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Historic Cairo to emerge as “bride in new dress” when renovation completes in 2020 — official

By Xinhua

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Historic Cairo, also known as Islamic Cairo, is a part of central Cairo noted for historically important mosques, madrasas (schools), fountains and other Islamic monuments dating back to as early as 10th century. (Xinhua/Zhao Dingzhe) / MB.COM.PH

CAIRO — “When all monuments in the Historic Cairo area are restored by 2020, Cairo will become a bride in a new dress,” Mohamed Abdel Aziz, manager of Historic Cairo Developing Project (HCDP), said.

“We have finished the restoration of 102 monuments out of the 200 on our renovation list, and we are working now on 39 others,” Abdel Aziz, also an assistant to Egypt’s minister of antiquities for the Islamic and Coptic monuments, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Historic Cairo, also known as Islamic Cairo, is a part of central Cairo noted for historically important mosques, madrasas (schools), fountains and other Islamic monuments dating back to as early as 10th century.

With its 600 registered monuments, the 4-square km old city was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979 as “one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities.”

“The city was historical not only for its antiquities, historical background, unique decoration of the buildings and ancient markets, but also for the integrated architectural texture,” Abdel Aziz said.

The HCDP started in 1998 by applying a plan for sorting and surveying all the aged monuments and the antiquities sites in the area, especially those damaged in the 1992 earthquake in Cairo which killed 545 people and left 50,000 others homeless.

The survey identified 200 buildings out the city’s registered 600 monuments as facing “problems and signs of destruction,” the HCDP head said.

When the restoration work officially started in 2000, unforeseen obstacles emerged.

Ground water was one of the biggest obstacles hampering restoration efforts.

“Cairo is a city that swims in a sea of ground water,” Abdel Azizsaid.

A weak sewage system and inadequate awareness among people living in the historical sites also posed difficulty.

High costs, coupled with dwindling budgets resulted from reduced tourism revenues, made it even harder for the project to move forward.

“We depend mostly on self-financing, and a big part of the restoration projects depends on the tourism revenues,” he said.

In 2010, the ministry of antiquities made 1.3 billion Egyptian pounds (150 million U.S. dollars) a year. In 2015, income was down to 275 million pounds.

However, the cost of restoration of Historic Cairo are estimated at 1.2 billion dollars, the official said.

To address the shortfall, the ministry turned to foreign organizations, such as foundations from Europe and other Arab countries, while keeping efforts to raise funds with Egyptian organizations.

Hard efforts paid off. The HCDP has restored around 100 historic buildings till now, including some that were damaged in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, he said.

One of those structures, Moaz Street, crowded with antiquities and mosques from the Fatimid reign to the Ottoman era, has been fully restored, Abdel Aziz said.

In addition to restoration work, Abdel Aziz and his colleagues also give lectures to raise the awareness of residents in the historic quarters and help them understand the importance of the restoration work to attracting more tourists and more income.

“Not only the tourists but also the residents would feel the change in Historic Cairo,” Abdel Aziz said. “We want both the inhabitants and the monuments to achieve sustainable development.”