This week, Heliopolis, one of Cairo’s oldest districts, woke up to the construction of yet another bridge that aims to cut through its very heart. A construction site that creeps right next to the Basilica with the claim that it will relieve traffic between Othman Ibn Affan street and the square.
However, the bridge shall pass right in-front of the Basilica church, which is an area that is considered a Type A heritage site, where it is prohibited by law to build anything that prohibits the view, including any bridges or anything that destroys the urban fabric of the district, as explained by Shoukry Asmar, head of the board of trustees of the Heliopolis Heritage initiative to Ahram Online.
The Heliopolis Heritage Initiative have been busy contacting the construction authority and collecting signatures for a petition that includes thousands of Heliopolis residences and people who do not even live in the area but are in solidarity with one of Cairo’s oldest districts.
The trail of the supposed bridge and some 70 Heritage Buildings he cuts across
photo courtasy of Heliopolis Heritage initiative
Built around 1910, Heliopolis (The City of the Sun) was built by the Belgian industrialist and Egyptologist Édouard Louis Joseph, the Baron Empain. The Baron and his son are buried in the Basilica church, which was built by the French architect Alexander Marcel between 1911-1913
After the social movement that the bridge stirred, government officials are currently in conversation with the Heliopolis Heritage initiative, who have provided solutions and suggestions that could quickly relieve the traffic that the bridge is meant to address.
“Instead of a bridge that shall pass across 70 heritage buildings and three churches that are over 100 years old, we have other solutions,” he added
sample of the intangible and Tangible Heritage sites in the trail of the Bridge.
From Top Left: Heliopolis Hotel (1906-7) Cinema Normandy, Al-Ahram Street, Amphtrion oldest restaurant in heliopolis (1922), the Building where they filmed "cute thieves"(1968) and Cinema Palace.
Photo By : Heliopolise Heritage Initiative
“Enforcing traffic laws by adding a couple of traffic officers in the area around the Basilica. Another solution would be making the street behind the Basilica a one-way street. Making a trail for bicycles is also a green suggestion.”
“A fourth solution would be that we can make an underground parking under the railway tracks of the old Heliopolis metro. This is a secure empty space that has no pipes going through it because it was designed for the Heliopolis metro ever since it was established,” noted Asmar.
“We are optimistic because the Engineering authority agreed to meet with us and discuss the alternatives we have suggested,” Asmar concluded.
The alternative solutions to ease traffic that the initiative presented
photo: courtesy of Heliopolis Heritage Initiative
While the project remains on hold, the general public holds its breath, hoping that the ancient district will be spared yet another bridge. According to AFP, in the last year alone, at least six new highways and bridges have cut through the ancient district, destroying at least 390,000 square metres (96 acres) of green space — or more than 50 football fields.