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.
The restoration of the Khayrbek complex comprises the Mamluk palace of Alin Aq, the mosque, the mausoleum and sabil-kuttab of Khayrbek and two Ottoman houses, covering a total area of approximately 8,000 square metres. Amir Khayer Bek, a former governor of Aleppo under the last Mamluk sultan al-Ghuri, was appointed as the first Ottoman governor of Cairo following the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. Khayrbek complex was built between 1502 and 1520 adjacent to Khayer Bek’s residence, the Alin Aq Palace (13th–14th century). The sabil (public water source) of Janim al-Hamzawy (1532) was erected nearby, as were two Ottoman houses (17th century). In 1884, an earthquake caused serious damage to the top of the Khayrbek Mosque minaret, leading to the collapse of its pavilion. In 2002, in coordination with the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), AKTC started reconstruction of the upper part of the minaret and a conservation project involving the entire complex and adjacent structures.
"The Azhar Park Project in Cairo and the Conservation and Revitalisation of Darb al-Ahmar". Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2001.
The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (HCP) promotes the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities in the Muslim World. HCP undertakes the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that can spur social, economic and cultural development. Individual project briefs go beyond mere technical restoration to address the questions of the social and environmental context, adaptive re-use, institutional sustainability and training. The Al-Azhar Park project is one example of local Aga Khan Cultural Service Companies that have been formed to implement projects under the supervision of the HCP headquarters in Geneva.