Cairo is one of the splendid cities around the world. Reading about the city is one thing, but roaming its streets is a whole different thing. What is interesting about Cairo is the fact that you can walk through its street and have a glimpse of its past. The buildings, the streets, and the statues say it all. Many districts speak of the tremendous history of the city, but Downtown remains on top. Downtown is one of the oldest districts in Cairo. It is one of the neighborhoods that have witnessed incidents of the past and the future. Despite its crowdedness and constant traffic jam, you will still enjoy the sceneries it provides. Strolling around the streets and the buildings is a thrilling journey through the past.
THE FOUNDING OF THE DISTRICT OF DOWNTOWN
The neighborhood of Downtown is known to be one of the oldest districts in Cairo. However, it is not as old as Egypt is. Actually, the old district of downtown is around two centuries old. The area started out during the early years of the 19th century. Before that time, it was an abandoned desert; a land with no actual landmarks or paved streets. Since it is even close to the location of the Nile River, the waters used to flood the area annually. With no constructions around, there was nothing that stopped the flood that took place on the banks of the river.
About Khedive Ismail Pasha
Thanks to Khedive Ismail Pasha, he altered the desert state of that area. Khedive Ismail Pasha was the grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, one of the powerful leaders in Egypt’s history. He launched a campaign in an attempt to modernize Egypt and change most of its district. Thus, he started his plans out and developed many parts of what is now the downtown.
Khedive Ismail Pasha lived and received an education in Europe for most of his life. Consequently, he imposed his knowledge and the culture in which he grew on his planning of the area. That is why we can find many buildings reflecting a European style in Downtown. While building up the new district of downtown, Khedive Ismail Pasha hired Baron Haussmann to his assistance. He was a French expertise planner who contributed to providing us with the magnificence of the urban center of Cairo.
Besides the foundation of the downtown district, Khedive Ismail Pasha also developed other organizations in modern Egypt. Those contributions included the establishment of the Orman Garden and the first Egyptian forest.
DOWNTOWN THROUGH THE PAST AND THE PRESENT
Nowadays, Downtown is the urban center of Cairo. It has actually been so for many years, turning into one of the top tourist destinations. Visitors of Egypt and foreigner usually reside in downtown during their accommodation in Cairo. Not only because it is quite splendid and fascinating, but also for being close to almost every other neighborhood. It is so easy to get to different destinations from downtown. In fact, it is deemed to be the midsection between all of Cairo and Giza; where the Great Pyramids are. Above and beyond, downtown is famous for possessing more than a few landmarks and tourist attractions that are worth visiting.
In the past, downtown was a region popular for being home to the elite and the wealthy. The streets were designed so elegantly which attracted people from the affluent classes to reside there. Moreover, it has always been home for arts; which is a major attraction for the elite. However, nowadays, things are not the same. The elegant community started crawling out of the region throughout the years. They moved to more recent places and left the urban center behind. Consequently, the area became crowded with the society’s lower segment. That is why it became on top of the crowded areas of Cairo with suffocating traffic jam.
Home for Artists
Due to the undesired crowdedness of the area, it doesn’t look as graceful and glory as it once did. No wonder the elite community had to flee to newer urban districts. However, that doesn’t mean that the iconic buildings of downtown lost their elegant taste and appearance. They may not look as they once were, but they are still as beautiful. You can observe that splendor while visiting the area during the early times when it is quiet and the streets are empty. Still, downtown is one of the best places for taking impressive street photography. It has always attracted photographers and still does to this very day. In fact, it has always been a point of attraction for artists of different forms. Aside from photographers, well-known writers and authors also passed through those streets. They even spent their times in the coffee shops around to write about its beauty.
TOP LANDMARKS OF DOWNTOWN
As one of the top destinations for tourists in Cairo, several spots are now among the landmarks of the region. Those landmarks include two famous café that managed to survive for very long years as well as squares. The most famous square is actually Talaat Harb Square. You can’t help but hear that name so often while speaking of downtown. There is also Abdeen Square that close to it lies a palace that resonates the same name. They all have history and stories to tell, both historical and political.
On the other hand, downtown also holds two famous coffee shops, Café Riche and Groppi. They are as old as time and that’s why they became remarkable landmarks of the district. According to the locals, those two restaurants and cafes were the hype of the downtown as some point through history. With the ongoing launching of new franchises and brands, they are not as they have always been. However, older people still pass by them and spend their times there. They are probably holding onto the memories that once were taking place around.
Talaat Harb Square
Downtown is actually marked by Talaat Harb Square. It’s easy to get used to that square where actually a statue of Talaat Harb himself stands in the middle. The name goes back to the man who founded Banque Misr, meaning the Bank of Egypt. He was also one of the prominent figures in the political world who played a great role in history. Going back to the square, it actually leads to almost all of the significant spots around downtown. This includes Groppi Café, you will pass by Talaat Harb Square in order to reach this destination.
