Posted: Thu Jul 19, 2007 10:00 am Post subject: Al-Azhar Park and Government of Cairo
Cairo Governorate and Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Public-Private Partnership for Historic Cairo Revitalisation Projects
Cairo, 17 July 2007 – Cairo’s Governor, H.E. Dr. Abdel Azim Wazir, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s General Manager, Mr. Luis Monreal, today signed an historic Public-Private Partnership (PPP) linking Al-Azhar Park, a future “Urban Plaza” project at the northern end of the Park, and ongoing work by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Darb al-Ahmar.
The “Urban Plaza” project will be a mixed-use centre with underground car parking, shops and cultural facilities, including the Museum of Historic Cairo, which is being built by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt.
The Museum will house some of the great wealth of art and artefacts of Cairo’s Islamic heritage that are not currently on display. To be built adjacent to the “Urban Plaza” at the north end of Al-Azhar Park and close to the end of the twelfth century Ayyubid Wall, the Museum will give visitors insight into the urban, cultural and architectural history of the heart of Cairo.
To conserve and restore all the artefacts and artworks which will be shown in the museum, the Trust has set up a major conservation laboratory, which is training young technicians in this field. It is also being used to restore important art and architectural elements for the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, due to open in 2007.
The Public-Private Partnership builds on the US$ 30 million Azhar Park project, which transformed a 500-year-old accumulation of fill and debris on the Darassa site into much-needed leisure and recreational space.
The Park attracted over a million visitors in 2006. The construction of the Park and the restoration of cultural monuments in the neighbouring Darb al-Ahmar, including Umm al Sultan Shabaan mosque and the Kheyrbek complex, have become catalysts for social and economic development in the district. The project also includes rehabilitation of housing, microfinance, health care and training in a number of fields, including restoration, carpentry and computer skills.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Mohamed el Mikawi, CEO
Aga Khan Cultural Services (Egypt)
Tel: +20 22 510 7378/ 3868
Fax: +20 22 512 1054
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the Muslim world. It includes the Award for Architecture, the Historic Cities Programme, the Music Initiative in Central Asia, Museum Support Unit, the on-line resource ArchNet and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). AKDN agencies address a broad spectrum of development issues in the social, economic and cultural spheres. Social development programmes in Egypt include healthcare, education, microfinance, training, housing rehabilitation, cultural restoration and economic development.
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational, international development agencies created by His Highness the Aga Khan. The Network is grounded in Islam’s ethics of inclusiveness, compassion, sharing, self-reliance, respect for health and life, cultivation of a sound and enlightened mind, and humanity’s collective responsibility for a sustainable physical, social and cultural environment. AKDN is active in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Iran, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Portugal, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Zanzibar. In India active projects in the fields of education/health/culture/rural development/micro-finance/water and sanitation are ongoing in Kashmir, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Yes Yes… I know that the title of this post resembles the score in the African Cup Final between Egypt and Ghana, but this is MY blog and I’ll ignore that if I want to. No, today I want to talk about Al Azhar Park – Cairo. The entrance is free for children (under 12 I think – I forgot to ask), though if you drive there you should expect to pay LE 5.00 to park your car. For adults you should expect to pay LE 10 each.
How do I start this…? WOW, what a lovely, lovely place. Perfect for a day out with the family, or just a peaceful , even romantic day out for you and your spouse. There are lovely restaurants (see the link for details – WAIT!! …..WAIT! – I’m telling you about it…see the link after……) and there is grass! Yes… GRASS! If you have been to Cairo before you know why I am making a point of this, if you haven’t you can guess why I’m making a point of this.
There is a hint that this ‘garden’ is something a little special as you approach the gates. Unlike most of the buildings and infrastructure in Cairo, this, from the very doorway, stands out…. like someone is actually looking after it.
Running right through the middle of the park is a paved walkway with various water features and fountains. These are perfect picture opportunities and you will have a good laugh at some of the sham-less ways Egyptians pose for photos. Coming from Europe, the UK especially, we are ‘rather reserved somewhat’ when it comes to having our photo taken in public. Other cultures it seems are less inclined to try and show their ‘good side’ and my children (who always assume no-one understands them if they speak in English) will embarrass us by saying loudly “Oh my gosh Mummy look at him posing! He looks so funny!”
