A guide to the cultural institutions located in the Cairo Opera House grounds

Ahram Online , Monday 6 Apr 2015

Ahram Online deciphers all the cultural institutions which though located at the Cairo Opera House grounds, have separate operational structures and activities

Cairo Opera House grounds

Egypt's famed Cairo Opera House (Cairo's National Cultural Centre) is located on the southern end of Gezira Island, which is also home to the district of Zamalek.

With the opera house being one of the many buildings located in the large gated grounds, it is probably the opera's significance that leads to confusion whereby many audience members, and even the media, often imagine that other buildings located at the same grounds are assigned to the opera's management.

In fact many cultural institutions located at what we call the Cairo Opera House grounds have separate management, separate missions, and their activities do not intersect.

While some buildings were erected prior to building of the opera, others were added to the grounds more recently.

Below, Ahram Online invites you to a walk through the Cairo Opera House grounds.

Cairo Opera House grounds
Cairo Opera House grounds' map

Cairo Opera House (1)

It might come as a surprise to some but the white building that we know as the Cairo Opera House is in fact one of the many edifices operating under the name of the National Cultural Centre in Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour.

With several other locations of the cultural centre scattered across Cairo, only the Music Library lies on the Cairo Opera House Grounds so to speak.

The Cairo Opera House's official opening took place on 10 October 1988. Its main hall, designed to seat 1300 spectators, lends its stage to symphonic concerts and performances; the small hall (350 seats) and open air theatre present recitals, light music concerts, cinema clubs, artistic salons and special performances.

A number of opera's companies as well as guest singers and formations – including independent artists – use all the stages depending on the character of the performance

The National Cultural Centre extends its activities to the Alexandria Opera House, the Damanhour Opera House, the Gomhouriya Theatre and the Arab Music Institute.

Since February 2012, the chairperson of the National Cultural Centre is Ines Abdel Dayem.

Read more about the Cairo Opera House's history here.

The Cairo Opera House operates directly under the Ministry of Culture.

Cairo Opera House
Cairo Opera House (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

The Music Library (2)

Originally the Music Library was housed inside the Cairo Opera House. In 1994, the library was moved to the newly erected building located near the gate facing the Qasr El Nil bridge.

The library hosts a collection of books, photographs of performances, costume designs, as well as scores and recordings. In addition to the storage room that holds all the previous, the library’s facilities include a research room, audio and video rooms, rehearsal rooms and an exhibition space.

Under the supervision of Cairo Opera House, the Library has been for many years managed by Abbas Mohamed Salama.

The same building houses Ziad Bakir exhibition hall and a few administrative offices serving the different companies operating under the opera's wings. Three halls are also used by the Talents Development Centre.

All operations taking place in the Music Library halls are fully aligned with the Cairo Opera's management.

Read more about the Music Library here

Music Library
Music Library (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Cultural Development Fund (3)

With headquarters in a large building erected at the Cairo Opera's grounds, the Cultural Development Fund operates under the Ministry of Culture and oversees the activities of several cultural bodies among which the Artistic Creativity Centre (5) is located at the same grounds.

The same building which houses the Cultural Development Fund also includes the numerous administrative offices that belong to the Cairo Opera House (1).

Also, the building incudes halls that are used by the Talents Development Centre, with a separate entry from the back (Cairo Opera's side).

Cultural Development Fund
Cultural Development Fund (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Hanager Arts Centre (4)

In 1992, the Hanager theatre stepped into Egypt's scene as the most modern theatrical edifice in the country, providing technical facilities that were not available in other theatres.

With one stage and one gallery that continued to display Egypt's arts, and occasionally served as a space for rehearsals, Hanager was for many years managed by Hoda Wasfi.

Many young independent actors and directors made their first steps on the stage of Hanager and rose to prominence. One of such examples is famed late actor Khaled Saleh or wellknown director Khaled Galal who is also the director of the Artistic Creativity Center (5), located in Hanager's vicinity.

Hanager was also one of the central stages for theatre performances included within the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre.

In 2009, in the prime of its activities, Hanager was closed by the ministry who pointed to the need for restoration, a claim that raised many eyebrows among the young people closely linked to the theatre.

