Rediscovering Alexandria’s Heritage Gardens



Mon, 03 Dec 2018 - 11:29 GMT


Mon, 03 Dec 2018 - 11:29 GMT

Sultan Hussein Park (El Shalalat Gardens)

Sultan Hussein Park (El Shalalat Gardens)

Under the instruction of its modern founder, Muhammad Ali, Alexandria grew into a city of European influences, and was the financial and cultural capital of Egypt. The prospect of wealth resulting from trade and construction in the city, added to the cotton boom, as well as the wars, revolutions and ethnic and religious strife that racked Europe and the Mediterranean drove foreigners from all countries and religious backgrounds to seek the security and prosperity that the port offered. A safe haven, a burgeoning center of commerce, and the gateway into Egypt, Alexandria drew all kinds of people from the Ottoman Empire, Europe, Asia and North Africa who settled down into what became their second home. People of all nationalities and creeds lived side by side with each other. Immortalized in Western literature by Constantine Cavafy, E. M. Forster, Lawrence Durrell, Stratis Tsirkas, Giuseppi Ungaretti and Enrico Pea, the modern cosmopolitan city has captured the imagination of writers and travelers since then.

Marking its ninth year, Alexandrian Heritage Days is an annual exhibition that celebrates the coastal city’s rich history and aims to help preserve Alexandria’s magical history though sadly threatened monuments and landmarks. The event is held under the umbrella of the Alexandrian Center of Studies (CeAlex) in collaboration with a number of NGOs and institutes, such as the Greek Culture Institute, the Applied Arts Museum in Alexandria, the French Institute in Alexandria, Jesuit Culture Centre and the Spanish and Lebanese Consulate.

“This year, CeAlex presents three exhibitions as part of Alexandria Heritage Days; Rediscovering Alexandrian Gardens, 15 years of Exploring Lake Mariut and Alexandria during the First World War,” explains Head of the Outreach Department of CeAlex Marwa Abdel Gawad. Tours and heritage walks have also been arranged around the city’s oldest avenues in El Manshiyya and El Attarin Districts, as well as a walk inside Alexandria Stadium where the Olympic Flag was first flown for the Pan-Egyptian games on April 5, 1914.

The first exhibition ‘Lake Mariut: 15 years of Exploration’ taking place at the French Institute premises (from November 17 until December 27) sheds light on the history of Lake Mariut and portrays a map of its environmental and economic value since the Pharaonic era until the 19th century, after the area was abandoned by farmers. Bedouin tribes began making it their home back in 1970.

The biggest celebration taking place this year is ‘Discovering Alexandrian Gardens’ which is portrayed in a number of exhibitions held around town. The Memory of Gardens takes us on a journey down memory lane, through pictures narrating the stories of gardens and how they remain fondly rooted in the memory of Alexandrians.

Quiet summer afternoons, lazy weekends, sunny winter days and the most splendid springs—back in the day when average Egyptian wore neatly tailored suits and elegant dresses, and when public parks, the smell of jasmine lingering in the air, were the favored outing for families, couples and children.

With a variety of activities taking place in parks such as dancing tango, the hula hoop and the foxtrot, parks actually boasted a special lavish atmosphere, being specifically designed for the luxury of enjoying Alexandria’s marvelous weather. As the years passed, public green spaces —eroding under the burdens of socioeconomic changes—began to be gradually neglected, however they still carry glimpses of yesterday’s charm.

The Memory of Gardens aims to document a significant part of Alexandria’s history in an effort to preserve it, not only in the memory of those who were lucky to be part of its glory days but also in the memory of generations who are yet to come. Also, putting a spotlight on long-forgotten parks around the city, the landmarks each reflect the impact of green spaces on residents of the Mediterranean coastal town.

Sultan Hussein Park (El Shalalat Gardens)

This set of small gardens, first known as the Municipal Gardens, was built around the remains of Alexandria’s ancient east walls located behind the Royal Hospital (now known as El Miri hospital) in El Shatbi. It was described by E.M. Forster as “small but remarkably beautiful, designed by French engineer ‘Monfront’ who has shown great genius in addressing and skillfully designing the area to become one of the most unique green spaces in El Shatbi District, cutting one of the paths of El Mahmoudia canal, later transformed into an artificial pond for ducks.”

The garden was once home to Alexandrian-Armenian politician Nubar Pacha’s bronze statue before it was moved to Sayed Darwish Theatre (Alexandria Opera House) located in Fouad Street where it sits today.

The gardens today are located on Sultan Hussein street, named after Sultan Hussein Kamel (1853-1917), Khedive Ismail’s son. Landmarks of El Shalalat include the remains of Alexandria’s Arabian Walls, which was designed as an outdoor wall and indoor hidden wall surrounding the city from the east harbor (El Mansheya Square today). Other landmarks include El Nabih Cistern; Forster explains the Cisterns of Alexandria were declared as state property by the end of the 19th century, in an effort to remove them from public control after the establishment of the modern water supply system.

A study conducted by the CeAlex entitled “Voice from Cosmopolitan Alexandria” notes, “The area of Ras El-Tin, Bahari, Sayala and Anfoushi was the seventeenth century Ottoman quarter where the Turkish and Egyptian population lived, and thus it was called the Turkish Town by the foreigners. But even here, signs of pluralism were visible. The most well-known mosque of the modern era, the Abou El-Abbass El-Morsi, was designed by the Italian architect Mario Rossi. As the city and its population grew, Alexandria expanded eastwards, into what was called the new European town.
Designed, built and inhabited by the foreign population, it was in the beginning distinct from the old indigenous town. The European town remained the commercial and financial heart of the city, but people were increasingly building garden villas and elitist mansions in Ramleh, the stretch of sand that extended to the east of Alexandria. In 1863, a railway line was laid for Ramleh, and was later converted into an electric tram.

