Take a Walk: On the trail of cultural icons in Zamalek
Amira El-Noshokaty, Friday 26 Jun 2020
Summer is here and so is COVID-19, but that does not mean we cannot marvel at the beauty of Cairo


As the National Organization for Urban Harmony (NOUH) launches its latest publication on the island of Zamalek, Ahram Online begins its new series of walks around Cairo which explore the marvellous heritage of the Conquering City and the NOUH’s two projects that highlight this history.



“We started the ‘He Lived Here’ project in 2018, in which we added a sign on the buildings where icons of Egyptian arts and culture, as well as martyrs, lived,” explained Mohamed Abu Seida, head of NOUH, to Ahram Online. The signs include a QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone, links to a biography of the famous figure.



The project, which aims to document the intangible heritage of the city, is being done in collaboration with the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) and with Cairo Governorate, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture.



In 2019, a similar project, the Story of a Street, was launched to complement the first one.



“‘The Story of a Street’ is a blue sign that tells a brief history of the name of the street,” said Abu Seida, explaining that the documentation also focuses on the tangible heritage of the city.



Marking the architectural gems of Cairo with a sign on unique buildings explaining the date of building and type of architecture is also part of the project that aims to integrate the tangible and intangible heritage of the city into a single context.



So far almost 400 signs have been added to buildings in Downtown Cairo, Garden City and Zamalek. The aim, however, is to cover the whole nation.



Discovering where our icons once lived and the meanings of street names, Ahram Online celebrates the latest publication from NOUH which documents the island of Zamalek, which began as a big garden during the reign of Khedive Ismail, with the first in our Take a Walk series.



Oum Kalthoum



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Our walk begins in El-Asr (late afternoon), which is a classic leisure hour in Egyptian culture. The skyline is filled with handmade kites riding the summer breeze and people sit on their balconies sipping their tea with mint and listening to Oum Kalthoum on the radio.



We start off at the statue of the famed singer on Abul Feda Street on the Nile, where she once lived in a beautiful villa.



The Star of the Orient is an intangible icon of Egyptian history. Although her villa was torn down and replaced by a hotel, her voice still enchants us every day from

the radio and accompanies us on our tour.



Ismail Yassin



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Keeping Oum Kalthoum’s statue on our right, we take a little left, heading to 26 July Street, where we come to number 138, the house of the king of comedy, actor Ismail Yassin (15 September 1912- 24 January 1972).



In a television interview, renowned cinema producer Mohamed Hassan Ramzy once explained that Yassin was so in demand as a movie star that at one point he was shooting seven films at the same time, and this was unprecedented in the history of cinema.



Known as an icon of classic comedy movies, his scenes are still part of the intangible heritage to date, and seeing where he lived puts a smile on the observer’s face.



Youssef Chahine



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We cross the street to see building number 115, once the home of the great film director Youssef Chahine (January 25, 1926-July 27, 2008), who took Egyptian cinema to a whole new level.



Among the talented director’s works are Bab-El Hadid, Awdet El-Ebn El-Dal, El-Maseer, and the list goes on and on.



In one of his television interviews, Chahine advised young people to know their goal while still young so that they study well “to be able to achieve the thing they love most.”



If we focus hard enough, we can hear his voice echo in the hallway of the main entrance, and maybe even get a faint whiff of his famous cigarette.



Souad Hosny



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A few metres along, we reach number 17 on Sri Lanka (Yehia Ibrahim) Street. The beautiful sixties style building is four storeys high, and pink flowers smile down on us from the balconies. This is the house of the Cinderella of Egyptian cinema: Souad Hosny (26 January 1942 – 21 June 2001).



In a rare television interview, Hosny explained that despite being an icon of beauty, femininity, youth and great talent, she would rather be remembered as a sett kommal, or wise woman.



Reflecting joy, youth and authenticity, the whole little street seems to have caught the Cinderella vibe; its architectural gems in particular show a natural melange of greenery and stone that is rarely seen in Cairo.



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