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.
His Highness the Aga Khan. 2001. Preface. In Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (formerly Historic Cities Support Programme): The Azhar Park Project in Cairo and the Conservation and Revitalisation of Darb al-Ahmar. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
This preface contributed by His Highness the Aga Khan provides insight into the AKTC's commitment to Cairo's development. The urban renewal and conservation project of the Al Azhar neighborhood and Darb al-Ahmar is contextualized with a informative historical chronology and description of the site and its significance.