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Cairo’s historic districts


Helwan District

Cairo is full of suburbs and districts that hold the rich history of the city.  So, let’s find out today the story of one of Cairo’s oldest suburbs located on the Nile, which is Helwan district.  Due to its geographical location and historical roots, Helwan has always been of a great concern to geographers, historians, and politicians. 



Helwan suburb dates back to the pharaonic era, and it was known as “Ain Aan” as the word “Ain” stands for the water springs in the area, and the word “Aan” means fish. Moreover, the first water dam was found in Helwan.


In the Coptic era, Christians as well as Jews inhabited the area and built monasteries, churches, and synagogues. It was called “Hay- wan” and then the name became Helwan. Foreigners, especially Greeks and Italians, also lived in Helwan spreading Roman orthodox and Catholic churches in the area.  


In the Islamic era, the plague spread across Fustat city in 686 AD. So, Abdel Aziz ibn Marwan, Governor of Egypt during The Umayyad Caliphate, moved to Helwan city and built palaces and mosques in it. Abdel Aziz chose the name “Helwan” for this city because it had the same position and features of Helwan city of Iraq. Urbanization and prosperity continued in the area until the ottoman era then it was neglected and left to deterioration.


After years of neglect, Helwan restored its importance in Egypt’s modern history when Khedive Abbas Helmy ruled Egypt. As Helwan sulfur springs were then rediscovered and were used in treating soldiers form skin diseases spread in the army at this time. Afterwards, Khedive Abbas ordered to build a sulfur hammam for therapeutic purposes. Later, Europeans flowed to Helwan, but the difficulty of transportation and its remoteness prevented any investment in the area. In the Khedive Said period between 1854 and 1863, several rest stops were built around Helwan sulfur springs as well as a department to manage the visits and supervise the cleaning process to preserve its therapeutic elements.  Early in the Khedive Ismail period, they began to build more sulfur baths in the area and established a railway that ran from El-Manshia next to Qalaa street to Helwan district. Therefore, Helwan gained more fame all over the world, and more people came to live in it, especially rulers, Pashas, and rich people.  Moreover, Helwan became the capital of Egypt during the Khedive Tawfiq period, and he built the “Grand Hotel” in 1888, which is now Helwan Secondary School for Girls and Helwan Observatory as well as palaces, museums, and mosques. 



Helwan district houses many significant landmarks like Rokn Farouq Museum, the Japanese Garden, the Wax Museum, and Helwan Observatory, which is located on top of a limestone plateau. Helwan Observatory was built in 1903 and gained great fame due to its distinctive geographical location. It attracted astronomers from around the world who came to conduct joint scientific studies. Furthermore, the British astronomer Reynolds dedicated a 30- inch reflector to the Observatory.  The Observatory also has one of the world’s largest telescope.   

Zamalek District

Zamalek District is one of the upscale districts in the west of Cairo. It is located on an island in the middle of the Nile River.



El-Zamalek is a foreign word, and it means houses made of reeds. El-Zamalek district was just the hang-out for young men in summer and holidays during the eras of The Umayyads and then the Ayyubids.  Then Khedive Ismail built the Gezira palace, which witnessed the inauguration of the Suez Canal in November 1869. After that, the  Gezira palace turned into a hotel called Omar El-Khaiam, and now it is Marriot Hotel.



Zamalek did not become an island until the final quarter of the 19th century after digging the western branch of the Nile. Zamalek was a land connected to the El-Agouza area and the Imbaba area. Then, in 1877, the El-Bahr El-Amma Bridge was built on the Nile’s western branch, and in 1914 El-Galaa bridge replaced El-Bahr El-Amma as it was no longer functioning.


Egyptians used to call the El-Galaa bridge “Badea Masabni” bridge to mock the British forces, and after the evacuation of the British occupation from Egypt, the bridge restored its old name.



El-Zamalek district flourished after building El-Andalus Park and El-Nadi Al-Ahly Club. Moreover, King Farouq established a rest house at the southern end of the Island, which later became the headquarter of the Revolutionary Command Council, and it is now Cairo Tower. The District also houses El-Gezira Club, El-Sawy Cultural Wheel, and the Academy of Arabic Language.