Abdeen Palace is located on Qasr El-Nil street in the eastern side of Downtown Cairo. On the same site of the palace sat a small mansion whose owner was Abidin Bey. However, Khedive Ismail Pasha built Abdeen palace instead. Thus, the palace was given the name of the owner of the previous mansion. The construction of this palace lasted for around 10 years and it was officially completed by 1874. Léon Rousseau was the French architect who designed the magnificent palace. He also used the help of other decorators from different nations, including Italian, Egyptian, Turkish, and more. The palace is popular for its exceptional decoration that consists of pure gold and clocks scattered around the place.
When the palace first came into being, it was the official government headquarters instead of Cairo Citadel. Authorities had used it for holding ceremonies and official events. However, all of those events along the residence of the president moved to Etihadia Palace in Heliopolis, Cairo. While heading to the palace, you will pass by Abdeen square. Apparently, the name comes from the fact that the two landmarks are close to one another. It is also the place where some festivals used to take place at some point through history.
There is an interesting story behind this café hype. In fact, Groppi was the very first ice cream shop Cairo has ever had. Consequently, it became as famous as it is ever since. Being in Downtown for a century or over now, it became a noteworthy landmark of the district.
Groppi was the name of a Swiss family. They were the ones to start launching that shop of ice cream in Egypt. Groppi family founded the café back in 1909. Downtown was actually at its finest during that period and the elite community resided there. However, it was only during the 80’s that the Groppi family gave up the ownership of the shop. Abdul Aziz Lokma was the new owner; he bought the shop from the original family. Thanks to him, he was capable of keeping the brand alive until this very day. Although there are a lot more famous ice cream shops in Cairo now, this one remains among the popular destination.
In 1908, Café Riche arrived in Egypt right before Groppi did. This café is still one of the significant hallmarks of the downtown district. When it first came to being, it was popular with a whole different name. However, people nowadays call it Café Riche as it has always remained after the change. In 1914, Henry Recine bought the café and changed its name into a French one, like himself. Shortly after, the café was sold for once again. That time, the new owner was the Greek Michael Nikoapolits. It was expected that the name would undergo another change. However, it kept the name that Henry Recine, the French man, gave it ever since.
Aside from its constant changes of names, this café, in particular, had witnessed lots of incidents. Some of those incidents were actually substantial in the history of politics. For example, it was the place that gathered King Farouk with his second wife. Moreover, it was the same place where an assassination on the last Coptic Prime Minister of Egypt came to pass. Luckily, the assassination attempt failed anyway. Besides those events, Café Riche was the spot where artists of all forms gathered. It attracted philosophers, writers, revolutionists, and more. It also happens to be the place where the revolutionists gathered in its basement during the revolution of 1919.
Downtown reflects the European style in most of its buildings, French is actually the most dominant. This alone makes the area quite elegant and eye-catching. However, there’s more to this district than just its picturesque sceneries. Most of the buildings that stand tall around the streets of downtown had fascinating stories. Some of them actually were written about in books and made into a motion picture. This, in particular, applies to Yacoubian Building where a wide array of bizarre stories happened. The name comes from the last name of the owner of the building, Hagop Yacoubian. He was an Armenian man who had this structure built for affluent people to accommodate it. That huge building was an attraction for the elite community, so imagine how the rest of the area was like.
This building had witnessed stories about the lives of people who lived within. Secrets were kept within its walls during its finest years through the 30’s and the 40’s. However, someone spilled those secrets out, making the building the center of attention of many artists. On top of those artists was the Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany. He succeeded in gathering those interesting secrets about the building and keeping them within a book. The novel was entitled “Omaret Yacoubian” which is the Arabic equivalent of Yacoubian building. In the 21st century, the novel was made into a motion picture where the superstar Adel Imam starred. It was one of the Oscar-winning movies in the history of film and cinema.
Obviously, Yacoubian building is not the only iconic structure around downtown. Tamara building is actually another significant one and among the landmarks of the area. The building is located on Gawad Hosny Street, one of the popular streets in Downtown. It was built back in 1910 and inhabited by people of the highest segments of society. This building, in particular, is quite noteworthy. It may be among the few buildings in downtown that bears a resemblance to the European styles. In fact, it reflects the American style found in the buildings of Queens, New York.
The Diplomatic Club
Before turning into the Diplomatic club, that building served as a hub for the affluent and the wealthy. Back then, it was known as Muhammad Ali Pasha Club. However, its name has now changed to the Diplomatic Club. It is one of the iconic buildings of Downtown. It was designed back in 1908 by the French architect, Alexandre Marcel. The latter also happens to be the designer of the gorgeous Baron Palace, located in Heliopolis, Cairo.