Heritage Streets of Alexandria



Fri, 15 Dec 2017 - 02:57 GMT


Fri, 15 Dec 2017 - 02:57 GMT

Cavafy’s house - Egypt today

Cavafy’s house - Egypt today

As a regular visitor and someone passionate about anything Alexandrian, last September I took a stroll around the city’s downtown area on a quest to find Constantine Cavafy’s house, the Greek poet who loved Alexandria and lived there till he passed away in 1933. Located in a rather small street off El-Nabi Daniel street, his house has been turned into a museum.

Once you get there, a nameplate reads “Cavafy’s,” and is one of the various plaques, houses and streets bearing witness to Alexandria’s rich history. In celebration of many similar houses, the city’s heritage, its immortal streets and the stories of the names behind them, the Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines (CEAlex), or the Alexandria Center for Studies, and the French Institute (Institut Français d’Egypte à Alexandrie) hosted the “Alexandrian Streets” exhibition, as part of the 8th annual Alexandria’s Heritage Days week.

Held during November 13 -30, the exhibition highlighted Alexandrian roads and alleys, as well as original streets’ nameplates, which make up a big part of the history of the ancient city. “We want to put a spotlight on our city’s heritage and make people, particularly Alexandrians, more aware of their history; a great way to do so is through highlighting the history of some of the most popular streets of the city,” Marwa Abdel Gawad, head of the outreach department of CeAlex, tells Egypt Today.

Cavafy’s house - Egypt today

Held at the French Institute premises in El-Nabi Daniel Street, the location of the exhibition was, in itself, part of the heritage it portrayed. The street’s name has not been changed for the past 150 years.Several interpretations for it have been put forth for it by scholars and historians. Some believe the street was named after Mohamed Daniel Al-Mosuli, an Islamic scholar who came from Mosul to Alexandria in the 14th century and was buried in a mosque in the same location.

Famous landmarks in the area include El-Nabi Daniel mosque, Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue and Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. “I was utterly surprised by the depth of information I have read about all the streets because most of the information is new to me, even though I considered myself quite familiar with it all,” says Nadine Youssef, one of the visitors of the exhibition. “A huge effort has been made to bring back the city’s lost glory and revive the memories of the streets, where we spent our childhood and where our grandparents lived. Each street name carries a wealth of memories, mysteries and hidden secrets.”

Another street featured at the exhibition is Safeya Zaghloul Street, which was originally named Al Masala (The Obelisk) as it contained two obelisks dating back to 13BC. In 1877, Khedive Ismail offered one of them to the United States and the other was moved to London in 1879. In 1930, the street was named after feminist and human rights activist Safeya Zaghloul. The historical street includes a number of old charming spots, such as Trianon and Elite Cafes and Strand and Rialto cinemas.

It extends from Sultan Hussein Street, named after Khedive Ismail’s son Sultan Hussein Kamel (1853-1917), to Fouad Street, which played a significant role in the planning of Alexandria, connecting the whole city together. In the Roman era, Fouad Street had an
eastern gate dubbed The Sun Gate, and a western one The Moon about 5 kilometers
long. It was named Bab Rashid toward the end of the 19th century as it was the main
road linking Alexandria with Rashid City. The street was eventually named after King
Fouad (1917-1926) in 1920, the first to substitute the title of King for Sultan.

After the 1952 revolt, the name was changed to El Horreya, then to Gamal Abdel Nasser after the late president’s death. However, Alexandrians still know it by Fouad Street. Today, it is a European-style street, as many residents call it, and it holds a great deal of the city’s past glory with its quaint houses and aura of mystery. It was also home to a number of notable landmarks, most of which are unfortunately gone and can only be found in drawings and photos, such as the Mohammed Ali Pasha Club, Zezenia Theatre and the Khedive’s Hotel.

Cavafy’s house - Egypt today

Much like Fouad Street, many other Alexandrian street names have changed over the years, but the city’s residents still remember the original ones, to the extent that sometimes they would not be familiar with the new official labels. Paying homage to that tradition, the exhibition featured some original Alexandrian streets’ nameplates. “Even if some street names were changed for any reason, people still call them with their old names, and for good reason,” AbdelGawad says.

The first nameplate in Alexandria’s streets dates back to 1891. The plan of establishing a list of street names and numbering buildings took around 10 years, until it was officially established in 1901. The first nameplates Alexandria has ever known were made of enamel-coated steel sheets, with a ribbon on the corner. Names were written in white in Arabic and French. Letters were big in size, whether Arabic or Latin, and each letter was a piece of art in itself.

Another generation of nameplates started appearing after World War II and through to the 1970s. They were green and the designers had made sure to write new street names as well as old ones, with the phrase “previously known as.” Later on, the French names were replaced with English ones. In 1997 and 2000, new nameplates started appearing on the streets of Alexandria. They were more of signboards, usually put on the corner of the street and not on buildings’ walls.

Patrice Lumumba, Soliman Yousry, El Shaheed Salah Mustafa, El Faraana ‘Pharos’, Dr. Ali Shousha and Nubar Pasha Gardens are all names that have never been erased from the collective memory of Alexandrians. According to CeAlex, Alexandria’s old maps are living evidence of how the city was planned and neighborhoods were divided, as well as the streets’ original names, which all bear witness to ancient traditions and a road network that belonged to early or middle ages. But beyond the country’s history, residents of the old city bear emotional links to its streets, and many special memories that deserve to be celebrated.



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