Amazing, Beautifull, Constructed, Dreams, Ephemeral, ....... Valiant, Wonderfull, Xtraordinary, Y Zen destroy them?

1900bp stands for 1900 Buildings Preservation

This blog was set up as a device to launch a campaign against the often conscious and deliberate destruction of some amazing old buildings that are part of our common human heritage.


Cairo Going, Going, Gone (Part I)

This is an article I had published in the Community Times March 2006 issue. Sadly, not much has been done about this issue ever since. The fence in the picture on this post was destroyed last week:

Cairo, Going, Going.........Gone?

Military Decree no. 7 of 1998 has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Council Court last January. It’s true; the ban against demolishing old Villas and historical buildings has been lifted. The court based its decision on grounds that Martial law cannot govern civil affairs such as those relating to personal property rights. True, maybe… But why lift the ban before an alternative solution is worked out? As expected, the nightmare has begun. One by one, our few remaining architectural gems are falling to the ground. Villas in every single governorate are being attacked. The witnesses and the testaments of our country’s long history (one of the few remaining things we Egyptians are still proud of) are being slaughtered, erased from existence. Tall, grey buildings are quickly replacing the many styles (including baroque, art-nouveau and neo-Islamic) that once graced the streets of a Cairo that is now almost gone. The grey city has sadly now become dubbed as “The concrete forest”. When it comes to endangered architecture, villa Serag ElDin in Garden City is a case in point. Originally built in the early twentieth century for real estate magnate Karl Beyerle (according to chronicler Samir Raafat) then eventually purchased by Wafdist leader Chahin Serageldin; it is now owned by his many heirs and would cost millions to be restored. Maybe this is why the villa now stands neglected and run-down. Its barren garden is home to stray cats and dogs and the statues around it are broken and crumbled. The once glorious beauty is now a very sad sight. The villa is currently up for sale, and many concerned people are following the developments to see what will end up happening. We cross our fingers. But why does this issue seem to be so complicated? Well, here’s the conundrum: these beautiful, usually abandoned edifices are owned by private individuals, whom in many cases own little else. Real estate moguls looking for any free inch of land to profit from, offer to pay these people prices usually ranging from 10-50 million LE for their property. Why, you ask? Well definitely not to restore them and bask in their glory (where have you been for the last 30 years?). They are after them to knock-down, build high and profit from. In short, our heritage is being razed to the ground only to enrich the usual suspects. Gone is the age of the Empains (Heliopolis) and the Garozzo's (city center and Khedevial Palaces), now is the age of the hungry moguls, stopping at nothing to squeeze every penny out of an inch of Egypt’s land. But why is our heritage constantly under the threat of demolition? Is it because of the population explosion? That is indisputably a factor. However, it’s not the main reason in this author’s opinion. There seems to be a cultural change, a new culture of unquenchable greed that reigns over beauty, over law, over order, over everything is growing uncontrollably. Need proof? Just go out to the newly built cities in the desert surroundings of Greater Cairo , take the Kattameya area for instance. There you’ll see it: a demonstration of today’s Egypt. Apartment buildings in the middle of the vast space of the desert, crammed densely together, the streets between them barely seeing the light of day. Some may object and say that it is costly to space out the buildings and the infrastructure that serves them. But no, it’s not about the costliness of the wider infrastructure, it's about making more profit, plain and simple. What everyone is demanding at the moment, is that the government compensates the owners of these edifices by purchasing their property from them. However, this solution is far from possible. The head of the Heliopolis District, for instance, states that his neighborhood's share of architectural heritage amounted to 1150 buildings according to the Ministry of Housing (first and original) heritage list. Add to that the rest of the districts and governorates that constitute all of Egypt. Even at bargain prices, it's impossible for the state to buy all the buildings. And you can be sure, they are all worth buying, because they are all what's left after the massacres of the last three decades. Assuming the government could even buy all the intended buildings, they would still be left abandoned, like the many schools being abused by government ministries. Classrooms and offices are crammed into villas and palaces that were originally fit for kings. Crystal chandeliers after having been stripped of every piece of crystal are now replaced by brash, buzzing fluorescent lights. The delicately painted walls are now covered in cheap posters stuck heartlessly on any surface. Dozens of desks are grating the parquet floors which were once fit for museum display. Palaces such as that of Prince Said Halim and Baron Empain are left abandoned simply because no one knows how to re-use them and what to re-use them for?... The situation is tragic.

No comments: