On Saturday, 20 December, a large number of the most renowned figures from Egypt's culture scene attended the official ceremony that marked the reopening of the National Theatre. Led by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, the reopening was also attended by many officials from Egypt's governmental circles, including several ministers and ambassadors of foreign countries.
Egypt's iconic theatre was closed in 2008 following a fire that caused considerable damage. The cost of renovations reached LE105 million.
Early this year, Minister of Culture Gaber Asfour announced that the theatre would be finally reopened in October, to parallel 6 October celebrations. This date, however, was not met and a week ago the minister blamed "bureaucratic issues" for the delay.
Not only has the theatre architectural significance in Egypt's cultural scene, it's history goes back to the 15th century when the area — known as Al-Azbakiya Gardens — on which the theatre stands served as the pleasure grounds of Mameluke Cairo, a leisure zone that contained lavish palaces around a central lake. When the French expedition led by Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, the gardens became the site of a theatre, built to entertain French army troops.
In 1885, the theatre, known as the Al-Azbakiya Theatre, hosted its first performances by an Egyptian theatre group. By 1935, the National Egyptian Group had been formed under the leadership of poet Khalil Motran, but this was disbanded in 1942, a result of its anti-British performances. Following the 1952 Revolution, Al-Azbakiya Theatre became the National Theatre.
In early 2000, the theatre was officially put on Egypt’s Heritage List for its unique architectural style and its more than 100-year-old building. In September 2008, the theatre was gutted by fire, leaving the building devastated.
Celebration at the National Theatre's court. (Photo: Ahmed Hassan)