Historic Cairo’s Al-Muizz Street regains its allure after rehabilitation project

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Al-Muizz Street, one of the oldest streets in the capital and located in the heart of Historic Cairo, has witnessed a massive transformation in the past three years.

Due to the developmental endeavours of the Egyptian government, visitors can now take a stroll along the street while admiring the plethora of Islamic monuments that are proliferated along its path, a thoroughfare which houses the greatest concentration of mediaeval architecture in the Islamic world as reported by a UN study.

For the past three years, the security vacuum in the country following the 25 January revolution of 2011 allowed informal sellers and traffic to hijack the pedestrian walkway, encroaching on the illustrious monuments that speckle the mediaeval street.

Al-Muizz Street sign

The damage caused by the security vacuum was immeasurable. Decorative elements from mosques and houses were stolen, the gates that prevented traffic from entering during the daytime were destroyed, lamps imported from Italy were either stolen or damaged, and peddlers moved in to sell their goods, even on the monuments themselves.

The street was used as a shortcut for vehicles, and the open courtyards of the Fatimid and Ottoman mosques were turned into parking lots. The open court in front of the Ibn Barquq Mosque was also transformed into a food court while the empty space between the Beit Al-Suheimi and the house next door became an oriental coffee shop with a dozen small tables. The area in front of the Al-Hakim Mosque was converted into an olive market in the morning and a coffee shop at night.

A major piece of the granite used for the street’s pavements and plant basins was damaged, while billboards and information boards were stolen along with street lamps and rubbish bins. The walls of shops, residential houses and some edifices in the street were turned into advertisement boards for goods and drinks, while other areas were used to dump garbage.

Qalawun Mosque

Yet, following the third phase of a rehabilitation project started a year ago, Al-Muizz Street has once again gained the splendour that has marked it as one of history’s finest achievements.

Yesterday night, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati and Cairo’s governor, along with the ministers of culture, tourism, construction and endowments, inaugurated the third and final phase of the Al-Muizz Rehabilitation Project.

Mohamed Abdel Aziz, head of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, explains that the project to rehabilitate Al-Muizz Street began a year ago in order to restore it to the splendid conditions that characterised it as a truly majestic pathway prior to the 25 January revolution of 2011. He added that the project was to be completed within three phases with a total budget of LE4 million.

The first phase, he said, was carried out in collaboration with the Cairo governorate and the Ministry of Tourism. It included removing all the garbage from the street, re-installing new information panels, replacing damaged granite tiles, and removing graffiti which tainted many of the monuments’ walls.

Sabil of Mohamed Ali, Al-Muizz Street

In collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, Abdel-Aziz said that security forces have taken back the street after removing informal street vendors who were encroaching on the mediaeval pathway.

Following the completion of the first phase, the second phase of the project was immediately initiated in collaboration with an Egyptian company which specialises in gates. It fabricated and installed 64 new gates to prevent vehicles from going into the street, restoring its pedestrian-only environment.

Several police units were also placed at the entrance of the street and in various locations throughout in order to deter any disturbances.

Abdel-Aziz also added that trading would not be allowed from 10:00 pm to 9:00 am, though ambulances would, of course, be allowed to enter the street in case of emergencies.

The third phase was carried out in collaboration with the Egypt Sound and Light Company. They were able to repair the street’s lighting system, which was partly damaged in the aftermath of the 25 January revolution. As mentioned before, many of the lamps that once illuminated the street were either stolen or broken. They were subsequently replaced with new ones that highlighted Al-Muizz’s mediaeval identity.

Ibn Barqouq Mosque

Abdel-Aziz explains that Al-Muizz Street, which runs between Bab Al-Fotouh and Bab Zuweila, was the main thoroughfare of Fatimid Cairo. Through the centuries, it encouraged Mamluk, Circassian, Ayyubid and Ottoman rulers to accentuate its character by building splendid mosques, sabils (water fountains), kuttabs (Quranic schools), houses and wekalas (trade complexes) along its parameters.

The street is lined with awe-inspiring monuments displaying many architectural styles derived from Islam’s rich history. Many of the architectural feats are accented with fine mashrabiya (woodwork) façades, brightly coloured mosaics and decorative domes. Among these are the Sultan Qalawun Complex, the School of Ibn Barquq, the Beit Al-Qadi, the Sultan Al-Saleh Negmeddin dome, the sabil and kuttab of Khesru Pasha, and the Mohamed Ali Pasha sabil.

Al-Muizz Street

In 2000, the government launched the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project (HCRP) to restore the street’s monuments and preserve Historic Cairo, aiming to develop it into an open-air museum.

The 133 Islamic monuments found along Al-Muizz Street and its neighbouring alleyways were restored to their original condition. The treatment of road surfaces and street furniture accent its mediaeval identity throughout the full length of the street, while residential houses were given a face-lift, bringing them in line with the street’s cultural heritage. A high-tech drainage system was also installed to prevent any potential damage from rain.

In 2010, the street was official declared a pedestrian zone though the 25 January revolution prevented it from ever being actualised until today.

Despite the agonising misuse of monuments by residents and vendors alike, Al-Muizz Street has been reinvigorated through the government’s rehabilitation project. Though environmental pollution and the 1992 earthquake also contributed to the damage incurred on the monuments proliferated throughout the street, its current revitalised form accents the historical majesty which makes it a world-renowned tourist destination.