The unique doors of Esna. Photo by amira noshokaty
The project is implemented by Takween Integrated Community Development company in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
"A Living Time Capsule"
VISIT-Esna is a remarkable model that integrates cultural and heritage tourism with the real grassroots needs of the community. Esna, a "Living Time Capsule" as they call it, is one of the oldest governorates of Egypt. Esna, located about 34 miles south of Luxor, has been the trade centre of fabrics and agricultural products since ancient Egypt. Rich with its multilayered heritage, be it ancient Egyptian, Coptic, or Islamic, it has always been the destination for tourism, especially Nile cruises. However, tides have turned since the mid-nineties due to building a new barrage that deviated Nile cruises from Esna, which has massively affected the local economy since then. What Takween did was tap into the soul of the historic city, making lots of significant changes in six years.
The magic words
When Ahram Online asked Kareem Ibrahim, the CEO and partner of Takween, how they managed to have such a significant change in an ancient city in only six years.
"Innovation," he replied, explaining that Takween has used human capital and 20 years of global experience to amplify the innovation of the people of Esna in the classical business market of heritage preservation combined with local economic growth.
"Commitment," added Sean Jones, the new mission director of USAID in Egypt, expressing the project’s emphasis on the people of Esna, which raised their sense of ownership.
The project made Esna Temple more accessible to people with disabilities. It restored Wekalet Al-Geddawy, an 18th-century trade centre, Bakkur, the 120-year-old oil press that is still functioning, many houses, and the ancient Qaisariya souq. This narrow covered souq, which was known for selling Esna's textiles, now sells various handicrafts of Esna, each shop focusing on one theme: a concept store focusing on the Scarab, another on textiles, one on painting, and one on pottery to name but a few. Women got to sell in some of these bazaars for the first time in Esna.
At the premises of the woodwork workshop established by VISIT-Esna, the young hands were busy carving exquisite motifs and shapes inspired by the rich woodcarving heritage of Esna. The hands were primarily women, a novelty to the traditions of the Upper Egyptian governorate. Some of the ancient souq bazaars were refurbished in theme and structure, aiming to create integration other than competitiveness in the market. The results were impressive.
The project launched a traditional food competition among the women of Esna; the winners now have a menu they made themselves to serve as Esna's traditional food restaurant at Al-Ansari's house, set to open soon to the public. The place serves lentils, Shalawlaw (dry molokhia), and particular fish with apricots, all ancient signature dishes of Esna.