The following is an excerpt from David Sims’ Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City out of Control
Cairo as History
The single strongest pull in the imaging of Cairo is probably the city’s historical dimension. And Cairo certainly has a lot of history, over four thousand years of it if Memphis and Giza pyramids are considered part of the city, and over one thousand years even if Cairo’s history is considered to have begun only in the Fatimid era. In fact, it could be said that there is a whole industry, curiously dominated by American and French scholars, which looks just at Islamic Cairo. It even seems sometimes that the most important commentator on Cairo is the fourteenth-century chronicler and urban observer Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Maqrizi.
It is worth remembering that, although Cairo certainly has a proud historic past, at present the parts of the city that can be considered historic (that is, those that existed at the time of the French occupation in 1798) represent only a minuscule fraction of the whole. Currently the population of these areas does not exceed 350,000 persons, or 2 percent of Greater Cairo’s total of over seventeen million inhabitants. It should be added that the population of these small areas continues to decline, and if the government has its way, historic Cairo will soon become a sterile open-air museum with little else but theme-park embellishments and tourist shops.
Although historic Cairo is now an almost insignificant part of the modern metropolis, Cairo as history seems to trump the literature. In the last fifteen years three substantial books have appeared that look specifically at Cairo—Andre Raymond’s Cairo: City of History (published in 1993 in French, and in 2001 in English), Max Rodenbeck’s Cairo: The City Victorious (1998), and Maria Golia’s Cairo: City of Sand (2004). Each tries to see the city as a whole, and each includes descriptions of contemporary Cairo. Yet in each the historical emphasis is at the forefront, if not overwhelming.
Raymond’s book is the most historic, devoting only one chapter of some thirty pages to Cairo’s development over the 1936 to 1992 period. And this chapter is predictably named “The Nightmares of Growth.” It concentrates on “galloping population growth,” wholesale urban expansion on precious agricultural land, and “frenetic growth” of what had been genteel neighborhoods, the “near-paralysis of traffic,” and deplorable infrastructure services. Raymond devotes only two pages to the phenomenon of informal or spontaneous settlements around Cairo, which flourish “without the help of any planning, in agricultural areas that one would wish to preserve,” focusing instead on laments for the decline of the historic quarters and the ugliness of recent architecture. Raymond seems to see nothing good in recent developments, implying that his “city of history” is losing its soul. He concludes:
But Cairo risks becoming an ordinary city, another example of the vast conurbations proliferating throughout the world…the population threat is still present, poised to sweep away the fragile barriers that technicians and politicians have managed to erect to direct its flow. In the past demographic growth has been an asset to Egypt, giving it power, prestige, and authority. Today it is a mortal danger. Cairo long played the part of safety valve for Egypt’s population growth. Tomorrow it could be its detonator.
This gloomy assessment was published in 1992, when Greater Cairo had just eleven million inhabitants. Today it has over seventeen million and is still nowhere near detonating.
Max Rodenbeck’s book on Cairo is also unabashedly historical, and the first two-thirds present a very readable and insightful historical time-line that starts in earnest with the Arab conquest of Egypt in AD 640 and the establishment of al-Fustat. The last third of the book covers modern Cairo since the 1952 Revolution, going through the rule of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, and focusing on Egypt’s changing fortunes and social dynamics and how they played out in Cairo. Religion and fundamentalism, political games, bloated bureaucracy, foreign aid, riots, Sufi mulids, coffee houses, class hierarchies, the hopeless education system, garbage and the zabbalin, song and film, are all subjects for observation. Cairene kindliness, stoicism, humor, and wit in the face of economic stagnation and chaos rightfully claim pride of place. Rodenbeck offers few generalizations, but he does sit back and muse, quite accurately: “On the surface Cairo’s ways of coping seem hopelessly tangled and sclerotic. They can be maddening…By and large, though, the city’s mechanisms work…In richer cities formal structures, rules, and regulations channel a smooth flow of things. In Cairo informal structures predominate.”
Rodenbeck never completely abandons the historic take on the city, even when discussing modern facets. He is clever at intertwining the old with the new. Thus Nasser’s autocracy is compared with that of the Mamluks, modern Cairo’s cavalier attitude to garbage is compared to a similar pharaonic nonchalance, today’s rampant bribery is compared to legal knavery recorded on tomb reliefs from the New Kingdom as well as to medieval Cairo’s corrupt judges and bribed witnesses, and present-day funeral obsequies are compared to both the pharaonic and Islamic preoccupation with death. These comparisons might help provide continuity in a take on Cairo that is more or less biographical, but it does not in itself explain how modern Cairo grows and works. For example, although the book was published in 1998 when almost half the city could be considered informal, the phenomenon of informal urban development and its ascendancy in Cairo’s landscape is hardly mentioned, except in a quote from Asef Bayat on the informal city’s style of “quiet encroachment” and a reference to the “higgledy-piggledy burrows of Bulaq al Dakrur.” To Rodenbeck, as to many other observers, the hard life of the poor is found in an amorphous geographic landscape called “the Popular Quarters,” which combine new informal Cairo with older tenement and historic areas.
Maria Golia’s book is less historic than either Rodenbeck’s or Raymond’s. In the preface she poses the question: “Some of us wonder, watching Cairo teeter between a barely functional glide and an irretrievable nosedive, what keeps this plane in the air?..How and why, given some of the most grueling, incongruous conditions imaginable, Cairo retains its allure and its people their sanity.” She aims at looking at “Cairo’s broader present moment, its giddy equilibrium and unfolding contemporary nature,” pursuing lines of inquiry about Cairo’s millions and their “grace under pressure.” Golia bravely tries to do just that, but even so, she also cannot avoid the historical spin. One of her five chapters is devoted entirely to the city’s history, and references such as “the arc of fourteen centuries” pepper the text.
At one point Golia asks “Perhaps today’s greatest riddle is not so much ‘where is Cairo headed?’ as ‘where is Cairo at all?’ Is it in the old quarters, or the remnants of belle époque downtown, or in the new middle-class areas on the west bank, or in the satellite cities of the desert? Or is the real Cairo to be found in the myriad hovels in which most of the people actually live?” Except for her pejorative and incorrect descriptions of informal Cairo as a collection of hovels, this is a good question! Unfortunately she doesn’t really answer it, except to ask another question, which turns back to history: “Does a collective hallucination sustain the image of an ancient and venerable city when it is in fact disfigured with slums and crass consumerism?”
