In the heart of Khedival Cairo

Added on Jan 11, 2018

Tourism and traveling are important human activities. There are two essential kinds of tourism: tourism in place, which is the most famous, diverse, and prevalent, and tourism in time, which is the most interesting and exciting. When you are in Cairo, you are lucky because Cairo gives you both kinds together.
That is how Cairo used to bewilder cities of the world when Khedive Ismail had just finished establishing his modern Cairo and sublime Palace in Ismailia district, which is one of Cairo’s grand districts. When you cross to Ismailia square on the other side, you will find gardens everywhere because there was nothing but gardens in front of the Palace. From behind, three straight and extended streets will attract your attention: Tahrir Street, which crosses Bab-el-Louk Square and continues until it reaches Abdeen Palace, which was Egypt’s first headquarter outside the Citadel since its construction; Qasr-el-Nil Street, which intersects Soliman Pasha Street, named after the French Colonel who turned to a Muslim changing his name from Seif to Soliman, then married Mohamed Ali Pasha’s sister, and became the first head of the Egyptian Military Academy.
Soliman Pasha Square is now known as Talaat Harb Sqaure. The sun rises quietly over Talaat Pasha Harb’s Statue, who is known as the establisher of the Egyptian economy in Egypt’s contemporary history.
We cross the square, to the other half of the circle, there is one of Behlar’s buildings whose European fingerprints are all over some of Egypt’s buildings. When he came to Egypt in 1906, he did not know that he will leave an architectural legacy that all Egyptians are still proud of. His European touches on the Egyptian architecture will give it a special type that will never be illuminated.
The Swiss Charles Albert Behlar was born in 1868. He marked his European special touches on more than one city such as Cairo, Paris and Jerusalem. Behlar’s creative style is conveyed through a lot of places, especially hotels, inside and outside Cairo. In 1906, he constructed Upper Egypt hotels in Luxuor and Aswan. He also bought shares in an old Hotel in Cairo, and he immediately extended it. In 1925, he was controlling the biggest hotels in Cairo and Alexandria.
In 1907, Behlar created a beautiful European area, which is Zamalek (formerly known as Boulaq). In 1908, he bought an additional piece of land on the Gezira Island to expand it, and he established the houses and buildings that still exist. He also built, for Khedive Ismail, El-Gezira Palace.
Downtown, Behlar’s European touches are exemplified in the buildings now owned by Insurance companies, ‘Behlar’ passage as it is called, and some of the buildings in Talaat Harb square. ‘Behlar’ passage is a copy of Rivoli Street in Paris, and it is full of commercial shops and art halls, and it used to be one of the most expensive commercial areas.
Behlar managed to design the streets of mid Cairo, and at the same time, he maintained the harmony between the streets and the occupying shops. Therefore, the terms in commercial contracts, through which the shops were rented, were very strict.

We leave, and the sun light is shining again as it sets over the head of Talaat Pasha’s statue. This is announcing an end of one day in Cairo; the city that never sleeps.