Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
The historic urban Wall is the south-eastern segment of Cairo’s Ayyubid fortifications, which were partially exposed during the works to create the new Azhar Park. The Wall measures over 1500 metres in length, running north from Bab al-Wazir to al-Azhar Street, and forms the boundary between the Darb al-Ahmar district of Historic Cairo and the new Park. It is the longest and best-preserved portion of Cairo’s old fortifications. Following preliminary investigations, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) began restoration works in 2000. Most of the work along the side facing the Park was completed in 2008.
Built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by Salah al-Din and his successors, this portion of the city wall was Cairo’s eastern boundary for centuries. Over time, its role changed: although it continued to be a defining element for the city, it long ago ceased to be a defensive structure. This shift in function meant that the city gradually spread to and into the very edge of the Wall, following an accretive process common to historic cities everywhere. From the fifteenth century onwards, the area just outside the Wall began to be used as a dumping ground and the Wall gradually disappeared under the debris, where, in fact, it remained protected from the ravages of time and weather.
Conservation of the original wall structure and preservation of the living city fabric around the Historic Wall are seen as the best antidotes against further decay on the one hand, and destructive commercialization on the other. The actions to ensure that the Historic Wall maintains its original significance and that it be properly reintegrated into its contemporary context included: firstly, creating pedestrian circulation along the western side of the Park and access through the former city gates (Bab al-Mahruq, Bab al-Barqiyya and Bab al-Wazir) to enhance the perception of the Historic Wall as a dynamic edge and meeting point, rather than as a barrier between the community and the Park; secondly, establishing didactic programmes, exhibits and an overall interpretive scheme to enhance appreciation of the Wall as an important urban feature of Historic Cairo, to explain its changing role in the development of the city and to introduce visitors to the life of the Darb al-Ahmar community; thirdly, introducing educational and training activities that are relevant to promoting a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage among visitors and residents and the development of capacity through enrichment of local skills and abilities to preserve and protect Historic Cairo; and fourthly, ensuring the future management and long-term sustainability of the Wall through the establishment of permanent repair and maintenance programmes and the monitoring of future changes and transformations.