Even Janet Abu-Lughod, who describes the orientation of her well-known 1971 book on Cairo as “social and contemporary rather than historical and architectural,” seems unable to escape from being partly tied down by a thousand years of history. Over one-third of her book is devoted to the Islamic and Khedivial city, up to roughly the time of the First World War. However, the rest of the book investigates the formation and growth of the “contemporary city,” which roughly covers the 1920 to 1960 period.
[Mahmoud Riad and his graduating class at Cairo University, 1927.]
It maybe about time for the canon of the history of modern architecture to include an Egyptian architect from the modernist period. And if one Egyptian architect from that period is to be included it probably should be Mahmoud Riad. Riad is a prolific architect and planner who built many iconic buildings in Cairo (still standing) and who wrote and lectured about matters of planning and workers’ housing. He graduated from Cairo University’s architecture department in 1927 then went on to acquire a masters degree from Liverpool in 1931. During his apprenticeship he worked with “Shreve, Lamb and Harmon on their Manhattan masterpieces, the Empire State Building and 500 Fifth Avenue, before returning to Egypt to establish his own practice.” Riad founded his practice in Cairo in 1933 and later served in the Ministry of Public Works and the Cairo Municipality.
[Riad’s thesis proposal for a bus+rail terminal for Alexandria, 1931.]
"In the 1950s, after years of service at the Ministry of public works, he was named Director General of the Cairo Municipality, a position that he held until the late sixties. During his tenure, he oversaw and developed some of Egypt’s most important projects, like the planning of Nasr City and Cairo Stadium. News of his stern and professional reputation made waves in the international scene, as he was asked take part of the UN meeting on metropolitan planning as one of the "expert" professionals in the field. In 1965, Mahmoud Riad was appointed the position of technical advisor to the Ministry of Housing & Public Affairs in Kuwait , where he oversaw the planning and construction of all projects taking place in Kuwait until his death in 1979 - leading him to establish professional and personal relationships with the likes of Reima Pietila, Sir Colin Buchanan, and Kenzo Tange."
[Ford facilities at Imbaba in Cairo, 1937.]
Riad’s most notable projects include the Egyptian Cotton Company’s Cardiology Clinic and hospital in the industrial city of Mahala el Kobra in 1943. Also, The Misr Insurance Company building in Lazoughly, 1946; Misr Insurance Company building in Tawfiqiyya, 1948; Misr Insurance Company building on Talaat Harb in downtown Cairo, 1952; The Socialist Union Building (the now burned NDP building), 1959; The Arab League, 1955; and Hilton hotels in several cities including Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria as well as in Cairo in partnership with Welton Becket.
[Misr Insurance Building on Talaat Harb Street under construction, completed in 1952.]
[Model of the Arab League Building, completed 1955.]
[Elevation of the Misr Insurance Company Building in Tawfiqiyya, completed 1948.]
Mahmoud Riad is a foundational figure in twentieth century Egyptian architecture. His legacy is little known outside a small circle of specialists as the Egyptian modernist phase continues to be undermined within the contemporary education of Egyptian architects. As it is the case of many of Riad’s fellow architects from the early and mid-twentieth century the legacy of such architects can only be assembled with the availability of archival materials. Luckily the family of Riad has maintained his archive. The family maintains Riad’s architectural practice which is now seeing its third generation. The information and images posted in this blog post come from a fantastic beautifully designed website by Riad’s grandson architect who has meticulously constructed a portfolio of Riad’s works, a biography, a CV as well as an assortment of other materials such as personal correspondence with Kenzo Tange. The website showcases the continuity of the family business across three generations from Mahmoud Riad’s first 1933 establishment of his practice to his son’s practice and now the grandson.
[Mahmoud Riad with Um Kalthoum in the 1950s.]
Book Launch on Wednesday May 29 at Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO) in Mounira at 5-7pm, followed by a presentation and debate with the author, Mercedes Volait at 7pm, and an exhibition and sale at 8pm.
Maisons de France au Caire. Le remploi de grands décors mamelouks et ottomans dans une architecture moderne
(French Diplomatic Architecture in Cairo. The reuse of Mamluk and Ottoman Fragments in Modern Buildings).
Cairo: IFAO Publications, December 2012 [in French and Arabic]
Hardcover, 298 pages, 231 illustrations.
The book presents a detailed analysis of the two main premises that the French diplomatic mission successively occupied in Cairo : the Neo-Mamluk mansion designed in 1875-79 for the French aristocrat and early Islamic art collector Gaston de Saint-Maurice, based on the reuse of historical material (marble fountains, floors and panels, moucharabiehs and carved ceilings), complemented by matching design, and the Neo-Moroccan structure designed in 1934-38 to accomodate the historical fragments when the diplomatic mission was transfered to a new site. Based on unpublished sources, both visual and textual, complemented by contemporary photography, the book traces the artistic and political history of these consecutive reuses and reveals their accompanying epigraphy, of which a full illustrated catalogue is proposed.
The table of contents is available at:
Cairo, like many cities across the globe, underwent a significant process of urban transformation in the mid-19th century. At the core of these transformations, which can be traced in cities from Latin America, Europe, and Asia, are sewage systems, street lighting, and drinking water systems. Most of these major infrastructural changes happen below street level, which explains why commentators on the 19th century often look up at what is visible, buildings, and rarely look below their feet. Also important to note that contrary to the dual city narrative 19th century infrastructural changes were implemented in both new and old parts of the city, with varying difficulty and speed for obvious reasons. Cairo has fallen victim to urban history that has elided the complexity of the city’s urban transformation during that time. I have already argued before that Paris was never along the Nile. On a recent trip to Paris I walked down the uniform apartment blocks of Haussmann’s Paris and stayed in one such building where behind the homogeneous facades are often small apartments reached by rickety small wooden stairs. Cairo’s 19th century (and early twentieth century) apartments were often dismissed as hastily-built Parisian simulacra in analysis obsessed by reductive East/West dichotomies and which privilege the eye. A closer investigation of Cairo’s “Parisian” architecture beyond reducing architectural history to facade reading, reveals a different set of socio-economic constructs that produced these buildings.
The focus on the above-mentioned aspect of 19th century urban development in Cairo has kept the major changes of that era in the footnotes of the official narrative. Today, as the city is desperately in need of comprehensive urban transformation and upgrading it is important to highlight the less visible but major projects carried out 150 years ago around the reign of Ismail that continue to shape the city today in ways more fundamental than mere aesthetics. Here are 7 major 19th century projects that reshaped Cairo:
1. Stabilizing the Nile Banks: The Nile in Cairo shifted with season which made the prospect of urbanization Nile-side a difficult one. Stabilizing the banks of the river, completed by 1865 and filling the adjacent areas that previously flooded made urban development possible and added riverside properties to the city’s real estate. However before the prospect of real estate the first large Nile-side building erected along the newly stabilized river were the new barracks of the Egyptian army (1865-68) known as Qasr el Nil. Tahrir Square would have been underwater if it wasn’t for this major infrastructural project. Qasr el Nil Bridge was also erected following the stabilization of the river and was opened in 1871.
