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Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!


The Story of Kasr El Nil Bridge

by Samir Raafat
Medina, November 2000

bridge nearing completion 1933 with old Semiramis hotel seen in background

If you ask a connoisseur what Sydney Harbor Bridge and Kobri Kasr el Nil have in common he'll tell you they're both located within range of their city's opera house. Well yes, except that Down Under's celebrated bridge and opera house are potent symbols of Australia with world-landmark recognition status. Whereas both Egyptian counterparts, although worthy of particular credit cannot profess deserved acknowledgment from their own home crowd! Yet it wouldn't hurt to give the Kasr el Nil Bridge crossing credit for being the first in its league to span the world's longest river.

Ten time zones and hemispheres apart, the two bridges were inaugurated within 15 months from each other. The 503 meter-long Sydney Harbor Bridge on 19 March 1932 and the 1932 meter-long Kasr el Nil on 6 June 1933. Both bridges were constructed by Dorman, Long & Co. Limited of Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, UK.

Internationally renown for its steelwork constructions Dorman Long accounted for another famous bridge in Africa: Birchenough Arch Bridge above the Sabi River in what is today Zimbabwe.

Interesting also to know our handsome steel bridge was not always called Kasr el Nil and it certainly wasn't the first crossing to appear at that particular section of the Nile.

two plaques associated with Kasr El Nil Bridge

Between 1869-71, at a cost of LE 108,801, St. Simonian engineer Linant de Bellefonds had, with the participation of French steel makers Fives Lilles, strung what amounted to a narrow iron causeway across the Nile linking the very same embankments we are so familiar with today. The bridge departed just south of Princess Nazli's palace (later the infamous British-occupied Kasr el Nil Barracks) ending at the southern tip of the uninhabited island of Boulac commonly known today as Gezira-Zamalek. The bridge was opened to traffic in February 1872. These were the days when the French still had a say in Egypt's economy and when the crossing was unofficially referred to as Kobri el Gezira or Gezira Bridge.

The construction of Kasr el Nil Bridge served first and foremost as a catalyst for the development of Gezira Island and the expanse that lay beyond. It would unwittingly serve as the first nail in history's most celebrated skyline. Within a century from its building, the timeless vista of the 4,000 old Giza pyramids would no longer be seen from downtown Cairo. For sure the Gezira toll bridge came as a bane for traditional ferry operators and feluka owners, yet, on the other hand, pedestrians, camels, wagon-owners, donkey-carts and stagecoaches could now remain on terra firma all year round. Gone were the days when summer floods separated the Nile valley into two alien continents.

With the arrival of the horseless carriage the Egyptian Department of Public Works found it necessary in 1913 to commission Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. to give the aging crossing a badly needed facelift. In July of the same year floor boards reinforced with concrete blocks were added to the bridge and its narrow sidewalks widened. Gezira Bridge would thus have a new lease on life linking a city in perpetual effervescence to the still bucolic province of Giza.

By 1930 it became apparent that Bellefond's bridge had to go. With more than 31,000 all-category vehicles licensed in Egypt, cars were the norm not the exception. Bridge builders from all over the world were invited to submit their tenders.

Of the thirteen received by the Egyptian Roads and Bridges Department, only two made it to the final selection on January 1931. This time around Cleveland Co. lost out to its arch rival Dorman, Long & Co. represented in Egypt by Colonel Vivian Beaconsfield Gary of the Associated British Manufacturers (ABM) Egypt Limited.

With a LE 308,000 done deal tucked under its belt, Dorman, Long & Co.'s of London's 55 Broadway Street proceeded to establish an Egyptian bridgehead so to speak when it opened a temporary office at ABM's headquarters in the prestigious Khedivial Building (Bloc B) on Emad el Dine Street. Dorman, Long & Co.'s new telegraphic address: Dormbridge, Cairo. The local boss was one Mr. T. Biggart.

Once Barclays Bank had issued the appropriate letters of guarantees to the Egyptian government on behalf of Messrs. Dorman & it was simply a matter of hiring of competent foreign and local personnel.

lions removed

lions relocated; inspection of bridge prior to completion

In January 1931 the four lions guarding Kasr El Nil Bridge were fittingly relocated at the Zoological Garden in Giza. Originally, the larger than life bronze lions created by French sculptor Alfred Jacquemart were meant to stand guard around Mohammed Ali's statue in Alexandria but Linant de Bellefonds thought better of it and brought them to Cairo instead. They could stand guard on his Nile opus.

