The Ayyubid fortifications were begun in 1176 by Salah al-Din, a Kurd of the Ayyubid clan who came to Cairo from Syria and overthrew the Fatimid caliphate in 1171. They were built to contain the former Fatimid palace-city and its suburbs, the pre-Fatimid city of Fustat and the pre-existing fortifications within a single system. Unlike the first Fatimid wall, the Ayyubid fortifications were built entirely of stone and made use of new defensive devices brought from Syria, such as bent gate entrances and arrow slits reaching the floor.
In the following centuries, Cairo's rapid urban expansion went well beyond Salah al-Din's boundaries, rendering the old walls virtually obsolete. Unlike the other parts of the walled city, however, the eastern section is the only area where urban expansion beyond the walls did not take place. This was due to the enormous mounds of debris deposited just outside the wall, an accumulation that probably began in the fifteenth century, during the Mamluk period, when the eastern part of the city had declined in importance.
Today, after the grading works for the Azhar Park, the major portion of the remaining Ayyubid wall is once again emerging over a length of approximately 1,500 metres from Bab al-Wazir to al-Azhar Street, forming the boundary between the Darb al-Ahmar district and the Park. The outer face of the wall is now exposed to view and to natural elements, while on the city side, private development pressures and institutional demands may raise complex urban development issues. Future intervention will have to consider not only the preservation of the wall, but also how to intervene in the surrounding context. Comprehensive planning and design policies had to be developed both for the residential fabric abutting the wall and regarding the points of access and the pedestrian promenade along the western edge of Azhar Park.
This shift in attitude, from a perception of the Historic Wall as an abstract, isolated monument to its re-invention as a part of a larger urban programme, together with the gradual implementation of the plans and activities described above can turn this obsolete structure, buried for centuries and removed from the city's mainstream development, into a cultural asset and living component of the future revitalisation of Islamic Cairo. The challenge ahead lies in safeguarding the remains and true significance of the Historic Wall, while shaping its new role for the years to come.
Jodido, Philip, ed. 2011. "Case Studies: Egypt" In The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration. Munich: Prestel, 72-109.
The notion of culture as an asset rather than as a drain on resources is still a new concept in many parts of the world. Culture is considered a luxury in an era of unmet social and economic needs. The sad result is that both tangible and intangible cultures are succumbing to decay or decline. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development in even the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Programme’s support to communities demonstrates how conservation of cultural heritage, coupled with urban regeneration efforts, can provide a springboard for social and economic development. This publication highlights, through case studies, drawings and images, the work of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme over the past 20 years.