If you follow the path down the middle you will be led to all the amenities you want, well sign posted there are toilets which are reasonably clean and tidy (for public toilets) and several eateries and cafe’s. My favourite is the one with the lake and fountain right outside its walls. With an open view you can enjoy a full menu whilst basking in the sun, or if you time it right….. as you watch the sun set. (Please note I was there just in time to catch the sunset in the restuarant – yes that is a restaurant! In a PARK! See what I mean? and that is a lake just after the last table – like a postcard….. well done Cairo!!)
The park is located near our place in Mokattam and is high above the rest of cairo so the views are beautiful. It also means that there is a nice breeze which naturally blows along the open spaces and trees. We decided to bring our own sandwiches and we ate on one of the grassy hill tops, but we did check the restaurants out. The one by the lake is the gem. There is a minimum charge of LE 45.00 per head (about (£5.00) but it’s well worth it, it has the feel of an indoor restaurant (if you know what I mean). I can’t vouch for the food, but it smelled delicious. Not as nice as my wife’s sandwiches though Mmmmm they were the most amazing and tasty sandwiches I have ever eaten (she reads this you know….. better to be safe).
I always tell my daughters if you pull faces one day your face will stay like that
Once you are done eating, you should make your way back along the path but this time veer to the edge of the park and find the cliff edge. Here you will find benches where you can sit and take in the view of the City. It is really something. The old buildings and blocks need some work but if you are like us and you appreciate the character in old things then you will love this view. The Cairo smog makes it a little harder to see the detail all the way down to the horizon, but if you have timed it well you can really get an awe inspiring view.
The day we were there was a Sunday and many people would have been at work so it was not too crowded. My guess though, is that is can get a little crowded on the weekend (Fri & Sat) so may be best to avoid those days if you can. Altogether though I give it 5 stars and I can’t wait for the rest of my family to come and enjoy it. After my rant about the rubbish internet services here – I have found something to pout the balance back in Cairo’s favour. Hyde park is nice, bigger maybe…… but it has nothing on this.
No they are not paying me to say all of this come on, this is Egypt, they would probably ask me to pay them if they knew I’d mentioned it in the blog!
[b]This article was originally published in May 2005, The Art Newspaper, Issue 158.
In a rare interview, His Highness the Aga Khan describes his global approach to helping Islamic communities help themselves, while also restoring their past heritage[b]
By Anna Somers Cocks. Features, Issue 261, October 2014
Published online: 10 September 2014
This article was originally published in May 2005, The Art Newspaper, Issue 158.
Last month, a 30-hectare park in the centre of Cairo was inaugurated by the Aga Khan and Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the Egyptian president. It stands high over the city so on a clear day you can see the pyramids, and breezes ruffle its palm trees. You look down on the 12th-century city wall that runs for a kilometre and a half from Saladin’s great citadel. Crushed up against it is Darb Al-Ahmar, the oldest part of Cairo, a dense network of ramshackle streets that includes 50 monuments, from exquisitely detailed 14th-century mosques to the last of the whirling dervishes’ theatres in Egypt. The poorest of the poor live here; the houses—and most of the monuments—are so badly maintained that some of them are downright dangerous.
The Aga Khan offered to give Cairo a park in 1984 on the occasion of the conference “The expanding metropolis: coping with the urban growth of Cairo”, organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. He feels a strong link to the city as it was his ancestors, the Fatimids, who turned it into their capital and gave it the name by which it is known today. He holds up as an example to the modern world the pluralistic, enquiring, intellectually dynamic society they created. They founded the famous Al-Azhar University that can be seen from the park that now bears the same name. It is even rumoured that the Aga Khan would like to be buried here.
He had intended to spend $5 million turning the 500-year old rubbish dump into breathing space for a city that had just 30 centimetres of garden or park land per inhabitant. In the event, the Al-Azhar Park has ended up costing $32 million as it has turned into a major urban and social regeneration project. The Aga Khan’s Historic Cities Support Programme decided that it could not stop just at creating the park, but had to tackle the restoration of the wall and the houses next to it.
Taking the lead from the worst Western town planning, the City of Cairo’s plan for Darb Al-Ahmar had been to demolish all but the historic buildings for a 30 metre-wide band all along the wall, and to clear large spaces around any other fine buildings. The general belief was that this was a hopeless neighbourhood, inhabited by immigrants from the south, lacking in any social cohesion, and a hotbed of crime. Fortunately, the City’s plan was never carried out.
The first thing the Aga Khan team did was to conduct a survey of the community. They discovered that none of the prejudices about the neighbourhood was true: 60% of the local population had been resident for at least 30 years and almost 20% had been there for more than 50 years. People liked the district and went to great lengths to help each other; crime was negligible and the community included many skilled workers and small enterprises. In other words, it was a precious but endangered human asset to the dysfunctional megalopolis of 17 million inhabitants that Cairo has become.