Abbasia District

Each area, district, and square in Cairo has a story full of historical events and changes that Egypt went through over the ages. So, let’s find out the story of one of Cairo’s most famous districts, which is Abbasia District. Abbasia district connects between the east and west of Cairo. Moreover, it houses Egypt’s most prominent universities. In the past, Abbasia District was a barren desert called “Ridania” after Ridan El-Sekaly, member of the Fatimid Caliph El-Aziz Billah’s court. It was the site where Ridania battle took place in 1517 between the Mamluk forces under Al-Ashraf Tuman bay II and the Ottoman forces under Sultan Selim I, which ended by the defeat of the Mamluk forces and the execution of Tuman bay.


Later, the area suffered from neglect until Abbas Helmy Pasha I came to Egypt in 1848   and decided to build army barracks on the edge of the desert and laid the foundation of Abbasia District. Then Abbas Pasha encouraged people to reconstruct the area by land grant and built a school and hospital.  He also built a large palace which the French engineer De Lesseps talked about saying that it has 2000 windows and it is like a whole city in the desert. Abbasia District was named after Abbas Helmy Pasha.


Its development

Abbasia District went through significant development during Khedive Ismail’s era as he built several military schools including Al-Bayada School “Infantry School” in 1864, Al-Sawari “Calvary School”, and Artillery School in 1865.  He also built Army Staff School, and Mohandes khana School “Irrigation and Architecture” at Zaafaran Palace. Moreover, the Military School was moved to Zaafaran Palace to make it easier for students to carry out military training. Then, khedive Ismail built a horse racing track and shooting range, and Abbasia became a place for celebrations. 


Major Events

Abbasia District has a rich history in Egypt’s Army ‘s records. During the Urabi revolution, 600 Egyptian officers held a meeting at the army barracks in Al- Abbasia on February 18th 1879 then they went on a military demonstration against the foreign intervention in Egypt with the participation of military school’s students, some soldiers, and three members of the Advisory Council.  They finally succeeded in toppling the cabinet of Nubar Pasha and proved the ability of Egyptian officers.



Over time, several vital facilities spread across Abbasia District like the Greek Hospital, the Italian Hospital, Abbasia Mental Hospital, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Electricity, St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, and El-Husseinia School for Boys, and Al-Ahram Secondary School.


Abbasia, home to Egypt’s prominent figures

Many of Egypt’s leaders, politicians, and public figures lived in Abbasia District including the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Naser, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, Lieutenant General Abdel Monem Riyad, former Minister of Defense Mohammed Sadiq, the Egyptian actors Salah Zulfikar and Abdel Rahman Abu Zahraa, and others. 



Megharblin District

Egyptian History is full of evidence of the Egyptians’ authenticity and deep roots extended to different dynasties and kingdoms for many successive years and what the ancestors had built remains evidence of Egypt’s rich civilization, art, and uniqueness. One of which is Megharblin District, Qahirat El-Moez’s oldest district.



Megharblin District is located between El-Sayeda Zeinab District and El-Hussein District in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area, the heart of the Fatimid Cairo.  



Megharblin name is associated with the grain trade, where grains are sifted through sieves to remove all impurities.



Megharblin District is characterized by its landmarks dates back to the Fatimid era and the Islamic era like the Sabil and Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda, which was founded by Prince Abdel Rahman Katkhuda, governor of Egypt, in 1142 AH. There is also Gani Bey Mosque dates from 1426 AH. Moreover, many of Megharblin adjacent streets specialize in certain crafts and industries such as Khaimia street which is famous for tents manufacturing, and Sorougia street where horse saddles are made.  

Further, many authors and artists were born in El-Megharblin including Mahmoud El-Meligy, Yousef El-Sebai, Shafiq Galal, and Mahmoud Shokoko. 



Hadayak El-Kobba District

Hadayak El-Kobba District is one of Cairo’s north area districts. It is the area surrounds Ibn Sender Street.



Hadayak El-Kobba District’s name is associated with the dome built by Amir Yashbak ibn Mahdy El-Dawadar, the holder of the Sultan’s inkstand and royal messenger. Hadayak El-Kobba is known for its elegant architectural features. Moreover, it was a popular hang-out for the Mamluk sultans.



When Mohammad Ali dynasty reigned Egypt, they constructed Hadayak El-Kobba area as Ibrahim Pasha built a palace. Then Khedive Ismail rebuilt the Palace on an area of 70 acres in 1986 and surrounded it with vast gardens that had different and unique kinds of trees and flowers. Further, Khedive Abbas Helmy II ordered Hadayak El-Kobba Company to develop and reconstruct 100 acres of the area, and the company established several streets like Misr& Sudan street.


