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

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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

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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”

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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

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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.

Cairo’s Patron Saint: Sayeda Zainab

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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.

Max Herz Pasha: the man who saved Cairo

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.

Destruction Alert: Ibn Tulun Aqueduct in Basateen

By Yahia Shawkat

The Ibn Tulun Aqueduct is a rare public works structure that dates back 1100 years to the Tulunid Empire. The mudbrick and stone structure that uses to run south-north for about 4km from a desrt spring to the Tulunid settlement has largely been demolished as Cairo has expanded over the last century.

What has survived till the recent incident has been parts of the southern-most sector of the aqueduct of about 870m long where only 540m of that portion remain preserved, while the rest is merely below-ground remains. There is also the water-wheel tower in the community of Beir Om Al Sultan in Basateen.

Efforts by the local council to preserve what remains of the aqueduct have focused on the southern part of that sector where a “public garden” had been planted enclosed within a  fence. The northern part of the sector lies in a main traffic artery where commuters traverse the aqueduct through a gap of about 20m between the north part and the south part.

The north part has lay under debris and garbage for most of the last ten years where occasional clean-ups by the local council have exposed parts of the ancient structure but somehow the heavy machinery has left it intact until the most recent of these cleanups in December 2011.

 About 30m of the aqueduct were removed during that clean up by the front loaders and sent to the landfill along with the garbage. That amounts to roughly 6% of the preserved portion that is still above ground. It is not apparent whether this removal by the workers was deliberate – to free up the traffic artery – or misguided as only those familiar with the area understood what the debris covered, and at that point none of the structure was visible in that particular section except for three arches as shown in the photographs.

It is very regrettable that such an incident has been allowed to happen by ALL authorities involved in the responsibility of protecting that monument. I hope that these authorities will take sustainable actions to preserve what is left of this rare monument rather than merely reacting to the destruction. If it would be the latter, then they should not bother to do anything.

Read Environmental Voices: Of biohazards, 1100 year old monuments and participatory planning for more about the aqueduct.

For an archive of early 20th century photographs of the aqueduct, click here.

Read more from Yahia Shawkat on his blog, Shadow Ministry of Housing.

Architectural History Matters: Sultan Hassan + Rifa`i Mosques

At first glance the two mosques pictured above appear to belong to the same historical era. The Sultan Hassan Mosque (left) and al-Rifa`i Mosque (right) are two of Cairo’s most important monuments and they stand at one of Cairo’s most important and oldest squares at the foot of the Citadel. The two buildings compliment each other in proportion, material, orientation and although they stand out in their urban context because of their immense scale, they are also harmonious with the context, grand but not oppressive, monumental yet contextual. The pedestrian street between the two buildings is an extension of Mohamed Ali Street (شارع القلعة), and it is one of Cairo’s most impressive urban spaces to occupy. The two buildings frame the Citadel and Mohamed Ali Mosque to one side and looking the other way one’s eye is directed towards what was once one of Cairo’s most important modern streets cutting through the dense urban fabric of historic Cairo towards Attaba and Cairo’s 19th century extension. The street is the work of 19th century urbanism cutting through and negotiating the existing ancient city. The two mosques too are a negotiation between ancient and modern. Between the completion date of Sultan Hassan Mosque and the completion date of Rifai` Mosque are 551 years, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them in passing.

Hussein Pasha Fahmy was commissioned in 1869 by Khedive Ismail’s mother to build a dynastic mosque in the place of a small shrine for al-Rifa`i. He died during construction and work completely stopped in 1880. In 1905 Helmi Pasha commissioned Max Herz who was in charge of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe, to complete the structure. The mosque was finished in 1912.

The Comité is an egyptian organization (despite its French name), established in 1881 by Khedive Tawfiq for the documentation and preservation of Islamic and Coptic monuments. This entailed a careful study of historic architecture. The organization was part of the Awqaf system and it continued to function until it was formally dissolved in 1961.

