A lotus of pride
Cairo Tower is being revamped, Dena Rashed
finds great history in a cylinder
Click to view caption|
From top: Nasser and the Yugoslav President Tito checking the city from top; a bird's view; during construction; the lotus-inspired tower; Ramah of the circus performing on the fence of the tower on 6 October 1973
For the past 47 years, Cairo Tower has looked down haughtily on the city from Al-Gezira, unrivalled by any buildings in sight and a landmark for Egyptians. Its concrete building, inspired by the lotus flower, is 187 metres high, 43 metres higher than the great Pyramid of Giza. In 1961, when the tower was finished, the building was the highest in the Middle East and Africa.
The tower, although a tourist site, has more to it than just a location from which to watch the city's sites. It is rather a reflection of a historical era that marked its own achievements strongly.
According to one tale, after the 1952 Revolution, the state was planning to build a communication tower to be used by the Foreign Ministry and the Egyptian Intelligence Services. Meanwhile, the CIA was hoping to draw the head of state to the American side in its fight against communism, so according to Ahmed Hamroush, one of the free officers of the 1952 Revolution and a writer, $3 million was offered to the Revolutionary Command Council, as a bribe. "As a patriotic man, he refused and the money was channelled to fund the Cairo Tower," said Hamroush, attributing the decision to president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Construction work began in 1954, stopped two years later, then was resumed in 1959.
The building, designed by Egyptian architect Naom Shebib, who passed away in 1985, remains a landmark in the capital, from where visitors are able to watch the city with telescopes.
Renovation of the tower started two years ago, while it was still open to the public. Preparations took many months, due to the special high cylinder figure of the building. Last September, the building was closed down, for the final phase of restoration. The tower went through different phases of renovation in the 1980s and 1990s, but the current plan -- so far LE20 million -- aims at repairing, renovating, painting and improving the status of the tower, the gardens and the area surrounding it.
At the tower on a daily basis, 150 to 200 workers race against time to finish their plan. Despite the dust that fills the place, the rare old trees still look exceptional, and will probably look better once some unnecessary buildings around them are demolished within the parameters of the tower.
According to Tarek Amin, head of the project of the Arab Contractors Company at the tower, "the original design was strong enough to handle all possibilities of excess weight or earthquakes and the simple cracks in the tower did not affect the essence of the building."
As Ayman Heikal, the architect of Memarioun Office that planned the new design of the tower, explained that since the opening of the tower, it has been touched up with slight repairs but it reached a condition where a dire intervention was needed, since its services did not meet contemporary needs. "We took the chance to introduce another restaurant and a second cafeteria to provide a five star service to the visitors," he said. The tower already hosts the first panoramic revolving restaurant and a cafeteria, allowing their visitors a view of the city while dining. While both had a strategic view that is incomparable to any other restaurant in town, their conditions deteriorated with time. "We built four new floors in the spaces in the body of the tower, as the original design allowed a 12-metre space between the floors. Thus evolved the idea of new restaurants, kitchens and lavatories, all to make the place more interesting with better services," said Heikal. The design, as he pointed out, was intended to provide services that would allow visitors to spend more time in the place, with shops, a business centre and, most importantly, extra elevators.
As Amin told Al-Ahram Weekly, "the tower originally had one elevator and that constituted a problem, so currently it has two more, one reaches a third while the other reaches two thirds of the building." Also, the tower has been supplied with a new power plant, generators, a sophisticated fire system and an additional water supply on the ground.
"We are repairing while at the same time preserving the authenticity of the tower. We are dealing with it as a monument. So far 80 per cent of the work resembles the original design," added Heikal. Unfortunately, the original blueprint of the tower is not available, as he explained, so they were faced with some difficulties in the planning phase. The same problem faced the Egyptian Hotels Company that managed the tower in 1982 during renovations. They too had to make new plans and drawings for the tower.
Most importantly, as Heikal stated, the project is being designed and executed entirely with Egyptian expertise. "When this tower was built, it was considered a scientific miracle and we are aware of its importance, which is why we are documenting every phase of the project. It is as significant as moving the statue of Ramses. We are preparing a documentary film soon that marks the different stages of work," he added.
For the Arab Contractors too, the tower was a different working experience. As Amin noted, special attention was given to that project due to its unprecedented height. The wind and temperature have been a concern, "so we set a special plan devised to train the workers who have not been used to working at such an unprecedented height of almost 62 floors, making sure they were tested for diabetes, blood pressure and other diseases that might endanger their lives."
While workers have so far avoided any serious injuries due to the height of the tower, the building itself was known as the favourite spot for suicide in the 1960s and 1970s. The first suicide attempt took place in January 1968. While Egyptians were celebrating the feast, a sad 18-year-old from Zagazig city committed suicide and inadvertently made the tower known as an easy spot for those who contemplate the idea of ending their lives.
In 1969, however, the fourth person who jumped off the tower did not die, as he fell on the window of the cafeteria. The 21-year-old student, who originally had recovered from blindness and paralysis, decided to commit suicide from the top, because he could not pass the secondary school exams. He was saved and promised not to try to jump again. The tower has many stories behind all those who go up to the top, whether to gaze at the city, enjoy some romantic time or end their lives. While some have been saved at the last moment from jumping, measures have been taken to stop any more attempts. The last suicide took place in 1995. Besides the security guards, the fence at the top of the tower has been raised several times and with the renovation plan, as Amin emphasised, "not even a new-born can pass through the gaps in the fence. That point has been taken into consideration."
While many await the re-opening of the tower, it will also be an object of beauty from afar, with its new lighting system. The company that lights up the Eiffel Tower was consulted to provide a similar system that will let Cairo's Eiffel glow from the outside as well.