2. The Northern boundaries: The areas north of historic Cairo near the recently built train station (1854) consisted of small hills which were flattened and and used in the draining and filling of the city’s lakes further south. Near by there were fields of radish فجل which were removed to make way for a new neighborhood named Faggala فجالة and Sakakini further north. A square was planned fronting the train station as the city’s northern entrance and Shubra street (tree-lined and extending north to Muhammad Ali’s Shubra palace) was connected to this area directly.
3. Abdeen Area: To the west of the old city was a small lake fronted by the estate of Abdeen Bek. The area was surrounded by marches to the west and slums to the east. The estate became the location for a new royal palace (moving the seat of power from the citadel down to the level of the city) and the new palace was built in 1863. The lake and marches were filled and a city square and new streets extending from the new palace were planned. The neighborhood of Abdeen was born.
4. Azbakiyya: Another area that was radically transformed was the posh district of Azbakiyya which overlooked a lake. The lake was filled and transformed into a garden during the rule of Muhammad Ali and the garden was redesigned again during the rule of Khedive Ismail. The transformation of Azbakiyya included the creation of several small public squares such as Khazindar and Attaba as well as Opera Square. The famed Cairo Opera House (1869) was built along side the public garden and several hotels were erected on the west side of the garden which was a linking space between the edge of the old city and the westward urban expansion that became downtown.
5. The East Bank: Major avenues were planned to crisscross the city connecting the western edge of the old city to the Nile. Such new streets were Emmaddidin, Muhammad Farid Bek, Almalika (Ramsis), Merit Pasha and Qasr el Aini. Ismailia Square (Tahrir) began to take shape by the 1870s as well as surrounding squares such as Bab el Louk and neighborhoods such as Mounira, Dawaween. These newly planned areas were paved with water systems underground, sidewalks and trees above and street lighting installed before building lots were developed by individuals.
6. The West Bank: Also following the stabilization of the river the west bank, which was raised two meters above water level, was available for development. Although it largely remained agricultural several new projects were implemented: The Orman Botanical Garden and the Giza Zoo as well as the Pyramids Road. A new Giza palace was erected as well.
7. Gezira Island: Known today as Zamalek, the island was consolidated out of several smaller islands and was largely left as a retreat with a palace and garden erected to host the French queen during her visit (today’s Marriott). With the exception of the palace the island was meant as an escape, a natural landscape dotted with wooden shacks/huts which gave the island its name. Eventually parts of the landscape were formalized into gardens and later streets were implemented such as Gezira St., Gabalaya St., Nile St., and eventually Foad St. (26th July).
These major projects were initiated during the reign of Khedive Ismail, however earlier projects took place during his grandfather’s rule such as the opening of several streets through the old city and the legislation of Tanzim laws for urban management. Also other major transformation took place later in the 19th century such as the filling of Khalij al-Masri (1890s) and the creation of Cairo’s first tram line in its route on what became today’s Port Said St.
[the arcades in Muhammad Ali Street.]
By Joseph Ben Prestel
For many passers-by, the Southeastern edge of Ataba Square might be marked by the hustle and bustle from a myriad of shops selling electronic gear, household amenities, and other essential goods for everyday life. In this neighborhood with buildings packed densely next to each other, the view up Muhammad Ali Street is surprising. As if unimpressed by its crowded surroundings, the street runs for about two kilometers straight towards Sultan Hassan Mosque. Looking up from Ataba Square, the dome of the mosque is visible at the very end of the thoroughfare. This perspective bears witness to the building initiative that Cairo went through in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Khedive Ismail (1863-1879) ruled the country. Yet Muhammad Ali Street dodges the “Paris on the Nile” narrative often used by travelogues and guidebooks to describe this period. Instead, the street carries a multiplicity of meanings that have been attributed to the urban environment over time. Allusions to it associate the street with a range of topics, from nineteenth-century Paris to Egyptian folk music.
Construction of Muhammad Ali Street was completed between 1872 and 1874. The street was part of the large urban renewal program under Khedive Ismail, whose aim was described by his minister of public works Ali Mubarak as making “the streets and buildings ready for the expansion of trade, to align the cityscape to the prosperity of the country.” Whereas Ismail’s building spree focused mainly on new quarters of the city, such as Ismailiyya or the area around Bab al-Luq, Muhammad Ali Street was one of the few interventions in the old part of town. The street was designed to provide an important shortcut between the eastern and western parts of the city. Prior to its construction, Cairenes had to cross at least five other neighborhoods in order to get from the then thriving quarter of Azbakiyya to the citadel. After 1874, Muhammad Ali Street offered a direct connection between these two centers of urban life. With a width of twenty meters, the new thoroughfare meant a tremendous intrusion in an area in which streets had up until then not been wider than six meters. The project required cutting through two kilometers of densely populated neighborhoods. According to some statistics, the construction of the street resulted in the destruction or partial destruction of about 700 buildings. A few structures on Muhammad Ali Street still show traces of this process today. In order to make way for the new street, the front part of the fourteenth-century mosque of Qusun was destroyed. The remainder of the building, however, was left intact and only a new facade was added, leaving behind evidence of the demolition process. With its unique view, its arcades, and a boulevard-like width, Muhammad Ali Street represents to some scholars a prime example of the kind of intervention that urban historians associate with late-nineteenth-century Paris. To them, the street is merely a Cairo version of the famed Rue de Rivoli in the French capital. Often, such accounts deplore the present state of the street, implying that Muhammad Ali Street lost some of the grandeur it held in the past.
[Screen shot from the movie Sharia al-Hubb (1958), in which the street and its arcades are depicted.]
