Friday,14 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)
Friday,14 December, 2018
Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Renovating the Al-Galaa Bridge

Cairo’s famous Al-Galaa Bridge is being renovated as part of a wider project to restore the glories of Khedival Cairo, reports Mai Samih

Al-Galaa Bridge
Al-Galaa Bridge

With its four chandelier-style lamps dating back to Egypt’s 19th-century Khedival period, Cairo’s famous Al-Galaa Bridge connects the island of Zamalek to Giza. In much the same way as was done for the equally famous Qasr Al-Nil Bridge connecting the Downtown area to Zamalek, the bridge is currently being renovated in order to ensure that it meets modern standards and preserve its historical architecture.

The two bridges were originally built during the reign of the khedive Ismail in the late 19th century, with the Al-Galaa Bridge replacing a smaller one originally on the same site. The bridge was built in 1872 to complement the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge on the other side of the island of Zamalek, and it was originally called the Kobri al-Bahr al-Aama, or “blind water bridge” and then the Kobri Badia (Badia Bridge) after impresario Badia Masabni who owned a night club where the Sheraton Cairo Hotel stands today. 

In a later redesign, the bridge opened to river traffic, with the middle section opening and swerving round to allow boats to pass. Recent restoration work paid special attention to this mechanism that over the years had been allowed to decay. This work on the bridge started in May 2012 with the removal of the concrete barriers that had disabled the mechanism and in order to allow the bridge to reopen to river traffic as it had been designed to do. 

It had earlier been opened for boats in 2004, and after the restoration work it was placed under the supervision of the transport authorities. In April 2015, the bridge was reopened, this time under the supervision of the governorate of Cairo, the Arab Contractors Company and the River Transport Department of the police as well as a private consultancy company. The team was composed of 40 engineers, and two steel keys were used to open the bridge, each weighing 150kg.

In 2017, the governorate supervised the reopening of the bridge. This was followed by a current structural renovation that started in January under the supervision of the governorate with funds from the Al-Ahli Bank, a state bank, and carried out by a private contracting company. 

Deputy Governor of Cairo Mohamed Ayman Abdel-Tawab commented of the current renovation of the Al-Galaa Bridge that the “bridge is a very important symbol of Cairo. It is a historic bridge with its four chandelier-style lamps that are considered to be monuments in their own right. It is unique in style and is an important part of our architectural heritage. It needed to be renovated as part of the work to develop Khedival Cairo and after the work done on the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge.”

“The Al-Galaa Bridge is a natural extension of the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge since Tahrir Street starts in Abdine Square in front of the Abdine Palace, passes over the two bridges, and then continues into Giza,” he said. The contribution of the Al-Ahli Bank had been particularly appreciated, he added, as one of the bank’s contributions to the wider renovation of Khedival Cairo. The bank also funded the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge renovation and the development of other buildings including five schools.     

“We are currently renovating the entire bridge as part of an all-inclusive process that will see the repair of the balustrades, the paving of the main road over the bridge, the repaving of the pavements for pedestrians, and the renovation of the lamps,” Abdel-Tawab said, adding that the intention was to preserve the original style of the bridge, which is similar to that of the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge from Zamalek to Downtown Cairo. 

 

METHODICAL WORK: Abdel-Tawab said that the renovation team was working on the bridge section by section. 

“We started from the Giza side and moved to the Cairo side. The railings are being taken down and a temporary alternative barrier set up. We are working on the steelwork with the intention of straightening the railings again. They were damaged because rowing supporters would lean on them while watching races, making them tilt or lean towards the water,” he said.

“So far so good,” commented consultant engineer and heritage architecture expert Abbas Mahmoud. “Despite the fact that the current Al-Galaa Bridge was built later than the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge, it has more signs of decay, one of them being the balustrades leaning towards the Nile. It is a good thing that the bridge is being renovated since it has been standing for more than a hundred years without significant renovation.”

“The most important thing is to preserve the original structure of the bridge and its supporting pillars so that it can be used efficiently today,” Mahmoud said. The team chosen by the governorate was doing a very good job, he said. 

A technical consultant is supervising  the renovation as a whole and  is responsible for the technical side and any complicated calculations, as well as the contractors themselves. The Cairo Transport Authority reviews the renovation work as it is done, Abdel -Tawab said.  

The pace of work has been quick. Since the Al-Galaa Bridge is narrower than the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge, it will take less time to renovate at 145 metres long and 19 metres wide.

Mahmoud refuted concerns that the bridge had become unstable because of the increased traffic it was now carrying. “If a bridge shakes as traffic goes over it, this does not mean it is about to collapse. On the contrary, it means it has a strong structure. It would be more alarming if a bridge was rigid, as this would mean it was also brittle and liable to break,” he said. 

 Historian Maysa Al-Salakawi in her Stories from Long Ago, a recent book on the history of Cairo, has more details to add about the second Al-Galaa Bridge. This bridge, the present one, was originally called the Kobri al-Ingleez al-gadeed (the New English Bridge), and it replaced the original bridge connecting Cairo to Giza. 

It was built on what was known as the Al-Farei Al-Aama, or “blind branch” of the Nile, and it was inaugurated in 1914. The work of British engineers explains the name of the bridge. After the July 1952 Revolution, it was re-named the Al-Galaa Bridge, the name it retains today, Al-Galaa meaning “evacuation” in Arabic and referring to the final pulling out of the British occupation forces from Egypt in the 1950s.  

“It has come to our knowledge that the iron bridge that has been built between the two banks of the River Nile leading to the Nile Palace by the engineers of the French company will be opened in a few days by khedival order,” wrote one 19th-century journalist in the flowery language of the time and describing the inauguration of the original Al-Galaa Bridge in the newspaper Al-Waqaai Al-Masriya (Egyptian Chronicles) in February 1872.

The newly renovated Al-Galaa Bridge will allow boats through on the Giza branch of the Nile in Cairo. Originally boats were also able to pass on the other side of Zamalek Island as well because the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge was also designed to open like the Al-Galaa Bridge. However, it no longer does so today. 

“We have tested the mechanical soundness of the bridge to open and close and made sure of its safety. This successful experiment was carried out in November 2017,” Abdel-Tawab said. “The mechanical structure of the bridge is complete and working, meaning that whenever a large boat passes, we will be ready to open it.”

He added that “we have carried out a great many renovations in Khedival Cairo, and this work is ongoing. It includes the renovation of historical buildings, as well as of streets leading into and out of the area, including the Fatimid era Al-Selah Street and Al-Khayameya Street, an extension of Al-Muiz li-Din Allah Street that starts from Bab Al-Nasr, goes across Al-Azhar Street, and leads from Al-Ghoureya to Al-Khayameya to end up in Al-Qala Street near the Al-Qaysoun Mosque.”

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