There are many reasons why Rifa`i Mosque looks the way it does, reasons that have to do with politics and history (The choice by the royal family of Mamluk rather than the typical Ottoman style). But history, specifically architectural history, was necessary before building the new mosque. The architects (Hussein Fahmy, Max Herz or his assistant Carlo Virgilio Silvagni) had to fully understand the architecture of the past before creating something new, or reviving something old (that was the work of the Comité). Although from the square or the street the two buildings are in harmony with one another, they are fundamentally different buildings in plan and section, ornament and experience. While Sultan Hassan is the quintessential Mamluk Mosque and Madrassa, al-Rifa`i is quintessentially late 19th century Egyptian: it contains elements of historic architecture, the plan is a balanced Beaux-Arts plan and the decorations inside bring together the eclectic taste of the times. This is perhaps contextual architecture at its best at this scale.

Al-Rifa`i doesn’t reflect a lack of knowledge with Cairo’s cumulative architectural heritage. It does not reflect an architectural identity crisis. It does not try to be something it isn’t or import what doesn’t belong. Instead the mosque reflects a thorough understanding of Cairo’s architectural history and a serious academic engagement with that heritage in the building of a new monument. The builders were not enslaved by that history nor did they try to replicate or uncreatively reconstruct what they understood to be “authentic.” To the contrary, the mosque is both innovative and contextual.

Architectural history is nearly absent from today’s practice and education in Cairo, which is one of the main reasons for the current architectural and urban planning crisis. The history of architecture must be fully understood in order to restore old monuments, revive a historical style or in order to rebel completely against the past.

*Images below: 1. King Farouk leaving Rifa`i Mosque, 2. Sultan Hassan Mosque in the 1860s before the construction of al-Rifa`i Mosque, 3. Half-built Rifa`i mosque during construction.

These Statues

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In April of 1953 Al Musawwar, a popular weekly magazine since 1924, published the answers of eight prominent figures in post 1952 Egypt. The question: Should Cairo’s statues remain or be removed? The question was raised as these statues were erected during the dynastic rule that was just overthrown less than a year earlier. As the editor explains, most of these statues were part of a pompous iconographic program that was self congratulating.

The respondents included: Nour el Din Tarraf who later became prime minister ‘58-‘60, and then officer Anwar Sadat. 

The responses ranged: “The everyday hero, the hard worker must be commemorated as well as our true national heroes whom we’ve forgotten about such as Ahmed Orabi.” said Tarraf. “I am against removing any statues, this is part of our history and we must keep it as a lesson to our youth,” said Foad Sadek. We must focus on rebuilding the country, distracting ourselves with such questions will not benefit anyone, there will come the right time when these issues are dealt with,” said Sadat. “building new institutions is important, and so is building statues that commemorate our history, this is not a choice we have to make, we can do both and do them well,” said Muhammad Salah el Din.

In those very early days of transition the issue of commemoration was raised, just as it was recently (removing Mubarak’s name, debate on creating a monument to martyrs/revolution, etc.) The debate is ongoing but like one of the responders said in 1953, we can discuss the issue of commemoration in public space but this should not dominate public discourse as there are other urgent matters concerning the city that must be discussed, namely the lack of effective civil and public institutions that ultimately shape the cities in ways felt everyday beyond the ceremonial and the commemorative.

statues

Tahrir Square and Governence

لقد شهد ميدان التحرير طوال القرن العشرين مقترحات عديدة تقدم بها مهندسون ومعماريون لكي يلاحقوا التطورات السياسية المتلاحقة التي كانت تموج بالبلاد، ففى عام 1904 تقدم موسى قطاوي باشا باقتراح لإعادة تخطيط المنطقة التي ستعرف لاحقا بـميدان التحرير، وذهب هذا الاقتراح إلى ضرورة هدم ثكنات الجيش الإنجليزي (التي كانت تحتل مكان الجامعة العربية وفندق النيل هيلتون ومبنى الحزب الوطني المحترق الآن) وإقامة مباني سكنية فاخرة مكانها على أن يحف تلك المباني السكنية طريق عريض يؤدي إلى المتحف المصري. وكان من المفترض، وفق هذا المخطط، أن يمتد شارع الخديوي اسماعيل الجديد (شارع التحرير الآن) إلى مدخل المتحف مخترقا العديد من الميادين الدائرية ومزينا بالكثير من التماثيل الأثرية على جانبيه. وبالتالي كان هذا المخطط يرمي إلى أن تمتد منطقة الاسماعيلية (التي لم يكن مر على إنشائها أكثر من نصف قرن) إلى الضفة الشرقية للنيل. وبالرغم من وجاهة مقترح قطوي باشا إلا أنه لم يدخل حيز التنفيذ قط إذ أن تدمير ثكنات الجيش لم يكن ممكنا وقتئذ.