A major challenge for the Aga Khan team was to get the authorities to repeal demolition orders and allow the houses to be restored, keeping the layers of history. But just restoring buildings was not enough for them. They follow their leader, the Aga Khan in a belief deriving very much from Ismaili philosophy, that you must help people, but help them to help themselves. Thus, they made technical assistance available to inhabitants, even sorting out complicated ownership problems caused by unrealistic fixed rents set decades ago, which had led the landlords to abandon houses that had just become a liability.
The Aga Khan’s Historic Cities Support Programme made grants, but also lent money as part of its micro-finance scheme. They bought up a former merchant’s house and turned it into a community centre, for women to meet and for children after school. They hired and trained local craftsmen in restoration skills for the houses and wall, but also for the two mosques they have taken on. One of these mosques, the Khayrbek, is part of a 13th-century palace complex with a ruined Ottoman house and open spaces, which was chosen not just for its architectural merit but because it will provide a setting for recreational and cultural events. The skyline is important to the Aga Khan, and the Khayrbek mosque had lost the crowning element of its minaret, so that was another good reason to choose it for restoration.
Over the last seven years, the Aga Khan teams have become part of the local community and they will stay on, even after the restoration of the wall is finished, to carry on giving Darb Al-Ahmar support, to help create what the Aga Khan calls “an enabling environment”, where hope and self-sufficiency and the civil society can flourish. For the Aga Khan believes firmly that there is no point in restoring a physical environment without also facing up to the surrounding social issues; only by addressing them can development be effective and lasting.
Anna Somers Cocks: You are both a temporal and spiritual leader. Would you tell us what your spiritual journey into architecture was?
Aga Khan: One of the things the non-Muslim world must try to understand is that Islam does not separate faith from the world. We have an obligation to the world as much as to faith, and that means helping people to live in a better way, ensuring peace and ethical standards in society. I was brought up in that tradition; my university studies were in Islamic history, so I feel comfortable addressing both these areas. My religious role is not well known because I don’t communicate about it much, but the development role is better known. It is simply about trying to improve the quality of life for the poor.
ASC: Was architecture the way into trying to improve society, or was it society that led you to architecture?
AK: When my grandfather died in 1957 we had numerous programmes in health care, education and so on in East Africa. I inherited responsibility for these institutions and at a certain stage I asked myself, whom was I designing for? Were the buildings appropriate to the society and cultures in which we were involved? The question caused me severe discomfort. I felt that we had lost our cultural identity in the built environment, our pluralism. So we got together with a number of Muslim thinkers and asked them whether they shared this worry. Some said that building was driven by faith; others said it was driven by the profession; others, by economics. All thought that something was going wrong. This process led to the first Aga Khan Award for Architecture, in 1977.
ASC: Do you think that some contemporary architects build more for the admiration of other architects than for the people who are going to use the buildings?
AK: I hope that some of the work that has been done through us is encouraging architects, clients and governments to think in wider terms about what they are doing, particularly as we realised very early on that our parts of the world can never become consumer societies; we’ll never have that capacity for rapid change and therefore we are building for a longer time-span.
I didn’t want to freeze architecture in the past. Architecture is a human process and what I wanted to make sure happened was that the process of change was driven by the inspiration and knowledge that were important in our part of the world. That’s why the Aga Khan Programme for Architecture at Harvard and MIT is crucial; let’s make sure that the people who are designing, understand the societies for which they are working.
ASC: Why Harvard and MIT?
AK: That was a long and difficult debate. We wanted to reward quality, but what were we doing about teaching people to produce better architecture and where could we have the greatest influence? The answer was, in the Western world, because it was architecture developed in the Western world that was leading the profession internationally. Once the decision had been taken to put the programme at Harvard and MIT, the question was, how to get the information out. That led to the publication Mimar and now ArchNet [www.archnet.org]. With the latter, all the professional associations and schools of architecture now talk to each other, so we have overcome the geographical limits.
ASC: Do you think that if there were greater historical awareness among the population there would be more pressure to look after buildings better? For example, in the schools here in Egypt, great emphasis is put on the pharaonic past and relatively little on Islamic history.
