Language: ع E

Downtown CAIRO

Art and Culture

Home to Egyptian royalty and the British soldiers, European immigrants as well as native Cairenes from its earliest days, Downtown Cairo’s diversity encouraged cultural exchange. Contemporary and cosmopolitan, the district quickly became the intellectual heart of the city. Sidewalk cafes set the stage for lively debate, hotel bars served budding playwrights, cafeterias such as Groppi became popular hangouts for novelists and the ever-changing boulevards inspired the city’s painters and photographers, whose works sprinkled the neighborhood’s galleries. A luxury residential unit on Emmadedin Street became home to many of Egypt’s early movie stars, whose films were premiered and shown in Downtown’s chic cinemas including Cinema Radio, MGM’s Cinema Metro and Miami Cinema. Taalat Harb Square was once home to a dance school, where aspiring ballerinas trained in hopes of one day performing at the Opera House.

Sadly, many of the venues no longer exist in their original form. The Opera House tragically burned in 1971, the dance school is now a hotel and Naguib Mahfouz would no longer recognize the cafe he visited daily. Nonetheless, Downtown remains the artistic and cultural hub of Egypt’s capital city. Sidewalk cafes are still alive with debate, Horreya and Cafe Riche remain popular with journalists and it would not be surprising to find a writer or two quietly working at the bar of the historic Windsor Hotel. Cairo’s literary history is preserved in several Downtown bookstores, such as Shorouk and Madbouli on Taalat Harb Square, Reader’s Corner on Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street and Kasr El Nil Street’s L’Orientalist.

Although Mahmoud Mokhtar’s gallery is now overtaken by a mechanic’s shop, many other galleries have taken up residence in Downtown. Townhouse Gallery sits nearby the beloved sculptor’s former gallery on Hussein El Me’mar Pasha Street, next to Rawabet Theater; a popular stage for independent performers. On Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street, the CIC gallery has breathed new life into visual artistry of Downtown. The streets themselves continue to inspire artists, most recently in the form of politically charged murals that have sprung up in the area surrounding Tahrir Square. Though the glory days of Egyptian cinema have long past, the cinemas themselves remain, as both monuments to Egypt’s cultural heritage and sources of great potential in the revival of Downtown.