From historical sites to vibrant cultural centres

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Egypt’s architectural wonders have been transformed into cultural centres in a stunning move by the Cultural Development Fund.

The philosophy of transforming historical sites, following their transformation into centers for artistic creation all under the auspices of the Cultural Development Fund emanates from a modern vision regarding the management of Egypt’s historical sites. This modern vision aspires to create an amalgam of employing the historical significance of the monument on one hand and structuring it as a source of artistic creation on the other hand. This philosophy therefore took part in disseminating culture and art on a wider scale, and helped unearth artists and celebrate youth’s artistic capabilities by sponsoring and guiding amateurs. It sought to execute this project especially in Cairo’s oldest and most populated neighborhoods that comprise many historical sites.

Wikalet Sultan Al-Ghouri

Within the confines of these sites, the fund was able to present all sorts of artistic creativity, including musical and theatrical performances, folk art, art exhibitions, film screenings and kids shows. The fund was also able to embrace a number of heritage-oriented groups that perform weekly shows in some of these centers, all with the aim of preserving the cultural corpus molded by a generation of pioneers as well as inspiring new generations to introduce their own ingenuity. These centers have also attracted hordes of Arab and foreign tourists, who take an interest in attending cultural shows and to experience watching a live performance while reveling in the splendor of the historical site.

Al Ameer Taz palace

After the success of the experience, which was initiated in the mid-90s in a number of historical sites like Al-Harawi, Zeinab Khatoun then Bayt Al Sehemi, the project spread to other historical sites, which were revamped and reopened recently. The total number of these centres now stands at 11 and they are all under the auspices of the Cultural Development Fund. The following list encompasses some of these venues and includes snippets of information about each.

1. Bayt Al-Harawi

Bayt Al-Harawi sits between an inimitable assortment of Islamic houses. It is adjacent to Al-Set Waseela’s house and overlooks Zeinab Khatoun’s house at Al-Azhar’s Mohamed Abdo street. The house was erected by Ahmed Ben Youssef Al-Serrafi in 1731. It is traced back to Abdelrahman Al-Harrawi Pasha, who was a doctor and the last person to claim ownership of the house in the year 1881.

Bayt Al-Harawi

The house is recognised as a historical, artistic and touristic site; hosting different cultural and artistic events. It incorporates Beit Al-Oud Al-Arabi (Arabian Oud House) which was founded by Iraqi musician and oud master Naseer Shama in 1998 as the first center specialised in presenting a comprehensive study of the oud instrument.

2. Bayt Al-Sehemi

Located at Al-Darb Al-Asfar off Al-Moezz Street, Bayt Al-Sehemi is a matchless example of the Cairene city’s domestic architecture in the Ottoman era. It is composed of two sections. The southern section was erected by Shaykh Abdelwahab Altablawi in the year 1648, while the northern section was established by Hajj Ismail Shalabi in 1796 who integrated both sections into a single house. It was named Bayt Al-Sehemi after Shaykh of Turkish colonnades at Al-Azhar, Ameen Al-Seheimi, who was also the last person to live in the residence.

Bayt Al-Sehemi

Ceiling of hall at Bayt Al-Sehemi

Bayt Al-Sehemi

The house is considered one of Cairo’s most beauteous historical sites and was renovated to serve as a resplendent cultural and artistic centre in the Al-Gamaliyya district. Bayt Al-Seheimi’s profound impact on the neighborhood renders it a model for how cultural venues can have a social and cultural impact on societies.

3. Centre for Child Creativity – Bayt Al-‘Eini

The Al-‘Eini school is located behind the Al-Azhar mosque and was erected in 814 AH.

Bayt Al-‘Eini

In 2003, the idea to transform the upper level building attached to Al-‘Eini School into a center for child creativity was introduced. This was in parallel to efforts being made to introduce cultural development and increase people’s awareness of historical sites. Recognising that the most important age group in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar’s society is that of children, the centre was founded to act as a forum for these children (whose ages range from 6-15 years old) and help uncover their innate creativity in the fields of art, music and poetry.

