Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Khalifa monuments restored

Four restored Islamic monuments were officially reopened in the Al-Khalifa area of Cairo this week against the backdrop of the Spend the Day in Al-Khalifa Festival, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Al-Khalifa area of Cairo, known for the number of its historic and Islamic monuments, was once again in the limelight this week when Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty officially inaugurated four restored Islamic monuments and opened the Spend the Day in Al-Khalifa Festival.

The four monuments, whose restoration was funded by a US grant of $116 million, include the mosques and mausoleums of the Prophet Mohamed’s granddaughter Al-Sayeda Rokaya; the wife of the Ayyubid sultan Nagm Al-Din Ayub, Shagaret Al-Dur; the Prophet Mohamed’s aunt Aateka and one of his family members, Al-Gaafari.

“I am very proud of this work because the inauguration of these monuments will promote tourism to the Al-Khalifa area, while the Spend the Day in Al-Khalifa Festival will raise the cultural awareness of the area’s inhabitants as well as their living standards,” Eldamaty told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said the restoration work was carried out in two phases, in collaboration with the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) and within the framework of the Al-Khalifa Area Rehabilitation Project.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, the minister of antiquities’ deputy for Islamic and Coptic monuments, explained that the restoration work included consolidation of the buildings’ foundations, columns and walls. Cracks that had spread throughout the buildings over the centuries were repaired, while salt that had accumulated in several locations inside and outside the monuments due to humidity was removed.

Wooden decorative elements were restored, while damaged and missing ones were replaced with new ones. A new lighting system was installed, as well as information panels to provide visitors with information on the history of the monuments.

The next phase of the project, Abdel-Aziz said, will see installation of a new drainage system in the whole area to reduce the levels of subterranean water that, in the past, have damaged the monuments. A new drainage system was installed in the area immediately surrounding the monuments as a first step; within a year, the inefficient current system of the Al-Khalifa area will be replaced with a new one, in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing.

Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly that a development project for the whole area is also planned, which will see empty areas within the monuments transformed into service areas for Al-Khalifa inhabitants. The areas will house a hospital, an events space to celebrate wedding parties and funerary ceremonies, as well as a nursery and a school.

The Al-Sayeda Rokaya Mosque and Mausoleum was built by Al-Sayeda Alam Al-Amireya, the wife of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah in remembrance of the Prophet Mohamed’s daughter Rokaya. It is located on the western side of Al-Khalifa Street, adjacent to the Shagaret Al-Dur Mosque. The mausoleum has three arcades and two niches with gypsum foliage elements. Neighbouring the Al-Sayeda Rokaya Mosque and Mausoleum are both the Qubet Aateka and the Al-Gaafari Mausoleum.

The Al-Gaafari Mausoleum, or Qubet Al-Gaafari, was built in 1120 CE in honour of Mohamed Ibn Gaafar, the great-grandson of the Prophet Mohamed’s cousin Ali Ibn Abi Taleb. The Qubet Aateka was built in 1122 and belongs to Al-Sayeda Aateka bint Zeid, the Prophet Mohamed’s aunt.

Abdel-Aziz said that the Qubet Aateka is very important because it houses the oldest Fatimid dome still extant, while the Qubet Al-Gaafari and Al-Sayeda Rokaya Mosque and Mausoleum have distinguished Islamic decorative elements.

The Shagaret Al-Dur Dome takes the form of a small mausoleum with three keel-arched entrances. The qibla wall facing Mecca has a prayer niche, and the dome of the building still bears some of its original ornamentation, including fluted lozenges and medallions and keel-arched niches with fluted hoods.

The qibla niches are in two rows, their spandrels being finely carved with floral motifs. The whole is framed with an inscription band in naskh script on an ornate background. The wooden frieze running along the walls, with its carved inscriptions and arabesques, may be dated to the Fatimid era and therefore must have belonged to an earlier building.

“The dome is a very important Islamic-period monument because it is not only the last building constructed in the Ayubid period, but it also belongs to the only woman who ever ruled Egypt during the Islamic period,” Eldamaty said. He added that it had previously been restored in the 1930s, and at that time 17 square metres of the open court were sacrificed to enlarge an adjacent street.

Shagaret Al-Dur was an Armenian slave who became the wife of the last Ayubid sultan, Al-Saleh Nagm Al-Din Ayub. She played an important political role, and when her husband died she concealed his death to avoid turmoil in the army that was defending Egypt against the Seventh Crusade, led by France’s King Louis IX. When news of the sultan’s death spread, the Crusaders advanced towards Cairo, attacking the Egyptian camp at Gideila, three kilometres from Mansoura in the Delta.

The Spend the Day in Al-Khalifa Festival was also inaugurated by the minister in the area, this time in collaboration with the Cairo Governorate and the built-environment collectives Megawra and Mashroo3 Kheir.

The three-day festival comes within the framework of a participatory conservation initiative called “Al-Athar Lina” (The Monuments are Ours), launched in June 2012 in an attempt to encourage people to participate in heritage conservation, based on an understanding of the monuments as resources rather than burdens.

Abdel-Aziz explained that the festival includes guided tours of the area’s heritage, performances in the street and at the heritage sites, and exhibitions of street crafts, a group sketching and photography workshop, and activities for children.

The event also showcases the results of two preparatory workshops, the first on mural art inspired by the area’s heritage and the second to redesign the traditional Ramadan lanterns made of tin and glass using contemporary approaches and traditional techniques.

The festival is designed to highlight the results and fundraise for the current efforts to clean the area and resolve its waste-management issues. The closing event includes a special excursion that will bring together Syrian and Egyptian children for educational activities, addressing acceptance and tolerance by emphasising common historical ties.

According to the Al-Athar Lina website, the project’s first phase started in June 2012 and included a series of participatory workshops, seminars and exhibitions targeting representative stakeholders. It produced a concept paper for interventions in and around the monuments to turn them into a community resource, taking into consideration the claims and needs of different stakeholders. This was presented to stakeholders and used as a basis for further steps.

One recommendation was to target children through an educational heritage awareness campaign. This led to the establishment of the Al-Athar Lina School for Art and Heritage in a primary school in the area.

Another aim of the campaign is to conserve monuments in the Al-Khalifa area, including the Shagaret Al-Dur Dome, as well as the newly inaugurated monuments, in the hopes of promoting tourism and raising awareness of the area’s history. Area mapping, street art and branding workshops all contribute to the new annual event, Spend the Day in Khalifa. There will be guided tours, exhibitions and performances such as artist Sherine Al-Ansary’s “Khalifa Inside Out”, which shares stories of the area.

This is in addition to the opening of an Al-Khalifa Community Centre as a collaborative effort between Al-Athar Lina, Megawra and a committee of Al-Khalifa residents. Pilot activities include a medical clinic with nominal fees and a daily summer school and after-school programme for neighbourhood children teaching heritage, art, crafts, the Qur’an, reading, writing and sports and all run by volunteers.

A programme in which local artisans and designers exchange skills has also been established, as well as activities curated by Megawra that address issues of architecture and urbanism. Its programme includes city walks, film screenings, lectures and workshops.

Work on the larger urban level started in 2015 with an urban survey and research project to develop a parallel and sustainable system of waste management in collaboration with Cairo University’s Faculty of Planning and in close consultation with the Ministry of Antiquities and the Cairo Governorate.

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