For the next five months the old narrow bridge was dismantled. It was agreed the new, larger replacement would be placed along the identical alignment. The finest bridge builders of the day had exactly thirty months to come up with the product.

Like Sydney Harbor Bridge, most of the hardware and equipment was imported from Britain. But unlike the fixed Australian bridge, Cairo's new seven-span 382 m long arch-type steel crossing was designed so that a 67 m. section could swing open electrically within 3 minutes.

Another Kasr el Nil challenge was the rebuilding of the foundations since the old ones were found to be unsafe. And in order to soften the overall aspect of the steel structure lampposts were introduced at given intervals. For the first time a Cairo bridge shimmered over the Nile like a bride on her wedding night.

Except for the two pairs of Aswan granite pylons at either end of the Kasr el Nil Bridge and those proud four lions there was little else was to remind Cairenes that an older bridge had once stood there. Nor was there a plaque mentioning 'here stood Cairo's first ever steel bridge designed by a Frenchman.'

Could it be that the Kasr el Nil lions remember their St. Simonian patron?

The eight-span bridge was constructed in a record 30 months. During this time, a daylight steam ferry service operated every half-hour between a pier situated below the Semiramis Hotel and an embankment south of the Pont des Anglais (renamed Evacuation Bridge-al Gala'a after 1956). Suggestions on what to do with the old Gezira Bridge poured in meanwhile. One worthy citizen recommended that it be reassembled in Luxor for the benefit of tourists wanting to cross the Nile. For an inexplicable reason or perhaps for ecological purposes the suggestion was mooted so that up until 1996 the Luxor crossing would be carried by felucca or ferry as it had been for the last seven recorded millenniums.

On 6 June 1933 at 10:00 King Fouad inaugurated the Nile's newest crossing. Understandably, the 20 meters wide bridge was christened Khedive Ismail Bridge in honor of the King's father. If you look carefully, the original name is still in evidence on the etched granite slabs located under the lion to your right as you enter the bridge. The name 'Khedive Ismail Bridge' is also marked in English on the Dorman & Long plaque attached to the belly of the bridge.

It was during the visionary reign of Ismail that the original bridge had been built linking the Khedive's then-budding metropolitan Cairo to a little know island he would render world famous during the Suez Canal opening celebrations.

To commemorate the inauguration of the new Kasr el Nil Bridge, Major F.W. Stephen representing Messrs. Dorman, & Long offered King Fouad a golden pen and inkstand in the shape of the new bridge. On hand at the ceremony held at the Gezira-end of the bridge were cabinet ministers, Egyptian and foreign notables as well as the accredited diplomatic corps.

Also present were members of the large British colony residing in the now fashionable suburbs of Zamalek and Garden City. They were especially pleased since the latest British-built addition to Cairo's skyline would considerably reduce the distance between downtown Cairo and the Gezira Sporting Club. The alternative was the cumbersome detour via Boulac Bridge and the dusty Boulac Avenue, both of which had been renamed Fouad al-Awal the previous year in honor of the reigning King.

A lesser event that took place that day behind the scenes was the official handing over of Kasr el Nil Bridge. Representing Messrs. Dorman & Long was T. Biggart. Representing the Roads & Bridges Department was Chief Inspector Gawdat standing in for Minister of Communications Karim Pasha. Accompanying him were senior civil engineers Selim Amoun Bey and Tahir el Sirgani. Both had played a leading role during the construction phase.

After careful examination the bridge was found to have been executed in accordance to the Cahier des Charges with some minor exceptions. For example, the lampposts absorbed rather than deflected light, which meant the glass had to be changed. Manhole covers and bridge footpaths needed adjustment.

Another exception had to do with "the insertion of plates in the clearance between the expansion plates and the abutments to prevent any washing-water from falling on the bridge terraces."

Shortly after the toppling of King Farouk in 1952 and the coming to an end of almost 70 years of British occupation name changes were introduced to some of Cairo's principal landmarks. King Fouad Bridge was renamed Abou El Ela Bridge in honor of a little known Sheik Hussein Abou el Ela whose shrine and mosque stood nearby. Equally important with regards to Cairo's modern history, Khedive Ismail Bridge reverted to its old but still familiar name of Kobri Kasr el Nil.

