staircase and some mirrors. With $5 million, if that money is still available, this building could provide a much needed institution such as an Institute for Museology, but it could also provide an excellent case study in architectural conservation in Cairo.



Destruction Alert: Villa Ispenian


Last month a historic villa from the early twentieth century with unique architectural eclecticism and which was filled with antiques and a rich art collection was looted and destroyed. Below is an article by Nevine El-Aref which first appeared on Al-Ahram Weekly on February 8, 2013.

Safe as houses? Not under the MSA

The luxuriously furnished villa of Kevork Ispenian on the Pyramids Road was looted and destroyed despite being on Egypt’s heritage list. Nevine El-Aref mourns the early 20th century edifice

At the Giza Plateau end of the Pyramids Road, near the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, the neo-Islamic villa of Kevork Ispenian stands wretchedly, its Mamluk and Ottoman features revealing the extent of the damage to this beautiful, historic house.

The destruction is over; the house stands in ruins. The garden, once laid out with an immaculate lawn and decorated with rare species of plants and trees and graced by a ceramic mosaic fountain, is now embellished with lumps of limestone and fallen bricks; littered with Mamluk mashrabeya (wooden lattice work) that formerly covered the windows and balustrades. Rubble and rubbish are scattered over the ground among the dead trees and palm trunks.

The house itself is in no better condition; on the contrary it is in a terrible state. Heaps of rubble and sand are piled on the floors, making it hard to tread on and walk through the rooms. Parts of the walls and decorated marble rails and slabs were scattered all around, while wooden doors engraved with foliage and geometrical decorations and beautiful mosaics that once decorated the arcades are broken and missing.

“What a loss!” Ahmad Al-Bindari, a researcher and photographer at the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT), told Al-Ahram Weekly sadly. He went on to say that the villa, constructed and designed by architect Charles Aznavour in 1935 as a rest house or weekend retreat for the Armenian father and son team of Kevork and Paul Ispenian, both collectors, was a great piece of heritage and its loss was tragic.

As befitted the house of collectors, several Mamluk and Ottoman artefacts, including those belonging to French architect Ambroise Baudry, were woven within its interiors. Baudry moved in 1871 to Egypt where he spent 15 years, during which he received many commissions, both private and royal. He constructed the Matatia edifices at Ataba in Downtown Cairo, which was demolished during the 1990s. In 1873 Baudry was given responsibility for the decoration of the interior of the salamlik (men’s quarters), the façade and the marble staircase of Khedive Ismail’s palace in Giza.

Baudry built a very distinguished residential villa for himself in Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Street in Downtown Cairo, which he decorated with authentic Mamluk and Ottoman artefacts. By the turn of the 20th century, Ispenian had bought Baudry’s genuine collection along with others when all the villas in Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Street were demolished and replaced with huge apartment buildings as part of a plan to convert the area into a commercial and residential zone.

According to Al-Bindari, the Ispenian Villa stayed in the possession of the Armenian family until the 1960s when it was then sold to the Abdel-Nour family, who in their turn sold it to the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA), now the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA). Meanwhile, the house contents were put on Egypt’s Islamic and Coptic Heritage List after that the house was abandoned. The doors were sealed in red wax, meaning that it was forbidden to enter and whoever stepped inside and removed the wax would be subjected to the law.

“I used to visit the house every now and then, but I have only seen it from the outside,” Al-Bindari told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that during his tour of office he had grown fond of the house and its distinguished architectural elements, and had even invited his friends to come so he could show them its wonderful design. “But sometimes the wind doesn’t blow the way we want,” he said. Last spring, when Bendari went for his usual visit, he found the Ispenian Villa was not the one he used to admire. The iron gate lay on the floor, broken in two pieces. The structure was partially demolished, and the house and garden were a total mess and in the worst possible condition.

Al-Bindari was told that the house, like many other monuments and archaeological sites in Egypt, had been looted during the January 2011 Revolution when security in the country was almost non-existent. However, he told the Weekly that there was no way of knowing for certain what had happened or how the destruction had come about.

“Whoever stole the contents knew what he was doing,” Al-Bindari insisted. “It was systematic. Everything from the ornamented roof, the ornamental screens, the marble floors and even a historic column supporting the balcony have been stolen. They took their time and took everything apart.”

Bendari pointed out that the condition of the villa was not unusual by any standards. “These things happen all the time because of negligence,” he said.

So what did happen to the villa? Why was it possible for it to be subjected to so much looting and destruction? Is it the property of the antiquities department or not? If so, where is the new antiquities law and its amendment? Why is it not being implemented? One of the law’s articles is one that prohibits any encroachment and destruction of archeological sites and a prison term for offenders.

