Cairo, a hallmark city in Africa and the Arab World, is a densely populated city with over 20 million resident, but with green spaces few and far between. Many parks in the past and present have survived the urban sprawl, and bigger attention is constantly given to preserving Cairo’s green spaces and increasing them. One of the districts known for its vast green spaces is the island of Zamalek. The southern part of Zamalek is where the greenery is most preserved; this is partially due to the fact that there are three sporting clubs located there, and Zamalek itself has been a lush destination for Cairenes and foreigners alike.
A Gem in the Heart of the Nile
Enter El Andalus Park. It is one of several formal gardens in Al-Gezira area that are popular strolling spots for couples and groups in the morning and afternoon. It is fairly small, but adjacent to the Nile, and also nice during the day as it has plenty of shade from palm trees and vine-covered pergolas.
Zamalek is best approached across the Qasr el-Nil (Tahrir) Bridge from the famous Tahrir Square, which brings you to Gezira Square. In the proximity of the park lies many interesting and famous landmarks of the capital. If you look at the middle of Al-Gezira Square, you will find it is dominated by a statue of Saad Zaghloul, nationalist leader of the 1930s, founder of the Waqf party and the first prime minister of the independent monarchy of Egypt.
Zulfugar Pasha built the park in the late 20s of the past century as a gift for his wife. The architect originally designed the landscape to be part of the royal mansion of Khedive Ismail, and its former grandeur can still be felt today. The park covers a slightly huge area of 8,400 square metres.
The park has three sections: the first, “Al-Ferdous” section with an arabesque design and architecture. In this section, there are two round terraces at the edge of the park where you can enjoy refreshments apart from several well-hidden sitting areas in covered green sheds. Palm trees tower the garden giving an admirable feeling of seclusion from the surrounding streets while at the same time, well defining the paved passageways.
The second section was built in an Andalusian style with mosaic steps and a royal hall and is more of a symmetrical nature than the previous section. A central fountain dominates the area with a statue of Ahmed Shawqi located in an arched royal hall at the highest point overlooking the garden and a central fountain. More on Shawqi in a second.
Finally, the third section is a Pharaonic section with replicas from ancient Egyptian statues depicting Pharaohs and lions.
There may be some confusion regarding the limits of the park: this is because there are two separate fenced parks separated by Qasr el-Nil Bridge and roundabout adorned by the statue of Saad Zaghloul. Both parks (or the one park with two parts) carry the same name and each has an official entrance. A 1946 map shows the park labelled as “El-Tahrir Garden” as opposed to the “Andalusian Garden north of the bridge”.
The park is impressively well-maintained and retains its original design and landscaping despite its closure for ten years from 1991-2001 (supposedly for a renovation but more probably as part of the post-1991 anti-Iraq War protests crackdown on public space). There are some royal palms among other species of palm trees, there are also few very old indigenous trees that were probably left untouched from the time this island was uninhabited.
The park is decorated with statues and busts of Egyptian and South American nationalist figures, most probably all the work of Mahmoud Mokhtar, the famous Egyptian Sculptor whose own museum was built in 1962 in the same park. The most unique aspects of the park are the preserved old structures designed in the traditional Andalusian architectural style, based on designs from Moorish Spain. The lush greenery is studded with colourful mosaic benches and steps surrounding a large fountain.
The Prince of Poets
Bear in mind that El Andalus Park is dedicated to Ahmed Shawqi. With its precisely laid out terraces, neatly clipped trees, colourful tiles and statuary, it resonates with the atmosphere of medieval Spain, Andalusia to the Arabs, who Shawqi was exiled to in 1915. So there was, once, in Egypt a very deep appreciation of the poet’s work – sufficient for him to be commemorated with a lovely garden right beside the Nile.
Shawqi pioneered the modern Arabic Literary movement and he is also known to have produced distinctive poetry and dramas widely considered to be the most prominent of the 20th century Arabic literary movement. His home in Giza, which he bought in 1914, provided a meeting space for musicians, singers, statesmen, and literary writers. The site became the Ahmed Shawqi Museum in 1977.
A few steps away, in the simpler gardens of the Cairo Opera, there’s another statue: this time, of Shawqi’s protege, the musician and composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab who set many of Shawqi’s poems to music, including for Umm Kalthoum.
The Small Island of Heritage
Directly behind the Statue and facing the square is the entrance to the Cultural Centre building, located within the Cairo Opera House grounds which was inaugurated in 1988. However, the Cultural Centre is a late addition to the complex where many art exhibitions take place.
Nearby, the 187-meter Cairo Tower is easily spotted; the landmark of the island was built between 1956 till 1961 and is 43 meters higher than the Pyramids of Giza. On a clear day, one can enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the city from the top of the concrete lotus blossom of the Cairo Tower.
In conclusion, El Andalus Park is A walk through nature with a breathtaking Nile view, attractive natural beauty, and unique-architectural art, and is definitely a great escape to enjoy a mixture of distinct cultures, human civilizations, and nature.