وفي إبريل 1947 نشرت المصور مخططا آخر تقدم به محمد بك ذو الفقار بغرض تطوير منطقة قصر النيل. وكان هذا المخطط يرى ضرورة تحويل هذه المنطقة (منطقة ميدان التحرير لاحقا) إلى مركز ثقافي وسياسي للمدينة. وتحديدا كان هذا المقترح يقوم على إنشاء مباني إدارية للكثير من الوزارات والمصالح الحكومية بالإضافة إلى إقامة العديد من المتاحف والتماثيل التذكارية، على أن تكون كل هذه المباني محاطة بالعديد من الحدائق العامة. وكان هناك مخطط آخر تقدم به سيد كريم عام 1953 لإقامة فندق مكان ثكنات الجيش (أي مكان فندق هيلتون الآن) ملحق به كازينو يقام على مياة النيل. واقترح سيد كريم في مخططه هذا هدم مبنى المتحف المصري على أن يحل محله مبنى ضخم متعدد الطوابق يكون متحفا للحضارة المصرية، بالإضافة إلى إقامة مبنى جديد لوزارة الخارجية، ومبنى للإذاعة والتليفزيون، وأخيرا إقامة العديدي من النصب التذكارية بما فيها نصب تذكاري لحركة الجيش في 1952.

ولم تنفذ أي من هذه المقترحات، وهناك العديد من المقترحات الأخرى التى لاقت نفس المصير.

إن الثورة المصرية المستمرة التي أطاحت بحكم حسني بمارك الذي امتد لثلاثين عاما أعطت ميدان التحرير معنى جديدا في المخيلة الجمعية المصرية. وكما تتغير التضاريس السياسية من يوم لآخر لا يزال ميدان التحرير يجذب انتباه السياسيين والمهندسين والمعماريين الذين يحاولون تقديم مخطط شامل يستكملون به ما يعتبرونه حيزا عمرانيا غير مكتمل. ففي محاولة منه لاسترضاء المتظاهرين في الميدان اقترح رئيس الوزراء السابق أحمد شفيق، على سبيل المثال، أن يحول الميدان إلى هايد بارك للقاهرة. وهناك أيضا اجتماعات تعقد بانتظام تجمع المهندسين والعماريين في محاولات مستميتة لإعادة تخطيط الميدان ولتقديم مخططات تحوز إعجاب الجماهير.

لقد شهدت القاهرة على مدار تاريخها الطويل إقامة الكثير من الأعمال الهندسية العظيمة، كما كانت مسرحا للعديد من أعمال التخطيط العمراني الذكية والخلاقة. ولكنها عانت أيضا من إخفاقات عديدة على أيدي مهندسين متسرعين وسياسيين تعوزهم الخبرة والخيال. ولم يستطع أي من المهندسين أو السياسيين أن يبسط رؤيته أو يحكم قبضته على ميدان التحرير الذي ما زال يتكون من أشلاء ناتجة عن العديد من المخططات غير المكتملة والكثير من الرؤى والتخيلات العمرانية الفاشلة. ولقد تمركزت ثورة 25 يناير، تلك الثورة التي تميزت بعدم وجود قيادة موحدة لها، حول ميدان التحرير وكأنها بذلك تدعونا للتوقف لحظة للتفكير والتأمل في الماضي وفي الكثير من الخطط التي وضعت لتطوير هذا الميدان. إن الثورة الشعبية الحقيقية—الأولى في تاريخ امتد لسبعة آلاف عام – تمثل فرصة ذهبية لإحداث ثورة معمارية تعبر عن اللحظة الراهنة وفي نفس الوقت تنقل ميدان التحرير إلى المستقبل دون تكرار أخطاء الماضي.

