Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
20 - 26 May 1999
Issue No. 430
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Index of issues This week's issue

Front Page

Meandering around Mansoura

By Zeinab Abul-Geit


Discovering the various faces of Mansoura, from antiquity to fast food restaurants

photos: Medhat Abdel-Meguid

On the outskirts of the historical city of Mansoura I saw a livestock market surrounded by a fence and divided into sections on the basis of species. Hustle and bustle was everywhere. Brokers were enticing buyers into cheap deals and hard bargains were being struck. One of the workers rounding up animals in the market was complaining, "All this effort for the price of a cigarette!"

Nearby I found a poultry and seed market and I began to get the impression that Mansoura was a rural town rather than a big city with a history. I was soon to learn that there are different worlds on opposite banks of the Nile.

No sooner had I crossed the Sendoub Bridge than I found myself in the modern city of Mansoura. It was as though I was on a different planet.

The University of Mansoura, which has 12 faculties and 36,059 students, lies on Al-Gomhouriya Street. Close by is the Kidney Centre, the most sophisticated in the Middle East established by Dr Mohamed Ghoneim who treats his patients free of charge.

The streets are clean and along the pavement overlooking the Nile flower-sellers displayed their colourful, fragrant wares. Friends and lovers sat chatting on the newly-made benches under umbrellas, just down the way from where the fast-food industry has taken hold in the form of Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Tikka restaurants.

Geziret Al-Ward, Rose Island, is a tourist attraction. In its 30 feddans of gardens and lavish greenery is a club with sports facilities and a physical therapy centre.

I was surprised to learn how many famous people were associated with the governorate. In the Shagaret Al-Dur Park are statues of Mohamed Heikal the novelist, politician and lawyer who was born in Kafr Ghannan; Mohamed Fathi, a pioneer in broadcasting and the first voice transmitted over Cairo radio in 1934; Mohamed El-Tabee the famous writer; minister and historian Ali Mubarak; scientist and environmentalist Farouk El-Baz; Mohamed Metwalli El-Shaarawi, the Islamic preacher, and many others.

It was at this point, after I had seen the notables, that I headed for the historical part of the city, specifically Dar Ibn Lockman, the house where Louis IX, King of France, was imprisoned in 1250 after the seventh Crusade was defeated by Kamal El-Ayoubi, the nephew of the hero Salaheddin El-Ayoubi.

Louis IX lived in relative comfort in this delightful house which has now been turned into a museum for his possessions and memorabilia. Beneath the stairs I saw a zir -- or ceramic water container -- that he used for drinking. Displayed are the suits of mail and swords of the crusaders, as well as a collection of maps. Huge paintings depict the Battle of Mansoura. One shows the people fighting furiously with stones and brass pots while the Crusaders are cutting them down with swords. Another depicts Louis in his suit of mail being captured, while a third shows the crusaders paying a ransom for their leader.

"Great attention has been paid to this museum," said Hamdi El-Shirbini, director of Al-Mansoura National Museum of which Dar Ibn Lockman is a part. "It is, moreover, a cultural centre where cultural symposia are held."

El-Shirbini said that the antiquities authorities are currently restoring Al-Mouwafi Mosque which is affiliated to the museum, and was built at the same time. There is obviously great tourist potential as 300 people visit Dar Ibn Lockman daily, 20 per cent of them foreigners.

Mansoura is famous for its architectural style, especially the Shinnawi Palace (after Mohamed Bek El-Shinnawi, a member of the Wafd Party, and of the Upper House of Parliament and owner of cotton ginning and rice-hulling factories). It was built by an Italian architect in 1928 and considered the most magnificent of its style outside of Italy.

There was a controversy surrounding the ownership of the palace. El-Shinnawi's daughter Thouraya claims that after her father's death in 1994, she and 28 other legal inheritors of the palace called on the Ministry of Culture to convert it into a museum and to compensate them appropriately.

A committee from the Museums Authority agreed, but no action was taken despite follow-ups with officials, even up to the level of the president. Now Thouraya is astounded to learn that the government has decided to build a new museum in Mansoura.

"The Ministry of Culture should take rapid action as the Shinnawi Palace is a ready-made site for a museum. Also, since it is now prohibited by presidential decree to demolish palaces and villas of an historical nature, they should compensate the heirs of the estate who are in dire need of money," said Thouraya. "In any case the beautiful building should be preserved and the name of Shinnawi, my father, should be immortalised."

The mosque of El-Saleh Ayoub El-Kebir is one of the most important in Mansoura. It was built by a loyal servant of the Sultan who are in dire need of money," said Thouraya. "In any case the beautiful building should be preserved and the name of Shinnawi, my father, should be immortalised."

The mosque of El-Saleh Ayoub El-Kebir is one of the most important in Mansoura. It was built by a loyal servant of the Sultan and is located in Al-Sagha Street that separates "old Mansoura" from the modern city.

"The Sultan was buried in a tomb on the first floor of the mosque," said Rashed El-Kousi, an 80-year-old resident of the street, "and some people refused to pray in the mosque because of the buried servant. His body had to be transferred to another place."

Mansoura is a city of contrasts. At one end of the scale, elegance reigns supreme. The Touryel area is characterised by the most luxurious villas with every modern convenience. This is the area in which the Zoological Garden is located.

At the other end is the area around Al-Khawagat (foreigners) market, in reference to the traders of various nationalities (Greeks, Jews and Lebanese) who plied their different trades in Mansoura until the revolution in 1952. Today's traders are Egyptian and their products include flashy-coloured galabiyas, underwear, textiles, socks, shoes, brass and aluminium pots. Sherif El-Markabi, who owns an accessories and textiles shop, said, "We cater to the rural areas and to the lower middle-class residents of Mansoura." He says that purchases increase over the harvest season which is followed by feasts and marriages.

The governor of Dakahliya, Fakhreddin Khaled, said that the Nile Corniche has been extended from the Railway Bridge to the Police Club; that Suez Canal, Al-Geish and Abdel-Salam Aref streets have been developed and planted with trees and shrubs; and that Arouset Al-Nil Garden has been established. Also, a cultural palace, Umm Kulthoum Theatre, and a new bridge that links Mansoura to the town of Talkha were built.

I ended my visit in Al-Sagha Street, where I learned from a shoe shop owner, Helmi Bakr, that the numerous new shoe shops there were once horse stables. I knew Mansoura was indeed rich in history, but my introduction to the city via the livestock market made me start to look at the area in a different light. It added yet another dimension to this most colourful of areas.

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