UNESCO celebrates the completion of a project to document historic Cairo's intangible culture of craftsmanship

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 29 Aug 2023

Monday 28 August witnessed the closing ceremony of a three-year-long UNESCO project to preserve the culture of craftsmanship in Cairo's Khan El-Khalili and El-Darb El-Ahmar historic areas, held at Al-Azhar Park.

Caption: Mohamed Nassef, one of the masters of the inlaying pearls craft in Egypt, at the closing ce
Mohamed Nassef, one of the masters of the inlaying pearls craft in Egypt, at the closing ceremony of the Inventory of Intangible Culture of craftsmanship in the Core of Historic Cairo.


This comes as part of the ongoing celebration of the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) (2003-2023), which kicked off last week with the launch of Egypt's first House of Heritage.

General Khaled Abdel-Al, Governor of Cairo, Nuria Sanz, Regional Director of the UNESCO Office in Cairo, and Professor Ahmed Bahi El-Din, Chairman of the Egyptian Society for Folk Traditions (ESFT) represented the key partners of the project which trained a new generation of 46 craftsmen (exceeding the original target of 20 persons), educated them on the concept of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and documented this heritage in Cairo's historic centre.

"The project was implemented by the Cairo Governorate in collaboration with the ESFT and supported by UNESCO in order to safeguard 30 types of handicrafts, which represent a great portion of the living heritage of Cairo Governorate; a governorate of creativity. Those who participated in the documentation were not only heritage researchers but also artisans themselves, which was greatly beneficial," explained Bahi El-Din to Ahram Online.

 The list of documented handicrafts will be added to the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage, and a book is planned to be published describing the traditional artisanship of Cairo documented in this project.

Lanterns, boxes and blown glass

The closing celebration featured an exhibition of the heritage products and their artisans, including masters of copperworking, glass-blowing, inlaying and lantern-making, among other handicrafts.

Sitting at his display table with wooden boxes inlaid with pearl, Mohamed Nassef explained to Ahram Online that he has been inlaying pearl for over 40 years. Having inherited the craft from his mother's side, Nassef explained to Ahram Online the profession's profound economic and creative value. "Each such box reflects several crafts: the woodwork, the inlaying of pearl, the polishing, and the internal covering. I believe if we focused on this craft it would greatly benefit the country," he added.

Next to him sat Mohamed Amin, a specialist in handmade copper lanterns, a craft his family has practised for almost 100 years. Next to him, his son Hassan is the fourth generation to take up the family business. "I often rely on the Islamic and Coptic museums for my designs," said Amin. He explained the religious symbolism of lanterns made for Christians and the historic origins of Islamic lanterns in the Mamluk era.

Across the hall, the art of glass-blowing, dating back to the ancient Egyptians is as enchanting as ever. Saber Ibrahim, surrounded by his creations, is a seventh-generation glass-blower, and enthusiastic about the recent project. "This is a fine project that documented our crafts and highlighted our best handicrafts, from glasses to vases," Ibrahim told Ahram Online.

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