وبالتالي فإن التسرع في إقامة نصب تذكاري لتخليد الثورة وشهدائها في ميدان التحرير يعتبر إهانة للذين ضحوا بأرواحهم في سبيل مصر جديدة. هؤلاء الرجال والنساء لم يضحوا بحياتهم لمجرد أن تكتب أسماؤهم في عجالة على لوحة تقام في وسط ميدان مرور، بل ماتوا أملا في إحداث تغيير هيكلي في بلدهم وفي طريقة إدارته وحكمه. وإذا كان من الصعب الإلمام بمصطلح مجرد كـمصر" فليس من الصعب إدراك أن مصر" مكان حقيقي يعيش فيه المصريون ويعملون، مكان يشمل المدن والأحياء والقرى والنجوع. أماكن حقيقية وليست أفكارا مجردة. وإذا كان تعديل الدستور الحالي أو كتابة دستور جديد وانتخاب برلمان جديد ورئيس جديد – إذا كانت كل هذه الخطوات ضرورية لكي تنتقل مصر إلى الديمقراطية الحقيقية فإن هذه الخطوات، على أهميتها، لن تكون كافية لإحداث تغيير حقيقي في حياتنا اليومية وفي تجاربنا الحياتية في مدننا وأحيائنا وقرانا.

إن الرئيس ومجلس الشعب لا يجب أن يحددا كيف تدار مدننا ولا يجب أن يبُتا في كيفية معالجة المشاكل اليومية التي نواجهها: لماذا يتوقف المرور تماما في شارع القصر العيني يوميا من الساعة الحادية عشرة صباحا إلى الساعة الثامنة مساءا؛ لماذا يجب عليّ التخلص من القمامة بحرقها على جانب الطريق السريع؛ لماذا يجب على أطفالي قطع الطريق السريع للذهاب إلى مدارسهم؛ لماذا أعاني في الحصول على مياة شرب نقية إذا كنت ساكنا في المقطم؛ لماذا لا أجد وسيلة مواصلات رخيصة وآدمية أذهب بها لعملي كل يوم؛ لماذا تفتقر مشروعات الإسكان الشعبي إلى الأماكن الضرورية لحياة اجتماعية ذات معنى؟ لا رئيس الجمهورية ولا مجلس الشعب يجب عليهما أن يجدا حلولا لهذه المشاكل؛ بل أن ذلك من مهام المجالس المحلية. إن تخليد اللحظات العظيمة التي نمر بها لا يجب أن يأخذ شكل نصب تذكاري مصنوع من الحديد والأسمنت، فإذا كنا نود فعلا أن نخلد الثورة ونكرم ضحاياها فإن أمثل الطرق لذلك هو أن نعيد هيكلة أساليب إدارة المدينة بدءا بالمحافظة ومرورا بالمجالس المحلية وانتهاء بمجالس الأحياء. عندها، وعندها فقط، سيتحول ميدان التحرير وغيره من ميادين القاهرة بالإضافة إلى شوارع المدينة وأحيائها إلى أماكن يمكن أن تتحقق فيها إنجازات الثورة الحقيقية.

وكما لا يجب أن نترك حقوقنا الأساسية عرضة لأهواء الرئيس أو حتى مجلس الشعب فبالمثل لا يجب أن تكون الحياة الكريمة في مدننا رهينة أهواء وأمزجة هذا المحافظ أو ذاك ولا يجب أن تكون نتاج تبنيه لهذا المشروع المفضل أو ذاك، بل يجب أن تضع الأجهزة المحلية المختلفة المدينة وسكانها على رأس قائمة أولوياتهم. ويجب أن تكون رئاسة هذه الأجهزة بالانتخاب لا بالتعيين.

