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by Samir Raafat
Egyptian Mail, Saturday, March 01, 1997

Here is a conference where you will be able to learn in a space of a few hours more than I can tell you in the next one hundred columns. You've admired their buildings and perhaps lived in one, but all along have never heard of their authors. Now is your chance to learn about some of the architects and constructors of these pleasing shapes and forms that have unconsciously influenced your everyday life, without doubt for the better.


Lasciac, Limongelli, Matasek, Mazza, Herz, Garozzo, Baudry, Dentamaro, Marcel, Jaspar, Horowitz, Rossi, Williams, Dominioni are some of the names that will be evoked during a three-day symposium on Cairo's late 19th early 20th century builders and architects. This first-of-its-kind affair is scheduled to take place on March 2-4 at the Italian Cultural Institute in Zamalek in collaboration with the French IFAO (Institut Français d'Archeologie Orientale) and CEDEJ.

On hand to relate and discuss those turn of the century luminaries and their buildings, are two dozen European and Egyptian authors, architectural and social historians, researchers, architects and conservationists. Their presence couldn't have come at a better time as what remains of Cairo's rich and diverse colonial architectural heritage is disappearing faster than you can shout 'Houdini'.

Thanks to over ambitious government welfare programs of the 1960s and the unprecedented onslaught of Mafia-like developers of the 1980s, Cairo irrevocably lost much of its villas, gardens, parks and belle époque flavor. Enhancing the destruction of the city's heritage were almost three decades of total encirclement by a 'khaki belt' whereby the military gained unqualified control of all the outlying desert surrounding Cairo. There was no opportunity for any kind of horizontal expansion, hence the inevitable creation of a vertical city in an effort to satisfy an urban population explosion which quadrupled, reaching 16 million, during the same period.

There was also the unprecedented rise in real estate values brought on by Sadat's Open Door policy launched in the late 1970s. It has been architectural anarchy since as developers rampaged through Zamalek, Garden City, Heliopolis, Maadi and downtown Cairo. Meanwhile, the powers that be are either out, pretending to be out, sleeping or, as we have seen of late, chasing so-called teenage devilworshipers!

Today, with the welcome disappearance of the khaki belt and the creation of a haphazard mix of new satellite cities juxtaposed with dream suburbs, alternating in concept from squalid 'instant-decayed-look' housing projects to ghettoes deluxe punctuated with championship 18-hole golf courses and Bev Hills style houses (and yes, coming soon, private helipads for Mr. Minister's frequent commuting), perhaps the spiraling demand for land inside Cairo may ease some.

But will these recent developments save what remains of our colonial architectural heritage or is it already too late for that?!

According to the director of the Italian Cultural Institute, Professor Carla Burri, the coming symposium will address many of the related issues concerning Cairo's colonial architectural heritage. Entitled "Un siecle d'architecture savante en Egypte 1850-1950" the symposium is organized with the expert participation of URBAMA, a scientific research center affiliated with Tours University in France. URBAMA is represented on this occasion by Dr. Mercedes Volait. Volait has conducted intensive research on Cairo's European architects and her excellent findings should appear on the bookshelves soon.

For the last months this column has tried to aware and sensitize readers about a few of Cairo's inestimable architectural monuments. But there is only so much one lonely column can do. That is why, symposiums such as this one are so important. It is only through the dissemination of information through appropriate academic forums that the valid facts can trickle down to the grassroots levels. Hence the importance that all those interested make it a point of attending and participating. We have remained passive long enough and are today paying the price of our indifference.

"Why do we feel more pain looking at the image of the temple than the image of the struggling people? Perhaps because we see our own mortality in the collapse of the temple... We expect people to die; we count on our own lives to end. The destruction of a monument to civilization is something else.

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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