Mohamed Abdel-Rehim, head of the Islamic and Coptic monuments section, told the Weekly in a telephone interview that the building was not on the Egyptian antiquities list and that the villa was still owned by Abdel-Nour family. It was not a historic house which must come under the jurisdiction of the Historic Buildings law affiliated to the Giza governorate, nor did it come under the antiquities law or the MSA. He insisted that the building was not a listed monument.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Ahmed Taha, an inspector at the Giza section of the MSA, laid all the blame for neglecting the building on the Tourist and Antiquities Police (TAP), who failed to protect the house even though there is TAP station not 10 metres from the Ispenian Villa. He also said that during the tenure of former MSA minister Zahi Hawass there was a project to convert the historic villa into a museum for Islamic art, but no steps were taken to implement the plan. Taha’s statements are verified by an MSA official, who required anonymity. The official said that the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Bab Al-Khalk was stored in the Ispenian Villa while the museum was under lengthy restoration. Some objects from this collection are now on display in the MIA while others were transported to MSA storage rooms in the Salaheddin Citadel.

Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic monuments in the archaeology department at Cairo University, who was the MSA consultant for Islamic monuments during the Hawass tenure, also supports Taha’s statements. He says the house is an MSA property and should come under the new antiquities law and its amendments.

The empty 30 feddan plot neighbouring the Ispenian Villa is owned by former minister of tourism Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, who was willing to sell it to the MSA for a mega development project.

As a member of the committee who was in charge of the project, Kasabani said that the whole site in this prime area overlooking the Giza Plateau was earmarked to be transformed into a resort for tourists. It would include a small museum of Islamic art, a motel, bazaars selling replicas and souvenirs, a cafeteria and a bookstore for archaeology and art books. A parking area and a cinema would be also built as part of the complex. However, Kasabani said that regrettably the revolution had put the plan into jeopardy and it had been abandoned. The villa, he went on, was looted during the revolution and some of the mashrabeya and the mosaic fountain that once decorated the garden were missing.

“The current government and the MSA don’t care enough about Egypt’s history and its culture,” Kasabani told the Weekly. He added that a few months ago a contractor damaged the Ottoman warehouse and grist-mill of Madash-Merza in Boulaq Abul-Ela, and that even though he was caught red-handed he was set at large with a fine of only LE500. This contractor, he said, returned to Madash-Merza and resumed the demolition, and nobody moved a finger to save this great Ottoman monument, not even the MSA. Now he had built the first floor of his new building. What made things worse, Kasabani pointed out, was that all antiquities crimes were no longer prosecuted under the new antiquities law and its amendments which had priority on the court roll. Instead, they came under the usual criminal law, according to which a case can take years to be solved.

Kasabani suggests that to protect and rescue Egypt’s cultural and antiquities heritage, the MSA might be converted into an Independent Egyptian Authority affiliated directly to the president’s office rather than a ministry within the government echelon.

Landmark: Tiring Department Store

tiring building

Visible slightly to the north from the narrow overpass that links Opera Square to Azhar Street is a corner building with four kneeling Atlas statues lifting a glass globe. This was the Tiring Department Store, one of Cairo’s many houses of early twentieth century shopping and consumption of modern goods.

The store was founded in 1910 by Victor Tiring, an Austrian merchant born in Istanbul who specialized in Turkish tailoring. The Tiring family had built its first store in Vienna in 1882. The building was designed by Oscar Horowitz, a Czech architect who studied in Vienna and who designed similar shopping destinations within the Austro-Hungarian sphere. The Tiring Store in Cairo was completed in 1912 and when it opened it was the city’s premier shopping destination for imported luxury goods. With the events of World War I, the British occupation in Egypt had deemed all Austrians and Hungarians as enemies and forced their departure from Egypt. The Tiring department store was only in business for few years and its business was interrupted due to pressure from the colonial administration which forced it into liquidation by 1920.

The five-story building was designed with open floors and an airy feel fit for modern shopping and it would eventually become the desired property by other department store owners but complications due to ownership led to it being abandoned. Shortly after the demise of the short-lived Tiring, the building became home to squatters, primarily small-business and workshops who set up shop in its vast floors. It has been used since by a variety of people for a variety of activities, there was a bar, a mosque, full-time residents, clothing workshops and a cafe occupying the building at one time.


This is the story of many buildings, perhaps hundreds in Cairo and other cities. At first it may appear that the main obstacle confronting any effort to save Tiring building is related to ownership. However, another building not far away, fronting Opera Square and the remaining parcel of Azbakeya Garden is the former Continental Hotel which is also occupied by small workshops informally, yet it is owned by the state. Other buildings around downtown and the surrounding districts have been undergoing a process for decades aimed at intentionally removing links to original owners. Those were the properties of owners who fled the country, were forced out either by the British or subsequent regimes, or properties where heirs immigrated and entrusted the property to a lawyer or anyone who later illegally sold it to themselves and obscured links to the original owners. This has led to legal disputes and often buildings have been “frozen” with no one to claim them as their own and thus they fall for squatters or idle eternally. What I am trying to argue, the Tiring Building brings attention to the legal dimension complicating the potential regeneration, maintenance and reuse of such properties. And this calls for a legal framework and carefully drafted policy.

