Al-Madaq: Historical trails of Cairo online

Amira Noshokaty , Tuesday 1 Jun 2021

Mapping the city conqueror is only for the brave


Mapping the city conqueror is only for the brave, for Cairo is the most intriguing of cities. It’s a place where history and heritage are usually entangled with a lot of haphazardness, and every street corner has an ancient story to share with anyone who cares to listen.

Mapping out all such wonderful details is best manifested in Al Madaq,a digital platform that beholds tens of rare maps of Cairo. Founded by Egyptian Historian of the Modern Middle East, Shehab Ismail, Almadaq is more of a digital history project providing a virtual tour of Cairo’s history.

“After attaining my PhD from Columbia University in 2017, in the History of Modern Middle East, my studies focused on Cairo’s infrastructure during the nineteenth and twentieth century, especially the water and sewage systems," Ismail explained to Ahram Online.

Following the trace of water and sewage systems of that era, required detailed maps, and the result was a lot of maps that revealed many socio economic and cultural layers of the places he mapped out.

In March 2020, Ismail launched his digital history project, Almadaq. “Al Madaq is an Egyptian term meaning an unpaved trail or road," noted Ismail. And in a sense this platform is all about that. Reading maps within its historical context takes you on brand new trails revealing intangible heritage gems of the city. Deciphering a city like Cairo takes a lot passionate research that would explain as well as put in the lime lights, parts of our social history.

The Panorama section reveals lots of details about Cairo’s ancient districts. Walking us into the mounds of Cairo, Ismail reflects on what he names as a “geological memory of the city'".

According to al-Maqrizi, the mounds date back to the Fatimid period, specifically to the reign of al-Hakem bi-Amr Allah (985-1001), when they were first erected as dams against the torrential rain waters coming down from Moqattam. Over time, these mounds and their counterparts in the south of Cairo (in Ayn al-Sira and Zeinhom) became the largest collection points for all that required banishing outside the city walls; rubble as well as trash and organic wastes of all sorts, read the website

The website also beholds tens of rare maps of Egypt between the 19th and 20th century that Ismail collected during his research since 2010.

“I did not want to keep them for myself, so I put them online as a research tool for the public, for as a historian, I strongly believe that knowledge is not owned, for everybody has the right to know,” Ismail concluded. 

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