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Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press,
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Nezar AlSayyad narrates the many Cairos that have existed through time, offering a panorama unmatched in temporal and geographic scope, through an in-depth examination of the city’s architecture and urban form. His narration illuminates how there can be “no one history of the city, but rather multiple, contested, and often invented histories.”

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06079-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preamble: Reading and Writing Cairo
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    This is what naguib mahfouz, Egypt’s most distinguished novelist, wrote in the first few pages of Palace Walk, the initial volume of the trilogy that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.² Mahfouz’s novels provide a dense commentary on Cairo as it navigated the twentieth century, presented through the life and times of three generations of the Abdel-Jawad family. Through them, Mahfouz accurately documents Egypt’s coming of age by tracing the changing social relations in this extended Cairene family. In these three books, he moves us very carefully between the tensions of the emptiness of inherited traditions to...

  5. Road map
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. 1 Memphis: The First Cairo
    (pp. 1-18)

    The city of cairo has been more than twenty-five centuries in the making. It took the efforts of many unlikely characters over time to turn a small residential cluster on the west bank of the Nile into the mammoth metropolis we know today. This chapter tells the story of the first Cairo, a story involving a Frenchman by the name of Auguste Mariette, a man whose life and work helped uncover this first city.

    Mariette was born in 1821 in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, and grew up cultivating a talent and interest in drawing, which he later coupled with an ability...

  7. 2 From Ancient Egypt to the Coptic Enclave
    (pp. 19-38)

    Most tourists to modern cairo are advised by guidebooks to visit the pyramids in Giza and the bazaars in the medieval quarters of the city, often referred to as Islamic Cairo. If time allows, they are then encouraged to visit Coptic Cairo, the Christian urban enclave that existed at the time of the Arab Islamic takeover of Egypt in the second half of the seventh century. After all, the people of Egypt were among the first in the world to adopt Christianity.

    Today, an intriguing building stands among the few remains and the multiple reconstructions of this Coptic town. This...

  8. 3 Fustat-Misr: The City of Arab Islam
    (pp. 39-54)

    The minaret of the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo is a magnificent, albeit enigmatic structure that rises above the dense fabric of the city. Short and rectangular at the base, its upper levels are wrapped in a spiral staircase that climbs to the sky, as if reaching toward God. In the thirteenth century, an observer ascending this spiral would have enjoyed panoramic views in all directions of the Fustat area. Looking south, this observer would have seen the mosque of ‘Amr, possibly in decay but nevertheless an enchanting silhouette on the horizon. Further south one would have seen the...

  9. 4 Al-Qahira: A Fatimid Palatial Town
    (pp. 55-76)

    From the air, few mosques compete in size with the mosque of Ibn Tulun, but the mosque of al-Hakim, originally named al-Anwar, or the illuminated, stands out for its size and its expansive interior courtyard. The mosque, located inside the northern gates of Cairo, was built by its namesake, the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim. Standing atop its short minaret today and looking south, one can see the elegant minarets of the al-Azhar mosque, where the Sunni faithful continue to pray a millennium after its founding. Al-Azhar, at its height, was the greatest institution of Islamic learning in the Middle East. During...

  10. 5 Fortress Cairo: From Salah al-Din to the Pearl Tree
    (pp. 77-92)

    Looking south from the fortified walls of the Castle of the Mountain, the Arab name for the citadel built by Salah al-Din (known in the West as Saladin), the sultana Shagarat al-Durr would have seen the spiral-shaped minaret of the mosque of Ibn Tulun.¹ Less than a kilometer away, she would have seen the site where she would later choose to build her tomb, which she commissioned during the short time she was the ruling monarch of Egypt. Even further south, she would have seen the mosque of ‘Amr standing above the ruins of Fustat.

    It would have been difficult...

  11. 6 The Bahri Mamluks: The City of the Slave Sultans
    (pp. 93-116)

    Located just beyond the citadel, the minaret of the mosque of Sultan Hasan—the highest in Cairo—must have been the ideal point for an observer in the final decades of the fourteenth century to contemplate the magnificent panorama of urban Cairo. A traveler in today’s Cairo can imagine the awe that such views must have inspired in visitors at the time, including Ibn Khaldun, one of the most distinguished historians of the medieval Islamic world. From the vantage point of the minaret, Ibn Khaldun would see the monumental mosque of Baybars in the northern suburbs beyond the walls of...

