Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Returning to past glory

Mai Samih speaks with shop owners on the newly renovated Emadeddin Street

Returning to past glory
Returning to past glory
Al-Ahram Weekly

In Khedival Cairo, Soheir Zaki Hawas records how, in 1863, Khedive Ismail, impressed by the Haussmann redesign of Paris, decided to do the same in Cairo. The massive building programme took five years. Now, a century and a half later, what remains of Ismail’s “Paris on the Nile” is once again the site of major renovation works. Since April 2015, the government has been busy reviving the spirit of Ismail’s Cairo.

The first phase included Al-Alfi Street and Talat Harb Square. The second phase, now complete, extended the renovations to Emadeddin Street, once the hub of Cairo’s entertainment district and home to many theatres and cinemas. The project is being jointly managed by the Cairo governorate and the Cultural Coordination Organisation.

Mahmoud Labib, an engineer with the Arab Contractors Company, is supervising the renovations. He says the exteriors of seven buildings have now been restored. They include two in Mustafa Kamel Square at the beginning of Emadeddin Street, four at the end and “building number 40, on the corner of Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street”. Among the most important to be restored are the twinned and domed Khedival Buildings, a massive apartment complex built in 1911.

The project is funded by the Cairo governorate, with donations from the Ministry of Religious Endowments and businesses, including Misr Insurance Company and the Egyptian Bank Union.

“Great artists like actor Ali Al-Kassar first came to the attention of the public through their work on the street,” says Mohamed Shaaban, an Emadeddin Street shop owner. “But by the 1980s all this had changed. The street was no longer the heart of the entertainment district.”

Shaaban likes the street furniture that has been installed and approves of the colour scheme employed on the repainted buildings. He is not alone. The owner of a neighbouring coffee shop waxes nostalgically over the street’s past. “Emadeddin was full of famous orators and comedians like Actor Naguib Al-Rehani,” he says.

“There used to be a tram in Emadeddin Street,” remembers an electrician. “Many foreigners and artists lived here, and in Fouad, now 26th of July Street. Now, of course, it’s just like any number of other downtown streets.”

The renovations, says Labib, are being phased. “First we fix any structural problems. Then we repair air-conditioner drainage systems so they no longer damage the buildings. We use old pictures of the buildings to determine the original design features and take samples of the materials used in each building so that we can replicate them in the restoration work.”

Mohamed Saleheen, a downtown shop owner, believes the cleaning and paving of streets should be a priority. Still, he says, “The Emadeddin renovations are excellent.” One thing he would like to see added are “umbrellas on the benches built for pedestrians in the street”.

“The streets now cannot be compared to how they were in the past, although they are renovating them well. But they should have started by renovating the buildings before replacing pavements. By the time they finish work on the buildings, the earlier work on the pavements has been ruined,” says the proprietor of an electrical shop.

“As money becomes available, we will continue with the project. Our end goal is to restore every building of note in downtown Cairo,” says Labib.

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