A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 26, 2013

Weekend Nostalgia: Gezira and Cairo from the Air, 1904

Yes, it says 1904, and no, it wasn't the Wright Brothers. According to the data at Wikimedia Commons, photographer Eduard Spelterini took the photo from a balloon about 1,600 feet in the air in 1904.

Gezira Island (redundant of course, since Gezira means island) is on the left; Cairo proper on the right. Of the three bridges that now connect Gezira/Zamalek to downtown, only the southernmost, the original 1872 Qasr El-Nil bridge (replaced by the present bridge in 1933), was there. (The bridge at the top of the picture, north of the island, is the railroad bridge.) Nor is Gezira buried under the tangle of bridge ramps and flyovers that exist today,

At the east end  of the original Qasr El-Nil bridge is the Qasr El-Nil barracks, where British troops were garrisoned until 1948, and where the Nile Hilton would rise in the 1950s. The Egyptian Museum is also clearly visible.

The Gezira Sporting Club is already there in the center of the island, and the fairgrounds to the south where the new Opera was built in the 1980s.

What's perhaps most striking is the northern part of the island, the today-densely-populated and up-market district of Zamalek. There's almost nothing there.  Originally planned by Khedive Ismail as a garden island, he built the Gezira Palace for his guests including the Empress Eugenie for the opening of the Suez Canal. By the time of this photo the palace had become a hotel; below, in 1906.
It later became the Omar Khayyam Hotel and is today the core of the much grander and expanded Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino.

There are only a handful of other buildings visible in the photo, some of which were elegant villas, but Zamalek isn't really there yet. ("Zamalek," ironically, means "huts," and may originally have applied to construction huts, though the name originally applied to a village on the Giza side, not on Gezira; the street now called 26th of July St., and before that Fuad St., started life as Zamalek St. because it went to Zamalek; now it goes through it. It most assuredly does not consist of huts today.)


Dar said...

Really amazing photo.

Interesting how rapid the entire left side of the photo became densely developed.

Anonymous said...

I understand that about forty years ago a future distinguished Middle East historian lived just down the street from the Omar Khayyam.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Could be; could be.