Meanwhile the palace of Kasr el Nil which had lent its name to the bridge and the surrounding section of Cairo disappeared in 1955 making way for the Arab League building and the Nile Hilton. The house of poet Kout el Koloub el Demerdashia that stood at the downtown entrance to the bridge was pulled down to make way for the ramp leading onto the bridge. The belle époque Semiramis that had seen both bridges was also pulled down in order to accommodate a newer glass and concrete hotel. The Nile floods that swelled the river almost to the level of Kasr el Nil Bridge ceased in 1970.

Many changes that Egypt's young population never witnessed. And the only ones who are there to tell the whole story are Cairo's most talked about lions. If only they could speak!


The bridge featured prominently on world television during President Gamal Abdel Nasser's state funeral in September 1970 when several dozen heads of state and governments marched across the bridge behind Nasser's coffin.

Nasser's funeral

One of the most talked-about car accidents that took place on the bridge was that of royal cabinet advisor and sometime desert explorer and first ever Egyptian Olympic gold medallist (1912) Ahmed Hassanein Pasha on 19 February 1946. The accident triggered endless speculation of foul play ranging from a monarch seeking to put an end to wags linking his mother to the royal advisor, to Britain's MI-5 liquidating one of the most anti-British elements within the palace entourage.

Foundation stone of the new Kasr el Nil Bridge laid by King Fouad on 4 February 1931.

The design of Kasr el nil Bridge was prepared by the contractors' consulting engineers Mr. (later Sir) Ralph Freeman of Sir Douglas Fox & Partners, and Sir John Burnet & Partners. Ralph Freeman was also involved with the design of Sydney Harbor Bridge.

3,701 tons of steel manufactured in Middlesbrough Steel Works in Yorkshire were used for the bridge's construction.

Marble slabs used for the stairs leading down to the river at either end of the bridge were obtained from the quarries of Giza.

Masonry and granite work on the bridge including the four decorative pylons and statue pedestals was undertaken by A. Vescia Co. of Egypt.

The foundations for the seven piers carrying the full weight of six spans were dug to a depth of seven meters below the riverbed level and filled with special reinforced high-grade concrete. These were encases in Aswan granite.

The main British hardware purveyors were J.M. Henderson for the cranes; Ashmore Pease & Benson for the gauges and air locks; Leeds Engineering Co. for the hydraulic jacks; English Electric Co. for the generators; Clarke Chapman & Co. for the single cylinder steam winches; W.H. Wilcox & Co. for the hand plate-rolling machine; Chalmers Edina CO. for the Edina suction pumps.

Barges used for construction purposes provided by the Anglo-American Nile Company.

The bridge was laid out with compressed asphalt paving slabs from Val de Travers.

Up to the 1960s the bridge opened twice a day. Later it would only open to enable Nile cruise ships to pass.

The worse place to be in the days before the Nasr City Olympic Stadium was built, was on Kasr el Nil Bridge following and Ahli vs. Zamalek soccer game.

Topping the list of Cairo's favorite photo-ops are the Kasr el Nil lions. Similarly, the view and photo-ops from the bridge are second to none. It is an all year favorite backdrop for newlyweds. Ironically for several decades it was forbidden to take photos of Cairo bridges leading to the arrest of many an unsuspecting tourist.

The origins of the world 'kobri' meaning in Arabic is from the Turkish word 'kupru.'

old Kasr al-Nil Bridge
first Kasr al-Nil Bridge

Reader Comments
Subject: Kasr el Nil bridge
Date: Tue, 5 Jan 2008 17:20:55 -0000
From: "Russell Tait"
Dear Sir, I read your article on the above bridge with great interest. My grandfather was Thomas Tait, partner in sir John Burnet and Partners. By that time burnet was all but retired and T.Taitwas in charge, and responsible for the design of the pylons, as he was at Sydney. I wondered if you had any photos that you could email me, or put me in contact with someone who might have contemporary photos.
many Thanks,
Subject: The terracotta lions on the old Kasr el Nil bridge
Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2001 17:20:55 -0000
From: "Alan Rodgers and/or Angella Streluk"

