New Islamic heritage trail

Nevine El-Aref , Friday 3 Mar 2023

A new heritage trail exploring 12 Islamic monuments in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district of Historic Cairo has been inaugurated.

Zawyat and Sabil Faraj Ibn Barqouq
Zawyat and Sabil Faraj Ibn Barqouq


After the building of Al-Qahira, the “City Victorious”, by the military commander Gawhar Al-Siqili in 969 CE at the order of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz li-Din Allah as Egypt’s new capital, its walls enclosed opulent palaces and the prestigious 1,000-year-old mosque-university of Al-Azhar.

Throughout the ages, this city, now known as Historic Cairo, maintained its position and encouraged subsequent generations of Ayoubids, Mamelukes, Circassians, and Ottomans to enhance its character by building splendid mosques with soaring minarets, a vast citadel, decorated sabils (water fountains), kuttabs (Quranic schools), hammams (bathhouses), opulent private houses, and domed wekalas (trade complexes).

Historic Cairo is one of the oldest surviving mediaeval cities in the world, and since 1979 it has figured on UN cultural agency UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Time, however, has taken a heavy toll on some of the historic edifices in the district. Misuse by the inhabitants has caused various harms, environmental pollution has undermined foundations, and the 1992 earthquake threatened the historic zone.

An ambitious Historic Cairo Restoration Programme was launched to rescue the city’s splendour, and several edifices were restored to their original allure. Another project aiming to restore and rehabilitate 100 monuments was also launched, as well as conservation projects in collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and several companies and NGOs in the field.

Um Al-Sultan Shaaban

To encourage local and international tourism in Historic Cairo and visitors to spend more time admiring the splendour of its magnificent monuments, a new tourist trail connecting 12 monuments from different Islamic periods has now been established to connect this wealth of historic buildings and ancient handicraft markets together.

The increase in tourism brought by the trail is expected to impact thousands of families and artisans in the area.

The trail was built in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), which has helped in the restoration and conservation of several Islamic monuments, and with funds from the European Union.

“The trail provides access to and preserves the Islamic cultural heritage in Cairo by strengthening the role of tourism as a major catalyst for local social and economic development,” said Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

He said that it enables visitors to explore some dozen buildings located over its two-km length, with tickets costing LE20 for Egyptian visitors, LE10 for Egyptian students, LE120 for foreign visitors, and LE60 for foreign students.

Visitors start their journey at Al-Azhar Park, where a visitor centre welcomes them and introduces the trail and its monuments through a short film about each and the conservation work being done. Information about each monument is provided.

Electric cars then take visitors through the eastern Ayoubid walls around Al-Azhar Park and to the dome of the Emir Tarabay Al-Sharifi, the architectural complex of the Emir Khair Bek, the Blue Mosque, the Um Al-Sultan Shaaban School, the Qasabet Radwan, the Al-Razzaz House, the Qijmas Al-Ishaqi Mosque, the Al-Saleh Talaa Mosque, and the Ibn Barqouq Zawya (a small mosque).