The names of tram stations indicate the rich cultural variety of the expanding city: Chatby (a Maghrebian holy man), Ibrahimieh (the sultan Ibrahim), Camp Caesar, Cleopatra, Sidi Gaber (another holy man), Rushdy Pasha (an Egyptian minister), Bulkeley, Stanley, Fleming (wealthy English gentlemen), Laurens (French cigarette manufacturer), Zizinia (Greek cotton tycoon), Saba Pasha (Syrian postmaster of the Egyptian Post), Mazloum Pasha (Turkish minister), Gianaclis (Greek wine manufacturer); the list goes on.”

Muhammed Ali, French Gardens (Saad Zaghloul)

Located in the heart of downtown Alexandria, in Ramleh Station, the garden used to be around 10,000 square meters. It contains of the most historical landmarks of the city; the statue of Egyptian leader and activist Saad Zaghloul made by artist Mahmoud Mokhtar in 1937 under the supervision of El Nahas Pacha’s government and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, officially opened in November 1935.

Majestic Hotel
As Forster described, “The hotel situated in the centre of town opposite the Jardin Francais, with a splendid view of the sea, in close proximity to the new quai, the Egyptian Post offices, the mixed courts, and the principle commercial establishment. Mr F.Rure, who managed the Grand Hotel Abat for over 25 years, has announced its arrival a year before its construction.”

The Menasce Synagogue

Baron Yacoub de Menasce was great philanthropist and the first of four Menasce men who headed Alexandria’s Jewish community. He founded an eponymous synagogue in 1871 before the British razed most of Muhammad Ali Square to the ground during the bombing of Alexandria in 1882. The synagogue was located on Midan Ismail El-Awal, hosting the French Gardens, later known as Orabi Pasha square and later as today’s Saad Zaghloul Square, between the Majestic Hotel and the Presbyterian Church. It miraculously escaped destruction in 1882. At the time, it served a growing community in the Manshiyya area where only the small Azouz and Zaradel synagogues were located.

The building still exists today, one of the only two synagogues left in Alexandria. It was entirely funded by Yacoub de Menasce. Forster narrates: “I must have walked dozens of times on Muhammad Ali Square before realizing that many of the sumptuous apartment buildings on the back, forming very rare rectangular courtyards, the Menasce family [had built], significantly contributing to the square’s elegance.” Today the Synagogue is closed and was in 2017 declared a national monument.

The Jardin Rosette

In May 1917, the French magazine La Construction Moderne dedicated an illustrated article to the creation of a restaurant-pub with a cinema and a skating rink located along the Rue Rosette, the main street of the European district of the city that joins the club along its path to Muhammad Ali Square, several consulates, the new Khedive Hotel, the Claridge’s Hotel and the Zizinia Theatre. The Quartier Grec and the Quartier Latin, both dotted with villas and gardens, face the Rue Rosette.

The Jardin Rosette covers an area of around 6,000 square meters at the foot of Kom El-Dikka, just opposite the Municipality and in front of the Greco-Roman Museum. The complex was built by Greek architect Nichols Paraskevas. The restaurant and the coffee brewery used to form a unique 95 meter street front, with large windows that could be dismantled in summertime to circulate the air. The internal front overlooked the garden promenade, which was used for outdoor cinema projections. On the other side of the garden, almost parallel to the building of the restaurant and the brewery, was a skating rink measuring 50 meters in length, which was transformed into a showroom and sometimes a ballroom for wedding parties, the organization of sports meetings and charity events. It was the perfect spot for all public and private parties at the time.

Forster further describes, “The street included a tobacco shop, a pastry shop and wooden frames made by the industrial building company of Egypt. Between 1914 and 1924, the Rue Rosette left the town through the municipal gardens (now El Shalalat) opened in 1906 on the area previously occupied by the walls of Alexandria, extending to the Abu Kir, a beautiful tree-lined street covered by Cocci antichi, used to give riding lessons and the rite of public strollings.”

Other gardens include The Martyrs (Hadikat Al Shohadaa) where Misr Railway station and the Roman Theatre are located. In addition other landmarks such as the popular Neroutsos Street, named after Dr. Tassos Neroutsos, the so-called father of Alexandrian archeology, was the first to record and publish all the existing monuments and inscriptions of Alexandria, presenting the first real monumental topography of the city.

Cavafy, a Greek poet who resided in Alexandria, was lucky enough to meet him personally at a young age, describing him as the “wizard of Alexandrian archaeology.”

He was also the first Alexandrian Scholar to have his works published in international journals. The Egyptian Olympic Club is also one of the landmarks of the garden, founded in 1905 by Mokhles El Bagoury under the name Red Star. The first headquarters of the club was a small apartment in the district of Moharam Bek, changing its name to the Olympic Club in Alexandria after the Paris Olympic games in 1924. It is said that the club had only one door overlooking Wabour El Maya Square (currently Ahmed Zewail Square).

Alex Water Company

In 1857, Egyptian President Mohamed Said Pasha granted French engineer Cordier the privilege of providing Alexandria with pure water, so he established the National Water Company of Alexandria, continuing its franchise until 1867. Until Khedive Ismail bought it and sold it to the government, the company was in charge of producing large pipelines from Wabour El Maya tanks in Kom El Dikka to the whole city.

El Shatby Stadium—Alexandria Stadium (El Etihad El Sakandary Club)
Under the leadership of Angelo Polanski during the era of Sultan Hussein Kamel, who has also served as the delegate of the international Olympic Committee since 1910, the stadium was used for practicing various kinds of sports and was marked by the celebration of the 20th anniversary of relaunching the Olympic idea. On April 5, 1924, the Olympic flag was raised for the first time in the world after the opening of Fouad I Stadium.



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