Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna finally reopens its doors in Luxor

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 29 Dec 2021

Last Thursday was a truly exceptional day in the village of Gourna, Luxor. The Egyptian minister of culture, the National Organization for Urban Harmony (NOUH), and UNESCO celebrated the first phase restoration and architectural revival of New Gourna, which started in 2018.

New Gourna
Photo by Amira Noshokaty.

Traditional green and blue wooden benches, crammed with villagers, were set up around a yard in New Gourna village, as the stage lights were being set.

The village was first established by renowned architect and philosopher Hassan Fathy (1900-1989).

According to the UNESCO’s brochure for the event, New Gourna was designed and built by Fathy between 1946-1952 and was the most famous of his works, for it showcased the concept of supporting the local communities and providing a sustainable development as well as eco-friendly village based on the traditional architectural methodology of local heritage Egyptian buildings.

The village was built from mud bricks, and its homes reflected the ancient Egyptian style of domed roofs and internal yards, all using raw materials from the local environment.

The village was the prototype that inspired his most famous publication: Architecture of the Poor, that was first published in 1976 and inspired generations of architects world-wide.

New Gourna has been restored, and its main square served as the open-air venue for the opening of the National Festival of Tahteeb (stick dance), an ancient Egyptian intangible heritage recognised by UNESCO in 2017. The souq (market) displayed several handcrafted ornaments. It also provided numerous art spaces where artists can work as well as display their artwork inspired by Gourna. Among the artists whose works were on display was renowned painter Mamdouh Ammar, whose studies, experience and art reflected and documented the social history of Gourna village in its prime.

The opening of the National Festival of Tahteeb in New Gourna, Luxor. Photo by Amira Noshokaty

“Today we celebrate the restoration and development of the first phase of an architectural icon, which is a continuation of the grand architectural history of Egypt, one that extends from the ancient Egyptians and until this moment, one that was created by a unique icon in the history of Egypt, the great architect Hassan Fathy,” said Mohamed Abu Seada, chairman of NOUH who announced that the Khan will serve as a market place for authentic crafts as well as a place for artistic creativity, the theatre will be back and we start off with the tahtieb annual festival.

“Egypt has seven world heritage sites listed by UNESCO, one of which is Old Thebes, where this village is located. What is unique about this village is how its building re-visit and re-interpret traditional architectural styles, for Hassan Fathy excelled in using local raw materials and building techniques as well as designing models that takes into consideration the nees of the local environment. In this age of modernity comes the new Gourna village to exemplify the harmonious co-existence of sustainability and social coherence with local architecture and raw materials,” said Bishr Imam, who represents UNESCO’s office in Cairo.

“In his book the architecture of the poor, Hassan Fathy states that Al-Gourna is both an experiment and a model. He wished it to be a model to re-build all Egyptian villages, and hoped that people would be able to attain decent and cheap housing, and that this knowledge among our villagers would initiate 'the do it yourself local building movement',” said Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem.

“He did not know that a day would come where all the restoration efforts of New Gourna would be paralleled by President [Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi’s project to provide a decent life in the villages of Egypt, which starts off with having decent housing,” the minister said, concluding her speech by announcing the launch of a monthly cultural program at the village, one that starts off with the opening of The National Festival of Tahtib (stick dance).

Samples of the paintings of renowned painter Mamdouh Amar on display at the Khan of New Gourna. Photo by Amira Noshokaty.

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