Hadayak El-Kobba district now consists of Hadayak El-Kobba area, Kobri El-Kobba area, Hamamat El-Kobba area, and Saraya El-Kobba area. It also has two of Cairo’s historic palaces which are El-Tahra Palace and El-Kobba Palace.    



El-Darb El-Ahmar District

El-Darb El-Ahmar district is one of historical Cairo’s oldest districts that offers a breathtaking panorama of Islamic monuments. It is also home to many ancient handicrafts and industries which makes it a famous destination for both Egyptians and foreigners.



El-Darb El-Ahmar is affiliated to Wast Al-Qahira district. It is bounded on the north by Gammalia district, on the west by Mosky district, Abdeen District, and EL-Sayeda Zeinab district, on the south by El-Khalifa, and on the east by El-Nasr road.



El- Darb El-Ahmar’s name is associated with Salah El-Din Citadel’s massacre in which Mohammed Ali Pasha invited all of Egypt Mamluks and slaughtered them in 1811. The blood flooded the Citadel and adjacent street, and despite cleaning the blood, the color of the ground turned into red. So, the area became known as El-Darb El-Ahmer “the Red Alley”.



El-Darb El-Ahmar was the political center of the Fatimids. Moreover, it was home to political and mass organizations until the beginnings of the 23rd revolution in the modern age.



El-Darb El-Ahmar District has many mosques, historic houses and palaces, shrines, and sabils such as the Mosque of al-Maridani, Mosque of Qortoba El-Dhabi as well as the Islamic Museum and Egyptian National Library and Archives. Further, it is full of shopping alleys like Darb Saada and Darb El-Megharblin. It was also the birthplace of iconic figures, including the Egyptian leader Mahmoud Sami, Quran reciter Mohammad Refaat, El-Sheikh Ibrahim El-Sheashai, and the writer Yousef El-Sebaai.


Masr Al-Gadidah District "Heliopolis"

Gateway to Cairo for visitors from all over the world, Masr Al-Gadidah is one of Cairo's upscale neighborhoods where Cairo Airport is located. Dear reader, let's know the story of this quiet aristocratic suburb.


In the early 20th century, in 1905, the Belgium Baron Edward Impan came up with the idea of establishing an urban community in the desert away from Cairo like Garden cities built in Europe under the slogan "A healthy and clean society."  


The idea of establishing Masr Al-Gadidah coincided with the rise in land prices and rents, overpopulation, pollution in Downtown Cairo.



Establishing Heliopolis in its current location was not a coincidence as Baron Empain, the founder of this suburb, was a big fan of the Greek philosophers. So, he worked on reviving and immortalizing the City of Innu where Aristotle, Socrates and, Plato lived at its temples. He also wanted a location with some climate advantages. So, he chose this site and called it Heliopolis, meaning the eye of the sun. Heliopolis is also the pharaonic name of the ancient city of Innu.


In 1905, the Egyptian government sold 5952 acres of desert land to Baron Empain, the owner of the Belgian Bank of Brussels, who established Wahet Heliopolis Company to build Masr Al-Gadidah suburb.


Baron Empain made Heliopolis a blend of oriental architecture and European architecture to suit its resident. He divided the suburb into different areas. Each had its architectural features according to the quality of life in it. Starting from palaces and villas on Oruba and Almaza streets to the industrial zones, then passing by public gardens, amusement parks, horse racetracks, and elite schools.


Masr Al-Gadidah Tram

After Baron Empain established Masr Al-Gadidah suburb, it lacked all facilities and means of transportation. So, he thought of building a tramway system to link the new suburb to Cairo. In 1910, the area had its first tram line, and it remained one of the area's distinctive landmarks until the government removed it.   


Masr Al-Gadidah Landmarks

Masr Al-Gadidah area houses many famous landmarks like Baron Empain Palace, the Presidential Palace, the Oruba Palace, and El-Ghaba Public Park, the Merryland Park, the Military Academy, Cairo International Airport, the Jewish Synagogue in El-Korba, the Basilica Church, Masr Al-Gadidah Court, and Masr Al-Gadidah Library.


Masr Al-Gadidah Squares

Masr Al-Gadidah has many famous square and streets like Safir Square, Triumph Square, El-Hegaz Square, Salah El-Din Square, and El-Ismailia Square. 


Masr Al-Gadidah prominent residents

Many public and well-known figures lived in Heliopolis such as the late President Hosni Mubarak, the former Minister of Interior Ahmed Roshdy, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abu El-Gheit, and also many famous artists like Mary Monib, Leila Elwi and Leila Murad.