Yet the symbolism of the street was never reduced to a seemingly apparent allusion to Paris. Instead of turning into a mark of French-inspired urbanism, Muhammad Ali Street soon acquired an ambiguous reputation as a center of musical entertainment. As early as 1880, police reports warned that it attracted dubious women from the entertainment industry. At the same time, brass bands such as the Hasballah group started settling on the street. By the middle of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali Street was well known as a center of Egyptian folk music. The street appeared in numerous cultural productions, such as the 1945 movie Sharia Muhammad Ali. In the 1958 blockbuster Sharia al-Hubb starring Abd al-Halim Hafez and Nagwa Fouad, the street serves as the backdrop for a story of social ascent. Through his musical talent, the poor Abd al-Munem finds his way to love and fortune, ultimately moving from Muhammad Ali Street to the opera house. The movie, which opens with a long shot of the street, exhibits Muhammad Ali Street as the place where musicians live, gather, and are contacted by potential customers, such as the hyped-up foreigner “Christo” who hires Abd al-Munem to teach music at a club for young ladies. According to studies on female dancers in Egypt, the entertainment industry on the street began to decline in the 1970s. Yet scholars were still referring to the street as a center of folk music into the 1990s. In his Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, Walter Armbrust wrote: “Muhammad ‘Ali Street is famed as the street of traditional entertainers. Even today, when most of the entertainment business has moved to Pyramids Road in Giza, or other newer glitzier neighborhoods, Muhammad ‘Ali Street is thick with shops selling lutes and other musical instruments.” The number of music shops might have dwindled further since the publication of Armbrust’s book in 1996, but the name still conjures images of Egyptian folk music. Three years ago, a Cairo-based TV station produced a program teaching belly dance under the title Sharia Muhammad Ali.
It might be a telling irony that this street, which some historians like to refer to as Cairo’s Rue de Rivoli, is popularly known as a center of Egyptian folk music, thus linking characters as diverse as Eugène Haussmann and Nagwa Fouad. To the superficial observer, none of these references are immediately apparent. Today, Muhammad Ali Street is packed with furniture shops. Rather than recalling lutes or nineteenth-century Paris, it appears more like a place where you would buy an armchair along with a three-piece suit. Looking at Muhammad Ali Street from different historical perspectives illustrates that there is more to the streets of Cairo than meets the eye. Instead of one essential meaning, its history reflects the multi-layered symbolism attached to streets, squares, or buildings. Despite the intentions of political groups or planners, the meaning of these urban spaces can hardly be fixed.
by Aaron Jakes
Sometime in the middle of last March, while I was still living in Cairo, I was working at my desk when I heard a noisy argument outside my window. The street in Zamalek where I lived was home to about a dozen little shops, along with a small café and a cafeteria, and I had long since learned to tune out the shouts and clamors that punctuated the busy working day outside. So I didn’t take much notice of the altercation or the more subdued commotion that followed for the next couple hours. When I headed downstairs and into the street a bit later, I was immediately struck by the brightness of the afternoon sun and by a queasy feeling that something was out of place. The cause of these unexpected sensations, I quickly discovered, lay before me in a pile of logs, neatly stacked next to the curb. Those logs were all that remained of the trees that had formerly lined the entire block.
Two of the neighborhood shopkeepers were standing together across the street, so I wandered over to ask what had happened. Earlier that morning, they explained, a large branch had fallen from one of the trees, damaging the hood and windshield of a car parked on the street. When the car’s owner arrived a short while later, he flew into a rage and demanded compensation from the proprietors of the shops nearest to the car, alleging they were at fault for failing to care for the tree. They argued back and eventually resolved the dispute by paying him a token sum, but once the disgruntled car owner had driven off, they gathered a meeting of the other shopkeepers. The trees, my friends explained, were the property and responsibility of the Governorate of Cairo, but it had been years since the city government had sent anyone to clean or prune them. It had therefore fallen to the small commercial establishments on the street to fill the void of basic municipal services, even in this most affluent neighborhood of the city. The shop owners had loved the trees and enjoyed the canopy of shade they provided. But the day’s events had convinced them that the cost and liability of upkeep were more than they could bear. With some reluctance and an awareness that they were breaking the law, they cut them all down.
I have found myself thinking a great deal about those trees in the months leading up to this week’s referendum on the fiercely contested final draft of Egypt’s new constitution. Since the drafting began, debates have raged over the religious identity this document assigns to the state, over the privileged status it reserves for the military, over the rights it does and does not protect, and over the balance of powers it describes between the different branches of the national government. But despite the breadth and intensity of the struggle over both the text of the draft and the process by which it was written, all sides have overwhelmingly focused on the central state that governs the nation as a whole.
In this context, there has been very little discussion of the seemingly mundane articles dealing with provincial and local government. But as my colleague Mohamed Elshahed recently argued in a fiery posting on his blog Cairobserver, these articles fail to address in any adequate fashion the problems of urban and local governance that affect so many aspects of people’s everyday lives. The issues, of course, extend well beyond the erosion of basic services that led my neighbors to take matters into their own hands and chop down some trees on our block. Indeed, as Elshahed and others have argued, the highly centralized and profoundly undemocratic structures of governance below the national level have played a central role in driving forward a process of rapid, haphazard, and devastatingly uneven urbanization across the country. The corruption, incompetence, and institutionalized impunity of provincial governors and local officials, moreover, played a crucial role in the pillaging of public resources and the unplanned allocation of land in both urban and rural areas under the Mubarak regime.
Throughout Egypt are hundreds of shrines belonging to historic figures many of whom have become destinations for visitation and pilgrimage by various religious orders. Some of these “saints” have become the loci of the cities where they are located as in the case with Sidi Badawi in Tanta, Sidi Mursi Abul Abbas in Alexandria or Sayeda Zainab in Cairo. This means that over the centuries the shrines developed into significant landmarks with impressive mosque structures that became iconic in each of those cities. Cairo is dotted with many tombs and mausoleums belonging to various historic religious figures, however Sayeda Zainab is arguably Cairo’s patron saint. The grand daughter of the prophet Mohamed is known to have been buried at the spot where the modern-day mosque stands and for the past millennium it has been a site of pilgrimage for Egyptians and Muslims in general. To mark this venerable saint, various rulers of Egypt have built, rebuilt, renovated, expanded mosques at this location.
Architecturally, the most notable mosques built in honor of Sayeda Zainab started during Ottoman rule of Egypt when in 1549 Ali Pasha al-Wazir built a notable structure which was rebuilt in 1761 and in 1798 a renovation was interrupted by the French invasion of Egypt. The interrupted renovation was later completed during Mohamed Ali’s rule and ever since the ruling dynastic family of Mohamed Ali paid particular attention to Sayeda Zainab along with other key mosques around Cairo and Egypt. Another renovation took place in 1859 during which two additional shrines were added for Sheikhs Atrees and Aydroos (عتريس و عيدروس). The current structure however is a modern one dating to 1884 and was ordered by Khedive Tawfiq.
