The Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s involvement in Egypt began with the Aga Khan’s decision to donate a park to the citizens of Cairo, following the conference of 11-15 November 1984 entitled The Expanding Metropolis: Coping with the Urban Growth of Cairo, organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Soon thereafter, a 30-hectare site on al-Darassa was selected because of its enormous potential as a “lung” at the very centre of the historic agglomeration.
The hilly site is surrounded by the most significant historic districts of Islamic Cairo, all of which are major destinations for visitors to the city. To the west are the Fatimid city and its extension, Darb al-Ahmar, with their wealth of mosques, madrasas and mausolea, signalled by a long line of minarets. To the south is the Sultan Hassan Mosque and its surroundings, as well as the Ayyubid Citadel. To the east is the Mamluk “City of the Dead”, with its many social welfare complexes sponsored by Mamluk sultans and dignitaries – an area which has developed into a dense neighbourhood of its own. The hilly topography of the site, formed by debris accumulated over centuries, now provides elevated view-points that dominate the city and offer a spectacular 360° panorama over the townscape of historic Cairo. On a clear day one can even see the pyramids.