Downtown Cairo is part of its older sectors, not quite the oldest but old enough to warrant preservation. It is called the Khedive Cairo referring to the Khedive Ismail, the grandson of Mohamed Ali who is called the father of modern Egypt.
Khedive Ismail ascended to the thrown of Egypt in 1863 and went on a visit to Paris in 1867 where he contracted the Parisian architect Houseman to bring whatever workers he needed to build Cairo into a modern city. Houseman came over with a huge contingent of artisans from all over Europe to set up a new city that would vie with Paris itself. One of the most significant articles of this agreement between Khedive Ismail and Houseman was that every architect or artisan he brought with him must train 4 Egyptians in his trade.
At that time downtown Cairo did not exceed 500 feddans (1 feddan is 4,200 square meters) which included many swamps, trash dumps and many dilapidated buildings. When Houseman came over to plan the new city many new territories were included, all the swamps were buried, all the hills flattened, the dumps cleared and even one part of the Nile was diverted. Large thoroughfares were planned, as well as two bridges and several palaces.
Tahrir Square, which was then called Ismail Square was the starting focal point from which several large thoroughfares stretched out in a semi-circle with the Nile cutting off the square. At this point a bridge was built, the now famous Kasr El Nil bridge, to join the other side of the Nile. These thoroughfares were each 20 meters wide and were laid out like the rays from a sun which was the square.
At that time The Khedive Cairo became more beautiful than Paris. It was built on modern lines where the infrastructure of waterworks and sewage were laid down and where the streets were designed and the buildings planned. The two bridges were one kilometre apart and each had a unique design. The Kasr el Nil bridge is famous for its four large lions each at every end of the bridge guarding it.
The buildings of downtown Cairo are all designed in the trend of that time with all the outside decorations that beautified each building, giving it a unique character of its own. Over time, with the overcrowding, with increased traffic, with car exhaust, all the buildings turned into a a brownish grey colour that totally hid all the beauty beneath a coat of soot. Shops sprouted under every building with glaring, colourful signs of blinking neon lights, turning that once prestigious city into a tacky commercial area. No maintenance was done to these buildings or the streets for decades, then slowly the street vendors started taking over the pavements. After the 2011 revolution the street vendors took over the streets as well.
The project to lift Downtown Cairo’s face started a year ago. The project will include over 6 thousand buildings. Some of the buildings that have already been renovated have been unveiled to the surprise and gratification of Cairo’s residents. Some of the streets have been cordoned off where cars are no longer allowed, but turned into pedestrian only walkways, where trees, greenery and flowers are everywhere and where benches are everywhere for those who want to sit and enjoy the view. Discret cafes are placed strategically so that pedestrians can sit, enjoy the gorgeous weather and drink something or have a bite to eat.
The renovation of the buildings included the restoration of all the beautiful outside decorations to their original state and their original colours. The result is stunning as seen in the included pictures.
There are several buildings which are landmarks to anyone living in Cairo, but when they were renovated then unveiled, they were practically unrecognisable. Their beauty is breathtaking and Cairo residents are once more proud of their ancient, beautiful city.