  12. 7 Governing from the Tower: The Burji Mamluks
    (pp. 117-148)

    The history of cities has always been the history of individuals, events, and places and the interactions among them. Few places in Cairo speak to the history of the city throughout its millennial development as does Bab Zuwayla, the southern gate of the old Fatimid city. Bab Zuwayla and its adjacent mosque are a good place to begin the story of the Circassian Burji Mamluks in Cairo. The Burji Mamluks, or Mamluks of the Tower, who had succeeded their Bahri counterparts, were so named because of their residence in the Citadel, where the protagonists of our story, al-Zahir Barquq, al-Mu’ayyad...

  13. 8 A Provincial Capital under Ottoman Rule
    (pp. 149-170)

    There are few places in Cairo that clearly stand out as uniquely Ottoman in character. Although the city was under Ottoman rule for nearly three hundred years, there are even fewer figures who can be relied upon to tell the story of Ottoman Cairo. Indeed, during this period, which started in 1517 and lasted until the arrival of Napoleon in 1798, 110 viceroys ruled Egypt, each with an average tenure of only three years.¹ But every age has its own specificities, requiring us to narrate it according to its terms, not ours. Diverting from our usual form, therefore, this will...

  14. 9 A Changing City: From Napoleon to Muhammad Ali
    (pp. 171-198)

    The elegant mosque of Muhammad Ali dominates the skyline of Cairo from every angle. Built atop the highest point of the Citadel of Salah al-Din, it towers over the city, giving it a distinctive identity while hinting of connections to other places and times. To anyone familiar with Ottoman mosques—with their domes of varying sizes and slender, conical-topped minarets—the link to Istanbul is unmistakable. Indeed, to a casual observer the architecture of Muhammad Ali’s mosque may seem to mimic that of the famous Suleyman mosque in Istanbul. Muhammad Ali, a renegade Albanian soldier, was initially an agent of...

  15. 10 Modernizing the New, Medievalizing the Old: The City of the Khedive
    (pp. 199-228)

    The cairo marriott is a prominent five-star hotel on the Nile island once called Gezira, which literally means “island” in Arabic.¹ Now called Zamalek, the island is located in the center of what is now Central Cairo. Although the hotel’s interior incorporates the splendor of the old Gezira palace built in 1867, two unsightly towers housing more then five hundred rooms literally bury this historic structure in between them. The palace, built by Khedive Ismail, functioned as the official gathering place for many of the foreign dignitaries who visited Egypt during the nineteenth century. Looking east from Gezira Palace back...

  16. 11 The Arab Republic and the City of Nasser
    (pp. 229-254)

    Once dominated by towering minarets, the skyline of Cairo dramatically changed in the 1950s when a new structure rose on the horizon. Not only did it mark a new era of development, it also came to symbolize the advent of a new political age. At 187 meters tall, the Burj al-Qahira, or Cairo Tower, on Gezira Island rivaled in height the Great Pyramid at Giza. Shaped like a lotus plant and wrapped in a concrete lattice shell, it was lit at night in spectacular colors to shine like a beacon over the waters of the Nile.

    Today the Cairo Tower...

  17. 12 Escaping the Present, Consuming the Past
    (pp. 255-280)

    On october 6, 1981, President Anwar Sadat sat in an outdoor grandstand across from the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Heliopolis, watching a long military procession. The day was meant to commemorate the crossing of the Suez Canal during the 1973 war known to Egyptians as the Ramadan War and to Israelis as the Yom Kippur War. While most were engrossed by a military aviation performance taking place directly above the parade, some did notice a truck pull up to the grandstand and a group of soldiers run from it toward the area where Sadat was seated. Thinking that...

  18. Appendix: Notes on Transliteration and Dates
    (pp. 281-282)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 283-288)
  20. Endnotes
    (pp. 289-312)
  21. Figures and Credits
    (pp. 313-316)
  22. Index
    (pp. 317-326)