Cairo, Egypt, 26 October 2007 – In a ceremony here today, His Highness the Aga Khan, His Excellency Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, and His Excellency Dr. Abdel Azim Wazir, the Governor of Cairo, inaugurated the restoration and revitalisation of two historic complexes in the city’s Darb al-Ahmar district.
The restoration of the fourteenth century Umm al Sultan Shabaan mosque and the Khayrebek complex, which encompasses a 13th century palace, a mosque and an Ottoman house, represent major steps in the revitalisation of Cairo’s Islamic City.
Speaking at the ceremony inaugurating the restored sites, the Aga Khan, who is spiritual leader of the world’s Shia Ismaili community, said the restoration work has helped bridge Cairo’s present with the era of its Fatimid Ismaili founders 1000 years ago.
“I have found that this endeavour has provided for me, personally, a profound sense of connection with my own ancestors, the Fatimid Caliphs, who founded Cairo and who laid its physical and cultural foundations 1000 years ago,” he said.
The Aga Khan noted that the restoration work was a unique joint effort of institutions and people from across the world.
“It has involved people whose homes are thousands of miles away from Cairo – and it has also involved, most profoundly, the people of this neighbourhood, those who live and work only minutes away, in the very shadows of these buildings,” he said.
Restoration was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities as part of a broad programme encompassing restoration projects, housing rehabilitation, microfinance initiatives, training and apprenticeships. Hundreds of young men and women in Darb Al Ahmar have been trained in restoration techniques and have found work on the restoration projects, in Al-Azhar park and on project teams restoring 1.5 kilometres of the twelfth century Ayyubid wall which runs between the park and Darb al-Ahmar.
The Aga Khan said the restoration work on the area’s historic buildings will be expanded to include other jewels of Islamic cultural heritage. But he also noted that the restoration work cannot be complete without looking after the environmental needs of the local residents.
“I cannot see how this enormous endeavour, which still lies ahead, could be considered complete without serious attention being given to the area’s ongoing infrastructure, such as the road surfaces, the sewage disposal system, the distribution of water and electricity, the signage and public lighting,” he said.
Hundreds of local houses -- many structurally damaged by earthquakes or otherwise in disrepair -- have been renovated and upgraded with water and sanitation facilities and returned to their owners. A housing credit scheme is aiding private individuals in the rehabilitation of their own houses.
The construction of the park and the restoration of cultural monuments are seen as catalysts for social and economic development and the overall improvement of the quality of life in the district.
In July of this year, the Governorate of Cairo and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture signed an historic Public-Private Partnership (PPP) agreement linking Al-Azhar Park, a future “Urban Plaza” project at the northern end of the Park, and ongoing work by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Darb al-Ahmar.
The “Urban Plaza” project will be a mixed-use centre with underground car parking, shops and cultural facilities, including the Museum of Historic Cairo, which is being built by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt.
The Museum will house some of the great wealth of art and artefacts of Cairo’s Islamic heritage that are not currently on display. To be built adjacent to the “Urban Plaza,” the Museum will give visitors insight into the urban, cultural and architectural history of the heart of Cairo.
To conserve and restore all the artefacts and artworks which will be shown in the museum, the Trust has set up a major conservation laboratory, which is training young technicians in this field. It is also being used to restore important art and architectural elements for the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, due to open in 2007.
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Notes: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the Muslim world. It includes the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Historic Cities Support Programme, the Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Humanities Project, the on-line resource ArchNet, the Museum Projects and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of Africa and Asia. Active in over 30 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.