A nostalgic walk through Zamalek’s Andalusian Gardens



Wed, 26 Apr 2017 - 08:41 GMT


Wed, 26 Apr 2017 - 08:41 GMT

The broken mosaics of the benches - Egypt Today

The broken mosaics of the benches - Egypt Today

CAIRO – 26 April 2017: ‘Concrete jungle’ is the first thought that comes to mind when asked to describe Cairo in one phrase. Lying along the bank of the Nile in the Zamalek neighborhood, on Gezirah Island, however, are the Andalusian Gardens, where people enter for a little peace of mind and blissful seclusion from the tumult of Africa’s largest metropolis.

Entering the gardens is, in a sense, taking a trip down memory lane, when the streets of Cairo were not overpopulated and filled to bursting with pedestrian, animal and motorized traffic; when Egyptians were by nature nonchalant and disorder was not yet the city’s predominant factor.

You may feel a sense of déjà vu as you step through the gardens’ gates, as if you encountered the garden in some past life. A feeling of familiarity may develop as you stroll through the gardens, savoring every luscious, verdant detail.

Each detail, from the mosaic floors and benches inspired by Andalusian architecture to the French fountains, are counted as antiques enriching the atmosphere of the gardens. You may observe many couples sitting side-by-side on benches along the Nile, while on the other side of the garden a group of women meditate.

As you explore the gardens, you can picture the massive audience that filled the now-cracked mosaic steps beside a once-sparkling fountain in the late 1950s, listening to the soothing melodies of beloved Egyptian singer Abd el Halim Hafez. The gardens were often host to Hafez and other singers of Egypt’s Golden Age of music.

Turning to the dusty, seemingly abandoned benches a love scene from a classical Egyptian movie plays in your mind, in which iconic actress Shadya sat on one of those benches singing in higher warm contralto to her on-screen heartthrob.

As the inevitable cacophony of Cairo traffic snaps you back to reality, you can’t help but feel a sense of grief at the current state of the gardens the once symbolized Egypt’s Golden Age, a fading silhouette of a long-gone era that many Egyptians wistfully long to relive.

The state of the Andalusian Gardens is disheartening; the reasons that once justified the whole point of having an Andalusian Garden in Cairo collapsed over time. The landscape has never been renovated since the gardens were established in 1935. Mahmoud zu al Fakar, a pasha during the reign of King Fouad I, designed this piece of land and turned it into a public garden with a botanical style unique from the other public gardens of Cairo.

The garden, occupying two acres of land in Zamalek, is divided into three sections: the Pharonic, the Andalusian and the Turquoise “Fayrouz;” the most popular part was always the Andalusian. The Andalusian section of the garden includes mosaic steps surrounding a huge fountain. On the upper part of the garden stands a statue of Ahmed Shawky, an Egyptian poet known for his romantic poems, creating a most dulcet ambience.

Rezk Ibrahim, an agriculture engineer at the garden, told Egypt Today there was a feud between the Ministry of Antiquities and Cairo Governorate over who should supervise the garden and handle its annual budget. The deadlock has resulted in the garden we see today – a faded memory.

“An official from the Ministry of Antiquities is supposed to visit monthly to check the state of the gardens, but we haven’t seen any for months now,” Ibrahim told Egypt Today.

Ibrahim, who has worked at the garden since 2000, revealed that the garden used to procure many rare and exotic plants. Now there is nothing but tired grass and ancient palms known as “The Royal Palms” aligning the fountain. Moreover, all the fountains in the gardens are broken and desperately need maintenance.

“The Ministry of Antiquities analyzed the garden and decided that it needs EPG 7 million worth of renovation…. Of course the ministry can’t afford this amount of money,” he said.

Nasser Gad, a security officer at the gardens, corroborated Ibrahim’s story. He said the garden had remained untouched for decades, leading to the decaying of plants. The worst, however, is the wreckage of the irrogation system which is hindering the growth of plants, he said.

“Our main issue right now is repairing the irrigation system as soon as possible,” Gad told Egypt Today.

Gad is familiar with many regular visitors of the gardens, who are mostly elderly and used to visit the garden back in its heyday. The only newer visitors are either couples or newlyweds looking for a unique place for a photo shoot.

“It’s actually nice when you see an older couple visiting the gardens to reminisce about their days together… it shows how this gardens still preserves its essence to this day,” said Gad.

Although the garden’s status has manifestly declined among many Egyptians it is still counted as a blast from the past. While investors are planning to establish more shopping malls in Egypt, there are many gardens in Egypt, like the Andalusian, awaiting recognition by an investor with an eye for beauty, or perhaps a conscientious philanthropist, to preserve and return them to their former splendor.



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