We have read in our local newspaper that the lions at the entrance to the Kasr el Nil bridge were made of terracotta in the Tamworth factory that we are investigating. This does not fit in with what we read on your web site. It would seem that the bronze ones you describe replaced the terracotta lions. Do you know what happened to the terracotta ones made in Tamworth? We have seen pictures of them. There is one that looks like a hand tinted postcard on the University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library website, in their Lantern Slide Collection (under E). Although this is hand tinted it looks as if the artist knew what these lions were made of. We wondered whether the original lions were moved to a museum or park.
We are gradually putting together more and more information about the factory. It opened in 1847 and closed in the 1960s. It was at OS Grid reference SK230 031 or Latitude 52 degrees 37.5 minutes Longitude 1 degree 40.3 minutes. Some of the famous buildings with Gibbs and Caning decorative terracotta are The Albert Hall, the Natural History Museum and various stations in London, lots of churches, cinemas and shops in the UK, and various buildings round the world. It would be really interesting to add other interesting work by them, which is abroad, to our list.
Best wishes
Miss Angella Streluk
History and Geography Co-ordinator,
Amington Heath Community School,
Amington Heath,
B77 4BZ,

Date: Sun, 8 Jul 2001 17:20:29 +0100
From: Lee

I just wanted to thank you for publishing the historical article on the internet which makes reference to the Kasr al Nil barracks. The barracks are of particular interest to my Grandmother. She was born in Alexandria in the Greek hospital in the early 20th century. Her father was stationed in the Kasr al Nil barracks during the British Occupation and she has very fond memories of her childhood spent in Cairo. She is now in her 80's and lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where she has worked tirelessly for peace in that troubled area. I will be sending your article to her and I know that it will amaze her to know that the barracks have been torn down to make way for the Arab League.
Many thanks
Jane Theaker

Subject: Kasr el Nil Bridge
From: Mary Hooser
Subject: Kasr el Nil Bridge
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 10:39:10 -0500

Concerning the Kasr el Nil bridge, I hesitate to share some mundane and trivial stories, not knowing if this fit in your research, but what the heck I'll let you be the judge. One year we had an international long distance swimming contest, it was so festive and a lot of people witnessing the race from the bridge encouraging our hero M. Abdelrehim and his teammates. He was for many years the undisputed King of the Channel, by the way he used to practice at the swimming pool of the Committee.

During world war two, at the site of the present Hilton, were military barracks occupied by rowdy young men facing difficult and uncertain future, the security very tight, MP's everywhere, taking photos of the bridge or the lions were not allowed. That stubborn rule survived the war and many years after that it was still forbidden to take pictures. Whereas souvenirs shops nearby sold Postcards of the bridge with exquisite details.

For the savvy driver, avoid the bridge at certain critical hours when the Ahly was hosting the Zamalek. The game was replayed verbally on the bridge by the fans moving very slowly, using their own and unique colorful and hilarious verbiage that have nothing to do with the fine point of the game, peppered by the names of Saleh Selim, Nabil Nosseir (nicknamed Elvis) Aldo and Adel Heykal. There was no trace of magnanimity by the winners.

Received: Tue, 28 Aug 1956 06:22:25 +0000 
From: Richard Milosh
Subject: Kasr el Nil Bridge, Cairo, Egypt

royal motorcade
royal motorcade at bridge opening ceremony

My grand father, Arakel Artinian was a professional photographer trading under the name of Venus Photo Studio, located at 25 Rue Kasr El Nil, on the second floor of a three-story building, opposite Salon Vert. On the day of the inauguration of the new Kasr El Nil Bridge, 6 June 1933, Monsieur Venus (as my grandfather was also known) took the official photo showing the motorcade procession of King Fouad advancing from Guezireh. The policemen lining the route are wearing the white summer uniform. My grandfather took the photo from the top of the old Semiramis hotel. This photograph can be seen in Janet L. Abu-Lughod's book Cairo 1001years of the City Victorious on page 109.
I found your article on Kasr el Nil Bridge very interesting.
Best wishes from 
Richard Milosh

Subject: Kobri Kasr al Nil
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2000 19:04:15 -0600
From: Julie Winans

This evening I was cleaning out boxes of postczrds and found an old black and white photo postcard that said only "Kasr el Nil Bridge". It had been sent to my grandmother from her friend, mailed from New York to Dallas,Texas. I think perhaps it was sent in 1962. Her message said nothing of any travels, just personal advice. Your article was the first "hit" in my search for more information on this bridge. I am interested in Arabic culture and suspected the bridge must be in the Middle East. Thanks to you, I now have another place of interest to visit when I finally make the trip to Cairo. Thank you for so much valuable information. While I'm certain you have numerous photos of the bridge, if this card sounds like something you would like for your collection, please feel free to contact me.
Sincerely yours,
Julie Winans
Dallas, Texas

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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