In spite of its inscription as a World Heritage Site in 1979, Historic Cairo was not given enough attention and individual buildings were suffering neglect, serious deteriorations and lack of maintenance. During the early phases of the design of Azhar Park, new light was projected on the adjacent neighbourhood of Darb al-Ahmar, as the Park hills provide views of a number of magnificent heritage edifices. With its medieval structures, with the domes and minarets amid the dense urban fabric, the Darb al-Ahmar district invites visitors of the Park to come and explore the jewels of Islamic art and architecture.
The conservation projects of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Darb al-Ahmar started with two minarets in the vicinity of Azhar Park, that of Umm al-Sultan Shaaban Mosque (1368–69) and that of Khayrbek Mosque (1502–20). Both minarets had lost their upper parts as a result of the devastating 1884 earthquake. Collapses and reconstructions of minarets were not unknown to the history of Cairo. Despite attempts to reconstruct them in 1941, the minarets of Umm al-Sultan Shaaban and of Khayrbek mosques waited until 2003 to recover their integrity, when AKTC, on the basis of historic documentation, started with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt not only to restore them to their original shape but also to restore and revive the skills and the craftsmanship of artisans whose crafts were, and still are, in danger of being lost.
In 1984, His Highness the Aga Khan first proposed to create an urban park in Cairo. In 1990, a protocol between the Governorate of Cairo and the Aga Khan Trust set out the conditions for what would become al-Azhar Park, a thirty-hectare stretch of land (formerly a rubbish dump) near the Citadel and abutting the remains of the Ayyubid Wall and the City of the Dead. This book describes the construction of the Park, its architecture, the renovation of a large part of the Ayyubid Wall, and the extensive socio-economic and rehabilitation work undertaken by the Trust in the neighbouring community of al-Darb al-Ahmar.
In addition, it tells the story of Cairo's development into a modern megalopolis with a need for green spaces such as al-Azhar Parks and considers the situation in the project area many years later.