Important to remember that Khedive Tawfiq was the ruler of Egypt who also founded the Comite de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe for the documentation and preservation of Cairo’s historic monuments (mainly Coptic and Islamic). The new mosque of Sayeda Zainab was built during the same time as several key mosques of historic and religious significance around the city particularly those belonging to saints such as the mosque al-Hussein. The architecture of both Al-Hussein and Sayeda Zainab is a late 19th century academic rendition of Mamluk architecture. It must be noted that this also coincides with the construction of Egypt’s final grand mosque, Al-Rifai which was also designed in a neo-Mamluk style infused with Italian and other eclectic details (a reflection of the diverse team of architects and designers working as part of the Comite). The re-appropriation of the Mamluk style was an aesthetic reflection of how members of the royal family saw themselves vis-a-vis their Ottoman heritage and the Egyptian context which they ruled.
In 1898 when the Khalig al-Masri was filled (the water channel that ran through the old town where today’s Port Said Street is now located) the square in front of the mosque was created and was named after the patron saint of Cairo. Since the mid-19th century, this part of Cairo was home to many important families and institutions such as the Ministry of Education and the first National Library. Ali Mubarak, the planner of Cairo’s 19th century urban expansion known today as “downtown” lived in the Sayeda Zainab district. Also famous 19th century Azhar scholar Mohamed Abdu lived here. The area was also home to working class families and it was where the 1919 revolution grew and the square outside the Sayeda Zainab mosque was a place of protest during those events. The area continues to be one of Cairo’s most vibrant working class districts. At the beginning of the 20th century the district and area surrounding the mosque and the square was home to nine cinemas nearly all of which have been out of business for over a decade.
The mosque was expanded once again during the reign of King Farouk and reopened in 1942. After it was damaged during the 1992 earthquake Sayeda Zainab underwent yet another renovation in 1999 costing 30 million pounds. The mosque is owned and managed by the ministry of religious endowments (Awqaf) and despite its rich history and architectural quality it is NOT a listed monument. Only 500 of Cairo’s Islamic buildings (numbered in the thousands) are listed by the ministry of antiquities (perhaps an indication of the serious problems of how that ministry is managed).
The mosque continues to be a focal point for this community and it is the site of the annual feast dedicated to Sayeda Zainab which celebrates her birth. The coffee shops around the square and the mosque were places where some of Egypt’s most notable writers and journalists met and exchanged ideas. This is a district with deep historical roots with a monument that is not only significant for this part of the city but for all of Cairo. If there is any serious political will to work with the community to develop this district around Sayeda Zainab there is a lot of potential to be realized.
The mosque is open and is fully functional. If you visit make sure to visit the silver shrine inside.
The author of Architecture for the Dead, Galila El Kadi’s new book on Cairo’s central area and its development since the 19th century is a much needed addition to the literature on the city. The bi-lingual book, in French and English, combines disciplinary approaches such as history, social history, urban geography, architectural history and urban morphology. The Cairo central area “is composed of the medieval city, the modern city established in the mid-19th century, and the new district extensions dating back to the middle of the past century, which have received activities migrating from the original sectors as well as recent innovative technological activities. The CCA (Cairo Central Area) is the product of fusion of diverse areas that were separate cities in the past but have become central districts of today’s metropolis.” (14)
The area covered in El Kadi’s book is what David Sims referred to as the formal/historic core. It includes 1000 year old streets as well as more recent development dating from the 1970s. Districts included in this core are: Boulaq, Azbakeya, Ismailia (downtown), Daher, Old Town (a large area with several historic districts known as the medieval city, known touristicly as “Islamic Cairo”), Mounira, Garden City, Roda, Zamalek, Doqqi, Giza, and Mohandessine.
[Limits of the Cairo Central Area, according to El Kadi, p.15]
The book is divided into three well illustrated chapters each looking at the central area of Cairo with a different set of tools. The first addresses Cairo’s centrality within the national and regional contexts. The second provides an analytical approach to the city’s anatomical development over two centuries with particular attention to issues of urban form, pattern, landmarks, distribution of functions, and evolution of residential areas. The final chapter zooms in on a neighborhood, a square and a street to reveal further details about the layers of the city and its anatomy. In this final chapter architectural typology takes a leading position as the scale of analysis shifts from the urban to accommodate the architectural scale. Questions pertaining to urban morphology and fabric string the three chapters together.
[Ramses Street, an architectural catalogue, p. 157]
The third chapter is particularly interesting. The author identifies parts of the urban anatomy then follows three approaches in analyzing such parts to “grasp these spaces in their material and intangible dimensions.” The first approach is historical and aims to “grasp the initial moment of the urban project’s conception and its evolution.” The second approach is morphological and it “inspects the elements of urban make-up and analyses the interrelations between the hierarchy of thoroughfares, the forms of land division and the constructions.” And the third approach is what the author calls “sensitive” which “reflects on perceptions, impressions and illustrates the memories linked to specific place and imparts a new meaning to it.”
Galila El Kadi’s Cairo is a much needed, well researched, clearly written, and richly illustrated addition to the literature on Cairo. The book makes some significant departures from previous works on Cairo by demarcating the Cairo Central Area as a unit of analysis rather the conventional approach of focusing on parts of this central area (downtown, or the medieval city) severed from their context. The book also provides a wealth of new information regarding urban transformation of various districts over time. For example the district of Garden City is rendered in four maps on page 228 which show the development of this zone from 1930 to 2006. Such maps, and diagrams in addition to photographs provide an easy to read wealth of information that shows change over time rather than the conventional snapshot view of a particular location during a particular time. This is a book about Cairo as a changing and moving city.
The book concludes by suggesting that a close reading of the city’s development over the past several decades reveals the resilience of the central area as a focus of the city despite decentralization plans by the government. Perhaps this study will attract the attention of policymakers, and consultants who have mislead previous governments that moving away from the center is a worthwhile endeavor. It is time to reconsider plans to escape Cairo and to focus development and regeneration plans back to the center where the spirit of Cairo lives on.
يكتب خالد فهمي في جريدة الشروق
الاحد 23 سبتمبر 2012
فى زيارة أخيرة لى لمدينة أمستردام استرعى انتباهى ميدان «دام» المسمى عليه المدينة. الميدان يعج بالمارة من سائحين وسكان المدينة الأصليين، منهم من يعبر الميدان على عجل ومنهم من يقصد الميدان لذاته، فالميدان تحيط به المقاهى والمطاعم، وتوجد بأطرافه محال تجارية تجذب الزبائن على أنواعها. هناك أيضا كنيسة ضخمة يعود تاريخ إنشائها إلى القرن الخامس عشر.
