Downtown – Wust al Balad in Arabic – is Cairo’s 150-year-old central district. With its mix of Belle Époque, neo-Islamic and Art Deco apartment buildings, its roundabouts ornamented with statues, its glittering cafes and elegant shops, the area was once known as “Paris on the Nile”. But in recent decades the neighbourhood has lost its upper-class cachet, and its architecture has been damaged by misuse and neglect.
It has become common to lament Downtown’s decline – in the press and in Egyptian literature, whose development is deeply linked to the area. Now private investors and government authorities are putting in motion plans to protect and renovate the neighbourhood.
Karim Shafei fell in love with the area when he attended an art festival there in 2001. “I thought: Downtown is going to happen again, the same way it happened in Paris, New York, Istanbul,” he says. Shafei is the chief executive of Al Ismaelia Company for Real Estate Investments, a new venture that is dedicated to buying and renovating Downtown properties – and possibly returning the area to its glory days.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Changes to the Downtown area of Cairo
The National (Ursula Lindsey)