AK: In many parts of the world the Islamic heritage has not been seen as an asset. Whole generations have been brought up to see their inheritance as a liability; that’s why highways are being put through historic cities and extraordinary buildings are being destroyed. We sensed very early on that we had to build new values. We needed a new approach at all levels in the Islamic world: governments, corporations, and non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. There is much greater awareness today than there was in the 50s and 60s. There are changes in schools of architecture, changes in teaching materials, investment in cultural assets—not all due to us, of course. There is a new symbolism coming up in the Islamic world, whose value system comes from the faith.
ASC: Istanbul and Cairo have mostly been very ill served by modern architecture. We see concrete boxes, badly proportioned, very badly built, with poor services. What can be done to provide better architecture for the mass market in the Islamic world?
AK: It is an extremely complex problem. The difficulty is that you are dealing with different clients: the government, development organisations, and property speculators. We have been looking at this in our Architecture Awards for a long time, but it is probably at the regulatory level that the solutions will be found: who gives the licence to build? who makes sure that the conditions laid down in the licence are observed? That is the city or government’s responsibility.
ASC: In a city such as Cairo, what is the message of the skyline?
AK: The message of the skyline is the question of whether the inherited institutions and the presence of places of worship are important, or whether it is the urban growth that is going to dominate people’s perception of city life? The Western world has gone through the same process: church towers became insignificant buildings. That may not be a healthy way of going about things; it may send a message about the wrong values. Here if you look around, you see the mosques, the places where the dead are buried, you see new glass and concrete buildings that are not very good. I think it is important to protect what one has; that is urban planning. For example, at Bagh-i Babur [Babur Gardens] looking towards Kabul, you say to yourself, God forbid that the skyline should change; it has kept its human dimension; its symbolic spaces are visible. There are ways to modernise cities while keeping their historic values. The West is also working on this, fortunately.
ASC: Was there an historic inspiration for the design of the Al-Azhar Park?
AK: Historically, the design of open spaces was a very strong part of the physical environment in the Islamic world—think of Shalimar, of Spain—but in modern times, landscape architecture has been a very weak area in their schools of architecture; they have tended to be engineering-driven rather than architecture-driven, which is why I have been working with them to try to reintroduce these skills. Here in Cairo, sadly, we had no precedent from which to work, so we had to think what would be appropriate to the site. We thought water was important; scale, sound, perambulation. We designed to these ideas. The experience led to my endowing a professorship in the Islamic School of Design programme at Harvard and MIT, specifically to look at landscape architecture and environmental issues.
ASC: How do you begin a project such as this?
AK: From the outset, one of the mandates was to listen to local people, local NGOS, teachers etc., who understood how society functioned in the catchment area, because you have to involve social development in a cultural diversity exercise.
We then worked to find out the ownership patterns. You have to start with the basic information—longevity, disposable income, health indicators and so on—on which to base your processes of change, so that you can measure the nature of the change.
ASC: How will the park be maintained?
AK: This initiative, and all our similar ones, are structured in such a way as to create a cash surplus every year from ticket sales and the restaurants, which is not distributed as dividend but is used for maintenance and occasional upgrades—for example, here, we would like to improve the children’s’ area—so that the notion is one of self-sustainability. It is a public/private partnership and as such has to be predicated on a sound economic basis. This is important, because in the past many such projects have been seen as indefinite consumers of resources. We want to show that if this is put together with care, it ceases to be charity or philanthropy but actually creates economic resources based on cultural assets.
To give you two other examples we are working on: the rehabilitation of the Old Stone Town on the waterfront of Zanzibar, which I am convinced can change the economy of the whole island; and Bagh-i Babur in Afghanistan, which will change the lives of 200,000 people. Most of these historic neighbourhoods have been taken over by the newly urbanised population, the poorest of the poor, so by working in these areas and upgrading them you are giving them economic hope. Here in Cairo, change in Darb Al-Ahmar will not end with the restoration of the city wall; it will be a continuing process.
You can look after the future of the park in other ways, for example, with an endowment. This brings you back to working with government, because fiscal privileges need to be offered to the private sector if they are to give to cultural activities—to fund a professorship at a university or endow a micro-credit programme, for example. The notion of an endowment is one that I look to with increasing eagerness, for the simple reason that as these economies are liberalising, more and more of the resources will be in the private sector and there has to be some sort of social responsibility in the creative reutilisation of wealth. We are seeing small rural communities in Pakistan that have their own endowment, which they look after themselves so you have wealth management rather than poverty alleviation, which is a totally different concept.
ASC: How can your network fight terrorism?