ولكن ما يجذب الناس للميدان ليست تلك الأنشطة الدينية أو التجارية بل الميدان نفسه، فهو مكان للتلاقى وللجلوس، وهو أيضا مكان للفرجة والفسحة، فهناك الحواة الذين يجذبون المارة بألعابهم، وهناك الموسيقيون الذين يعزفون يرقصون، وهناك من يجلس على الدكة يقرأ كتابا، وآخر يتحادث مع محببوته، وثالث شارد الذهن يتفرج على الحياة التى تدب حوله فى الميدان.
قبل تلك الزيارة بأسبوعين كنت فى لندن فى زيارة أخرى قصيرة، ووجدتنى مشدوها بميدان آخر له نفس الشهرة العالمية أو أكثر. فى ميدان «الطرف الأغر» فى العاصمة البريطانية لفت نظرى شىء لم ألحظه من قبل. فالميدان كما هو معروف يتوسطه عمود عملاق يحتل قمته تمثال للورد نلسون بطل المعركة البحرية التى سمى الميدان على اسمها (1805). وفى الأركان الأربعة للميدان توجد أربع قواعد تماثيل، ثلاثة منها لقادة سياسيين وعسكريين (الملك جورج الرابع، وسير تشارلز نابيير وسير هنرى هافيلوك، وكلاهما قادة عسكريون فى الهند)، أما الرابعة فكانت لتمثال طفل صغير على حصان خشب! كانت تلك أول مرة ألاحظ فيها هذا التمثال، وبدا لى منظر الطفل المرح المعتلى صهوة جواده الخشبى غريبا على الطابع الرصين الذى تضفيه على الميدان التماثيل العسكرية. وبقراءة الشرح المكتوب على قاعدة التمثال تبين لى أن هذه المواجهة بين رصانة القادة العسكريين ومرح الطفل هى القصد وراء هذا التمثال، فقد كتب الفنانان اللذان صمما التمثال (أحدهما دانمركى والآخر نرويجى) أنهما قصدا «رفع الطفل لمصاف الأبطال التاريخيين، بالرغم من افتقاره لأفعال بطولية. هناك فقط مستقبل يحلم به. رأينا أن نقيم نصبا تذكاريا لا يحتفى بقيم الانتصار أو الهزيمة، بل يمجد معارك الحياة اليومية».
لدى عودتى للفندق الذى كنت أقيم فيه أخذت أبحث عن تاريخ هذا التمثال وتبين لى أنه حديث العهد جدا، وأن قاعدة التمثال الرابعة تلك كانت دوما خالية نظرا للاختلاف حول التمثال الأجدر بوضعه عليها. ولكن فى عام 1998 استقر الحال على أن تستخدم القاعدة الرابعة لعرض أعمال فنية مؤقتة يجرى استبدالها من حين لآخر. وكان القوة المحركة وراء هذا القرار المبتكر عمدة لندن المنتخب الذى شكل لجنة من بعض الشخصيات العامة والفنانين والموظفين العموميين لاختيار الأعمال الفائزة.
خطرت فى بالى هذه الأفكار والذكريات عندما قرأت صفحة رئيس الوزراء، هشام قنديل، على الفيس بوك التى دعا فيها المواطنين لتقديم اقتراحات عن الأسلوب الأمثل لإعادة تخطيط ميدان التحرير. أنا لست مولعا بعقد المقارنات بيننا وبين «أوروبا والدول المتقدمة» لتوضيح مدى التخلف الذى نعانى منه، ذلك لأنى كنت دوما أستطيع أن أعقد مقارنة أفضل مع ماضينا نحن، وليس حاضر دول أخرى، لتوضيح هذا التخلف. إلا أنه عند عودتى لتاريخ ميدان التحرير، بل لتاريخ مدننا بشكل عام، لم أستطع العثور على لحظة تاريخية يمكن أن استخدمها كمثال يحتذى.
المثالان اللذان ذكرتهما هما لمدينتين ملك سكانهما، مدينتين يشعر فيهما المواطن بإنسانيته ويستمتع فيهما بحريته ويمارس فيهما حقه فى الاجتماع فى المكان العام مع أصدقائه أو زملائه أو أحبائه، بل يستطيع أن يشارك، كمواطن، فى اتخاذ قرارات تتعلق بشكل المدينة وتخطيطها وتصميمها. أمستردام ولندن، وغيرهما من المدن العالمية، لديهما أماكن عامة تمارس فيها الديمقراطية ليس فقط بتوزيع المنشورات أو بإلقاء الخطب أو بتجميع التوقيعات على العرائض، بل بإتاحة الفرصة لكل المواطنين أن يجتمعوا فى نفس المكان على قدم المساواة، عكس أماكن العبادة التى تستبعد الأغيار وعكس المولات التجارية التى لا تحبذ الفقراء.
أما مدننا، فإضافة إلى تميزها بالقبح وفساد الإدارة وسوء توزيع الدخل، فإنها تتميز بأن أهم مثال للتخطيط فيها هو ذلك التخطيط الذى يجعل من تلاقى المواطنين فيها، كمواطنين متساوين، أمرا مستحيلا. والميادين العامة خير شاهد على ذلك، فميدان رمسيس أو ميدان التحرير، مثلا، لا توجد بهما أشجار يستظل بها المارة، ولا توجد فيهما دكك يجلس عليها الناس للراحة أو للفرجة أو للقراءة أو للتحادث أو حتى للشرود السرحان، وأعمال «التطوير» التى تدخل الميدان من حين لآخر تقتصر على تبليط الأرصفة ببلاط لامع زلق يصعب السير عليه، وبوضع أسوار قبيحة لا تعزل فقط المارة عن السيارات بل تمنع الناس من ملاقاة بعضهم بعضا. أنا لا يساورنى أدنى شك فى أن الغرض الرئيسى وراء تصميم مياديننا هو منع الناس من التقابل والتحادث، وهو ما تطلق عليه السلطات لفظ «التجمهر»، وهو لفظ يوحى طبعا بالخطر وبالخروج على القانون.
