Cairo: Of People and Stones - The untold history of the Conquering City

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 11 Oct 2021

On Sunday night, at the ancient premises of Prince Taz palace, tens of people flocked to attend the second of a series of lectures titled: Cairo: Of People and Stones.


The brainchild of Fatma Keshk and Zizo Abdu, the monthly series that kicked off last month was well received among the audience of the general public.

The series is a fresh take on the intangible heritage of Cairo, placing it side by side with the tangible, so that the audience can reflect on the stories and social history that they take for granted.

Dr. Heba Safey El Dine, Director of the Egyptian House of Architecture was the first one to support the idea of the lecture series that is being hosted by the Fund of Cultural Development at the Ministry of Culture.

Founder of ‘The Place and The People Initiative, Fatma Keshk is an Egyptologist who specialises in community engagement and has been working over the past 13 years on shedding light on the connection between heritage and community.

After publishing her first book titled ‘The Story of Shotb’, which tackled the intangible heritage of a small village with an extensive history in Assiut, Keshk decided to take her passion a step forward.

Together with Zizo Abdou, a history major researcher who put his passion into action by creating his initiative ‘Cairo Biography’ — where he leads the quest to clean up and document the intangible heritage of the Conquering City — they have decided to share their stories with a wider audience.

The successful monthly talk seems to deviate from all the dry historic facts of the city that we all know by heart. The session started off with an enchanting stroll in the graveyards of Cairo by Dr. Mostapha Sadek, a physician who photo documents Egyptian Cemeteries.

The talk led us into the intangible history of the ancient graveyard, describing the paintings on tombstones, the colours, and what they symbolise.  Al-Qarafa  — AKA the cemetery — has a lot of intangible history that is part and parcel of the heart of historic Cairo.

The second talk focused more on the entangled world of maps and how to see the bigger picture and follow the difference between Cairo and Fustat.

Abdelrahman El-Taweel , a poet and researcher of intangible heritage, unfolded with the audience the maps of Cairo and walked us through the process of how to spot the location of historic relics and places and see them within a historic context.

The third talk focused on heritage sites and how they are portrayed in cinema and literary works. Dina Heshmat, a professor of contemporary literature at the American University in Cairo, discussed the topic by drawing examples from her latest book on the subject.

However, the grand finale of the evening came when we met in-person Adib Ashour, the owner of Ashour — a local café found in Housh Qadam in the heart of Fatimid Cairo, next to Al-Fakahani mosque.

The older Ashour captivated the audience with his wit and stories of intangible heritage and all the people that visited him.

The late singer Sheikh Imam and his lifelong partner poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, as well as prominent actor Adel Imam and cinema diva Souad Hosny, were among his regulars.

The man, with all his authentic stories, is a live manifestation of what UNESCO defines as a “human treasure.” 

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