A complete restructuring of the theatre cost LE37 million, a figure provided back in 2012 by Mohamed Abu Seda, then head of the Cultural Development Fund

The revamped Hanager Arts Centre reopened in 2012, revealing a completely new building, two stages, large gallery, a cinema hall, as well as a large cafeteria which consists of indoor and outdoor facilities.

Since 2012 Hanager's management has been undergoing changes. Recently Amany Youssef became the centre's director.

Hanager Arts Centre is one of the major entities operating under the Cultural Production Sector, one of the Ministry of Culture's sectors.

Note: The Midan Theatre, an open air stage erected in front of Hanager, does not belong to the centre. It is managed directly by the Theatre Artistic House, one of the Ministry of Culture's sectors. 

Hanager Arts Centre
Hanager Arts Centre (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Artistic Creativity Centre (5)

Established in 2002, the Artistic Creativity Centre aims at serving as an incubator for young artists and creators, the Ministry of Culture website states.

The centre's facilities include a theatre, a studio, a contemporary dance school, a cinema hall, and a videotheque hall, which provides access to old Egyptian films.

The Centre is managed by actor and director Khaled Galal.

The centre operates under the Cultural Development Fund (3), one of the Ministry of Culture's sectors.

Artistic Creativity Centre
Artistic Creativity Centre (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Higher Council of Culture (6)

The Higher Council of Culture serves as a supportive, advisory body to the Ministry of Culture.

Among its roles is overseeing and tailoring the artistic events motored directly by the ministry as well as advising and coordinating of the major state awards given to artists and intellectuals on annual basis.

The Council also hosts or lends its halls to several activities that include cultural meetings, symposia etc.

The High Council of Culture is headed by Mohamed Abou Saada.

Higher Council of Culture
Higher Council of Culture (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Syndicate of Plastic Arts (7)

A small building with adjacent to it garden serves as a syndicate of visual artists, an independent body, currently headed by Hamdy Abou Moaty.

Syndicate of Plastic Arts
Syndicate of Plastic Arts (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Palace of Arts (8)

Built in 1930s as a part of the then Gezira Fair Zone, Saraya El-Nil El-Kobra (The Great Nile Palace) has hosted the Palace of Arts since 1984.

In addition to two large exhibition halls, Palace of Arts Palace includes halls for film screening, conferences and an Art Library.

Apart of many exhibitions, the Palace hosts the largest and most important events, such as the International Cairo Biennale and the Youth Salon.

Art Palace's management operates under the Fine Arts Sector, one of the departments of the Ministry of Culture.

Palace of Arts
Palace of Arts (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

The Museum of Egyptian Modern Art (9)

Originally launched in 1920s, the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art was moved to the Cairo Opera House Grounds in 1983.

According to its website, Palace 3, also known as El-Saraya El-Kobra or the Great Palace, which currently hosts the museum, was built in the 1930s as a part of the back-then Gezira Fair Zone, blending neo-Islamic style with Art Deco.

The museum, which hosts works by renowned Egyptian artists such as Youssef Kamel and Mahmoud Saeed, was renovated several times in 1991, 2005 and again in 2011.

The museum is run under the supervision of the Fine Arts Sector, one of the departments of the Ministry of Culture. Over the past years, most of its halls remain closed.

The Museum of Egyptian Modern Art
The Museum of Egyptian Modern Art (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Al-Bab Gallery (10)

Though physically located in a side wing of the building housing the Museum of Egyptian Modern Art (9), Al-Bab Gallery (also referred to as Al-Bab Selim Gallery) has a separate entrance.

Operating under the Fine Arts Sector, Al-Bab Gallery is one of the active cultural player, with a variety of ongoing exhibitions.

Al Bab Gallery
Al Bab Gallery (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Hadara Hall (11)

Not many are aware that this mysterious building was in fact built with a purpose of becoming an observatory. For years, the building was in the state of renovations and the remains of works continue to be seen around it today.

In recent years, the building had a part of its halls opened and incorporated into the cultural activities, serving as a cinema hall or for the visual arts displays.

Hadara Hall
Hadara Hall (Photo: Ati Metwaly)



Mosque (12)

Mosque hall (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Large parking area (13)

Parking area
Part of the parking area (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Main entry to the Cairo Opera House grounds

Main entry gate
Main entry to the Cairo Opera House's grounds (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

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