Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Will Beit Madkour be saved?

Fears are growing that the 19th-century Beit Madkour in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar will be demolished, writes Nevine El-Aref

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The exquisite 19th-century Beit Madkour house stands in Al-Tabana Street, in the Bab Al-Wazir area of Islamic Cairo’s Al-Darb Al-Ahmar. The neighbourhood is also home to an impressive collection of Islamic monuments.

On the south-facing side of the house is the Ottoman sabil-kuttab (water fountain and school) of Mohamed Katkhuda, while the remains of the Ottoman abdeen gawish zawya (prayer area) are on its eastern side.

The latter overlooks the Fatma Al-Nabaweya Mosque and is currently being used as an informal settlement. Opposite Beit Madkour, to the west, is the Mameluke Bahari Mosque of Althunbugha Al-Maridani.

Time has taken its toll on the two-storey house. Its foliage motifs, mashrabiya arcades, façade and gates are damaged. Cracks have appeared in the house’s walls, masonry has cracked and parts of the structure have collapsed.

The wrought-iron gates and windows have been removed from their original positions and now lie on the ground. Most of the marble tiles have vanished. Inside the house, the situation is even worse; the marble stairs are wrecked and the halls and corridors are filled with dirt and garbage.

In one corner, a cat feeds its newborn kittens.

The Italian stained-glass windows that decorate the dome in the ceiling of the second floor are broken. The courtyard of the house is filled with unregulated construction dating from the 1970s, and the entrance is flooded with water seeping from the area’s poor sewage system.

Beit Madkour was once the house of the Ottoman family of Madkour Pasha. Today it is in a critical condition and faces demolition. Two weeks ago, Cairo Governor Galal Al-Said approved a request from the house’s owners to demolish it and put up a new building.

But protests from the Save Cairo group, an association of concerned historians and architects, have forced Al-Said to postpone the decision for a month.

“The house is in a poor state of conservation and was on the verge of demolition. It is a threat to the lives of its inhabitants and the street’s pedestrians,” a spokesman for the owners of the house told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity.

Atef Abdel-Azim is one of those who lives in the long-neglected house. He makes shades for beach-goers and rents two rooms in Beit Madkour. Abdel-Azim told the Weekly that the owners are not prepared to keep up repairs on the house.

“How can they demolish such a historical house, with its distinguished architecture and decorative motifs?” he asked. “How can the government approve such a crime?”

The house is presently occupied by four families and three workshop owners.

“We have filed two lawsuits [against the owners], one from the residents and another from the shop owners, but there hasn’t been a verdict yet. The district authorities are asking for a verdict or they will go ahead with the decision to evacuate the house,” Abdel-Azim said.

“Beit Madkour is our house and we cannot leave it,” wood polisher Ahmed Badran said, suggesting that a public campaign be started to collect money for the restoration.

“The poor sewage system in the house is another problem that we face, but we have not been able to fix it, given the other problems. We have spent years negotiating over the building’s fate, but we could still be evacuated any day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Hashim, a jewellery maker and another of the house’s residents, said the façade has deliberately been allowed to deteriorate to give the impression that the house is on the verge of collapse.

In a bid to protect the house from demolition, Save Cairo asked for it to be relisted on Egypt’s Antiquities List for Islamic and Coptic Monuments. Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, deputy minister of antiquities for Islamic monuments, submitted the request to the minister, who turned it over to the Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Antiquities to take a decision on the relisting.

The committee appointed a team, led by Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Amin, to check the condition of the house and write a detailed report on it. Meanwhile, Save Cairo suggested starting a fundraising campaign to buy the house and save it from destruction.

But last week the ministry refused to relist the Beit Madkour. Amin told the Weekly that the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Committee assigned to inspect the house had refused to register it because it had lost most of its authentic heritage value.

He explained that large and deep cracks have spread all over the house’s walls, threatening it with collapse. The garden of the house has totally deteriorated and been subjected to encroachment by neighbours who built houses in it in the 1970s.

Amin pointed out that Beit Madkour originally consisted of three floors (a ground floor and two storeys). A fire ten years ago destroyed the second floor.

“Registering Beit Madkour on Egypt’s Antiquities List is against the antiquities law and its amendments because it has not retained its distinguished architectural style and authentic historical value,” Amin asserted.

He added that in 2010 it was suggested to list the house, but after inspection the committee refused the request because of its condition. “In order to protect the house from demolition, the Cairo governorate and the National Organisation for Urban Harmony (NOUH) [a national heritage organisation] will need to find a reason to relist the house on the NOUH List,” Amin suggested.

The Beit Madkour was delisted in 2011 by ministerial decree as it was subjected to deterioration and looting in the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution.

Amin told the Weekly that negotiations are taking place between the Cairo governorate, the NOUH and the Ministry of Antiquities to find a way to save the historical building.

Omneya Abdel-Barr of Save Cairo told Al-Ahram that the group has not given up its campaign to save the house and will file a lawsuit against the ministerial decree to delist it.

For the moment, the situation is frozen and the grace period given by Al-Said will expire at the end of June. The fate of Beit Madkour hangs in the balance.

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