من هنا تنبع أهمية ما قمنا به فى ثورتنا السلمية، فقد نزلنا لميادين التحرير، ووزعنا العرائض وألقينا الخطب وهتفنا بسقوط النظام وطالبنا بزوال العسكر. ولكن الأهم من هذا وذاك أننا قابلنا بعضنا بعضا وتحدثنا مع بعض وتعرفنا على بعض. وكان من نتاج ذلك أن احترمنا بعضا وإن اختلفنا فى الرأى، بل منا من بدأ صداقات وعلاقات تعدت حدود الأصل والدين والطبقة الاجتماعية. كانت ميادين التحرير تعج إذن بأسمى الممارسات الديمقراطية، وبذلك أثبتنا، لمن كان ينقصه الإثبات، أننا جديرون بالديقراطية، قادرون عليها.
وتزداد أهمية الثمانية عشر يوما فى التحرير إذا عرفنا أن الميدان ذاته، بمكانه وزمانه، دليل على صراعنا الأبدى مع القهر والسلطة. فالكعكة الحجرية الشهيرة كانت فى الأصل ساحة تدريب جيش الاحتلال البريطانى، وكانت ثكنات الجيش تحتل الحيز الذى يحتله غربا الآن مبنى جامعة الدول العربية وفندق النيل ومقر الحزب الوطنى المحروق. فإذا أضفنا إلى الجنوب مبنى المجمع الضخم الذى يرمز لبيروقراطية الدولة المصرية العتيدة، وإلى الشمال المتحف المصرى المقام لخدمة السواح الخواجات وليس لمتعة سكان المدينة وتثقيفهم، فيبقى الطرف الشرقى وهو ذلك الخط من البنايات السكنية الذى كان حتى الثلاثينيات من القرن العشرين هو حدود تمدد المدينة غربا، والذى يمكن أن يعتبر بالتالى خط التماس مع السلطة ومؤسساتها (المتحف، المجمع، وزارة الخارجة، جامعة الدول، الاتحاد الاشتراكى/الحزب الوطنى).
ميدان التحرير، إذن، كان طوال تاريخه الحديث أرض فضاء، غير مخططة، نظرت إليه السلطات بريبة وحذر، واعتنت به فقط كتقاطع ضخم للسيارات، واجتهدت لمنع الناس من «التجمهر» فيه، أما الشعب فقد حارب دوما ليجعل من البلد بلده، ومن المدينة مدينته، ومن الميدان ميدانه، وفى الثمانية عشر يوما المجيدة حقق بالفعل انتصارا مدويا فى حربه تلك.
الشعب ينتظر الآن من حكومته المنتخبة أن تترجم انتصاراته فى التحرير لحقائق جديدة تعكس هذه الانتصارات. الشعب لا يريد إقامة نصب تذكارية تدعى تمجيد الثورة ولكنها فى الحقيقة تطوى صفحتها. الشعب يريد أن يرى التحرير ميدانا مملوءا بالناس على اختلاف مآربهم ومشاربهم، ميدانا مفتوحا أمام مقابلة الأصدقاء ومخاطبة الغرباء، ميدانا تمارس فيه أبسط، وأعمق، الممارسات الدمقراطية؛ تلاقى أبناء الوطن الواحد فى المكان العام على قدم المساوة. فإذا لبى هشام قنديل هذا النداء فسيكون قد انتصر فعلا للثورة ولمبادئها السامية.
الصورة من مجلة زاوية
In 2009 the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale in Cairo published a two-volume book by Istvan Ormos on the life and career of an important figure in modern Egyptian history and Cairo’s history: Max Herz Pasha.
Max Herz “was born in Hungary, studied in Hungary and Austria, spent his active life in Egypt, died in Switzerland and is buried in Italy.” Ormos’ extensive research pieces together the life and career of this exceptional personality so central to the study, conservation and documentation of Islamic and Coptic architectural heritage in Cairo following his first visit to Egypt in 1880.
In 1881 Herz was employed as a draftsman by Franz Pasha, the director of the Technical Office of the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Waqf) and was later appointed as engineer. Herz subsequently held several positions including director of the Arab Museum in 1892 (Islamic Art Museum) and in 1901 became director of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe. Throughout his career in Egyptian civil service Herz developed a reputation that led him to being honored with the title Bey in 1895 and later Pasha in 1912.
From the middle of the 19th century Cairo was undergoing mass modernization efforts and the Ministry of Public Works sought to improve the hygiene and safety of the city. In some cases this called for the demolition of historic buildings and monuments because they were structurally unstable (and therefore posed a safety threat to communities). What is important to remember here, and this is something the author explains at some length, is that the decision to demolish buildings that posed a threat even if they are several hundred years old, reveals a different conception of urban memory. The concept of “monument,” the author tells us, was a recent European conception where buildings were seen as carriers of memory. There are ancient monuments in Egypt that belong to past civilization and which were not part of daily life in the 19th century, such as the ancient temples or pyramids for example. However, in Cairo antique buildings, from the medieval period for example, were lived and used in daily life, unlike monuments of a more distant past. Therefore the concept of preserving buildings that may be posing a threat or are no longer fulfilling their functions, or are in the way of modernizing urban projects was relatively new. Hence the significance of Herz Pasha in saving many of Cairo’s ailing historic buildings by restoring and rebuilding, in addition to documenting and studying buildings that would have been erased by turn-of-the-century modernizers (as happened in many European capitals earlier).
[Left: The central court of the Maridani mosque after restoration; Right: same space before restoration]
[Left: Aqmar mosque facade in 1901; Right: Aqmar mosque facade after restoration]
Take for example the minarets above the famous Bab Zuwayla. What we see today is in fact the product of restoration and rebuilding supervised by Herz Pasha. Until the 1890s the tops of the minarets had been destroyed. Another example is the Aqmar Mosque (1125) which was reconstructed with particular attention given to the facade, which was later replicated in the Coptic Museum. St Mercury’s church (known as Abu l-Sayfayn), St Sergius (Abu Sarga), St Barbara (Sitt Burbara) are among the Coptic monuments restored under his supervision. The Maridani Mosque (1340) was in ruins before the Comité team arrived and rebuilt it. Sultan Barquq complex, Al-Azhar and many other mosques around the city were restored under the helm of Herz but his most significant work was on the Sultan Hassan Mosque (1356), Cairo’s iconic Mamluk monument for which he produced a monograph in 1899. Furthermore, many buildings lining the historic and now popular Muiz Street were missing domes, minarets or were near collapse due to the rise of the water table under that part of the city, however what we see today is in fact largely due to the works of restoration carried out a century ago by Max Herz. In addition to works of restoration Herz also designed several buildings and completed the architectural design of the Refai Mosque, Cairo’s royal mosque, after work had been interrupted for several decades and its original architect, Husayn Pasha Fahmi, had died.