وكما كان لدينا دستور معيب جرى انتهاكه بكثرة فإن القوانين والقرات العديدة التي صدرت بغرض تنظيم القاهرة جرى انتهاكها أو الالتفاف عليها أو تجاهلها بشكل تام نتيجة للفساد وسوء الإدارة. إن إعادة تنظيم الحياة الحضرية في القاهرة لا يمكن أن يأتي بقرارات فوقية بل يجب أن نضع نظاما جديدا يسمح لأصحاب المحال التجارية ولأصحاب الأملاك العقارية وللمشاة ولكثيرين غيرهم في أن يشاركوا في عملية تحسين مدينتهم والارتقاء بها. فمثلا يجب تعديل قانون الضرائب العقارية لكي يكافأ صاحب العقار الذي يقوم بطلاء المبنى من الخارج أو بأعمال صيانة ضرورية له.

إن أحسن وأجمل مدن العالم هي تلك التي يشارك سكانها في إدارتها بشكل أساسي وفعال. أما نحن فقد مُنعنا من المشاركة الفعالة في إدارة بلدنا ومدننا. وكما بدأنا في إعادة التحكم في مقدرات بلدنا فمن المنطقي والضروري أن نعيد التحكم أيضا في الطريقة التي تدار وتحكم بها مدننا، فمتى تحقق ذلك سنستطيع القيام بعمليات أحياء المدينة وتطويرها. وعندها سيتمكن مهندسونا وخبراء التخطيط الحضري في تقديم مقترحات ليس فقط لبناء نصب تذكارية ولكن لإصلاح الحال الذي وصلت له القاهرة بعد أربعين عاما من التخبط وسوء الإدارة بعد أن كانت تعد في مصاف أرقى مدن العالم.

سنكون قد خسرنا كثيرا لو أفضت الثورة فقط – تلك الثورة التي شهدت التضحية بأرواح المئات من الشباب المصري – إلي إقامة نصب تذكاري يدغدغ المشاعر ويلعب عليها. فالمناقشات الكثيرة التي تدور حول إنشاء نصب تذكاري في ميدان التحرير يقصد بها إقامة عمل فني أو قطعة ديكور. إن النصب التذكارية العظيمة في التاريخ لم تبن في عجالة بعد الحدث الذي خلدته. فالمباني التذكارية العظيمة التي عاشت لمئات السنين شاهدة ليس فقط على أحداث جسام بل أيضا على أنظمة التخطيط العمراني التي أنتجتها.

وبالتالي فأنا أقترح أن نقيم نصب التحرير التذكاري من أسفل، أي بإعادة بناء الأجهزة التي تدار بها مدينتنا وبإعادة هيكلة المؤسسات التي يمكن بها أن نعيد للقاهرة رونقها ونجعل منها مدينة عظيمة مرة أخرى. عندها سنكون قد نجحنا بالفعل في تخليد الثورة وتكريم شهدائها.

+Earlier version of this text appeared in English on Al Masry Al Youm. Also related to this article is another on Architect’s Newspaper. Thanks to prof. Khaled Fahmy for English-Arabic translation.

Latest Tahrir Square Proposal

Al Masry Al Youm from Saturday August 13, 2011 featured on its back page the latest proposal for Tahrir Square. The “design” was submitted to the PM’s office by architect Hesham Gerisha of Misr University for Science and Technology. The proposal calls for transforming the roof of the would be underground parking currently “under construction” in Tahrir Square to a public plaza. The Plaza would feature a grid of plexiglass columns each etched with the name of a revolution martyr. The published image shows the actual square where the protests that toppled Mubarak took place untouched. Also noticeable in the proposed design is the lack of shade, perhaps in the form of trees, and the lack of seating or any space that promotes community building and the usual facets of a well-designed public space.

Read more on AlJazeera, here.

Related article from Cairobserver, here.