The Tiring Building was built a century ago, yet it was used by its original owner for its intended use for less than a decade. Despite this, it has become part of the urban heritage of Cairo and its iconic Atlases and glass globe have become a landmark referenced in works of art, literature and seen in film. The building, and others like it, is part of Cairo’s cityscape and it presents us with a challenge of dealing with its complicated history, ownership issues, accommodate/legalize its current users, maintain its architectural heritage, make it economically sustainable and make it accessible to the public.

The building should also be seen in its urban and social context. It sits at a unique location linking old and new Cairo and near Attaba Square where other key buildings such as the fire department and the original post office stand. Near by is the Attaba vegetable market, one of downtown’s central markets, and surrounding streets are bustling with commercial activity. There is massive potential in this area to organize, develop, accommodate current commercial activities while diversifying the uses and users by inserting new ones. However, the scale of needed development in Cairo’s central districts needs new strategies that move beyond the approach of focusing on individual buildings and seeking the needed funds to restore them without considering their relationship to context and their potential new uses. Many of the historic buildings which have been restored by the state following this approach have sat empty for years or have been transformed into “cultural centers” where no real activity takes place.

The Tiring Building is desperately screaming for attention for the entire district to be revitalized in cooperation with its current users. However, with the current governance structure which does not align with community structures in the city there will be no revitalization. Communities in Cairo are full of buildings around which the various districts can develop, whether the Sakakini Palace in Sakakini or the Tiring Building in Attaba, those buildings can act as the starting point in a community-driven, government-led approach that integrates buildings of historic significance with the communities that live in and around them in ways that protect the architectural heritage, stimulate economic development and provide new opportunities. Such efforts need sound policy and such policy needs to build on a political structure that empowers communities rather than treat them as mere squatters to be removed.

tiring building

Take a coffee with your heritage!

Bottom up approach to communicate heritage: a project in Downtown Cairo


How would it be possible to link the everyday users of the historical city with the tangible values of the building heritage?

Downtown Cairo is the district developed under the Khedive Ismail at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The city plan was inspired by the streets and squares pattern introduced by Haussmann in Paris, and several European (and Egyptian) architects built palaces and apartment buildings using a rich stylistic vocabulary. Nowadays Downtown is the main lively heart of the city, hosting small shops, offices, houses, cafes and restaurants in a complex social, religious and functional equilibrium. A general lack of regulations regarding how to deal with the heritage and an old rental system are the main reasons for the neglect of the architecture and numerous demolitions of the old Ismaelia buildings. Some studies and projects started surveying and analysing the architecture and the intangible heritage (oral histories) of Downtown, but the main problem still remain the lack of interactions and communication between these scientific works and the inhabitants of the historical buildings:

The first step for the conservation is knowledge.

This project has the main purpose to start and encourage the communication between specialists and inhabitants in both directions, developing and supporting the awareness of everybody towards the architecture of Downtown. The coffee shop in Mohamed Mahmoud Street was selected to introduce small modification in the objects of daily use with a corporate design based on images of buildings and information about Downtown. It becomes the location for activities related to the architecture of the area. On the other hand, the project team is collecting the memories and stories of the inhabitants related to the places to document and to share the link between the tangible and the intangible heritage of Downtown.


The Downtown project is initiated by Vittoria Capresi and Barbara Pampe - Architecture and Urban Design Program GUC - and financed by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.

More info:

UPDATE November 22, 2012: The launch event on November 27th has been canceled.

UPDATE December 13, 2012: “Take a coffee with your heritage” launches TODAY!


Athar Lina: connecting people with heritage

Whose Monument: Participatory Design Project for Monument-Street Buffer Zones

A collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities and the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute. The project is a series of workshops, debates and meetings to discuss the relationship between the monument and the surrounding neighborhood, the entities responsible for it and those with a vested interest in it or even those inconvenienced by it. We discuss who owns it, who protects it and improves it and who puts it at risk. The objective is to provide a environment of communication of the different points of view of the three main stakeholders: residents, government and civil society. 

In participatory design all stakeholders are involved in the decision making process in all its details and stages. This is to narrow the gap between the monument and the community and allow it to assume ownership of the monument and to protect it through use. 

This general issue is discussed through a specific case-study; the monument-street buffer zone and in a specific area; al-Khalifa Street between the mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun and the shrine of al-Sayyida Nafisa.

The project consists of five phases, to find out more details visit the project website.