The Other Old Cairo


I tend to believe that there are actually two Old Cairo’s. Naturally, when discussing Old Cairo, the majority of Cairo residents and visitors refer to the first. Various churches, synagogues, mosques, and the remains of ancient Roman fortifications are among the ruins and remnants from many of Cairo’s magnificent earlier eras that can be found in this area of modern Cairo. However, the “other” Old Cairo would be a temporal reference, with “old” referring to the previous Cairo. This Old Cairo can only be seen in black-and-white photographs, which depict the city’s elegant past during a time when Egypt’s politics were different from today.

We are given a glimpse of life back in a time when royalty ruled, the Nile still flooded annually, and Tahrir Square was merely a charming roundabout in the center of Cairo in these old photographs of an Egypt that has long since passed. This was Cairo, more than two revolutions ago (yes, there was a second Egyptian Revolution in 1952 that overthrew the monarchy).This was Egypt, too.

King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, can be seen smiling at the camera alongside his sisters in the first picture below. We see evidence of the annual flooding of the Nile River in the second and third, which for thousands of years brought new life to the entire Nile River Valley and supported one of history’s greatest civilizations as it fertilized and re-fertilized a large strip of land cutting through a barren desert. The fact that a snapshot of life in a large portion of rural Egypt looks exactly the same as it did hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago is especially fascinating. There is a lot more in common with rural and small-town life in places like the United States than we typically think. The rural Egyptian way of life is straightforward and is centered on family and faith.

Naturally, the final image below depicts Cairo’s renowned Tahrir Square, which is hard to miss thanks to the Egyptian Museum building in the center left corner. In Egypt, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, and post-revolutionary activity and political expression continue to flow through Tahrir. Even on normal days, it is a busy, crowded, and unfortunately run-down place. However, images like these remind us that Tahrir and Cairo used to be very different from where they are now.