[Left: Bab Zuwayla with minarets of al-Muayyad mosque in 1892. Sometime between 1860 and 1890 the tops of the minarets collapsed. Restoration of the mosque had already begun long before Herz appeared on the scene; Right: minarets after rebuilding as seen in a 1920s postcard. The minarets were rebuilt while Herz was in charge of the project.]
[Left: Rifai mosque before the resumption of work in 1906, Right: Rifai mosque in the 1930s with new minarets and dome designed by Herz.]
Herz was spending the summer of 1914 in Europe when WWI broke out. The British occupying forces in Egypt expelled all officials of Austro-Hungarian origins. Upon his return to Egypt in October 1914, British officials forced him into retirement and demanded he leave the country. The European war had direct repercussions on Egypt as the British interfered directly into Egyptian affairs and even deposed Egypt’s ruler Abbas Helmi who was in Istanbul on official visit and was not allowed to return. Herz Pasha left Egypt before the end of 1914, his family awaited him in Italy but in 1919 he went to Zürich for treatment and died during an operation. He is buried in Milan at the Cimitero Monumentale.
Arguably after Herz Pasha’s sudden departure the Comité and by extension the preservation of Islamic and Coptic monuments, which as a field developed almost entirely under his helm, were no longer the same. Although the Comité was not disbanded immediately, its budget was severely cut and no head architect comparable to Herz Pasha’s expertise headed the organization thereafter until it was officially inactive in 1953.
[Top floor of the Railway Museum photographed in 2009, before renovation]
[The museum in 2012, note the removal of the original 1930s light fixtures, as well as the removal of the original floor tiles which were in near perfect condition.]
In 1933 Egypt hosted the international railway conference. Egypt’s national railway history goes back to 1854 when Alexandria was linked to Cairo. Muhammad Ali had initially planned earlier in the 1830s to link Cairo with Suez but those plans were not realized. By 1933 Egypt was already celebrating nearly 80 years since the inauguration of the Cairo-Alexandria railway line. The museum, established for the occasion of Egypt hosting the 1933 conference, was the first of its kind not only in the region but in the world (Britain didn’t get its railway museum until 1975).
The museum consisted of two floors in a building attached to Cairo’s main train station at the end of platform 1. The bottom floor contained 3 restored steam locomotives and royal train cars in addition to models depicting railway networks. The top floor housed a large collection of photographs, posters, adverts, and architectural models of various train stations across the country such as Alexandria’s, Tanta’s among others. The museum also had a library and documents kept in bookcases out of public reach but potentially available to researchers. Other documents were put on display such as the letters between Khedive Abbas and Robert Stephenson about the construction of the Cairo-Alexandria line. This museum is not only of national significance but also significant in the history of railways worldwide.
Not only did the museum beautifully document and illustrate the history of the railways in Egypt from the mid 19th century well into the 1960s but it also displayed items pertaining to urban rail transport and aviation. Urban trams in Alexandria and Cairo were well documented in addition to the early years of Egyptian aviation.
[architectural model of the Tanta train station built at the turn of the century. The model is built for the museum in the early 1930s]
The museum was built by a state and railway company that were proud of Egypt’s railway history and sought to document and exhibit the company’s accomplishments. Alas, since the 1970s the museum fell out of the picture as local tourism dwindled and international tourism was directed away from sites that document Egypt’s modern advances and towards Egypt’s ancient history. The museum, like many others such as the postal and natural history museums, was frozen in time, preserved as an antique curiosity. It was still there at the end of platform 1 for anyone who wanted to see it until last year when the railway company decided to renovate the station.
The museum was ignored, forgotten and unmaintained but at least it was still there. In 2010 when train and railway enthusiasts complained about the conditions of the museum, the railway company decided to renovate the museum along with its renovation of the station. This has led to the overnight disappearance of this wonderful time capsule as the contents of the museum were removed to an unknown location, the original lighting from the 1930s seen in the picture above (installed at the tops and middle of the columns) was removed and air vents were installed on the ceiling which was painted a dark gray color. The beautiful and once perfectly intact original 1930s floor tiles were removed. Since then there has been no progress in the construction and renovation of this museum.
The questionable renovation of the station is already problematic because it altered the aesthetics of the station’s architecture rather than actually improve services. In addition the quality of the renovation construction work is embarrassingly off. Although it was opened last year, the station still looks like a work in progress with many of the building’s sections incomplete, and parts which are completed already look like they need a renovation. In this context the fate of the Railway Museum is not looking good. It is still unclear what the plan is for the museum, if professionals in museology are involved (doubtful), if historians are involved (doubtful) and if the unique collection is safe.
The railways have had a significant impact on the development of Egyptian national culture, economy, society and identity. Moreover, Egypt’s network being the first in Africa and the Middle East and one of the earliest national railway networks (not colonial, such as Pakistan or India) internationally makes it of major significance to the history of railways in general. The loss of this treasured museum which was fully intact until recently is a national catastrophe. This museum was taken apart by a decision from the heads of the railway company, the same heads who agreed to allow the disaster of a renovation that ruined the historic character of the capital’s main train station. If the country wasn’t experiencing so many other tragedies this story should have been a scandal as it underlines the problems with how Egyptian public institutions are managed but also how low Egypt’s cultural management has gone and further how Egypt’s modern history is being erased.
There is no set date for the museum’s reopening.
The twelve-story apartment building commissioned by Madame Inji Zada was designed by Egyptian architect Antoine Selim Nahas and finished in 1937.
The building is a sleek streamlined white tower on a triangular corner site located in Ghamra, halfway between the bustling downtown and the suburban enclave of Heliopolis. The main features of the building’s exterior are its clear order, minimal design, curved corners and its nautical bathroom windows. Few details are known about Ingi Zada, the owner who commissioned the building, but what is know is that she was one of the Egyptians who commissioned Nahas. Being of Lebanese origins, most of Nahas’ commissions in Egypt were from the Syrio-Lebanese community. The apartment building consists of shops and a garage on street level, with two small apartments above followed by nine floors with replicated floor plans each consisting of two apartments (entry hall, living room, two bedrooms, kitchen and bath). The top two floors are set back with three additional apartments. The penthouse included a roof garden. The two-elevator building was topped by a radio antenna to service the apartments and had a separate servants stair with direct access to the kitchens. The building’s published profile included some technical details regarding the nine-meter deep foundations and the building’s reinforced concrete structure. There is no reference to architectural style and only the final sentence remarks on the building’s appearance by stating that “it corresponds with modern architectural practice.”