AK: I would not link terrorism directly with cultural issues. My biggest concern is acute pockets of poverty; they are in many cases the breeding ground of despair. We have to find out why they are like that and what we can do about them. We have been working for 25 years in northern Pakistan and the quality of life has changed radically there. One has to work to give people confidence and hope; that changes society.
ASC: How do you choose your partners?
AK: We have worked in Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which went through nationalisation and the destruction of their private sector. I need to know with whom I am in dialogue: do they share our objectives and the means of achieving them? In the 50s and 60s you could not have discussed the notion of public/private partnership with most of these countries; the notion of pluralism was resented. I think that creating value systems that correspond to these societies is the critical issue. We will even work with governments to help them rewrite legislation, creating new institutions such as not-for-profit entities.
Art Alert: Balalaika circus performance at Cairo's El-Geneina Theatre
The circus night will be performed by Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Art School students at Al-Azhar’s open air El-Geneina Theatre
Ahram Online , Monday 26 Oct 2015
On 30 October, El-Geneina Theatre will host Balalaika, a circus performance by students of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Art School, between the ages of 8 and 18.
A show of acrobatics, jazz music, rope walking, juggling, and trapeze stunts, Balalaika promises to entertain adults and children alike.
Founded in 2011, Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School aims to support children from Cairo’s Darb Al-Ahmar district, by teaching them circus arts and music, opening up alternative future careers for them. The school also provides health and social care to its students.
Touring around Cairo for a number of years now, the project also effectively raises artistic awareness in different areas, shedding light on art’s role in community development.
Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School was created through Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (The Culture Resource) with support from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Al-Fanar Foundation. The school now operates under El-Genaina Company for Arts and Culture Services.
Friday, 30 October at 8pm
El-Genaina Theatre, Al Azhar Park, Salah Salem road, Cairo
Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2016 7:42 pm Post subject: Al-Azhar Park Video - Exclusive ismaili.net
March 2005 evening, H.H. The Aga Khan opened the Al Azhar Park accompanied by Mme Mubarak. The next day he came to the park accompanied by the Governor of Cairo.The event was exclusively for the workers of the Park. It was a bright sunny day. The Imam was asked to make an extempore speech which he did. That arrival and speech was caught on Video by the Ismaili Heritage Team invited by the organisers. In this Video you will see the park, the arrival of the Imam, his speech and the variety show in honour of the Imam.
The Complete video is 20 minutes. You can jump to Imam's arrival or departure or speech.
Art Alert: Egypt's Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School to premiere Zambalek
Since its onset in 2012, the school, located in the economically underprivileged district of the same name, has taught artistic skills to dozens of children
Ahram Online , Thursday 25 Aug 2016
VIDEO: A night of percussion and circus with Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts school
“We will take you on a journey steeped in happiness, joy, and featuring many surprises. You will hold your breath at some moments, and dance along at other moments (in the company of) artists from Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School.”
Thus reads the event description of Zambalek, a new performance by students at Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School scheduled to be staged every Friday throughout the month of September at Cairo’s El-Genaina Theatre.
Zambalek, which will comprise circus arts and music, comes following what has thus far been a vibrant summer for the school's students, with their participation in the Bab El-Bahr Festival in Tunisia, and the International Children's Folklore Festival in Morocco, among other events.
More recently, the school staged their play Lost and Found on 19 and 20 August at Cairo’s Falaki Theatre, where the play had first premiered in February 2014.
Directed by Hanan Hajj Ali, who also co-wrote the play along with cultural activist Basma El-Husseiny, Lost and Found takes elements from circus arts and theatre to present the stories of children’s relationships with their families, their neighbourhoods, and their country.
Since its onset in 2012, the school, which is located in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar, an economically underprivileged district in Cairo, has taught dozens of children an array of artistic skills.
The school, which aims to provide neighbourhood children with an arts education to help in securing future jobs, was founded by an NGO, the Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy) in cooperation with the Aga Khan Music Initiative - Aga Khan Development Network.
Currently the school operates under El-Genaina Company for Arts and Culture Services, and continues to be partnered with Aga Khan.
Targeting children aged eight to 18, the school opens its door for new students twice a year, after mid-term examinations in January, during which it accepts 100 or more students, and after final exams in May.
Upon enrolment, each child chooses one of three specialisations offered at the school; circus arts, percussion or wind instruments.
Besides Lost and Found, the school’s other performances include Darbaka — the end product of a two-week workshop by STOMP trainers from the UK — and most recently Balalika, a performance comprising circus acts, musical performances and a clown show, all performed by second-year students as well as some graduates of the school which premiered in July 2015.