4. Sabeel Qayt Bay Cinema School:

Sabeel Qayt Bay is located in Shaykhoun Street off Salah Al-Din square and it encompasses the first school specialised in the free online study of cinematic and television arts. The service is available for Arabic speakers worldwide. The student can access the system at any hour of the day without having to commute to a building or a lecture hall.

Sabeel Qayetbay

5. Al-Ameer Taz Palace

The palace is located in old Cairo and specifically in the Al-Khalifa area on Al-Seyoufiyya street off of Al-Saleeba street. It was erected by its owner prince Seif Al-Din Taz Ben Qatghag, who was one of the prominent princes in the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate during the Bahri Dynasty.

Al-Ameer Taz palace

Al-Ameer Taz palace

Qatghah achieved notoriety under the rule of Al-Saleh Ismail Ben Al-Nasser Mohamed (1343-1345) until he rose to prominence during the era of his brother Al-Muzzaffar Hagi.

Efforts were made to revamp the palace, which is considered a hallmark in Islamic architecture, and to design a future plan that would ensure its survival and help it contribute to Egyptian culture. To realise such aspirations, this historical site was transformed into a center for cultural ingenuity to disseminate different arts within the Al-Khalifa and Qal’a neighbourhood, which are known to be two of the most splendid areas in Cairo. The neighbourhoods encompass a community known for their innate creativity, which allows the palace to embrace them, and find skilled cadres capable of molding a new artistic generation with a solid academic base.

Al-Ameer Taz palace

6. Bayt Al-Sinnari

Bayt Al-Sinnari is one of the grandiose palaces still in place. It was built for the corps d’elite of society and was erected by its owner Ibrahim Kat Khoda Al-Sinnari who spent a king’s ransom on its construction. It was established in the year 1209 AH (1794 CE) and is located in Hay Al-Nassereya in Al-Seyyada Zaynab. It sits at the end of a quarter currently known as harrat Manj (The Manj Quarter), after one of the scientists who accompanied the French expedition to Cairo in 1798. The members of the expedition had stayed at this house when they colonised Egypt.

Bayt Al-Sinnari

Bayt Al-Sinnari

Ibrahim Kat Khoda Al-Sinnari, who was originally from Dankalla, Sudan, was a member of Cairo’s affluent society. He was a doorman in Mansoura, then moved to Upper Egypt, though he maintained a good relationship with prince Murad until he was able to become one of Cairo’s landed aristocracy. Al-Sinnari died in the year 1216 AH (1801 CE). After his death, the monument was transformed into a centre for artistic creation to disseminate culture in all its different kinds.

Bayt Al-Sinnari

7. Wekkalat Al-Ghouri

Wekkalet Al-Ghouri, or Al-Ghouri Caravansary, is part of a funerary complex established by Sultan Al-Ashraf Abul Nasr Qansuh Al-Ghouri at the end of the Mamluk era. He built the caravansary to serve as a commercial centre for Egypt and its neighbouring countries.

Al-Ghouri had a taste for architecture and left an artistic legacy of precious buildings in Egypt, Aleppo and Hijaz, most of which were built for charitable purposes. During his reign, he was interested in making Egypt more secure, so he built Aqaba castle and repaired the Mountain castle and Alexandria towers. Moreover, he renovated Khan Al-Khalili, fixed Imam Shafei’s dome and built a minaret for the Al-Azhar Mosque.

The centre was refurbished to allow it to carry its role more adeptly. It now encompasses a modern theatre, a changing room, and a hall that can hold up to 300 audience members as well as high-quality sound and lighting systems, in addition to a gift shop that sells souvenirs and the fund’s various publications.

8. Zeinab Khatoun

Zeinab Khatoun’s house was constructed in 1468 and is situated in Al-Azhar. The house was restored in the 90′s and is considered a beautiful example of the sophisticated domestic architecture that once filled the city of Cairo. The architectural beauty of the house has made it an impeccable location for shooting films and TV series.

The house has become a vibrant cultural centre as well as an attractive spot for tourists. It is now famous as an Egyptian coffee shop under the same name. The coffee shop is known for its Arabic essence and serves a wide array of authentic drinks that come in a multitude of flavors.