There is already a monument

 “Architecture is the expression of every society’s very being.… [But] only the ideal being of society, the one that issues orders and interdiction with authority, is expressed in architectural compositions in the strict sense of the word…. Thus great monuments rise up like levees, opposing the logic of majesty and authority to any confusion: Church and State in the form of cathedrals and palaces speak to the multitudes, or silence them. It is obvious that monuments inspire social good behavior in societies and often even real fear. The storing of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of affairs: it is hard to explain this mass movement other than through the people’s animosity (animus) against monuments that are its real masters.”—   George Bataille


The increased presence of military personnel during the years of WWII intensified the awareness of the occupation which was not welcomed. Cairo was ready for revolution. Ismailiyya Square was the stage of the killing of thirty Egyptians who demonstrated at the steps of Kasr al-Nil Barracks, still occupied by British troops. The building and the square gained an increasingly negative image during this period and were seen as symbols of corruption, occupation, and injustice. When British troops left the Barracks in 1947, the King personally ordered the demolition of this grand building which was originally built to house the Egyptian army. the nervous king must have seen the destruction of the building as a message to the population that he too was anti-occupation. In reality, the building itself had nothing to do with the occupation and destroying it did nothing to change Egypt’s political situation or the role of the British in the country. but the visibility of buildings make them associated with the political powers who occupy them and therefore the stones somehow become politicized.

Imagine Tahrir Square if the barracks building was still there, of course its function would have evolved over time and most probably it could have been transformed into a municipality building or even a hotel with the two central gardens overlooking the Nile. It would have been amazing to be able to stand in Tahrir, look at the old barracks building and be able to trace the changing history that it has experienced from Egyptian Army, to British, to Independence then whatever functions it may have had. Adaptive reuse circa 1947 Cairo would have been a great argument to make rather than simply raze a building and with it erasing history. if people in power would always have their way to destroy buildings that occupied or housed or were used by opposing/colonial or disliked political symbols then our cities would never evolve and the memories and histories that are loaded onto buildings would be reduced to a few old pictures and anecdotes that survive those acts of revenge on architecture.


Now also in Tahrir Square another building is being targeted by the same destructive logic. The torched former headquarters of the National Democratic Party slightly north of the site of the former barracks awaits an order to raze it to the ground. As if all Egypt’s problems have been already solved this building has been recieving a fare share of discussion regarding its fate. all opinions agree that it must be torn down and the question is what should be done with its location. some have suggested a garden for the Egyptian Museum, others suggested offices for human rights organizations.

The building opened in 1958 along with the Hilton and the Arab League, all three buildings forming Nasser’s new Nile skyline. Initially the building housed the Cairo Municipality, later its function changed to house the Socialist Party and later yet it housed offices for various political organizations such as the Women’s Union before finally becoming the headquarters of the NDP. the buidling itself is a typical concrete 1950s slab with a regular facade and balanced proportions. it is part of Egypt’s history and part of the evolution of Tahrir Square.

Now, my guess is that the fire that broke out in the building on January 28 did not structurally damage the concrete monolith. However the fire did leave some very visible scars on the facade. while amatures and architects scramble to come up with a monument to place in Tahrir, the torched NDP building stands as the most visiually powerful monument to the revolution. Here was the symbol of the country’s untouchable ruling elite torched on the “day of anger.” so why the rush to tear down this most powerful visiual reminder of the people’s will and their ability to bring down a corrupt elite?

I think it is time to break the cycle of taking out our anger on buildings. There is no need to constantly “cleanse” the cityscape of “unsightly” reminders of aspects of our past some powerful politicians may not want to keep around. I think the best way to come to terms with what just happened to Egypt and its momentous revolution by keeping the torched NDP building as a reminder to us Egyptians of what people power has done but also as a reminder to politicians that they too could be swept away by the people.

How to keep the building is another question: I am not suggesting we leave this massive building in such a prime location vacant like Beirut’s Holiday INN. I can imagine the shell of the building remaining with the interiors renovated to house whatever institutions the city decides, perhaps human rights organizations as it has been suggested. but the skin of the building should continue to show proudly the marks left by the flames that toppled one of the most powerful and oppressive regimes in modern Middle Eastern history.

Related article, here.