Every Friday throughout September, 7pm
El-Genaina theatre, Al-Azhar Park, Salah Salem Road, El-Darassa, Cairo
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture
There is nothing more exciting to an arts enthusiast than to unearth the magnificent layered character of a city steeped in an ancient culture. Cairo, which thrives on its historical legacy, is one such city. Its minaret filled views of architectural grandeur found a mention in the medieval folk tales compilation, The Arabian Nights. Arts manager, Gayatri Uppal, 37, believes that she managed to only scratch the surface of its extraordinary history and rich heritage over a five-day trip. Many, unlike her, don't have the luxury to take out even five days, and often use the city as a layover when travelling to other countries in Africa. If they can cover even a slice of what Uppal saw, their short layover would be worth it.
“It has to be one of the most alluring destinations that I have ever visited. Famously known as Umm-ad-Dunya or Mother of the World, Cairo has an astounding number of monuments and antiquities from the Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic civilizations,” says Uppal. Determined to explore beyond the more popular Giza and Nile tours, Uppal took her time to discover local cafes and shopping hubs and went monument hopping.
Marvels of Cairo
It took Uppal a whole day to journey through the 4,000 years old Egyptian civilization via the necropolis and pyramid complex at Giza and Saqqara. “It's pretty much a rite of passage to say that you've visited Cairo. Giza has the Great Pyramid or tomb of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre, the Khafre Valley Temple (The Sphinx), and the Queen's Pyramids among other pyramids, temples and funerary complexes, “ she says. “In continuation with the trajectory of the Pharaohs, a visit to the Egyptian Museum located off Tahrir Square (famous in the recent past for being the site of protests during the Arab Spring) is essential,” she suggests. The museum houses the largest collection of antiquities from Egyptian history including two fascinating climate-controlled galleries dedicated to mummies of Pharaos, gold mask of Tutankhamun from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and the Fayum mummy portraits.
“Those who have a deep interest in history, can tick off more than just the pyramids. There is so much in Cairo that it can take days of wide-eyed strolling through museums and monuments. Islamic Cairo is also referred to as a Fatimid-era city with numerous mosques, tombs and the old-souq. Al Azhar Park, a beautiful park built on a landfill by the Aga Khan Foundation gives a fantastic view of the old city topped with its many domes and sound of prayers. The Citadel, Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Muhammed Ali Mosque, Al-Hussein Mosque, Al-Azhar Mosque, Bein-al Qasreen and others are monuments to visit,” Uppal lists.
Arts manager Gayatri Uppal believes Cairo to be alluring. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Beyond ancient history
It was the Gayer Anderson Museum, named after a British army doctor, and Coptic Cairo interwoven with ancient monasteries, churches and synagogues through its narrow, meandering cobbled alleyways, that kept Uppal on the monument trail for longer. “Coptic Cairo is the address to the Hanging Church, the Greek Orthodox Monastery, Ben Ezra Synagogue and Roman Towers. The Coptic Museum is worth visiting for relics - both Egyptian and Christian antiquities and manuscripts,” she recommends.
Khan-el-Khalili is the place to head to, if one is looking to see a typical old-souq area with mosques, monasteries and hamams. Sharia al-Muizz is an interesting street with coppersmiths with the mosque of Al-Aqmar and mausoleum of A Ghouri. “The souq visit was more out of travel interest. My souvenir hunting was done mostly at Khan-el Khalili where inlay-work backgammon boards, jewellery, lamps, beautiful canvas material, egyptian cotton, applique-work wall-hangings from the tent-maker's market, muski glass and stall with mounds of spices line the streets,”recalls Uppal.
Exploring modern Cairo
The cosmopolitan vibe hangs heavy in Zamalek with modern restaurants, bars, offices, galleries, hotels, shops and apartments. “Zooba was one of my favourite haunts for local Egyptian food done in a trendy manner including koshary, ful-medames, hawawshi, fetir, ta'amey and shawarma,”she says.”But for something more adventurous – like stuffed pigeons – it was off to Kababgy El Azhar Farahat,” remembers Uppal.
While Uppal managed to slip in a whole lot, including a two-hour trip to Alexandria in her short stay, she wishes she had been more ambitious and packed more. Perhaps, the next time she's travelling that part of the world, even a short layover will offer a refresher to this trip.
Stopover Sojourns is a series that looks at how to make the most of your time at lesser-known layover cities through the experiences of business travellers. --
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